The History of Dog Stories

We’ve been telling animal stories, of course, for as long as we’ve told yarns. And we no doubt told stories of our own dogs around ancient camp fires.

Our earlytales mixed myth, dream and fantasy with the real world. Our legends told of talking animals, including dogs. So did the tales of the Greek slave named Aesop. Well into the Nineteenth Century, dogs in literature were mostly creatures of fancy, often talking and thinking like humans, on which they were really based. Kipling’s JUNGLE TALES, an international bestseller, is a good example of the fantasy-form.

Sir Charles G D Roberts, a Canadian author born in 1860 in Douglas, New Brunswick, changed that.

Roberts grew up watching animals, both domestic and in the wild Northwoods, and wanted to write about them as they really lived. He said that the exciting adventure lies in the effort to ‘get under the skins,’ so to speak, of these shy and elusive beings. He didn’t want to write about human nature in animal form, but was determinedto write yarns about animals that caught their emotions and thoughts. In so doing, Charles G D Roberts created the one native Canadian art form: the Realistic Animal Story.

Although Roberts wrote about domestic animals such as dogs, it was the animals of the wilderness that caught his attention. Powerful stories such as The Passing of the Black Whelps and Wild Motherhood told stories of wolves, moose and bears. His books include THE LURE OF THE WILD and HAUNTERS OF THE SILENCES.

Fellow Canadian Ernest Thompson Seton followed with WILD ANIMALS I HAVE KNOWN (1898), giving the animal story a new credibility and power as a literary genre. Two stories from this book told of dogs: Bingo, the Story of My Dog and Wully, the Story of a Yaller Dog.

In 1903, Jack London’s masterpiece THE CALL OF THE WILD appeared.

When Jack London wrote THE CALL OF THE WILD, he wrote the seminal Northwestern novel.

Jack London had already written THE SON OF THE WOLF and A DAUGHTER OF THE SNOWS, themagazine short story ‘To Build a Fire,’and would follow THE CALL OF THE WILD with his wilderness story of the wolf-dog WHITE FANG, a classic work of animal fiction.

Although many consider the 20th Century/Darryl Zanuck movie version of THE CALL OF THE WILD, starring Clark Gable as John Thornton, to be the best version, my personal favorite is the later Ken Annakin Film production, starring Charlton Heston. Heston — and Annakin — captured the spirit and character of Jack London the man and author better than anyone else has.

The theme of domesticity to savagery in THE CALL OF THE WILD and its opposite — savagery to domesticity in WHITE FANG, is a deeply human theme that is the soul of the Northwestern, and needs more exploration… -Brian Alan Burhoe, author of WOLFBLOOD: A Northwestern Story…

The American Jack London wrote of dogs against the background of the Klondike Gold Rush, red-coated members of the North-West Mounted Police, prospectors, trappers, outlaws and the white wilderness of the Alaskan and Canadian Northwest. His literary masterpieces created a demand for more.

Michigan-born James Oliver Curwood followed, becoming one of the world’s most popular adventure writers, as popular as Jack London and Zane Grey (whose KING OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED would establish his own foothold in the Northwestern genre).Curwood’s THE WOLF HUNTERS (1908) first caught public attention. But it was the publication of STEELE OF THE ROYAL MOUNTED and KAZAN THE WOLF DOG that made him a best selling author. With Kazan, he created one of the most enduring portraits of a real dog — a true literary masterwork. He wrote a sequel — BAREE, SON OF KAZAN.

Curwood actually travelled to the Canadian Northwest to research his books. Drawing on the Cree Indian meaning of Manitoba, Curwood coined the phrase God’s Country for the Canadian North, using it in the titles of several of his works. He was an experienced woodsman and hunter — and after an encounter on a hunting trip in the Rockies with the open jaws of a full-grown male grizzly bear which chose NOT to kill Curwood (Curwood had fallen and broken his gun),he wrote THE GRIZZLY KING, later made into the movie THE BEAR.

After that,Curwood favored the camera over a rifle because of his ever-increasing respect for animal life. Curwood fought to preserve the wilderness along with its inhabitants, which were being destroyed at an alarming rate at the turn of the century.

