Any dog lover can tell you that dogs make our lives richer. They draw out our love and our virtues; they present us with conflicts and decisions, and—eventually—leave us to grieve and remember. These are what characters and plots are built of, so it’s no surprise that dogs have a rich history in literature. In fact, dog-centric stories have developed traditions and tropes all their own. Some may follow the arc made familiar by novels like Old Yeller—or it may subvert our expectations and take things in a different direction entirely.
As an ode to our canine companions, we’re celebrating the best of the many books about dogs. From classic young adult novels to irreverent modern memoirs, any dog-loving reader can find something that suits their tastes.
The Dog Who Came to Stay
Some people pay breeders top dollar for the perfect dog. But Hal Borland’s experience was a bit different: His foxhound mutt appeared on a Christmas night, howling behind his Connecticut house. Nobody would claim little Pat, so—in classic dog story fashion—he claimed Borland’s heart. What makes the relationship between Hal and Pat so special? It’s entirely real.
In true Jack London fashion, McCaig’s novel stars a canine protagonist. Nop’s titular trials come at the hands of a couple of dognapping goons, and the narrative follows both Nop and his owner as they strive to be reunited. It's exciting, it's heartwarming—and it's, thankfully, back in print after too much time away.
There’s no denying that we have certain expectations when we read books about dogs. Without feeling stale, Bass’ story hits all the notes you want: We meet a runt that nobody else wants, and watch him turn into a remarkable dog that has a remarkable impact on his owner. Bass’ skilled prose ensures that Colter reads like a classic rather than a story full of clichés.
Dogs make great subjects for books, but they often don’t fare well in them—after all, loss is an inevitable part of loving a dog. Pfalz’s true story focuses on this very aspect, but the narrative— much like the dog it memorializes—will go beyond your expectations. Flash defied a veterinarian's grim prognosis, taking a promised three weeks to live and defiantly stretching it to a series of months. A moving memoir about love and grieving, Flash’s Song shows how animals—even a tiny dachshund—can give us a great appreciation for everyday blessings.
Yes, the Mrs. Dalloway author did write a novel about a dog! But it wasn’t just any dog—it was Flush, the cocker spaniel owned by famous poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Using research and her own imagination, Woolf tells the story of the couple’s marriage from the perspective of their beloved pet.
The Call of the Wild
The main character in Call of the Wild is a dog, Buck, who is kidnapped from his California home and pressed into service in Yukon at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. London’s short and beautiful novel is less about the relationship between dogs and humans than it is about dogs themselves, but Buck’s toughness and nobility serve to remind us why dogs make such rewarding companions in our own lives.
This Dog for Hire
Say it with me: Dog. And. Owner. Detective. Team.
You better believe it! Carol Lea Benjamin's mystery novel sees Rachel Alexander, a private eye and former dog trainer, investigate a mysterious death with her furry best friend, Dashiell (yes, as in Hammett). And because we know you're wondering—This Dog For Hire is, indeed, the first book in a series.
Where the Red Fern Grows
You can’t talk about great books about dogs without mentioning Where the Red Fern Grows. The story of a young boy and his hounds, Old Dan and Little Ann, in the Oklahoma Ozarks, Rawls' novel is an American classic that always brings on the waterworks—whether it's your first read-through, or your fifth.
The film version of Old Yeller is different from the book in surprising ways. For instance, did you know that, unlike in the adaptation, Old Yeller doesn’t die?
No, just kidding—he definitely does. But Old Yeller is the archetypal dog novel for a reason, and you owe it to yourself to read it even if you think you know the story backwards and forwards. It’s a moving and memorable tribute to the bond between man and beast that is more than worth your tears.
Marley & Me
In a genre packed with stories of exceptional, wonderful dogs, Grogan’s memoir about his hellraising pup is a breath of fresh air. Marley’s reign of terror leaves few things in Grogan’s home unscathed, but you’ll still see Marley’s charm even when he’s destroying furniture—though, to be fair, it probably helps that it isn’t your furniture. Marley & Me was a New York Times bestseller and was adapted into an equally touching film.
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