It goes without saying that the greatest gift you can give any dog lover this Christmas is my book, Bark and Lunge, but I’ll assume because you’re reading my blog that you already know that.
Here are ten more books to give the dog lover in your life. I have extremely high standards for dog books, so inclusion on this list is high praise indeed. I’m not like those reviewers on Amazon who say, “I love any book that has a dog in it.”
From left to right, my recommendations are:
1) Suspect by Robert Crais (fiction)
Suspect is about a cop who lost his partner in a shootout, and a military dog who lost her handler to an explosion in Afghanistan. I’ve read all of Crais’ books and this is officially my favorite. Some of the chapters are written from the dog’s point of view, but not in a cutesy way. Crais nails the way German shepherds feel about their people. He also depicts accurately what it is like to live with a German shepherd, what it’s like to drive with one sitting astride the console between the seats, scanning the view out the front windshield.
Crais does a masterful job conveying Maggie’s body language and how she alerts to smells. Early on, I wished there were pictures. I wanted to see Maggie beyond the silhouette on the cover. Turned out, I didn’t need photos, because she is written so well. What a tribute to German shepherds. I hope this is the first in a series of Scott and Maggie books.
2) Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend by John Woestendiek (non-fiction)
I never gave much though to what actually happens in order to clone a dog, and to be honest, I was more interested in the emotional ramifications when a dog is cloned. What’s it like for the humans? For the clone?
Woestendiek does a fairly good, if repetitive, job explaining the science. First, an egg must be harvested from a dog, and then a surrogate dog must carry the embryo. Probably dozens of times in this book, Woestendiek writes that the DNA of the cloned animal is put into the egg and then zapped with electricity. Hundreds of dogs have been experimented on, and hundreds of mutant puppies born and killed in the quest to bring dead pets back to life. It’s a gruesome business, and sure, maybe acceptable if the end goal is curing cancer, but not for our amusement. I recommend this book to anyone who’s ever wondered about the ethics of cloning pets.
3) A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans (non-fiction/memoir)
A Wolf Called Romeo mixes non-fiction narrative with straight-up encyclopedic non-fiction about wolf behavior. In general, I prefer story, but perhaps one must understand wolves in general to truly appreciate how extraordinary it was for this black wolf, Romeo, to spend multiple winters fraternizing with the citizens of Juneau and their dogs.
Most dog owners will appreciate the interplay between Romeo and domesticated dogs, and enjoy learning about the differences/similarities between these evolutionary cousins.
I hadn’t realized how rare it is for a human to be injured or killed by a wolf. As reported here, there have only been TWO human fatalities believed to have been caused by wolves in North America.
4) Part Wild: A Memoir of One Woman’s Journey with a Creature Caught Between the Worlds of Wolves and Dogs by Ceiridwen Terrill (non-fiction/memoir)
Another book that is part memoir, part wolf encyclopedia, Part Wild is more emotionally involving than A Wolf Called Romeo. It is about a woman raising a companion wolfdog. Terrill makes a lot of the same mistakes naive dog owners make, only the stakes are higher because Inyo is more volatile and more aggressive than your average canine.
This is also the story of Terrill’s emotional health and interpersonal relationships. It’s a cautionary and heartbreaking tale about bringing a wild animal into your home and your heart.
5) Hit By a Flying Wolf: True Tales of Rescue, Rehabilitation and Real Life with Dogs and Wolves by Nicole Wilde (memoir)
As a fan of Nicole Wilde’s blog about dog behavior, I didn’t expect Hit by a Flying Wolf to so closely echo my own experiences. How reassuring to learn that an expert has struggled with a dog as much as I have!
The first half of the book contains stories about four of the dogs Wilde has lived with, and the second half concerns wolf rescue. The first dog, a long-haired German shepherd, had the same fear of high-pitched noises that my dog Mia has. Mojo, her “soul dog,” was the crossover dog who helped her learn that positive reinforcement training is more effective than using old-fashioned choke collars. I have a special affinity for Bodhi, who came from a shelter and shared my dog Leo’s penchant for doing things like “grabbing a trailing hand and chomping down, or jumping up in front of me and placing teeth around my arm, exerting a disturbing amount of pressure.” Bodhi’s story hit home the most for me, because it illustrates how much dedication is needed sometimes to get through to a troubled dog, and shows that it’s worth it.
