The best novels featuring realistic dogs

Tabitha Ormiston-Smith Author Of Bloodsucking Bogans
By Tabitha Ormiston-Smith

Who am I?

Since I brought home my first rescue thirty years ago, my life has been full of dogs and dog-related activities that I can hardly imagine the person I would've been without them. My own books often feature one or more dogs, not because I particularly decide to write about dogs, but more because I live with dogs, it’s what I know. When I’m browsing for a good read, if a book features a dog, that’s a draw for me, just because dogs are dogs; they are such good creatures, so infinitely lovable, that their presence enhances a book for me just as their presence in my life enhances my every day.

I wrote...

Bloodsucking Bogans

By Tabitha Ormiston-Smith,

Book cover of Bloodsucking Bogans

What is my book about?

Dingo Flats hasn't been the same since the Murphy family moved back to town. The boys are delinquents, the daughter's a disgrace, and old Granny Murphy is constantly causing trouble. Even the dogs are delinquents. The crime rate's doubled since they arrived. And what's with all the dead rats that have started appearing on the doorsteps of local businesses? The tabloid thinks it's a plague, but Sam's dad is convinced it's warnings from the Mafia. 

Meanwhile, Sam's friends are determined to make her over and marry her off, and she's staring down the barrel of having to give up her police dog pup. What's a cop to do?

The books I picked & why

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The Last Family in England

By Matt Haig,

Book cover of The Last Family in England

Why this book?

Unlike so many books where the point of view character is a dog, Haig has really thought his way into the dog. His creation, Prince, is not a counterfeit, a man in a dog suit, as it were, but a real dog. Haig’s empathic projection of how a dog might see things and interpret events is both charming and very believable. Further, Prince is a truly relatable character, without being ‘cute’. His well-meaning, doomed struggle to make sense of things he cannot understand, and to take control of a bad situation and save his family, is the very essence of tragedy; he is prevented by his very nature from achieving what he so desperately desires. 

The ending will break your heart, but it’s a fantastic read that will leave you feeling richer for having read it.

Kazan: The Wolf Dog

By James Oliver Curwood,

Book cover of Kazan: The Wolf Dog

Why this book?

This is an old book, in the tradition made so popular by Jack London. There were a number of these ‘proud, free dog of the North’ type of books published, and they are all great reads, yet this one is in my opinion the finest of them. It never descends into mawkish sentiment, but tells Kazan’s story from his own viewpoint; there is little of the human world, and we get a glimpse of just how alien a wild animal is, how different from our own, more domestic companions. 

A tremendously exciting read, with not a dull page in it.

Dog Boy

By Eva Hornung,

Book cover of Dog Boy

Why this book?

Of all my picks, this one is the most startling read, I think. It follows the life of a very small boy, left for some reason abandoned, who takes refuge with a stray bitch and her litter, and consequently grows up as a dog.

This, too, is very much a tragedy; although he lives as a dog, and everything he knows is of being a dog, yet the boy is not a dog and cannot remain one, and his own complete failure to understand his circumstances when he is rescued results in one of the most heartbreaking endings to any book I have ever read.

It’s a strange and beautiful experience, reading this book, and although yes, it will break you, it gives a rare insight into how it can be for anyone brought up outside his proper culture.

Lassie Come-Home

By Eric Knight, Marguerite Kirmse (illustrator),

Book cover of Lassie Come-Home

Why this book?

No list of dog books would be complete without this classic. We’re all familiar with the story, but it’s been presented so many times in a bowdlerised, Disneyfied fashion. The original book is a must-read for the dog lover. There’s no anthropomorphising, no sophisticated soliloquies, and almost no dialogue—certainly none from the main character, who is above all a dog, and purely a dog. Her stolid, stubborn, indomitable perseverance is the essence of dogness; it’s beautifully done, and the terrible limitations of a non-human protagonist are squarely met and wonderfully dealt with. It’s a classic for a reason. 

His Dog

By Albert Payson Terhune,

Book cover of His Dog

Why this book?

I’m a sucker for a book where a struggling person turns his life around, and His Dog is a wonderful example. A bitter, failed man, run to seed and given up to drink and bad ways, takes in a stray dog, and we see the gradual transformation of his life in response to the dog’s pure goodwill. It’s a charming book, and as it goes on, and terrible risks are encountered and overcome, it is in emotional terms one of the most exciting books I’ve read. Originally published in 1922, the book deals with subjects that don’t change over time, so it remains as relevant today as when it was first written. A beautiful and heart-warming book.

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