Must-read Books for Every Dog Owner

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Must-read Books for Every Dog Owner

Some dogs have a tale that needs telling.


I should know. My great-grandfather was Eric Knight, and I grew up hearing stories about how he turned his beloved border collie, Toots, into a loyal super-dog in the 1930s classic Lassie Come Home.


Other dogs and their antics are so outlandish that fact makes for better storytelling than fiction. John Grogan's Marley and Me is the latest example of a canine-inspired memoir that tells as much about dogs as the people who come to love them.


From children’s literature to obedience-training books, or doggie “self-help,” dog book genres abound. Below, experts share their own favorite dog-themed must-read tomes:


Classic Tail Tales

Many of the dog books today cannot compare with the joy and heartbreak you likely experience reading the following:


  • Old Yeller Author Fred Gipson’s novel features the fictional Coates family and the big yellow dog that finds them after they settle in Texas Hill Country.


  • Where the Red Fern Grows This Wilson Rawls story is about Billy, a farm boy who buys two Redbone Coonhounds and trains them as hunting dogs and companions.


  • The Incredible Journey Author Sheila Burnford’s book was made into a movie, Homeward Bound. It follows the adventures of two dogs and a cat as they travel to reunite with their owners.


  • Shiloh A Newbery Medal winner, this book by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor features 11-year-old Marty Preston, who finds a stray beagle but learns that its real owner is a neighbor who mistreats his dogs.


Kid Lit for Young Pups

Several book series feature cartoon dogs like Clifford, Spot and Harry, the dirty dog. Other books recommended by PBS Kids, the nonprofit children's television channel, include:


  • Fiction Chowder by Peter Brown, about a bulldog who is different; City Dog by Karla Kuskin, about a city slicker who treks out to the country; Dogzilla by Dav Pilkey, about an invasion by the giant monster dog; P.D. Eastman's Go Dog Go for beginning readers; and Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day, about a rottweiler who's also a baby sitter.


  • Nonfiction A Dog's Best Friend: An Activity Book for Kids and Their Dogs by Lisa Rosenthal, a guide that helps kids learn about caring for dogs; Dogs by Gail Gibbons, a general overview that includes facts about breeds and care; Lewis and Clark and Me by Laurie Myers, about Seaman, the dog that accompanied the explorers' expedition; and May I Pet Your Dog? The How-to Guide for Kids Meeting Dogs by Stephanie Calmenson.


Dog Care and Training

For reference books, Nicholas Dodman, author and professor of animal behavior at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, recommends that every dog owner have on their bookshelf the American Kennel Club's The Complete Dog Book, which has chapters on dog care, training and nutrition, in addition to information on every breed.


Rebecca Wallwork, senior editor and book reviewer for the American Kennel Club's Family Dog magazine, recommends that first-time dog owners invest in Kathy Santo's Dog Sense, as it addresses the basics of feeding, care and training. Another good option is Puppy's First Steps: A Proven Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Companion by the faculty of the Cummings School, including Dr. Dodman.


To foster greater understanding of our canine companions, Dr. Dodman suggests The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell, an applied animal behaviorist, who looks at how humans behave around dogs. Wallwork endorses animal behaviorist Stanley Coren's work, such as The Modern Dog: A Joyful Exploration of How We Live with Dogs Today, as well as Dr. Dodman's If Only They Could Speak: Understanding the Powerful Bond Between Dogs and Their Owners.


Must-read Memoirs

“Memoirs are big right now because of Marley and Me,” says Wallwork. She recommends the following:


  • Anything by Jon Katz. The journalist and media critic turned his skills to writing about dogs after adopting a difficult border collie that convinced him to move to a farm. Titles include The Dogs of Bedlam Farm and Katz on Dogs.


  • The New Yorkers by Kathleen Schine is about dogs that brought tenants of an Upper West Side apartment building together.


  • A Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas is a series of essays that strikes a sadder note about dogs and relationships.


Dog stories often have the most impact when writers emphasize the human-dog bond. "Personally, I like it when the dog is part of a bigger story," says Wallwork. "Unless a dog is larger than life, it's very hard to let a dog carry an entire book." But maybe your own dog could?

Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

Tags: dog care

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Posted on December 18, 2009

Bill says: Another good dog book out there is a memoir by Clark Malcolm Greene called "Dog is God Spelled Backwards." I've never read such a great series of adventures. It's one of those books you can't put down, and don't want to end. The Airedale Terrier, Patch, is some sort of dog!

Posted on January 4, 2010

Lydia Sherrin says: The books mentioned above are all great! Don't forget the books by James Herriott, beloved Scottish Vet. All wonderful stories!

Posted on December 17, 2009

Clark Malcolm Greene says: There's a great boy and dog book called Dog is God Spelled Backwards out there for every age to read. It's the story of an Airedale Terrier and her boy growing up during the 1950's and 1960's on the shores of Lake Erie. The book is available at and all major bookstores.

Posted on October 14, 2009

Diane B says: More must read books: Reaching the Animal Mind by Karen Pryor .

Posted on October 26, 2009

jane says: I think the book 'Merle's Door' is one of the best books I have ever read about the love between a man and his dog. A lot of people profess a love for their four legged friends, but then raise them in a manner which favors their own life style. Merle was blessed to have a partner who understood his needs as a dog, and encouraged him to be all that he could be sans crates, small spaces, and urban madness.

Posted on September 24, 2009

Laurie says: I think the book 'Merle's Door' by Ted Kerasote should be added to the 'must read' list of books about dogs. Kerasote gives educational and historical info along with a tender, poignant story of his life with a dog that adopted him. The ideas he shares are a little against the norm for some dog-human relationships but they rang true to me in so many ways.

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