Our favourite dogs in literature

In honour of National Dog Day, which encourages people to become more aware of responsible dog ownership (no matter how inconvenient they may be!), here are some of our favourite dogs in books.

The Disreputable Dog (Garth Nix’s Old Kingdom series)
The Disreputable Dog, as she appears in the newest edition of LiraelThe origins of the Disreputable Dog (“Or the Disreputable Bitch, if you want to get technical”, as she says) are mysterious. The title character of Lirael is living a lonely life among her mother’s people the Clayr and when she finds a small dog statuette deep in the archives of the library in which she works, she decides to cast a spell on it – a ‘dog sending’ – and create a friend for herself. But the working of the spell gets a little out of control…

It was the end, she knew. … Except, she realised, she didn’t hurt.

Instead of death, Lirael finds a dog. Not just any dog, though.

In the instant of that blink, the globe disappeared, leaving behind a dog. Not a cute, cuddly Charter sending of a puppy, but a waist high black and tan mongrel that seemed to be entirely real, including its impressive teeth.

Personally I always imagine a Rottweiler/Blue Cattle Dog cross.

Suddenly, the dog stopped scratching, stood up, and and shook itself, spraying droplets of dirty water all over Lirael and all over the study. Then it ambled across and licked the petrified girl on the face with a tongue that that most definitely was all real dog and not some Charter-made imitation.
When that got no response, it grinned and announced, “I am the Disreputable Dog. Or Disreputable Bitch, if you want to get technical. When are we going for a walk?”

Other fantasy fans can keep their Dire Wolves – give me a talking, magical dog who is regularly distracted by rabbits and enjoys eating despite not actually needing to! She is the best friend an Abhorsen-in-Waiting – or anyone – could have.

RoverThe dog in Rover

Meet Rover – no, not ME! – that’s her, over there. The one with the red hair. She’s my pet human. I love spending time with Rover – especially today because we’ve come to play at the giant sandpit. The trouble is, Rover seems to have wandered off and I’m not sure where she has gone. Perhaps you can help me find her?

This gorgeous classic picture book features a dog who has things delightfully upside-down – but that doesn’t stop him from being a hero when his ‘pet human’ goes missing at the beach one day.

Baxterr (Finding Serendipity)

Baxter with his mistress Tuesday

Baxterr was a smallish dog, with a whiskery face and shaggy hair in every conceivable shade of brown. He trotted towards Tuesday, holding his lead in his mouth and waving the hairy curtain of his tail in greeting. Baxterr didn’t need a lead, of course, but he didn’t mind pretending if it helped keep Tuesday out of trouble with the City Park officials, who were fussy about dog leads and litter and bicycles.

I wish my dog was this clever. She is good off the lead too, but her friendly nature means she tends to run towards rangers rather than away.
By the way, ‘Baxterr’ isn’t a typo, no matter what you might think about the standards of editing ‘these days’.

Well, it’s like this. Baxterr with a double r was unfailingly good-natured. … Baxter was the best and most civilised of dogs. But if he encountered a person or animal who scared a child, as a large dog had done to Tuesday on her way to school one morning, or a potential thief, such as the strange lady in a blue coat who had been prowling around Tuesday’s scooter one afternoon when she had left it outside a shop, then Baxterr would growl in earnest. ‘Rrrrrr,’ he would say. ‘Rrrrrrrrrrrr.’ His serious growl was not a noise that was pleasant to hear. It made people get the sort of goosebumps they get if they see a very large spider on the wall beside them.
So that is why Baxterr had a double r at the end of his name. … Baxterr had a heart full of courage, and he felt that his most important job was to protect the people that he loved.

Spoiler alert: Baxterr gets even more awesome. It involves growing wings. WINGS!

This little photographic picture book simply makes my heart sing whenever I turn its pages – it’s a love letter to Australia and to mateship between man and dog.

Tiny know that everybody needs friendstiny2chetChet (the Chet and Bernie Mysteries)
If the Disreputable Dog is the doggy equivalent of Gandalf the White, Chet is a canine Philip Marlowe. He might have failed police dog school (I’d been the best leaper in K-9 class, which had led to all the trouble in a way I couldn’t remember exactly, although blood was involved) but he is nonetheless a loyal and valuable partner to private investigator Bernie. Together they find missing teenagers, work out who has been threatening a pampered and valuable show dog, follow the trail of an AWOL elephant – and it is all told in Chet’s inimitable voice. Think hardboiled, but doggy.

Honourable mentions

Argos (The Odyssey)
Odysseus’s faithful hound is possibly the first named dog in literature and embodies the classic canine virtues of patience and loyalty: by the time Odysseus returns home from the Trojan War, twenty years have passed and the old dog is the only one to recognise his disguised master. At which point he dies happy, on a dung heap as it happens which after all would be heaven to a dog.

Old Yeller
The children’s classic book and later movie are so sad that they have pretty much become units of measurement on the scale of pathos. Of course, the reason we care so much that (spoiler alert!) the dog dies at the end is because he has spent so much time being brave and loyal. He deserves a peaceful retirement, goddamnit!

Almondine (The Story of Edgar Sawtelle)
More tragedy, sorry. This book is, essentially, Hamlet with dogs, which put like that sounds so trite. But Almondine is so special. Her human, the titular Edgar, is mute, but she learns sign language from him and their friendship is deep and heartfelt. She was there when he was born, and she is there with him at the incredibly tragic end. This book is so sad that you will think of Almondine one day months after finishing the book and you will cry all over again.

Tock (The Phantom Tollbooth)
Tock is a ‘watchdog’ and yes, that does mean he is a dog who is also a large alarm clock. And don’t forget how time can fly! He is one of the first delightful characters created entirely out of word play and wit that you meet in this lovely classic children’s book.


Who are your favourite literary canines?

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