Max Brand (Frederick Faust) has been called The Shakespeare of the Western Range. (<emKirkus Reviews</em). He wrotefour classic Northwesterns about dogs in the Jack London tradition. In the 1920’s,Brand moved his family to Katonah, New York State, where he raised white bull terriers. He let them run free over his new estate, training them and intensely studying their actions. The result was one of his best ever novels, THE WHITE WOLF. This novel’s central character was a white bull terrier.

Another Northwestern by Max Brand was CHINOOK. The title character is a savage wolf dog, whose master’s life is saved by American Joe Harney. Reluctantly, the taciturn dog-master allows Harney and a mysterious woman, Kate Winslow, to accompany them to the Klondike gold fields.

Brand followed that title with MIGHTY LOBO, a novel about American Ned Windham, who has single-handedly built a homestead in the savage Northland. When a pack of wolves stalks down from the mountains to slaughter his sheep, he discovers that the wolves are led by a mixed-blood dog. A neighbour tells Windham: He’s the devil, done up in wolf’s fur. You go down the line a ways and get to the ranches. They’ll tell you plenty of stories about him. He comes out of the mountains like the wind, raises the devil, and goes back again. Thats why they call him Chinook!

Thefourth Northwestern by Max Brand is CARCAJOU. Carcajou is the French-Canadian name for the wolverine — a beast with the fierce power of a wolf, the tenacity of a bulldog and,theysaid, the soul of Satan. John Banner arrives in the Yukon Territory with a $10,000 price on his head and a plan to lose himself in the Arctic wilderness. But his plans change when he acquires the great dog called Slaughter, meets Anne Kendal, a woman who’s the match of any man, and joins a deadly search for lost gold — a quest that will lead him to a baptism of blood that alters the course of his life and earns him the nickname Carcajou.

A yellow light gleamed through the trees, and the sound of flopping, crunching snow came to the dog.

Now a man stood beneath him and great fear rose up in the heart of SILVER CHIEF. The stones and clubs and beatings that had been the lot of a dog that fell into the power of the man-gods he had known, was now to be his lot as he was their prisoner. But his fear shortly gave way to hatred. Man, strong as he was, might capture him, but man with all his magic would never break him. Not if he gave his life in fighting man’s bending him to his will.

Jim stood silently watching his captive. A smile of genuine happiness spread across his tanned face.

‘You’re mine, old boy. I knew I’d get you. But darn me if I know how I’m going to get you out of that tree. Those front feet and long teeth look bad… Now I’m going to lower you, old timer, and heaven help me if these ropes give way.’

Once he touched the snow, the dog thrashed wildly. With his great strength he bounded from side to side like a coiled snake. He snarled and tried desperately to reach the ropes with his teeth. It took all of Jim’s strength to keep the captive lines taut. Finally the struggle was too much for the dog, and he dropped back, exhausted but not beaten.

Thorne eased up a little on his rope and risked one hand to wipe his damp brow.

‘Mister, I’ll say you’re a powerful young feller’, he addressed the dog, who glared up at him with bloodshot eyes.

‘What would you do to me, if you could get me, eh? Well, I’m not going to hurt you. You and I are going to be friends.’

With these words, author Jack O’Brien described the capture of the wild wolf dog the Indians called Silver Chief by Sergeant Jim Thorne of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The book was SILVER CHIEF — DOG OF THE NORTH.

Jack O’Brien was described by his publisher as one of those soldiers of fortune to whom adventure and danger are the spice of life. As Chief Surveyor for Admiral Byrd’s first Antarctic Expedition of 1928-1930, O’Brien was in charge of the dog teams taken along on that historic trip. He drove huskies on prospecting ventures into Northern Canada and worked so often with the big sled dogs that he came to know them as few men do.

In his Silver Chief books, he told the stories of two generations of Mounties and three generations of dogs,from the early1930’sto 1960. The other books in this series were SILVER CHIEF TO THE RESCUE, THE RETURN OF SILVER CHIEF, ROYAL RED, SILVER CHIEF’S REVENGE and SILVER CHIEF’S BIG GAME TRAIL — the last book being completed by Albert G Miller, from research notes left by O’Brien.

