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When I was a kid, one of my favorite books to read was an old, beat-up copy of A Dog Named Penny, a children’s novel from the ’50s that one seller of old books on Amazon summarizes somewhat hilariously as “a heart-warming story of two children and a stolen collie dog.” As soon as I’d get to the last page of the book I’d cry a bit—because, like many good dog stories, this one was a tearjerker, where Penny ultimately had to choose between the children and her original owner. Then I’d immediately flip to the first page and start over again. And then again. And then again.
Even as a kid, I already knew two things: books are good, but if you throw in a story about a dog, well, now that’s taking a good thing and making it amazing. A Dog Named Penny is regrettably long out-of-print, but there are plenty of other modern books about dogs you can lay your paws—sorry—hands on.
Following is a roundup of some of the very best books for dog lovers. They start with my top five favorites of all dog books no matter the genre. Then you’ll find more top five lists by category: new releases, literary books, beach reads, mysteries, thrillers & sci-fi, and classics. All of these books put dogs right where I like them, in the middle of the story.
Top 5 Books Featuring Dogs
- Dog Years: A Memoir
- The Art of Racing in the Rain
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
- How to Be a Good Creature
- A Dog’s Purpose
I wish it were true that like the saying all dogs are good dogs—an unimpeachable fact—all dog books were good dog books. While there are a ton of very good books written about dogs, there are some that just stand out above the fold. Here are my top five dog books of all time.
We’ve done an in-depth post about our favorite dog memoirs, so you won’t find too many on the following lists, but I wanted to give a special shoutout to one of my all-time favorite doggy-themed books, Mark Doty’s Dog Years.
With the world becoming ever-sadder around him, and a longterm partner losing his battle with AIDS, Doty adopts a new dog to join the pack. This memoir details the lows of human tragedy and the highs of just being alive with a light and poetic touch.
In this beautiful and sweeping novel, we get to see the world through the eyes of a philosophical old pooch named Enzo. This dog’s human is an up-and-coming race car driver. The novel reflects on life, from the saddest moments to the most triumphant, and is almost impossible to put down.
By the end, Enzo shows himself as the hero of the story and you’ll be hoping that he really does reincarnate as a human.
When Christopher’s neighbor’s dog dies in mysterious circumstances, he’s on the case. Though he’s known for being somewhat of a misfit, he’s a winning protagonist. Obsessed with prime numbers, Christopher is, er, let’s say a quirky guy who finds dealing with other human beings challenging.
His investigation of the neighborhood mystery turns into a thoroughly unpredictable story with a dog at its heart.
This utterly charming novel by W. Bruce Cameron has everything you want in a dog novel: poignancy, humor, insight, and beauty. By living and reliving the many lives of the story’s protagonist, Bailey, the reader is treated to a delightful investigation of man’s bond with dogs and the many roles they play in our lives.
Be ready to laugh and get ready to cry when you pick up this book.
While this isn’t strictly a dog book, it is perfect for animal lovers. This quirky and deeply moving personal memoir sees Montgomery exploring her life through the personalities of 13 animal friends she’s met in her world travels.
Stunningly beautiful and poetic, Montgomery’s memoir succeeds in exploring themes about loss, grief, and human goodness and explaining them through the gaze of other species.
This is the only true children’s book I’ve included in this list, so I’m throwing it in as a bonus read. Charming and funny, Creech’s book functions equally well as a read-aloud bedtime story or a quick read on its own.
In Love that Dog, Jack finds himself in the unenviable position of having to write poetry when he neither likes it nor thinks it’s something that boys do. Through a series of diaristic free-verse poems, we’re slowly introduced to a budding writer’s pivotal relationship with the dog he loves.
Best New Releases in Dog Books
If you’re a voracious reader like I am, you’re probably always on the prowl for the next great new book to dive into. Here’s a list of my favorite dog books from the past few years.
This is a surprisingly funny story about a down-on-his-luck guy, Louis, who just can’t get a break. His wife dumped him, his dad died, and he gave up his job in expectation of a windfall that isn’t materializing. Then he meets a very good dog named Layla.
His bond with Layla changes Louis, transforming him from being somewhat comically unlikable to a person with the proverbial second chance.
This historical novel is a sweeping look at three generations of a family, by which I mean mothers, fathers, daughters, and dogs. Told through the perspective of Ellie, a philosophy student who is “hard” at work on her Ph.D. dissertation, this novel explores not just a family’s hidden secrets, but also the tension inherent in human (and dog!) relationships.
It’s a tough one to put down, so make sure you have plenty of time for reading blocked out before you pick it up.
Though I usually am drawn toward weightier dramas, I have to admit that I also just love a good, lighthearted romantic comedy. Shhh, don’t tell anyone. Add a dog to the mix? I’m hooked.
