Outlander Goes to the Dogs: A Look at the Breed Playing Rollo

Written by: Janet Reynolds


A few weeks ago, Starz threw us Outlander  fans a bone, almost literally, by announcing the breed of dog that would be playing Rollo. Two adorable Northern Inuit puppies are already in training to become Ian Murray's trusty canine sidekick come season 4.

Now book readers likely have an image of Rollo in their heads, thanks to Diana Gabaldon's wonderfully descriptive writing. And they also likely have some expectations of how Rollo should act. TV-only folks, though, only have the cute photos leaked by Starz PR. So we decided to find out a bit more about this breed, which is so new that it isn't even officially recognized yet by the American Kennel Club. We caught up with Sharon O'Garro, who is the first Northern Inuit breeder in North America and founder of the Northern Inuit Society of America. Here's what she had to say about this fascinating breed.

While Outlander the TV show has been a trendsetter in many ways—"By The Pricking of My Thumb?" anyone—using Northern Inuit dogs will not be this breed's TV debut. Fans of Game of Thrones might recognize them as the trusty, formidable dire wolves.

That said, O'Garro is not surprised Outlander chose Northern Inuits to play Outlander's most famous dog. And not just because Gabaldon describes Rollo multiple times as half-wolf. "They have exceptional temperaments," she says. "They're free thinking. Inuits want to please you, but they will think about what you're asking of them."

Which is why, O'Garro says, early training is critical. "They can be stubborn if you let things lapse," she says. "They are big dogs. They need early socialization and early training. Other than that they are total dweebs, males in particular. Females are more aloof and more protective. The males are 'Come on. Pet me. Anybody.' They can get stolen [as a result of their loving attitude.] Females are more loyal [to one owner]."


O'Garro, whose kennel Mountain Myst Northern Inuits in Colorado is home to the first Northern Inuit puppies born in America, says positive training is critical to getting Northern Inuits to follow requests. "They don’t like any kind of abuse or shouting. They will shut down," she says. "They do respond well to treats and praise. They’re just like little kids. If they think it’s fun, they want to do it. If they think you’re going to happy with them, they’ll do it. If they think it’s a game, they’ll want to do it."

O'Garro, who owns nine Northern Inuits, says they are very intelligent. "One of my dogs opens all the doors in the house," she says. "They will take advantage of you if you are too soft. Be kind but firm. If you let them walk all over you, they will."

O'Garro, who moved to the States from England, where the Northern Inuit breed began, to become the first North American breeder, says these dogs also make good service dogs. Her kennel donated one to a disabled vet in January, and he's been a star in his class, she says.


Northern Inuits are not all work and no play, though. One of O'Garro's dogs, Nero the Hero, likes to dress up in clothes. Unlike many dogs who only grudgingly tolerate their owners stuffing them into costumes for "fun," Nero apparently doesn't like to take his off. "Most dogs have them on for a minute," she says, noting he prefers superhero costumes. "He stuts his stuff around and doesn't want to take them off."

Northern Inuit dogs live from between 11 and 14 years, and vary in size from 75 to 100 pounds. While that sounds heavy, O'Garro says they are not meant to be heavy. "They are lean, long and lanky like a wolf," she says.

That look is not, however, because Northern Inuits actually are half-wolf. The breed was begun in the 1980s by British dog breeder Julia Kelham, who wanted a dog that looked like a wolf. The original dog stock hailed from Canada, where it may or may not have had some wolf in its history. What is important is that the Northern Inuit is not consider a wolf hybrid or mixed breed. 

It was the dog's look, though, that literally found O'Garro pulling her car off to the side of the road after seeing someone walk the dog down the street. "I passed a lady walking what I thought a young wolf and I thought What the?," she laughs. "I accosted her and I took her to my home to show my husband. We were looking for a dog. He wanted a German Shepherd and I wanted a Malamute. This breed filled that and then some. I fell in love."

So in love, in fact, that she and her husband decided to move to the States to become Northern Inuit breeders. "We got our two puppies and then came to US and began grooming the dogs," she says. "It's like chips," she adds of Northern Inuits. "Once you have one, one’s not enough. You’ve got to have another and another. I'm addicted. 

In addition to continuing to breed Northern Inuits, O'Garro is continuing to work to get the breed recognized by the AKC. She has also written a book about Northern Inuits that will come out this fall. You can pre-order the book on her website.

Sharon O'Garro and her dogs.

What do you think? Is this how you imagined Rollo in your head? What Rollo scenes are you hoping are included in Outlander Season 4? 



11 comments

  1. Since Ian's Native American name is Wolf's Brother, I always pictured Rollo as being very wolf-looking, but as he's half Irish wolfhound, I also pictured him as VERY BIG. That particular detail really doesn't matter for show though. The look, and just as important, the trainability of these dogs looks just right. And oh, I want one. ;-)

    Nice article, thanks!

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  2. Thanks for reading Charlotte. I thought this breed overall was a good choice for Rollo.....I always pictured him as fairly tall too, which these likely will be

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  3. All the dogs cute and thank you for your post!

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  4. Just when I thought Outlander talk couldn't get any better we get to look at puppies!

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  5. Rollo is written as a giant dog who strikes fear into the hearts of onlookers. These are pretty dogs who are vaguely wolf-like. Sadly, these dogs are not even close to how Rollo is written. They should have picked a giant dog regardless of wolf coloring, rather than wolf coloring on an average dog. They blew it.

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    1. I agree, Susan! Rollo needs to be so big as to startle grown men who see him for the first time. He has to be able to sneer and growl with large teeth. The Inuit's are beautiful, but not Rollo,IMHO.

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    2. I think this breed has plenty of opportunity to look menacing and large. Just look how they were as dire wolves in Game of Thrones. Those were one scary trio of dogs! The photos here only show them as they would be shown for people who potentially want them as home pets. And of course they were also chosen as puppies specifically so they would have time to be trained accordingly. As the breeder noted, Northern Inuits have to be trained very early. At any rate, I guess we'll just have to see. I think the wolf-like traits of this breed made them a good choice overall. Thanks for reading!

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  6. Thanks Janet,beautiful pictures,yes they are wolf like dogs,in the books Rollo is written bigger,but who cares so long as it will performs well!Can't please everyone,I love these dogs as Rollo!♥

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  7. Love this post! Yes, Nikki, what could make Outlander Cast Blog better? Puppies! This dog seems perfect. The wolf-like appearance will make other people do a double take, which is the point.

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  9. Although I have had the book's description of Rollo as my guide I think the Northern Inuit will satisfy the role nicely. I was not aware they were the breed chosen to play the Dire wolves in GoT. Waiting more impatiently than before for Drums of Autumn next year!

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