An illustration of a dalmatian dog with a prize-winning rosette on its shoulder, standing in front of a bookcase full of colourful books.
An illustration of a dalmatian dog with a prize-winning rosette on its shoulder, standing in front of a bookcase full of colourful books.

They say dogs are a man’s best friend – and when you look at the starring roles these canine companions play in literature, it feels like never a truer word has been spoken. Whether they appear as a protagonist’s faithful chum, are helping to solve fiendish mysteries or even act as a terrifying adversary, this species has inspired writers for centuries (even millennia, if you're counting the dogs found daubed on cave walls from the earliest period of human civilisation).

With so many fictional hounds occupying the pages, narrowing down to a top ten feels almost impossible and so, of course, there are some notable omissions. But here we are, from the wonderful to the weep-inducing, this is our absolutely incontrovertible, definitive list of the top ten dogs in fiction. No arguments, please.

10. Argos from The Odyssey by Homer

Argos, loyal hound of Odysseus, is likely one of literature’s earliest recorded canine companions. After a two decade-long absence, an unrecognisable Odysseus returns to Ithaca and who should recognise him immediately? It's only Argos, of course.

Even Eumaeus, supposedly a close friend, has no clue who he’s talking to when Odysseus asks after the dog, the sight of whom now causes him to surreptitiously dash away a tear.

But alas, Argos, once known for his speed and strength, is now very much a shadow of his former self and, sadly, “passe[s] into the darkness of death” almost immediately after laying eyes on his master. Gone but not forgotten, we say.

9. The dog from the Adrian Mole books by Sue Townsend

Despite a 13 ¾ year-old Adrian starting his diary with a list of new year’s resolutions (including one on being kind to the dog), his good intentions don’t seem to last too long. The dog, whose name we never learn, is somewhat neglected by the family but it’s to his advantage because it means it can use its freedom to act out in mischievous ways.

Through Adrian’s daily diary entries we hear all about the dog’s exploits, from getting drunk on cherry brandy to getting in trouble with the police after knocking a meter reader off his bike. It's a dog's life, as they say.

Even though the family don’t seem too bothered, Pauline Mole unexpectedly starts crying at the thought of the dog not being around so it looks like there’s some love there after all. And thank goodness because Ashby-de-la-Zouch just wouldn’t be the same without the dog.

8. Bosun from Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Speaking to Goodreads around the launch of her historical opus Life After Life, Kate Atkinson said, “I’m quite a ruthless author. The only time I felt really bad about killing a character was in Behind the Scenes at the Museum, when the dog was sent to war and was killed. That broke my heart. That says more about me – that I’m more affected by dogs than people.”

It seems reasonable, then, to expect any dog that shows up in one of Atkinson’s books to be particularly memorable and it’s certainly true for Bosun, the family dog. A large brindled French mastiff, Bosun is a dutiful companion who offers comfort where it’s needed and often seems to know what his human family needs before they realise it themselves. A very good dog indeed and completely deserving of his place on this list.

7. Buck from The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Buck, the St. Bernard-Collie cross at the centre of this riches-to-rags story, is a pampered floof who ends up rediscovering himself – his “instincts long dead [become] alive again” – after being kidnapped and sold into service as a sled dog.

Thrust into the harsh Alaskan and Canadian wilds, Buck finds himself regressing to a much more animal state instead. Feeling caught in the middle, Buck splits his time between a human companion and a wolf pack but eventually heads off into the forest to answer the call of the wild.

The portrayal of indigineous people as overly-violent is outdated by today's standards and Buck's vengeance against them is unnecessarily brutal, so while we'd say the verdict is still out on whether he's a good boy or not, this is certainly a story with staying power.

6. Snowy from the Tintin books by Hergé

An Hergé illustration showing Tintin and Snowy enjoying a walk through the countryside together.

Image: Egmont

The fact that Hergé named Tintin’s dog – Milou in the original French and Snowy in English – after his first love is probably a good indicator of his fondness for this little dog, and the important role he plays in this series of adventures.

Some might think of him as merely a sidekick but Snowy is as much a protagonist as Tintin. Always loyal, brave when he needs to be and with a penchant for whisky, it’s pretty hard not to like this furry friend – plus, his dry wit makes for the perfect counterpoint to Tintin’s boundless optimism which, let’s face it, could get quite annoying if it weren’t for Snowy to keep him in check.

Often to be found in a moral quandary about whether to chow down on a juicy bone or help Tintin out of a sticky situation, he is truly a dog after our own hearts.

