We’ve all been in the position of reading a book that features a dog, secretly praying that nothing happens to that dog. Our attachment to dogs goes back thousands of years, and literature is a great way to remind us of our attachment to these loyal companions. Here are some of the most popular and famous dogs you may have come across in literature.
The 15 Popular & Famous Dogs in Literature
1. Old Yeller
|Breed||Black Mouth Cur|
It’s possible that you’ve never read the book Old Yeller, but you likely at least remember sobbing into your couch cushions watching the movie version of this story. Old Yeller was a large Black Mouth Cur who proved to be a loyal and protective companion to a young boy, protecting him from a variety of dangers and going on adventures with him. In the movie version of this story, Old Yeller was played by a Labrador Retriever and English Mastiff cross named Spike. Unfortunately, Old Yeller succumbs to rabies after protecting his family against a wolf attack, and his boy is forced to put him down.
2. Old Dan and Little Ann
|Origin||Where the Red Fern Grows|
Sorry to even bring this one up because we’re probably all equally scarred by reading or watching Where the Red Fern Grows. This beautiful coming-of-age story features the relationship a boy shares with his two Redbone Coonhounds, Old Dan and Little Ann. Like Old Yeller, this story doesn’t have a happy ending for the dogs. Both dogs fight off a mountain lion to protect their boy, killing the animal. However, Old Dan is severely injured in the fight and succumbs to his injuries. Little Ann, grief-stricken at the loss of her companion, passes a few days later on top of Old Dan’s grave.
Lassie is one of the most recognizable dogs in literature, thanks to a variety of movies and shows featuring this Rough Collie. Lassie was known for her protective nature of her boy, often saving him from dangerous situations. Lassie Come-Home is told from Lassie’s perspective and tells the story of Lassie attempting to find her way back to her boy after being sold due to the boy’s father losing his job. Lassie treks across Scotland, eventually finding her boy and living happily ever after.
|Origin||The Wonderful Wizard of Oz|
Toto is a small Cairn Terrier that accompanies Dorothy throughout her trip to Oz in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The dog is a constant companion that provides comfort to Dorothy, even being described as bringing light into Dorothy’s life. While some fandoms claim that Toto has the ability to talk once he arrives in Oz, he serves as a silent companion to Dorothy throughout the book and original movie.
Nana is the official nanny to the Darling children in Peter Pan. She plays a minimal role in the story since she doesn’t accompany the children to Neverland, but she is a protective and loving presence nonetheless. In the book version, Nana is a Newfoundland, but in the movie version, she is a Saint Bernard. Either way, her commitment to the Darling children is typical for both breeds.
|Origin||Marley and Me|
Based on a true story, Marley and Me tells the story of a young family learning how to deal with their mischievous Labrador Retriever, Marley. Marley gets up to no good consistently throughout the book, often proving destructive. Even though Marley is a bit of a naughty dog, his antics manage to bring joy to his family, bringing them closer together in the process. In the book, we’re treated to the start-to-finish story of Marley, often closely aligning with our own dog-owning experiences.
|Origin||Clifford the Big Red Dog series|
Clifford is one of the most beloved dogs in children’s literature, going on lots of adventures with his little girl, Emily Elizabeth. It’s unknown what breed Clifford is, but he is truly an enormous dog. Although his height is relatively inconsistent in the books, he is typically shown as being around 25 feet tall. It’s believed that Clifford was originally based on a Bloodhound, but it has also been posited that he could be a Labrador Retriever or a Vizsla. No matter what breed he is, Clifford is always shown to be a dark red color that is not naturally seen in any dog breed.
|Origin||Because of Winn-Dixie|
Winn-Dixie is a Berger Picard dog adopted by a 10-year-old girl named Opal after Opal makes a trip to the grocery store. Winn-Dixie is a loving dog who provides Opal with the emotional support she’s been lacking in her life. Because of Winn-Dixie, Opal works up the courage to begin discussing her mother with her father. When Opal was only a few years old, her mother abandoned the family, leaving Opal with many questions. Because of Winn-Dixie is a coming-of-age tale that shows the impact that a dog’s love can have on a person’s life.
