In TV Land, when two people lay claim to a pet, things like bills of sale do not matter. No, in matters such as these, it is always best to put the pet between the two owners and let the pet decide. What we have is a good old-fashioned Disney Dog Fight.
This usually occurs at the climax of the story. The two claimants will call out to the pet, and the pet will thrash back and forth between the two choices, the better to increase the drama. But eventually it will go to the person who loves them with all their heart, and not the evil master who wanted to make a profit (or some other heinous motive).
Despite the name of the trope, it does not have to involve a dog, nor does it need to be in a Disney movie. Dogs just seem to be most often used, with horses and children running a close second. It is part of the trope that if it is a person, not an animal, making the choice they are somehow decision impaired (a child for instance) or is somehow making the decision not using higher brain functions (a Hormone-Addled Teenager for instance). Disney is invoked mainly because they perpetuated the trope in numerous live-action movies and TV shows, but also because the name Disney is often synonymous with toning down content for younger viewers, so this is Disney's version of a Dog Fight.
This is seldom played straight anymore (Air Bud, a Disney dog picture, is a notable exception). Mainly it is played for laughs, for example where the dog does not pick the Universe's Chew Toy, or a human is reduced to animalistic base functions to make a decision. Sometimes it is Subverted.
- Misuzu is forced to choose between her aunt and her father in Air.
- Subverted and played Straight in Case Closed in "The Beckoning Calico Cat," where the animal in question is a rare male calico cat. One of the hopeful (non-)owners used catnip to attract the cat, who subsequently was all over him. Later played straight when the cat recognized his real owner by the sound of the footsteps through a closed door.
- In Hetalia: Axis Powers, England and France do this with a young America. He eventually chooses England after England gets depressed that he can't offer anything as good as France can.
- In one of the Nyaruko: Crawling with Love! shorts, Nyarko thinks her pet Shantak is getting too attached to Mahiro, but insists that she'd always choose her real owner. Mahiro suggests doing this test and despite Nyarko's attempts to call, Shantak immediately jumps into Mahiro's arms. Nyarko flips out and, one Relax-o-Vision sequence later, she's snuggling a badly beaten-up Shantak and cooing "Oh, I knew you'd pick Mommy!" while a terrified Mahiro calls her a monster.
- Pokémon: The Original Series: Justified after Togepi hatches. Ash and Misty both want the baby Pokémon to be theirs and even try to settle it with a Pokémon battle. Togepi is having none of it: even though Ash won, she insists on being with Misty, and the trio realize that she imprinted on her as her mother because she happened to be facing her when she hatched.
- In The Simpsons, there's a story about Santa's Little Helper becoming the spokes-dog for Krustyburger, complete with a sleazy manager who lures him away from Bart with various treats. Ultimately, it backfires when the burger he bribes SLH with makes the dog throw up, effectively ruining the ad campaign.
- Venom: At the beginning of 2017's Venom Inc., Flash Thompson and Eddie Brock get into a heated argument over which of them is the better host of the Venom symbiote. Flash tries to coax it into leaving Eddie and bonding to him again, while Eddie insists it stay bonded to him. The symbiote, unable to choose between its two favorite hosts, tries to take a third option and bond to both of them at the same time.
- Parodied in an early issue of Young Justice, with Robin and Parody villain Riproar convincing, not a dog, but a sentient car to come with one of them. The car goes with Robin.
- A variant in The Good Dinosaur. Forrest, the pet collector, takes an interest in Arlo's nameless pet human, and quickly says, "I name him, I keep him!" Cue the two of them rapidly taking turns calling out Stock Animal Names at the human until he finally responds when Arlo says "Spot".
- At the end of Pocahontas, Percy the pug actually abandons his evil owner Governor Ratcliff in favor of the title heroine — though no one ever asked him to and Ratcliff doesn't seem to notice.
- Done in Treasure Planet, with Morph having to choose between Long John Silver and Jim. Subverted, in that Morph doesn't really choose who wins, per se. Also notable in that both of the people loved Morph with all their heart. They both also really wanted the map to the treasure.
- Air Bud, as mentioned above. Curiously also uses a variant of the lure when the clown (the original owner) pulls out a newspaper during the showdown. The dog approaches the clown, appearing to succumb to fear that the clown will beat him with the newspaper if he does not comply. However, the dog instead takes the newspaper and shreds it to show the clown that he's not afraid anymore before going to the young man who had found and cared him.
- The dog catcher in the film version of Annie let Annie keep Sandy after he (eventually) came to her when she called that name while a random passerby called out random names.
- Used in As Good as It Gets between Verdell (the dog) and Simon and Melvin. A twist is that Melvin was trying not to win.
- Slightly weird version in Poison Ivy. It seems at first that Ivy is trying not to win, in order to prove to Sylvie that she is not stealing the affections of her father and her dog — but due to her personality she can't handle actually losing, and uses the food-cue training she set up earlier to get the dog to come to her.
- Used in Mr. Popper's Penguins, twice. First time subverted, second played straight.
- Jack London's Brown Wolf is an early example of this trope.
- In the first Henry Huggins book by Beverly Cleary, Henry has to do this to lay claim on Ribsy. He tries to sweeten the deal by offering horse meat (which he doesn't have), which he is called out on by his opponent.
