‘Ruff’! Rating Dogs in Literature

Rollo and IanI’ve never lived with a dog, though I’ve gratefully shared my household with seven wonderful cats over the years. ๐Ÿ™‚ I developed an appreciation of canines by meeting those who’ve lived with people I know and via…literature.

Yes, literature features many dogs — who are often great characters in of themselves and who also help reveal things about their fictional human companions. Are they nice to dogs? Then they’re almost always good people. Mean to dogs? Almost always villains.

I’m going to name my 15 favorite dogs in literature. My list contains 14 numbers, but, as you’ll see, one novel features two equally great dogs. And before beginning, I’ll offer this pair of disclaimers: 1. I’ve obviously read only some of the countless novels that include dogs — which is why Lassie, for instance, isn’t on my list. 2. I might’ve forgotten about some excellent canines in novels I HAVE read.

14. Hector the hunting dog is a constant companion to woodsman Natty Bumppo in James Fenimore Cooper’s “Leatherstocking” novels, which include The Last of the Mohicans.

13. The title character in William H. Armstrong’s Sounder is a dog who’s part of a poor African-American sharecropper family. Sounder lives a difficult life — including being shot and badly wounded by a racist white sheriff’s deputy — but he is much loved.

12. Fang of the Harry Potter books is a cowardly but appealing animal — one of the less-exotic “pets” in Hagrid’s menagerie. And Fluffy the dog in J.K. Rowling’s series deserves an honorable mention for having three heads. ๐Ÿ™‚ (He’s the 16th dog on this list.)

11. Barabbas is a big, clumsy canine who overeats and has a tendency to knock things over in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits.

10. Benedico is also a memorable dog in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard, but it’s not until after he’s long dead that he has an unforgettable final moment at novel’s end.

9. Dorothy’s tiny Toto appears in the L. Frank Baum books that start with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. A pooch who became iconic with a big assist from The Wizard of Oz film. “And Toto, too?”

8. There’s almost no fictional canine more loyal than “Dog Monday,” who sits at a Canadian train station for many, MANY months waiting for his person Jem to (hopefully) return from the World War I front in Rilla of Ingleside — one of L.M. Montgomery’s manyย Anne of Green Gables sequels.

7. The young Luath and the old Bodger are the determined dogs who, along with equally determined cat Tao, arduously travel approximately 300 miles through the Canadian wilderness to try to return home in Sheila Burnford’s The Incredible Journey.

6. Tee Tucker is an intellectual corgi who, along with two cats and a human, solves crimes in Rita Mae Brown’s mysteries. Hard to top a detective dog!

5. Bella the dog is the lovable constant companion of the lonely, highly precocious boy Useppe in Elsa Morante’s novel History.

4. Rollo is the big, part-wolf, scary-with-a-heart-of-gold canine from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels. He and the Scot-with-a-Native-American-connection “Young Ian” are fiercely loyal to each other and face a good deal of danger in the 1760s and ’70s. (Pictured atop this blog post are Rollo and Ian in the Outlander TV series.)

3. The charismatic, also-part-wolf title character of Jack London’s White Fang is born in the frozen North American wild but eventually ends up in California where he embraces domestic life after some initial puzzlement and reluctance.

2. Buck in Jack London’s earlier The Call of the Wild has an opposite destiny — from pampered California domestication to a tough sled-pulling life in the Yukon after he’s stolen. The very smart/adaptable canine retains some connection with humans for a while, but…

1. Chum of Albert Payson Terhune’s heartwarming novel His Dog is an elite collie show dog who, through a twist of fate, becomes a working canine who transforms the life of depressed, impoverished farmer Link Ferris. (A Terhune novel less known than Lad: a Dog, but I found it much more compelling.)

Your favorite dogs in literature?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning โ€œMontclairvoyantโ€ topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest piece — about my state’s primary elections — is here.

111 thoughts on “‘Ruff’! Rating Dogs in Literature

  1. Pingback: Vier memorabele honden uit de Russische literatuur | Een Russische Affaire

  2. I am surprised that among the welter of comments, no one mentioned Jack, the pioneer dog of the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairies” series. He fought off many dangers, always steadfast and true, till at last, the years caught up with him and he spent more and more time on a rug by the stove, till one night he stiffly walked around his rug, lay down and died. My sister and I , 8 and 10 respectively, wept when my mother read us this scene.