5. Lufra from Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Frederica, the plucky heroine of Heyer’s Regency romance, ends up in the middle of an unexpected adventure when she takes the family dog out for a walk around Green Park.

Lufra, a large, boisterous mongrel, charges at the cows grazing there and draws the ire of several park attendants and a “hatchet-faced lady”. Afraid the dog might get taken away by the park-keepers, Frederica blurts out a little lie: the dog is a pure-bred “Barcelona collie” who belongs to a Marquis who will be extremely angry if his costly canine companion comes to any harm.

Unconvinced (because Lufra doesn’t look like a pure-bred anything), the mob traipse over to the Marquis’ residence to sort things out and, luckily, he clocks what’s happening and goes along with it. Playing it to perfection, Lufra bounds over to the Marquis as if they were the best of friends all along, at which point the angry mob give up and leave. A dog with impeccable timing deserves a high place on the list, no?

4. Bull's-eye from Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

The notorious Bill Sikes’ dog is often assumed to be a bull terrier but Dickens actually describes him as “a white shaggy dog, with his face scratched and torn in twenty places”.

The product of a cruel upbringing, this terrifying and unpredictable hound can be found close to Sikes at all times, ready to follow his master’s heinous commands. A reminder that we'd all do well to keep a wide berth from this guy.

In many ways, Bull's-eye is a reflection of Sikes as Dickens writes that the dog shares “faults of temper in common with his owner”. But in other ways, he's a victim of circumstance, especially when Sikes becomes tries to kill him too. 

Hardly the goodest of boys, Bull's-eye, but perhaps he'd have turned out better with a less murderous human looking after him?

3. Gaspode from the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett

A small, bow-legged terrier-like dog sounds rather unassuming and easy to overlook but you’d do well to think again.

With human-level intelligence, the ability to talk and an extensive collection of diseases (all of which are too busy fighting amongst themselves to cause any harm to their host), Gaspode is smarter than your average dog. However, since everyone knows dogs can’t speak, they just assume his words are coming from their own brain’s tendency to anthropomorphise animals – a trait that works to Gaspode’s advantage most of the time.

Through the Discworld stories that Gaspode appears in, he is conflicted by the desire to be a Good Boy while being distinctly aware of the fact that if he doesn’t look out for himself, no-one else will. 12/10 for this perfect angel.

2. Hairy Maclary from the Hairy Maclary and Friends books by Lynley Dodd

While Hairy Maclary is only one of the dogs that appear in Lynley Dodd’s much-loved series of children’s books, he’s clearly the star of the show.

In his first outing we see him running riot across town, canine friends in tow, until they come face to face with arch-nemesis, Scarface Claw.

Written in rhyme and featuring a whole gang of delightful animals, it’s no surprise that this little scamp is one of the most beloved dogs in children’s literature and a staple in homes across the world.

1. Snoopy from the Peanuts comics by Charles M. Schulz

A Peanuts comic strip by Charles M. Schulz in which Snoopy is seen pushing a heavy typewriter for 3 panels of the strip; in the last panel he starts his new novel with the first line, 'It was a dark and stormy night.'

Image: Charles M. Schulz Museum

Self-proclaimed famous writer, Flying Ace, Olympic figure skater, astronaut, expert animal impersonator… well, the list could go on for a while yet, so the question is, is there anything this beagle can’t do?

He might have started life as an average dog but Snoopy has evolved over the years, hauling himself up onto two legs, and becoming much more philosophical and human-like in the process. If you think Peanuts seems lacking in depth, get beneath the surface and you'll realise it's subversive, melancholy, satirical and deeply compassionate – and Snoopy is often to be found at the centre of it all.

It might be easy to write him off as just another cartoon dog but there’s a lot of going on in these deceptively simple panels. And with famous fans including George Saunders, Ann Patchett, Umberto Eco, Maxine Hong Kingston, Jonathan Franzen and many more, we reckon Snoopy is not just truly iconique but he's quite obviously the best fictional dog around.

What did you think of our list, and which dogs would you want to add? Let us know by emailing us at editor@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk.

Image: Michael Driver / Folio Art for Penguin.

Read more

We use cookies on this site to enable certain parts of the site to function and to collect information about your use of the site so that we can improve our visitors’ experience.

For more on our cookies and changing your settings click here


Strictly Necessary


Analytics


Preferences & Features


Targeting / Advertising