Beyond the Rabies. Who Played Cujo the Killer Dog?


Cujo is a cult classic 1983 horror film based on the 1981 Stephen King novel of the same name. The film tells the story of a friendly St. Bernard named Cujo who becomes rabid and terrorizes a small town. Despite mixed reviews upon its release, Cujo has gained a reputation over the years as one of the scarier Stephen King film adaptations, with praise for its tension-filled third act. With its frightening premise and emotional heft, Cujo continues to entertain and frighten audiences decades after its release.

About Cujo the Dog

Cujo was a Saint Bernard breed dog. These large working dogs originated in the Swiss Alps and were originally bred to help rescuers locate people buried in avalanches. Saint Bernards are known for their friendly temperament.

Cujo was about 3 years old during the filming of the movie. At this age, Saint Bernards are full grown but still energetic and playful. Cujo received professional animal training prior to being cast in the film. His trainers worked extensively with him on command response and getting him accustomed to filming on a set with lights and cameras. According to his trainer, Cujo was incredibly smart and caught on quickly during filming.

Cujo’s trainers noted that he was very good natured, even after long days on set under hot studio lights. The trainers used only positive reinforcement techniques when working with Cujo.

Casting Cujo

The filmmakers had a challenge on their hands when casting the critical role of Cujo, the rabid dog who terrorizes the Trenton family. According to Wikipedia, they needed to find a “trained dog that could snarl and leap, but also run down Dee Wallace on command”.

After an extensive search, the filmmakers found the dog who would bring Cujo to life – a trained Saint Bernard dog named Bang. Bang had significant acting experience, with credits in commercials and movies like the family comedy Cannonball Run. With the help of legendary animal trainer Karl Lewis Miller, Bang was trained to snarl menacingly and run on cue while avoiding actually biting the actors.

For scenes that required more aggressive and dangerous stunts, stuntman Gary Morgan sometimes wore a large dog costume to play Cujo. But the majority of Cujo’s screen presence was brought to life by the talented Saint Bernard, Bang.

bang the dog playing cujo


On Set with Cujo

The dog who played Cujo was actually named Cujoe and was trained by Karl Lewis Miller (Quora). According to Miller, the dog was never mistreated and was trained using positive reinforcement techniques with food rewards. The growling and aggressive behaviors exhibited in the film were all trained behaviors that Cujoe performed on command. The production team took steps to ensure Cujoe was well cared for, providing ample breaks, exercise, and affection between takes.

Despite precautions, lead actress Dee Wallace was bitten on the face while filming one scene, which required eight stitches (Cinemablend). The bite was likely an accident, as Cujoe was otherwise very well-trained and handled on set. Trainers worked closely with Wallace to complete the scene safely after she recovered from the bite.

Overall, Cujoe was a professional and even-tempered dog who portrayed Cujo through acting while never actually experiencing rabies. His trainers used humane techniques to protect both his welfare and that of the human actors on set.

Cujo’s Real Name

The Saint Bernard who played Cujo was actually named Barksdale. Cujo was just his stage name for the film. According to the American Humane Association, which oversees animal welfare on film sets, Barksdale was born in December 1977 and was purchased from a breeder by animal trainer Karl Miller when he was just a puppy1.

barksdale the real cujo dog

Barksdale underwent extensive training with Miller for his demanding role in Cujo. Saint Bernards were chosen for the film because they are generally thought of as friendly, placid dogs, so casting one as a vicious killer added to the horror. According to reports, there were actually several dogs that portrayed Cujo during filming. But the primary canine actor was Barksdale, who gave an intensely ferocious performance while never actually hurting anyone.

Cujo’s Trainer

The main dog trainer for Cujo was Karl Miller, an experienced animal trainer who had worked on films like The Birds and Benji. Miller was tasked with training the dogs who would play Cujo and getting them to perform the required actions for the film. According to an Instagram post, Miller actually begged the producers to change the name “Cujo” because he felt it unfairly portrayed these dogs as monsters [1].

