A Sucker for a Good Dog Story

I’m an animal lover. Were it up to me, my home would be overrun with critters furry, feathered, and otherwise. Fortunately, my practical-minded wife helps me resist the impulse. Animal stories, however, are impossible to resist and dog stories are the most irresistable. Call me sentimental. Call me a sap. I’m a sucker for a good dog story.

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of seeing Gary Paulsen at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Gary, of course, has hundreds of great dog stories. He told several in the course of his talk: the psychotic, seizure-prone dog who led trap runs; the fiercely competitive but hopelessly dumb lead sled dog who bareled through a crowd of spectators during Gary’s first try at the Iditarod; his beloved Cookie, who led Gary on future Iditarod runs. Gary also talked about his current bunch of geriatric dogs at home. He gets them by calling the shelter and telling them to send over the ones that are about to be destroyed. Is there anyone on Earth who loves dogs more than Gary Paulsen? Listening to all those great dog stories got me to thinking of some of my favorites.  

  • Booth, Martin. War Dog. McElderry, 1997. 
  • When Fred Parry is arrested for poaching, he makes the policeman promise to find Jet, his well-trained black Labrador, a good home. When no home is found for Jet, she is turned over to the army and trained for patrol work. She and her handler are wounded during the evacuation of France. After recovering from her wounds, Jet is retrained to find people wounded in bombings. She and her handler are later sent to Sicily where Jet finds a badly wounded Fred Parry, who is now a soldier. After the war, Parry and Jet are reunited. Jet lives out the remainder of her days comfortable and loved. It’s impossible not to sympathize with the many ordeals this heroic dog must endure. Sadly, this British import is out of print. If you are fortunate enough to have it in your library collection, keep it. If you see it in a used book store, grab it!

  • Harlow, Joan Hiatt. Star in the Storm. McElderry, 2000.
  • Kirkus Reviews said it best when it described this novel as “a dog story in the best tradition of the genre.” Along with all other dogs not herding sheep, Sirius, a Newfoundland, has been banned from the community. To save him from being shot, twelve-year-old Maggie hides him in the woods. When a passenger ship founders off the coast during a storm and Sirius’ swimming skills are needed for the rescue, Maggie risks her beloved dog’s life. This heartwarming adventure story is rich in historical detail and has a thrilling climax. See also Thunder from the Sea (McElderry, 2004), another excellent novel about a Newfoundland.

  • Kadohata, Cynthia. Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam. Atheneum, 2007.
  • This riveting, realistic story of America’s war in Vietnam uses the alternating viewpoints of an army dog named Cracker and her 17-year-old handler, Rick Hanski, who enlists to “whip the world” and avoid a routine job. In this heartfelt tale, Kadohata explores the close bond of the soldier-dog team, relating how it detects booby traps and mines, finds the enemy, rescues POWs, and returns home to a heroes’ welcome.


  • Lee, Ingrid. Dog Lost. Chicken House/Scholastic, 2008. 
  • When Mackenzie’s father wins a pit bull puppy in a card game, he gives her to his son. Raised by an angry, alcoholic father, Cash is the one bright in the boy’s life. When Cash tries to defend Mackenzie from one of his father’s rages, he abandons the dog on the streets. Cash survives well until she’s captured by a teenager who is part of a dog-fighting ring. After escaping, her performs heroic deeds, dispelling local concern about the viciousness of pit bulls. All the while, boy and dog search for one another. The ending predictable, but this simply told story is moving and gripping.

  • Martin, Ann M. A Dog’s Life: The Autobiography of a Stray. Scholastic, 2005.
  • From the comfort of her new home, a dog recounts the she spent 10 years mostly as a stray. Squirrel describes the circumstances of her birth, and conveys sadness and grief upon the disappearance of her mother, separation from her brother, and fear when fighting mean, starving dogs. The animal perspective is convincing. Squirrel has experienced many harrowing and sad events in her life that may shock softer hearted readers. See also Everything for a Dog (Feiwel & Friends, 2009), a parallel story about Squirrel’s brother, Bone.

  • Paulsen, Gary. Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers. Harcourt, 1998.
  • Nobody tells a dog story better than Gary Paulsen and he has written several excellent ones over the years, but he is in top form in this affectionate, heartwarming tribute to his sled dog, Cookie. Paulsen previously introduced Cookie in Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod (Harcourt, 1994). There is plenty of action and adventure here, too, as Paulsen recounts his exciting experiences running the Iditarod. The book is illustrated with warm, charming paintings by Ruth Wright Paulsen. This book may be nostalgic and sentimental, but it is completely irresistable.
Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 12:06 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Great list! I listened to the audio version of Cracker and was laughing and crying. And Winterdance is one of my all-time favorite books. Both books could be equally read as books for children or adults–the sign of a really great story.

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