Rudd Weatherwax, who trained the dogs used in the "Lassie" motion picture and television series, died Monday afternoon of a respiratory ailment.
Weatherwax, 77, who lived in the Canyon Country area, died at Holy Cross Hospital, his daughter-in-law, Linda Weatherwax, said.
Born in Silver City, N.M., Weatherwax owned and trained the orginal Lassie and continued to train dogs up to his death.
The first of seven Lassie movies was made in 1942. The show began on televison in Sept. 12, 1954, and ran 17 years to the day. It is still in syndication.
The cast and the dogs changed, but the one constant was Lassie, a brave, loyal and heroically intelligent collie.
Most of the plots, in fact, featured the collie helping her masters out of impending disasters. Despite Lassie's gender on screen, all the dogs who appeared in the series and the movies were males.
In 1953, Tommy Rettig tested with a dozen other young actors for the key role of Lassie's young master.
"It was narrowed down to three of us," he said in 1979. "Each spent a week at Lassie's house. Whoever got along best with the dog got the part. It was Lassie's choice."
Rettig got the part.
Weatherwax, who was widower, is survived by two children, Robert, 43, also a motion picture dog trainer, and Joanne Curtis, 52, who handled family business accounts. He also leaves five grandchildren.
Funeral plans were incomplete.