    Should I ever get a dog, I’m thinking of naming him Jack, though if I do, I will refuse him a rug. Without being able to walk around such a thing, there’s a chance he’ll have to live forever!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sounds like an amazing dog, jhNY! Regrettably, I’ve never read the “Little House on the Prairieโ€ series. Scenes of animals dying are so heart-wrenching. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

      Your clever rug riff reminds me a bit of how Trump tries to avoid reality by saying there’d be fewer Covid cases if there were less testing. (Not comparing you to Trump at all!!!!)


  3. Being a Newfoundland, he looms large on first appearance, but I don’t recall Rochester’s dog much after as the narrative progresses, which may mean nothing more than I don’t recall– he may well show up throughout, at least till Jane runs off. However I do remember a more recent encounter in Riverside Park, when, as a teensy little Yorkie or similar-sized canine was tearing at an ice cream wrapper through the wire wastebasket, his exasperated mistress admonished, ‘No, Pilot, no!’.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! Yes, Rochester’s dog made quite the dramatic entrance in “Jane Eyre,” but indeed wasn’t a “huge” factor after that.

      Ha and hmm — I wonder if that tiny Riverside Park dog was (ironically?) named after the Charlotte Bronte-created Pilot….


  4. One dog you mentioned, Barabbas, gave me, uh, paws, Dave. This has nothing to do with dogs, but in the New Testament, Barabbas is the name of the criminal Pontius Pilate releases at the crowd’s request instead of releasing Jesus. Because the word “bar” in front of a name means “son,” and because “abba” means “father,” the crowd got the “son of the father,” while, in Christian theology, the “Son of the Father” was crucified. Interesting word play in scripture. Does it mean much? Good question.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Bill! Ha — I can see how that dog’s name gave you “paws.” ๐Ÿ™‚ That IS very interesting wordplay in the New Testament, and it’s also interesting why Isabel Allende chose Barabbas for the dog’s name in her great “The House of the Spirits” novel. I have to imagine she knew the Biblical connection.


  5. Hi Dave,
    The only puppy to come to mind that hasnโ€™t already been mentioned is Lestatโ€™s pooch Mojo. If memory serves, Lestat befriends the dog after heโ€™s turned into a vampire and loses all his real friends. Towards the end of Riceโ€™s Vampire Chronicles, Lestat realises that a dog should have a human owner, and sets him free.

    I’m more of a cat person too โค


    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan! Mojo sounds like a great dog, and I love the story line involving him that you describe.

      I’ve read so little of Anne Rice — just her “The Witching Hour,” which I liked a lot despite it being somewhat longer than it had to be (nearly 1,000 pages).

      Yes, cats rule! In my household, anyway. ๐Ÿ™‚


  6. Like you I’m more of a cat person when it comes to pets, but I do love animals very much and love the dogs in literature topic. I had hoped you would mention both Jack London dogs – I read both of those books when I was young and the recent movie adaptation was pretty entertaining (even if toned down considerably from the book to make it a bit more family friendly haha). Toto is also a pretty iconic mention, and I always enjoyed the “I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!” ๐Ÿ™‚ Although most of my dog reading doesn’t come from novels, but war memoirs and other historical reads! I’m always moved when animals (including dogs) are mentioned in war memoirs, as many troops adopted “mascots” in animal form. One of the most famous army dog stories is probably Sergeant Stubby, a little bull terrier attached to an American division in the WWI trenches. He warned his troops of incoming shells, poison gas attacks, and even dove into No Man’s Land to pull wounded soldiers to safety. I’ve also always loved the Balto/Togo story of Alaska – where the sled dog teams raced through a terrible blizzard to bring medicine for a diphtheria outbreak at Nome.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, kamackin96!

      You’re one of several people to mention “The Art of Racing in the Rain” since I posted this piece, so I’m definitely going to look for it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I can’t wait to “meet” Enzo!


  7. Now I can get back to properly reading your post. and raking through the brain for dogs in literature. Well, there’s Old yeller but it is that long since I read that book I can’t remember a thing about it. Oh shocking admission. Bobby in Pin to See the Peepshow is quite a central character, especially when the hubby puts him down–probably cos by that time he is this arthritic, ton weighing, obese lump that has to be tugged about on a lead. But up till that point, he is a source of great entertainment, largely cos of the way he plays up to every lie Julia tells. There’s Nana in the book version of Peter Pan. Pongo and Perdita in Dodie Smith’s book, Macbeth the Scotty in Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine books and of course Grey Friar’s Bobby in .Atkinson’s book. Alas mainly all children’s books but in some ways I guess that figures. I have created a dog character in one of my books, so I am not that neglectful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Shehanne! I enjoyed your vivid comment!