- In the classic Chekhov story Kashtanka (which surprisingly doesn't feature any guns), the eponymous dog heartily rushes to her previous neglectful owner as soon as she sees him, despite her new owner treating her much better.
- Parodied at the end of Castle, where Castle and Beckett were sharing the duties of taking care of the dog of the Victim of the Week. At the end, neither can bear to part with him, so the standard Dog Fight ensues, and the dog goes to...the freshly-cleared celebutante suspect, who already has a handbag chihuahua of her own.
- One episode of CSI had two victims: one killed by gun and another killed by dog bites to the neck. The investigation of evidence showed that the two victims were husband and wife, and they were getting a divorce. They were arguing over who'd get 'custody' of their pet dog. The female victim had bacon grease under her fingernails to lure the dog to her side. How did they die? The husband got a similar dog to replace the first dog. The wife found out and shot him. The gunshot scared the new dog (due to him being abused) and he attacked the woman, killing her.
- Happened in Judge Judy of all places. The plaintiff was suing the defendant for the return of his dog after his dog was lost. The defendant claimed it wasn't his dog after she found him, even with pictures matching him. Judge Judy then asked the defendant to bring the dog into court. As soon as the dog was on the ground, he ran right to the plaintiff and was jumping happy to see him. The plaintiff was crying over how happy the dog was and Judge Judy smiled then ruled on the case with the dog going back to the plaintiff.
- Averted otherwise, as most jurisdictions have clear laws regarding pet ownership. This includes provisions for when the owner leaves a pet with another person for a prolonged period of time (which varies between a number of months to about a year or two), in which case she finds in favor of the pet's new owner since the original owner is ruled to have abandoned the pet. The above only occurred because the identity of the dog was in question, rather than being strictly an issue of ownership.
- Parodied in Scrubs, where Turk and JD act out such a scene with Rowdy, their dead stuffed dog.
- The second-season finale of 7th Heaven. Happy won a guest spot on a TV show, which was seen by a little girl and her father...said little girl happened to be the dog's original owner and demanded her daddy get "Whitey" back right away. Daddy did indeed take the dog back as Simon and Ruthie cried their eyes out, only for Happy to run away and rejoin the Camden clan. The original owners understood and took their loss gracefully.
- At the end of the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Requiem for Methuselah", Robot Girl Rayna Kapec must choose between Flint and Captain Kirk. The strain causes her to overload and die.
- In a Taxi B-Story, Alex sees a man whip his Great Dane as he's about to get out of the cab. Once the man gets out of the cab, Alex speeds away with the dog. Later in the garage, the man comes back with a policeman in tow demanding his dog back. They do the standard bit of Alex on one side and the man on the other both calling to get the dog to come to them. After a few minutes, the dog goes over to the man...and attacks him.
- In Will & Grace, Jack has to decide between his friend Karen and Lorraine Finster (who married Karen's husband Stan while in prison and now has all his money) in this way. Driven home when Karen pulls out a tennis ball and Jack complains they're about to make him piddle on the carpet.
- 110 in the Shade does this with a love-addled Lizzie in the climax of the play. "Come with me Lizzie/Stay with me Lizzie"
- Adventure Time with NEPTR, the Never-Ending-Pie-Throwing-Robot choosing between Finn and the Ice King.
- Futurama: In the episode "Mars University", Guenter the monkey wears a hat that gives him super-intelligence. Eventually he decides to return to the wild and so removes his hat and runs away. So the Planet Express crew goes to bring him back. But Leela thinks that he should be able to stay in the wild if that's what he wants. Cue the Disney Dog Fight, except with a monkey deciding between a hat and a banana.
- Fancy Nancy does virtually the same plot as the SpongeBob example with "Frenchy, Mon Amour", as Nancy's dog Frenchy prefers to go with Jojo. He goes back to Nancy in the end when it's revealed he only wanted to go with Jojo because of a sandwich in her overalls.
- A Disney Cat Fight happens on an episode of Goof Troop, when Pete tricks Goofy into giving up Waffles so he can use him in commercials. Any time Goofy or Max tries to get the cat back, Pete quickly lures him to his side with steak and lobster, which ultimately foils his plan when Waffles's appetite is spoiled and he's no longer able to eat the food in the commercials.
- Done to Maggie on The Simpsons a few times. Once was a choice between the Flanderses and the Simpsons (minus Marge), but then she Took A Third Option when Marge came into view. Another time the choice was between Lisa and Bart, and again she Took A Third Option and chose the TV. Santa's Little Helper and Snowball II have had this a time or two too.
- Also to Santa's Little Helper, when Bart gives him away, and he winds up with a blind man. Then Bart wants him back, and Santa's Little Helper sort of has to choose between Bart and the blind man.
- There was one episode of Spongebob Squarepants where Gary had to choose between Spongebob and Patrick. He chose to go with Patrick, because he had a cookie in his back pocket. Gary gets back with Spongebob at the end of the episode.
- Teen Titans had this with Silkie trying to choose between Starfire and Killer Moth. The indecision was so stressful that he exploded. Don't worry, he got better.