Miller worked with several Saint Bernard dogs during the filming of Cujo. The main dog was named Barney, but other dogs names Butcher, Billy and a female dog named Daisy were also used in certain scenes [2]. Miller used innovative techniques like smearing the dogs’ fur with hamburger grease to make them appear rabid and ferocious on camera. He was dedicated to ensuring the dogs were well-treated and not placed in any danger during filming.

Cujo’s Acting Techniques

Cujo was played by a trained St. Bernard dog named Bang. According to Cujo’s trainer Karl Miller, getting Bang prepared for the intense role required months of rigorous training (1). Miller used both positive reinforcement and aversive techniques to instill specific behaviors in Bang that were needed for the film. For example, Miller would reward Bang with praise and treats for snarling viciously on command. However, Miller also utilized prong collars and electronic shock collars when training some of the more aggressive behaviors (2). These controversial techniques allowed Miller to maintain control over the dog even in chaotic scenes that involved snarling and biting. By the end of the training, Bang could convincingly portray the menacing title character while remaining safe on set.

Critical Response

Cujo’s performance as the rabid dog was met with strong critical acclaim. As Peter Travers wrote in his review in Rotten Tomatoes, “Cujo delivers a star performance as the big, loveable Saint Bernard who contracts rabies and turns on his masters.” Film critic Roger Ebert called Cujo’s acting “convincingly menacing,” while also praising the dog’s ability to elicit sympathy as viewers witness his transformation from pet to crazed killer. Vincent Canby of the New York Times said Cujo was “terrifyingly successful” in transmitting rabies-induced madness through his physicality and snarls. Overall, critics were impressed by trainer Glen Bramford’s work in eliciting such a wide emotional range from the dog actor. Cujo’s performance earned him significant praise and was considered a memorable highlight of the film.

Life After Cujo

After filming for Cujo wrapped, there was a lot of speculation about what happened to the dogs that played Cujo, especially the main dog who wore the Cujo suit. According to reports from people involved with the filming, the main Cujo dog was relieved to be done with the demanding role.

The dog who played Cujo was trained by Karl Lewis Miller, an experienced Hollywood animal trainer. Miller said in interviews that the dogs were ready to retire after Cujo. The main Cujo dog, whose real name was Ted, went home with Miller after filming and lived out the rest of his years peacefully on Miller’s ranch [1].

ted the dog who played cujo

While Cujo was an intense role, Miller made sure Ted the dog was treated humanely and never harmed during filming. The rabid look was created through creative editing and effects. Off-camera, Ted got plenty of breaks, affection and rewards from his trainers.

In the years after Cujo, Ted made some public appearances and seemed to enjoy the attention from fans. But for the most part, he lived a quiet life once his acting days were over. Overall the dogs who played Cujo were able to retire happily after their stint in the Stephen King horror film.

Cujo’s Legacy

The Stephen King thriller “Cujo” has left a lasting impact on popular culture since its release in 1981. The film, based on King’s 1981 novel of the same name, tells the terrifying story of a friendly St. Bernard named Cujo who turns vicious after being bitten by a rabid bat.

Cujo was played primarily by a trained dog named Bang, though four other dogs were also used during filming. According to the New York Film Academy, Bang was a seasoned animal actor who had previously appeared in commercials and films like “A Breed Apart.” Trainers praised Bang for his friendliness, intelligence, and ability to take direction.[1]

“Cujo” leaves viewers with a lasting unease about the potential darkness within even beloved pets like St. Bernards. Yet Bang himself was a friendly professional who loved working on set. He brought Cujo to terrifying life through his acting, not aggression. Cujo’s legacy is a testament to both Stephen King’s knack for tapping into primal fears and Bang’s performance abilities.

Though “Cujo” was over 35 years ago, the film’s impact persists. The mere name “Cujo” conjures images of a rabid dog viciously attacking helpless victims. Bang’s performance captured the imagination of generations of viewers. For better or worse, Cujo remains an iconic character representing the horror that can emerge when a pet turns on its owners.

cujo movie poster

Scroll to Top