      “A Pin to See the Peepshow” must be quite a book — its content definitely fits various literary themes! And I appreciate the mentions of those other books and dog characters.

      Yes, children’s literature and YA books certainly have their fair share of dogs, for obvious reasons — including those animals serving as a magnet for young readers. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

          • I’m probably being dense today, but not sure I’m getting the Tinder Box and tree trunk references. Can you explain? Thanks, Shehanne!

            And I forgot to mention earlier — great that you have a dog character in one of your books!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Now you’re just too busy thinking of your next post, that’s all The Tinder Box is a Hans Andersen fairytale. And there’s three rather grotesque dogs inside this hollow tree that’s probably as gorteque as them. They certainly did him lots of favours mind you, grotesque or not. And I certainly found them memorable, terrifying but memorable. Yeah I decided to create the dog in that book as part of the hero’s defining baggage. He wasn’t sure whether Dug was part wolf, hound or Irish. All he knew was Dug was wholly awkward, and a bitch.

              Liked by 1 person

                • I don’t know that tale is one of his best known these days but I do remember seeing a production of it at primary. In these days they used to have small educational touring productions that came round the schools annually and staged–prob quite basic– plays in the school halls. For them to have staged that one, it must have been better known then, just thinking of the other ones they did. Mind you that was no yesterday. Re Dug, yeah I wanted something as basic as that, even though Dug was a lady.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    • They were. My girls saw them too and one of Coreen’s friends from Drama school he was involved in them at one point, so they may well still go on. ‘Dug’ is Scots for dog and the hero who was Scots, was very basic that way but yeah, gender neutral.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • My fault for not explaining properly. The touring school productions were something. Having toured things myself, I am taking my hat off to how they staged that tree in the Tinderbox. I guess a lot was on traditional stages BUT they couldn’t all have been and you need people ready to adapt at the drop of a hat to that in terms of techie and acting folks.

                      Liked by 1 person

  8. What a fascinating post, Dave! May I add to your list the unexpectedly wonderful โ€˜Flushโ€™ by Virginia Woolf. It is a fictional biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browningโ€™s beloved cocker spaniel. Also, for amusement, you might like to check out the YouTube channel โ€˜MrAndrewCotterโ€™ – he is a BBC sports commentator and has been making the most brilliant short films of his two dogs, Olive and Mabel during lockdown – well worth a watch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Liz! Glad you liked the post!

      “Flush” does sound terrific. Virginia Woolf’s fiction was definitely wide-ranging — works like “Mrs. Dalloway” and “Orlando” and “Flush” feel so different thematically.

      I just watched a couple of the Olive and Mabel videos. VERY funny. ๐Ÿ™‚ The dogs, the narration… Thank you for recommending them!

      Liked by 1 person

        • I also haven’t read much of Virginia Woolf, Liz. Mostly read ABOUT her and her work. But I did find “Mrs. Dalloway” very compelling.

          Yes, those videos are very entertaining! Will watch more! I periodically post short Facebook videos of my cat on his daily leashed walks, minus any narration but at times with funny captions… ๐Ÿ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

          • Itโ€™s funny – she is such an iconic figure, one almost doesnโ€™t need to read her books (except of course we do lol!). Have you read/seen The Hours which is based on Mrs D? I love the book, film and soundtrack.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, Liz, VERY iconic — almost to an extreme. I guess her fame comes from a combination of her work, her angst-filled life, the way her life ended, etc.

              I’ve seen “The Hours” movie — excellent, with tremendous acting.

              Liked by 1 person

  9. There are many dogs featured in Russian Literature as well; Turgenev was always roaming around the countryside with a dog by his side and he wrote a ghost story called ‘The Dog’ and a terribly sad story about a dog called Mumu; Tolstoy was also fond of dogs and in Anna Karenina a passage is written from the perspective of Levin’s dog Laska; Chekhov wrote a most beautiful story called ‘Chestnut Girl’. And there are many more examples. I can recommend a lovely collection: ‘Five Russian Dog Stories’ selected by Anthony Briggs.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Dave, books about animals are another favorite genre of mine. I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned my love of the Albert Payson Terhune novels about his beloved collies. In addition to “Lad: A Dog,” I’ve enjoyed “The Further Adventures of Lad,” “Lad of Sunnybank,” “Bruce,” “Wolf,” and “Grey Dawn.” Other favorite novels about dogs mentioned by you and other commenters are: “The Incredible Journey,” “Old Yeller,” and “Lassie Come Home.” On a personal note, the only contest I ever entered as a child was to win one of Lassie’s pups. I’ve no doubt my mother was much relieved when all I got was a black & white photo of Lassie “signed” with a pawprint!

