10 of the Best Novels and Short Stories about Dogs

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Novelists and short-story writers have created some classic narratives about man’s best friend, the dog. But what are the very best stories and novels about dogs? Where should we begin in assessing the classic, canonical literature that features dogs?

From Homer’s Odyssey onwards – where the hero’s faithful hound remembered him upon his return to Ithaca – the annals of literature are full of famous literary dogs. Here are ten of the best works of fiction to feature our four-legged friends.

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A Short Analysis of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Geist’s Grave’

And as well as penning ‘Thyrsis’, his celebrated elegy for the death of his old friend Arthur Hugh Clough, and ‘Dover Beach’, his lament for Victorian faith, the poet and educator Matthew Arnold (1822-88) also wrote elegies for his pet dog Geist and his canary Matthias. In ‘Geist’s Grave’, Arnold celebrates the four brief years he had his dog Geist, the dachshund who was his ‘little friend’, by his side.

Geist’s Grave

Four years!—and didst thou stay above
The ground, which hides thee now, but four?
And all that life, and all that love,
Were crowded, Geist! into no more?

Only four years those winning ways,
Which make me for thy presence yearn,
Call’d us to pet thee or to praise,
Dear little friend! at every turn?

That loving heart, that patient soul,
Had they indeed no longer span,
To run their course, and reach their goal,
And read their homily to man?

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A Short Analysis of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Power of the Dog’

Kipling’s fine poem about our canine friends

‘The Power of the Dog’ by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), prolific poet, novelist, and writer of short fiction for both adults and children, extols the dog’s most famous virtue – its undying loyalty and devotion to its owner – but also warns against giving your heart to a dog for it ‘to tear’. Dogs, for Kipling, are not just man’s best friend: they are heartbreakers.

The Power of the Dog

There is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie

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A Short Analysis of Thomas Hardy’s ‘A Popular Personage at Home’

Hardy’s classic dog poem – analysed by Dr Oliver Tearle

‘A Popular Personage at Home’ was one of two poems Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) wrote about his beloved dog of 13 years, Wessex, who died in 1926, two years before Hardy himself. However, what makes ‘A Popular Personage at Home’ especially notable is that Hardy wrote the poem from the perspective of the dog, allowing ‘Wessex’ to speak for himself.

A Popular Personage at Home

‘I live here: “Wessex” is my name:
I am a dog known rather well:
I guard the house but how that came
To be my whim I cannot tell.

‘With a leap and a heart elate I go
At the end of an hour’s expectancy
To take a walk of a mile or so
With the folk I let live here with me.

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