This novel follows a young New Yorker named Jonathan Trefoil as he navigates career, friendship, romance, and, you guessed it, dogs. When he starts taking care of his brother’s border collie and cocker spaniel, his world view starts to shift. This funny, poignant novel is a perfect summertime read.
Damien Dibben’s new novel follows an eponymous dog who must travel across centuries in search of the man who granted him immortality. It’s historical-time-travel-fiction on an epic scale, featuring an unforgettable dog narrator who travels through European history to be reunited with his person.
Dibben calls it “a love story between a master and his dog,” something every dog lover can relate to.
I hate to make you do this, but try to imagine what it would be like if you lost your dog somewhere far, far away. Ugh, sorry. I know that thought is more than a little terrifying. But! All is not lost. Perhaps your dog would be something like Bella, the perseverant pooch we follow in A Dog’s Way Home as she faces impossible challenges trying to make her way home through the wilderness. That’s after accidentally being left 400 miles behind her family.
It’s a well-worn premise: the dog braving everything to reunite with family. But there’s something about the way Cameron manages to fully inhabit the mind of a dog that makes this novel a brilliant sendup to dogs and their unstoppable spirits.
Best Beach Reads about Dogs
What makes a really solid beach book? An easy read that’s lighter in subject, fun to read, and doesn’t distract from the ultimate goal of beach lounging: relaxation. The following are some titles that would make the perfect addition to any dog lover’s beach bag.
- Say Goodbye for Now
- Stray Hearts
- The Mountaintop School for Dogs and other Second Chances
- Travels With Casey
- Strays: A Novel
This feel-good novel focuses on Dr. Lucy, a veterinarian on an isolated Texas ranch in 1959. When two boys find an injured dog-wolf hybrid and bring it to Lucy for care, her whole world changes. Hyde’s writing is direct and evenhanded even while she touches on themes of love, abuse, racism, and redemption. And, of course, the love of dogs.
If you like your dog novels on the lighter side, Jill Shalvis’s romance novels can’t be beat. Her fun, flirty Animal Magnetism series is set in Sunshine, Idaho, where women and men are united by their love of dogs. I know, I know, let’s all move there. Stray Hearts compiles the first two novels in the series, centered around the same veterinary clinic into one great beach weekend read. If you’re a fan of a steamy romance, this is the book for you.
In this uplifting story that explores the incredible bond between humans and pups, protagonist Evie learns that, much like the dogs who end up at the Sanctuary–a literal sanctuary for stray and rescued dogs–who are hoping for a new life, she too can escape her troubled past. Of course getting to that realization involves plenty of twists, turns, and tail-wagging adventure. This novel is a true testament to the synergy between man and dog and the many ways we rely on one another.
In this wonderful, whimsical, hysterical novel, we take an unforgettable road trip with a nine-year-old Labrador, Casey, and the wild and wonderful cast of characters that he (and his human) discover on the road. Four months, thirty-two states, and 13,000 miles in a motor home with man and dog together – what could possibly go wrong?
Forced to spend her summer doing community service because of an uncontrollable temper, sixteen-year-old Iris Moody hasn’t been dealt that greatest hand and she is frustrated that she’ll have to spend her whole summer rehabilitating dogs. But then she meets Roman, the three-legged pit bull, and a touching, humorous, and unforgettable story unfolds. Caloyeras tells this story with beautifully succinct prose and an eye for what it’s like to be a teen girl–hint, it’s miserable.
Best Literary Books for Dog Lovers
I’m a poet, a creative writer, and an English professor, so my reading attentions are often directed toward books that are a bit more literary. What does that mean? Generally, books that are weightier, that take some time to digest, and that rely on complex structures and resonant language. Here are my favorites that would fit right in next to any prize-winning novel on your bookshelf.
Many people recognize Mary Oliver’s work because so many lines from her poetry have become memes on the internet, and for good reason. Her work is direct, visceral, and full of vision and observation that are both familiar and yet transcendent. Her last collection before her death, Oliver’s Dog Songs is an extension of her poetic meditations that are focused specifically on one thing: the human-dog bond.
These are the kind of poems you can read through quickly but that you’ll find yourself coming back to time and time again.
This debut novel from screenwriter Steven Rowley is the funny, heartbreaking story of a man named Teddy and his dog named Lily. Oh, and the Octopus, which is what Teddy calls the cranial tumor threatening Lily’s life. I know, it doesn’t sound very funny, but Rowley’s imaginative novel blends fantasy, autobiographical fiction, and humor into a moving novel about the impact dogs have on our lives.
Poet, memoirist, and trailblazer Eileen Myles writes unflinchingly about the experience of loving and losing a dog. Afterglow is a pastiche memoir about Myles’s 16-year relationship with Rosie, a New York street puppy turned companion.
It’s also a book about grief, so yes, you’ll want to have some tissues handy. In page after beautiful page, Myles infuses her prose with the musicality of her poetic voice that makes for a darn good memoir.