A major highlight of this book are the color photographs. It bums me out when photos in dog books are grainy and black and white, or worse, when there are no photos at all. I want to see the dogs! Wilde is an accomplished photographer. Not only are the animals described vividly in prose, but the images of the dogs and wolves also are stunning.
6) Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls by Jim Gorant (non-fiction)
I think “The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls — One Flying Disc” is probably the best subtitle of all time, but it doesn’t address the aspect of Wallace’s story that I most relate to. Wallace started out dog aggressive. Maybe he was just experiencing barrier frustration when he lashed out at other dogs while in the shelter, but he was in danger of being euthanized. Lucky for Wallace, Roo and Clara Yori stood up for him.
By channeling Wallace’s drive into flying disc, Roo Yori effectively gave his dog a “job,” something trainers will tell you dogs need to keep them from developing bad habits and behavior problems. From that point on, Wallace seems never to have another aggressive episode. Another aspect of Wallace’s story that resonated with me is that even when it seemed like the sport was rough on Wallace’s body, Yori kept playing disc with him. Yori recognized that Wallace’s love of/drive for the disc was so strong, that Wallace would play long after the lights at the park went out
7) My Dog Tulip by J.R. Ackerley (memoir)
I saw the cover of this book on a poster at my local bookstore and read it long before I was a dog author. It’s a completely charming account of a man and his dog. Any writer who is in love with his dog wants to put into words how beautiful the animal is, and do justice to every expression and behavior, and Ackerley achieves this.
A lot of the book is about Ackerley’s efforts to mate Tulip, not because he wants to raise puppies, but because that is what nature intends for female dogs in heat. At the very least, the book is an education in the mating of dogs in captivity.
Originally published in 1956 and set in England, it’s also interesting to read about the attitudes toward companion animals at the time.
8) Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him by Luis Carlos Montalván (memoir)
I didn’t warm up to this book right away, I think because it begins with a description of Tuesday’s training, before the author knew him. Tuesday didn’t come alive as a character to me until later in the book, when Montalván describes their strengthening relationship. Then, I was completely won over by scenes of illicit games of fetch after dark in a closed Brooklyn park.
Honestly, I don’t know how anyone comes back from war without serious psychological damage, and in Montalvan’s case, he struggled with physical injuries as well. The healing power of his relationship with Tuesday is nothing short of miraculous. The book is heartwarming and makes me wish every returning veteran could have a service dog.
9) A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey by W. Bruce Cameron (fiction)
Okay, this is a two-fer, because A Dog’s Journey concludes the story begun in A Dog’s Purpose. Something about books written from the dog’s point of view get me * right here * (points to heart).
Cameron takes us inside the mind of a dog who reincarnates a few times until he discovers what his purpose is in this world. Having the narrator die and come back created suspense. As he lived his life as golden retriever Bailey, I was very afraid something terrible would happen to him.
During each of his lives, the dog is a completely believable character. I loved his view of the world and his affection for his people. I was completely charmed by this story. One of my top five dog tales.
10) The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst (fiction)
This is my number one favorite book. I read it years ago, and I still think of it nearly every day when I refill my dogs’ water dish. See, the main character, Paul, wants to teach his dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback named Lorelei, to talk so she can tell him how his wife, Lexy, died. He starts by trying to get Lorelei to say “water,” and in doing so, he takes a drink from her water dish and thinks, “I should use soap more often when I clean this bowl.”
That’s an extremely small part of what stuck with me. The novel accurately depicts depression (both the husband’s and the wife’s) and grief, and the role a dog can play in a family. My heart broke for the dog when she searched the house for her dead owner. I also love the subplot about the wife’s mask-making. I finished the book with tears streaming down my face, which I promptly buried in Isis’s chest.
Okay, so technically, I’ve given you a list of 12 books, if you include the sequel to A Dog’s Purpose and my own book. Consider that my Christmas gift to you.
In case this is your first time here, this is my book:
Did your favorite dog book make the list? What did I miss?