Aesop wrote his fables a very long time ago. In 1877 Black Beauty galloped onto the stage, and mid-twentieth century, John Steinbeck wrote about his poodle-accompanied road trip in Travels with Charlie. Stories about animals have always been around, but precious few transcend the fluffy-edged sphere of children’s literature. Not so anymore. Ten or twelve years ago booksellers noticed a trend: Books about dogs began to show consistently solid sales, almost regardless of subject. Training bible or glossy coffee table photography, it mattered little.
Today, what was a trend has become a wave. Once the sole province of ardent fanciers, dog-themed books now poke their noses onto bestseller lists every few months, even penetrating the fiction list, as in the case of Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain or W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose. But the biggest winners are non-fiction that ranges from memoir to true stories to cognitive science and cynology. Who hasn’t read, or heard of, John Grogan’s mega-hit Marley & Me, about his family’s adorable, dysfunctional Labrador? Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation earned bestseller status, as did Jon Katz’ memoir (Dog Days) and Alexandra Horowitz’ Inside of a Dog.
Why this groundswell of enthusiasm for doggie literature? The obvious answer is that dogs and other companion animals are more popular than ever before in history (a 2016 study by the American Pet Products Association estimates there are 78 million dogs in America), so the pool of interested readers has grown.
But surely the demand for dog-related books—along with demand for designer collars, raw food, dog walkers, poop scooping services, and more—also indicates the unique position dogs have come to occupy in the American family. Long our hard-working ally, dogs have moved into our homes and hearts in a way previously reserved for human children. According to another study, more than half of dog owners consider their pet ‘an integral part of the family.’
Then again, the truth may boil down to this: Dogs, with all their lovable foibles, make for vastly more interesting reading than, say, goldfish or hamsters.