Another classic Northwestern is George Marsh’s FLASH THE LEAD DOG. It’s a wonderfully detailed adventure of two trappers and their Ungava huskies on a trip into the unmapped North country.

Other writers of Northwesterns who included dogs as characters include: Rex Beach, Samuel Alexander White, James B Hendryx, Lawrence Mott, Harold F Cruickshank, Frederick Nebel, Victor Rousseau, William Byron Mowery, Ryerson Johnson, Robert Ormond Case, H Mortimer Batten, Roderick Haig-Brown and Francis Dickie.

In 1919, Albert Payson Terhune’s LAD: A DOG appeared. The book gained Terhune worldwide success. He followed with many other books, including BUFF: A COLLIE, THE HEART OF A DOG and A DOG NAMED CHIPS. A descendant of Dutch emmigrants, Terhune lived on a New Jersey homestead called Sunnybank Farm, where he raised collies. Today, there is a Terhune Memorial Park on the original farm site.

American military man and writer Colonel S P Meek first established his reputation in the science fantasy field in the 1930’s (at that time, he was a Captain) with THE MONKEYS HAVE NO TAILS IN ZAMBOANGA and THE DRUMS OF TAPAJOS. But it was his heartfelt and detailed dog novels that drew out his literary genius. His books include: BOOTS, THE STORY OF A WORKING SHEEP DOG — DIGNITY, A SPRINGER SPANIEL — FRANZ, A DOG OF THE POLICE — GUSTAV, A SON OF FRANZ — GYPSY LAD, THE STORY OF A CHAMPION SETTER — JERRY, THE ADVENTURES OF AN ARMY DOG — PIERRE OF THE BIG TOP — RANGER, A DOG OF THE FOREST SERVICE and RUSTY, A COCKER SPANIEL.

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Across the Atlantic, in England, animal fiction remained in the fantasy realm. Kenneth Grahame’s THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS was a popular example.

But in 1940, Eric Knight’s LASSIE COME-HOME appeared.It was a realistic animal story in the Roberts/London tradition. Set in pre-war Yorkshire, the novel told of the collie Lassie. Whena mining family, the Carracloughs, must sell their beloved pet collie, she’s purchased by the Duke of Rudling, who takes her to his estate in Scotland. But Lassie won’t be kept from the family she loves. She sets out on a long 400-mile journey south, to find the home where she belongs.

In October 1943, LASSIE COME-HOME was released as a movie, starring Lassie, Elizabeth Tayor and Roddy McDowell. More movies would come, such as THE COURAGE OF LASSIE, then radio and television. Lassie traveled across the Atlantic to find a home in America. The latest Hollywood production is a remake of the original novel, starring Peter O’Toole as the Duke.

Lassie wasn’t the first Hollywood dog.

Strongheart, a German Shepherd, had appeared in 1921 and became immensely popular in the U. S. and Canada.

Rin Tin Tin (found in amuddy trench by an American soldier during World War One), a genuinely gifted and intelligent German Shepherd, captivated audiences from his first appearance in 1924, becoming the first world-wide canine superstar. From early movies like WHERE THE NORTH BEGINS to the fascinating THE NIGHT CRY, Rinty drew audiences to the movies with more star-power than most human actors of the time. A literary account of Rinty’s life is THE RIN TIN TIN STORY by James W English.

Other dog stars were Cyclone, Sandow, Champion, Ranger, Peter the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Wolfheartand Dynamite. Lassie, of course, would become one of the Hollywood giants, followed by others, from Benji to Hooch (a Dogue de Bordeaux or French Mastif), London the Littlest Hobo, Diefenbaker the wolf dog, Air Bud, Beethoven and more.

One of the latest Hollywood releases is EIGHT BELOW. Based on a true story, EIGHT BELOW follows the adventures of eight husky sled dogs left behind in Antarctica after a major winter storm — and the struggles of researcher Jerry Shepard to rescuehis dogs.

Your dog wants to be your great companion– who does what you want, when you want him to do it. The more you train your dog, the better behaved he will be ALL THE TIME. That’s also why teaching tricks keeps your dog thinking and working for you. It increases his focus and his bond with you.