|Breed||Saint Bernard and Scotch Shepherd mix|
|Color||Brown and white|
|Origin||The Call of the Wild|
The Call of the Wild is a beloved book about a sled dog team during the Yukon gold rush in Canada. Buck is the main character of the story, and he ends up in Canada after being stolen from his cushy life as a pet of a judge in California. At the time, large, strong sled dogs were in high demand, and Buck’s parentage of a Saint Bernard and Scotch Shepherd meant he fit the bill. Throughout the book, Buck begins to connect with his more primitive and wild instincts, eventually choosing to leave civilization altogether in favor of living in the wild with a wolfpack.
|Origin||Harry Potter series|
Fang is described in the Harry Potter books as a boarhound, which is an outdated term for a Great Dane. In the movie versions of the books, he is played by a Neapolitan Mastiff. Either way, Fang is a huge dog who is owned by the equally large Hagrid. Although Hagrid is known to keep dangerous pets, Fang is quite docile, with his most dangerous quality being the amount of drool he produces. That isn’t to say he won’t protect Hagrid at all costs, though, which is seen at various points in the story.
11. Pongo and Perdita
|Color||Black and white|
|Origin||The Hundred and One Dalmatians|
The Hundred and One Dalmatians is the story of how two Dalmatians meet through their humans. Pongo and Perdita have puppies together, which the evil villain, Cruella DeVil, wants to steal as part of her plan to make a Dalmatian fur coat. The puppies are kidnapped, and Pongo and Perdita go on a journey to save their puppies, only to discover more Dalmatian puppies that Cruella had stolen. In the end, the puppies are all saved, and Pongo and Perdita’s owners are stuck figuring out what to do with dozens of puppies.
|Origin||The Adventures of Tintin series|
Snowy is a wire-haired Fox Terrier who is abnormally solid white. He serves as a constant companion throughout the adventures that a boy named Tintin goes on. Snowy proves himself to be intelligent, often solving problems to aid Tintin and his other companions. He’s also loyal and sticks by Tintin no matter what, often showing a willingness to put himself into dangerous situations in order to protect his human.
Argos may not be a name you recognize, but this dog showed a level of loyalty not shown by most of the dogs on the list. In the ancient tale, The Odyssey, Odysseus was responsible for breeding and training Argos, developing a close relationship with him in doing so. However, Odysseus leaves home and is unable to get back for 20 years. When he returns home, there are multiple suitors staying in his home who seek to marry his wife, who is believed to be a widow. Odysseus hatches a plan to sneak into the home and take revenge, and only his son is aware of his true identity.
When he approaches the home, Odysseus spots his old dog, Argos, infested with fleas and dying on a pile of manure. Argos immediately recognizes his master’s voice and wags his tail and raises his ears to Odysseus, but lacks the strength to do more. Although Odysseus sheds a tear for his companion, he is saved by the dog’s inability to get up as this might give away who he really is. Unfortunately, he is not able to say goodbye to his friend as Argos passes away after knowing his master has returned home.
14. White Fang
White Fang is a story of a wolfdog hybrid by the name White Fang. Thematically, it mirrors the story of Buck from The Call of the Wild, exploring what it means to be wild versus civilized. White Fang begins his life as a wild animal, living with his mother and littermates in a wolfpack. When a Native American recognizes his mother as a wolfdog that had belonged to his brother, he takes the mother and pup back to their camp, naming the pup White Fang. Over time, White Fang goes through many hardships, eventually ending up with a kind man named Weedon Scott, who manages to tame the dog and keeps him as a pet.
|Color||Black and white|
You might recognize Balto’s name from a cartoon movie of the same name, but there are also many books that have been written about this dog. You may not have realized that Balto was a real dog that lived from 1919–1933. He is remembered for having helped to save the town of Nome, Alaska by leading a team of dogs in the last leg of the trip to deliver diphtheria vaccines to combat an outbreak of the deadly disease. After Balto rose to fame, he lived out his days at the Cleveland Zoo. After his death, Balto was stuffed and can still be seen today in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
The ways that dogs are written into literature strongly show the human-canine connection that has been forged through thousands of years of selective breeding. Literature also allows us to explore a variety of themes that can be impactful in our daily lives. By seeing how dogs are written about in literature, we can easily see that the way that humans feel about dogs has changed very little between The Odyssey and today.
Featured Image Credit: Jeanette Virginia Goh, Shutterstock