Ruff Reads

In life, I have two passions: animals and books. When they combine? Magic.

Since I’ve learned to read, I don’t think there’s been a day of my life where I have not read. I still remember reading White Fang when I was eight years old. It was the first book that made me cry, and yet, I loved it. From there, I began reading James Herriott’s books, and Jim Kjelgaard’s excellent books for young readers.

All of them, of course, had one thing in common: animals as a central theme.

I’ve broadened my horizons, of course, since those years, but I enjoy a good dog-centric book – even if it’s a training manual (okay, especially if it’s a training book about dogs – you can never know too much!).

My top 3 books on rotation at the bedside? These three: Lucky Dog, When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs, and All Creatures Great And Small.

1. All Creatures Great And Small, by James Herriot.

All Creatures Great And Small by James Herriot

I read this book about twice a year, especially when I’m feeling not-so-great about life in general (like when the Michael Vick thing broke – I dragged out my dog-eared copy of All Creatures Great And Small because it made me feel better, like a security blanket). I know every word by heart, but I love reading it all over again. Herriot’s luscious treatment of the Yorkshire countryside and loving (and sometimes humorous) way that he writes about his clients is unsurpassed, in my view.


In All Creatures Great and Small, we meet the young Herriot as he takes up his calling and discovers that the realities of veterinary practice in rural Yorkshire are very different from the sterile setting of veterinary school. From caring for his patients in the depths of winter on the remotest homesteads to dealing with uncooperative owners and critically ill animals, Herriot discovers the wondrous variety and never-ending challenges of veterinary practice as his humor, compassion, and love of the animal world shine forth.

You just can’t get much better for a feel-good book about animals. If you haven’t read it, I’d ask you seriously, what are you waiting for?

2. When Pigs Fly: Training Success For Impossible Dogs by Jane Killion

When Pigs Fly: Training Success With Impossible Dogs by Jane Killion

So. I have this dog, Sam, whom I’ve introduced here. He is the very model of an impossible dog – not treat-motivated, not toy-motivated, and could honestly care less about you if there’s something super-awesome to sniff. I vividly remember our Canine Manners class at the SPCA – everyone else’s dog was being all awesome and sitting on command and coming when called – but even after five weeks, Sam was still more interested in that Thing Over There than me. I’d dragged toys, all kinds of ridiculous treats (including raw steak!) to class, and he was only marginally interested in it. Okay, part of it was his blindness, but even so! I wasn’t motivating him the right way, and wasn’t sure HOW to motivate him.


Do you have an impossible dog? Think again. Most dogs have many characteristics that make them quiet trainable. Your dog is smart, a good problem solver and posesses a strong drive to get what he wants. Learn how to make your dog operant; a dog willing to seek out the correct behavior in return for a reward. You don’t have to constantly feed your dog for good behavior. Learn how to use play and other activities as an effective reward.

The key to training success with difficult dogs is to figure out what they find rewarding and then to use those rewards to get the behaviors you want. You’ll be amazed at what your “bad” dog will do when you know how he thinks and what turns him on!

Enter this book. Inside of a few sessions, I learned that Sam WAS interested in what I was doing and could be motivated by me. I kept at training him, and now my once-‘impossible’ dog is a pretty well-trained pup. I keep coming back to this book as a training how-to even for Bean, and it makes a regular read on my nightstand because I always seem to discover something new.

3. Lucky Dog by Mark Barrowcliffe.

Lucky Dog by Mark Barrowcliffe

I am an absolute sucker for a witty, well-told story – especially if it involves dogs. This book is in my top-10 love-to-read books. From Amazon:

Dave Bartok is not having the best of years. His mother has just died, he is an addicted poker player, and (hugely in debt), his real estate business is sinking, and he doesn’t really like his longtime girlfriend. When he gets saddled with an abandoned dog, he doesn’t think things can get worse. And then Reg the dog starts talking –and only Dave can hear him.

At first Dave thinks he’s gone crazy, but he soon realizes he’s found his soul mate. Dave and Reg start off on a madcap adventure that will find them tangled up with the mob, involved in an illegal real estate deal, cleaning up at the poker table, and stumbling toward true love.

Reg, as you might be able to guess, is one smart puppy. For instance, take these Reg-isms from the book:

On couches being chewable because they are actually sausages
“It’s got a skin, it’s got stuffing, what am I not getting here?”

On entering a dangerous establishment
“Actually, I’ve changed my mind. There’s no atmosphere so menacing it can’t be banished by a ham sandwich.”

On neckties
“Every time you put it on you end up going somewhere you don’t want to. That’s what I call a leash.”

What made me absolutely adore this book, though, was how Reg describes his view on his environment, almost like somehow Barrowcliffe really did sit down and have an honest-to-dog conversation with a canine.

“It is a mystery,” said Reg. “How could you surrender this? … A ball falls from the light across a dark field. Desire and fulfillment conspire to joy. The sun ignites the tumbling clouds, the tumult of blood, no future, no past, just a consuming instant, as fur, muscle and bone sing with the impulse of delight.”

Reg is one of the most hilarious characters in a book – he has all the enthusiasm of a dog coupled with the intelligence of a scholar. If you’re looking for a heartwarming adventure with a hilarious dog-hero, give this a read.


About Mel

Likes: Canada, spelunking, shiny objects, painting her living room a different color every couple of months, animals, dogs, clicker training Dislikes: Canada, styrofoam packing peanuts, snoring, crazy stalkers, failure of google-fu Favorite sports: hockey, marriage, agility, curling, hockey, snooker, hockey Noted for: participation in charities, antique furniture obsession, not-entirely-appropriate sense of humor, obsession with dog training
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