Richard Adams, author of the wonderful children’s fantasy WATERSHIP DOWN (1972), gave us THE PLAGUE DOGS in 1977. This novel tells of the escape of two dogs from a research facility in the Lake District of England. The dogs — a black Labrador Retriever named Rowf and a Fox Terrier named Snitter — must survive on their own. Believed to be carrying a dangerous plague, they are hunted ferociously by humans until they find sanctuary. Like other English novelists, Adams mixes talking-animal fantasy with the North American Realistic Animal genre — but his works are too much fun and are just as beloved by realists as fantasists.

In North America, more realistic dog stories appeared. A modern classic is THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY, by Canadian Sheila Burnford. It’s the story of three animals who walked home:Luath, a young and gentle Labrador retriever, with a reddish gold coat — Bodger, the old half-blind but tough Bull Terrier, with a strong doggish sense of humor — and Tao, a sleek wheat-colored Siamese cat…

Farley Mowat, whose NEVER CRY WOLF (1963) had sparked an interest in wolf research, gave us THE DOG WHO WOULDN’T BE, a warm, deeply-felt remembrance of his boyhood friend, Mutt.

Americanauthor Fred Gipson, who had first established his reputation with HOUND-DOG MAN in 1949, published his masterpiece OLD YELLER in 1956. The novel told the powerful story, set in 1860’s Texas, of a stray dog who helps protect a boy and his family while the father is away. The author dedicated the novel to his father and mother, Beck and Emma Gipson, whose memorable tales of frontier dogs supplied me with incident and background for this story. OLD YELLER won a number of awards, including the Newbery Honor. He wrote a sequel to this novel, titled LITTLE ARLISS,as well as CURLEY AND THE WILD BOAR andSAVAGE SAM.

A recent book worth finding is JOJOFU: A JAPANESE FOLKTALE, written by Michael Waite and illustrated by Yoriko Ito. Based on a Japanese folktale taken from the ancient Ima Mukashi scrolls, the story of Jojofu, who saves her master time and again, has delighted children and dog lovers for more than a thousand years. Though the hunter Takumi loved all his dogs as if they were his own family, his own favorite was named Jojofu (Japanese for Heroine) forhe considered her to be the bravest and smartest dog in the land.

Hundreds of more dog stories have appeared, many of them beloved literary works. Most aren’t adult fiction, like the works of London, Curwood and Brand. Most, in fact, are written for and marketed to children. Even so, they are all worth adding to your library.

Just some of the best works are:

THREE NAMES by Patricia MacLachlan

TIMBUKTU by Paul Auster

BOBBIE, A GREAT COLLIE by Charles Alexander

WHITE RUFF by Glenn Balch

BRYN by Hetty Burlinggame Beatty

GREATHEART by Joseph E Chipperfield

ALGONQUIN by Dion Henderson

NAVARRE OF THE NORTH by Esther Birdsall Darling

RED DOG by Louis de Bernieres



JOCK OF THE BUSHVELD by Sir Percy Fitzpatrick


SOUNDER by William Howard Armstrong

BIG RED by James A Kjelgaard

SNOW DOG by James A Kjelgaard

MY DOG SKIP by Willie Morris

SHILOH by Phillis Reynolds Naylor


BRIAR, A COLLIE by Margaret S Johnson



NOSE DOWN, EYES UP by Merrill Markoe

A DOG’S LIFE by Peter Mayle


BOB, SON OF BATTLE by Alfred Olivant

TROOPER, U.S. ARMY DOG by Helen Orr Watson

STONE FOX by John R Gardine


THE DOGS OF BABEL by Carolyn Parkhurst

DOG ON IT by Spencer Quinn

CUJO by Stephen King


BEAUTIFUL JOE by Marshall Saunders

THE 101 DALMATIONS by Dodie Smith

NOP’S TRIALS by Donald McCaig


FAITHFUL RUSLAN by Georgi Vladimov

HALF WOLF by Sewell Peaslee Wright


by David Fallon &amp; Elizabeth Faucher