    Many dogs (as well as cats) abound in my favorite genre of mysteries. Probably the most famous is Asta, who appeared in Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man,” though most know her from the films and TV series based on the book. In the novel she was a Schnauzer, though portrayed on screen as a wire-haired fox terrier (who was actually a male). Of the many mysteries I’ve been reading during the quarantine, quite a few of them feature dogs, such as those by Louise Penny, J.A. Jance, Sara Paretsky, Karin Slaughter, Jana DeLeon, and Deborah Crombie. A new favorite series is “Monkeewrench,” by P.J. Tracy, and has a very comical, strange, paranoid mutt named Charlie, who is quite endearing.

    On my list of books to read is “The Art of Racing in the Rain,” by Garth Stein, told from the dog’s point of view, and “Dog Gone It,” by Spencer Quinn, the first in a mystery series featuring Chet and Bernie, narrated by Chet, the dog.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Kat Lit, for that comprehensive look at dogs in literature!

      Albert Payson Terhune was definitely into collies! And I enjoyed your anecdote about that Lassie contest. ๐Ÿ™‚ I suppose most parents were relieved at the prize of a “signed” paw print rather than a live puppy…

      Asta was indeed a famous dog, and good to hear that many canines graced books in the mystery genre.

      Like you, I have “The Art of Racing in the Rain” on my to-read list; it was also mentioned by a couple of people commenting on this blog post via Facebook.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh dear, it’s “..Racing in the Rain” not the “Wind”! What was I thinking of? Anyway, since you mentioned Facebook, you may have noticed that I’ve deactivated my account, for a multitude of reasons. I did want to let you, and fellow commenters who’ve become friends on FB, know that I’m doing just fine and still loving my life in spite of the terrible events of this year so far — and which look to continue through the end of the year and perhaps beyond.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I should have noticed that “Racing” title thing, too, Kat Lit! I just edited your comment and my reply. ๐Ÿ™‚

          I saw that your Facebook account had been deactivated. I’m sure you had good reasons for that. Glad you’re doing okay (despite all the dismaying news of the past few months), and that I and others can continue to communicate with you through this blog. ๐Ÿ™‚

          Liked by 1 person

    • Asta of the movies was also a male in movie life. In one of the “Thin Man” series, he has come home in time to catch a Scottie scooting under a fence, then back under upon being seen. Mrs. Asta presents Asta a litter of puppies, and one of them is solid black.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. My initial response to your post was panic because when it comes to dogs in literature, I got nunthin’! Then I remembered “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” That will have to be my contribution to the discussion. It was fun to read everyone’s responses.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Dave, I have not read any Literature on dogs.
    I might say, on purpose.
    In life I have gone through five of them and each time they leave me, my heart gets shattered in pieces.
    There really is no happy ending , they don’t live long enough.

    How about ,Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight ?

    “Lassie is Joe’s prize collie and constant companion. But when Joe’s father loses his job, Lassie must be sold. Three times she escapes from her new owner, and three times she returns home to Joe, until finally she is taken to the remotest part of Scotlandโ€”too far a journey for any dog to make alone.

    But Lassie is not just any dog.”

    The book I have not read, just c&p from Goodreads.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I never read the book by Fred Gipson on which the film Old Yeller is based, but it has to be one of the most recognized other than Lassie Come-Home by Eric Knight. Wonderful theme, Dave, especially in this stressful time!

    Liked by 5 people

  14. You brought back to me the book, โ€œWhere the Red Ferns Grow,โ€ by Wilson Rawls which was turned into a movie by the same name. The book is Wilson Rawls own story with Billy Colman as the fictional character who wants nothing more than a pair of Redbone Coonhounds for hunting. To this day, I still shed tears over this marvelous story. โ€œMen,” said Mr. Kyle, “people have been trying to understand dogs ever since the beginning of time. One never knows what they’ll do. You can read every day where a dog saved the life of a drowning child, or lay down his life for his master. Some people call this loyalty. I don’t. I may be wrong, but I call it love–the deepest kind of love.โ€ Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Clanmother! Sounds like a great, moving, memorable children’s novel — especially if it has that lingering effect on you. Dogs ARE incredibly loyal animals, and many humans (in real life and literature) reciprocate by being VERY loyal to their dogs.

      Liked by 3 people

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