The best American books on travels with dogs

Mark Derr Author Of Dog's Best Friend: Annals of the Dog-Human Relationship
By Mark Derr

The Books I Picked & Why

The Journals of Lewis and Clark

By John Bakeless

The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Why this book?

Arguably, people and dogs—initially in the guise of wolves—have been wandering the world together since they first met on the trail of the big game they were both hunting. Dogs were generally more amicable, low-maintenance traveling companions, serving as camp guards, hunters, bed warmers, social secretaries, and occasional sneak thieves.  

A prototype for traveling dog in American letters is Seaman, a young Newfoundland Meriwether Lewis obtained to accompany the corps of discovery on its westward explorations. Seaman and his exploits dot the pages of The Journals of Lewis and Clark (1814), a great resource and compelling read for anyone hoping to understand the history of the American West. 


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Travels with Charley in Search of America

By John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley in Search of America

Why this book?

A modern subgenre of dog literature features people who have traveled extensive distances with dogs, often in exploration but sometimes just for the hell of it. Among the best of these is John Steinbeck’s classic Travels with Charley in Search of America, Charley being a standard poodle with roots in Paris. Steinbeck’s journey in search of America in a custom camper comes Steinbeck set out in an effort to reconnect with America. He and Charley traveled in a custom camper at the height of the Kennedy-Nixon presidential race of 1960, whose echoes reverberate to this day. In 1962 Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. 


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A Tramp Across the Continent

By Charles F. Lummis

A Tramp Across the Continent

Why this book?

Nearly a century earlier, people relied on their own feet to travel long distances. These often solo efforts were known as “vagabonding”. A classic from this era was the transcontinental walk of Charles Fletcher Lummis, recounted in his A Tramp Across the Continent. Lummis, who eventually became the first City Editor at the Los Angeles Times, took up with an abused greyhound named Shadow, whom he had rescued from a group of immigrant miners in Colorado. Shadow and he had a number of adventures on the way to California. Unfortunately, the dog, whom Lummis loved dearly, contracted rabies, and Lummis had to shoot him. Lummis’s account of the shipment of Apache from their homes in the southwestern desert to the swampy morass of Florida is particularly wrenching and the mindless slaughter of Apache dogs by white settlers is deeply disturbing.


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The Wild North Land: Being the Story of a Winter Journey, with Dogs, Across Northern North America

By William Francis Butler

The Wild North Land: Being the Story of a Winter Journey, with Dogs, Across Northern North America

Why this book?

A book that falls between Lummis and Steinbeck chronologically is William Francis Butler’s The Wild North Land: Being the Story of a Winter Journey, with Dogs, Across Northern North America, an account of his retracing of the route of the 18th-century Scottish explorer Alexander McKenzie who traversed much of Canada from Lake Chipewyan in Alberta to the Pacific Ocean. Butler had a dog team whose leader was Cerf-Vola, who distinguished himself for his sagacity and strength. Ultimately, Butler retired him from sled duty to dog companion. That relationship did not prevent Butler from giving the dog to an acquaintance when he returned to England, saying that it broke his heart when he had to lay aside his emotions for “the sterner stuff of civilization.”


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A Journey Through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier

By Frederick Law Olmsted

A Journey Through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier

Why this book?

The great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted was a journalist before he found his true calling - he designed New York’s Central Park, Roland Park in Baltimore, and many other green spaces across the U.S. Olmsted toured East Texas in the early 1850s as a correspondent for the New York Daily Times. An ardent abolitionist, he reported on the cruelty of slavery, which he found permeated the society. The white slaveholders lived in almost constant dread of their insurrection and escape, which were constant. Occasionally, the slaves themselves had dogs who would engage the hounds used by slave owners and overseers to track and capture the runaways. Olmsted used the nom de plume Yoeman and he compiled his reports and journals into a trilogy that looks at the institution of slavery in its last decade.  His companion for much of his journey was a bull terrier named Judy, a muscular dog who struck fear into the hearts of many people he met and was sought after by the slave owners themselves. In 1857, he published a volume on his adventures, A Journey Through Texas: Or a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier.

People, of course, continue to travel with dogs and find them the most companionable of beings. In 1981, my wife and I traveled across the country from Baltimore to the West Coast with our 80-pound Chesapeake, Seneca, who happily hung partway out the window and snapped at approaching vehicles all the way of the Pacific Coast Highway. Today, many travelers record their travels on social media, but these old accounts still speak to the special bond between dogs and people.  We are both social, big-brained animals with—as the last year-plus of forced incarceration at home have shown us—a yearning to roam.


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