Looking for something with a little more bite? This novel by acclaimed author Susan Wilson follows the journey of one man, Adam, through sadness, unspeakable loss, and then possibly a second chance. Thanks to one stray, inner-city pit bull (who just happens to be named Chance), Adam is able to open his heart and work toward a better future.
Ultimately, Wilson’s novel isn’t just about one good dog, but also the beauty and redemption that our canine friends can offer us.
For the erudite dog lover. Inspired by the personal letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Virginia Woolf wrote this account of the life of their dog, Flush, imagining a dog’s eye view of the lives of the great poets. When it was originally released, most readers and critics were delighted at the unique view into the lives of the famous Brownings.
You’ll probably enjoy it as a work of lighter prose from the writer of famous (and famously challenging) modernist classics like Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.
Best Genre Fiction with Dogs: Fantasy, Mysteries, and Thrillers
Whodunit? What’s going to happen next? Can this get anymore mind-bending?
If you like books that keep you on the edge of your seat, challenge you to figure out the mystery or spark your imagination, these next five novels will be right up your alley.
Looking for a dark thriller to set your teeth on edge while keeping you turning page after page? Look no further than this suspenseful story by the infamous king of suspense, Dean Koontz. This twisted tale of a cursed young man and his encounter with a peculiar dog in the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains is bound to thrill and chill.
Six boisterous poodles and rowdy kids won’t keep Melanie from solving the strange murder of the town’s well-known “Dog Whisperer.” Packed with punchy language and a quirky cast of characters, this mystery novel doesn’t take itself too seriously and will leave you trying to figure out just what’s going on.
Just Life is a fast-paced thriller about Dr. Samantha Lewis, a veterinarian who runs a no-kill dog rescue in New York. When a mysterious virus breaks out in her neighborhood, affecting children and animals, Sam sets out on a mission to uncover the cause.
Author Neil Abramson isn’t just a writer, but also an attorney who has won awards from the ASPCA for his legal work on behalf of animals. This novel is raw, real, and, at times, devastating.
Welp, it wouldn’t be a dog novel list if W. Bruce Cameron, the master of stories told from a dog’s perspective, didn’t feature on it many times. A Dog’s Master tells the story of one early man’s bond with a wolf, how they tame one another, and the relationship that grows between them.
This imaginative novel presents a thrilling origin story for the human-canine bond.
Warning: Don’t pick this one up unless you like crying. This is a compelling, addictive sci-fi novel about a young boy living in a world of men infected with a virus that makes all thoughts audible. Sounds pretty rough, right?
At the center of the story is the boy’s friendship with his dog, whose thoughts he can hear. Get ready to fall hard for them both.
The Best Classic Dog Books
You can never get enough of a good thing, they say. These oldies but goodies have weathered the test of time and still make for some of the best reads for dog lovers.
In this classic road trip story, novelist John Steinbeck and his standard poodle, Charley, explore America’s highways and byways in a custom RV.
The book was written over 50 years ago, but John and Charley’s journey is timeless and will make you want to pack up the car and hit the road with your own canine co-pilot riding shotgun.
I couldn’t choose just one of these two classic novels by Jack London, so a 2-for-1 it is. In The Call of the Wild, we follow the harrowing adventures of Buck, a beloved pet taken from his family, shuttled to Alaska, and forced to be a sled dog in a completely foreign and brutal environment.
White Fang is almost the opposite story, where are dog-wolf hybrid protagonist, White Fang, is rejected by his first dog pack, forced into dogfighting, and ultimately saved by a patient and loyal friend.
This modern classic tops the lists of all-time best children’s literature for a good reason. Where the Red Fern Grows details the journey of Billy and his two dog pals, Old Dan and Little Ann, as they tough it out through the Great Depression to become the best hunting team in the region.
In the way that true friends do, each brings their own strengths to the relationship. This becomes increasingly important as Billy is forced to confront despair and loss and find his way through to the future.
It’s pretty likely you’ve seen—and cried with—the film version of this children’s classic, but reading this Newberry Honor winner is a whole new experience.
When Travis is left in charge of caring for his family in his father’s absence, he’s confronted by the unending hardships of frontier life. The one bright spot, however, is his blossoming relationship with a stray dog he christens Old Yeller. This beloved novel offers a unique slice-of-life look into an important era of American history, but the two main characters are still as relatable as anything modern.
Ok, yes, this counts as a classic! The first time I read this Stephen King original, I was a kid and I. Was. Terrified. This heart-stopping thriller follows the unraveling of a huge St. Bernard named Cujo who becomes rabid and terrorizes an idyllic Maine small town, and, later, the Trenton family.
As only Stephen King can do, this novel chills the bones and stays with you long after you’ve read the last page.
To Be Read with Dogs
Last but not least, I suggest that you read these books while in the company of a dog. You’ll be able to pause and get some furry cuddles whenever you need them, for one thing. Plus, you can read your favorite parts out loud to your pet. What better audience, really?