The real-world dog model for Fallout 4’s Dogmeat has died

Posted on June 28, 2021

The real-world dog model and character inspiration behind Fallout 4’s German Shephard companion, Dogmeat, has passed away. Dogmeat is and always will be an iconic gaming companion who ventured with the player out into the harsh wilderness, providing loyalty, gifts, and protection. The in-game dog was modelled after River, a real-world German Shephard who stole the hearts of the development team and became an integral part of the game.

The news of River’s passing was announced by River’s owner and Fallout 4 developer Joel Burgess in a Twitter thread. Burgess mourns the loss of his friend and provides a great deal of insight into her involvement within the game itself. The thread is lovely, showcasing the personality and joy River was able to bring whilst simultaneously singing her praises, providing insightful details into Fallout 4’s development, and encouraging responsible and ethical dog ownership.

Burgess outlines how Dogmeat was always intended to be “a companion first, and a combat ally second.” He recounts how Dogmet’s personality mirrored behaviour River exuded, including her willingness to please by bringing people large objects they may or may not have wanted. This behaviour was then transposed into Dogmeat who would do the exact same thing in-game. Dogmeat would also walk ahead of the player and look back to make sure they were still coming, a trait River was known for.

Burgess also described how other studios would hire dogs who were trained as actors or police dogs for roles such as this, but that River’s personality and calm nature meant she was perfect for the role regardless. Her personality was beloved across the Fallout 4 development team and it became hard for these devs to not see River as part of that team. River also liked being around the team and so she became a crucial part of that ecosystem.

River’s audio was also recorded for the character of Dogmeat, with Burgess recounting how he’d have to close a door between himself and River to record whimpering sounds that would then be used in-game. Opening that same door would then produce yips of celebration that would also make it into the game. River’s involvement was paramount and I think it really shows too. Dogmeat always came across as a very real companion. By avoiding ‘actor dogs’ and stock audio, the team were able to capture a feeling of authenticity and meaningfulness that I believe translated into Fallout 4. Others clearly agree, because Dogmeat ended up taking home an award for “Best Dog”.

The legacy of River and Dogmeat will go on and we wish Burgess and everyone else on the Fallout 4 team all of the best wishes possible as they try to navigate a world without their amazing friend.