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Culture: Reviews
Best Picks of Dog Father Movies

From celluloid reels and family classics to foreign cinema and indie flicks, The Bark presents its list of 12 favorite dog “father” movies showcasing a father (or a paternal figure) and a leading canine character. These movies explore familial bonds, rights of passage and, of course, love. Invite your dad, son or daughter for a night at the movies—all the films on our list are guaranteed to tug at your heart. Most can be seen on Netflix, hulu or youtube. If you have a favorite that didn’t make this list, let us know! (Be sure to click on the titles for trailers and videos.)

Beginners Probably the only film that garnered an Academy Award for an actor, Christopher Plummer, who plays both a devoted dog “father” but also a father to a human son. This charming, true-to-life movie also costars Ewan McGregor, as the son, and a remarkable performance from Cosmo, a Jack Russell Terrier, who steals each scene. An understated story of self-discovery, life and love. See our interview with McGregor and Cosmo’s trainer too.   - Rent or Buy Beginners on Amazon The Cave of the Yellow Dog This is a quasi-documentary that concentrates on a nomadic family in Mongolia—father, mother, three small children—and the impact made upon them by a stray puppy. The acting from six-year-old Nansalmaa Batchuluun is remarkable. As Bark’s reviewer noted, “this is one of the great joys of the movie-lover: to see a soul revealed, to witness a blending of part and actor so complete that we can’t distinguish where one emerges and the other disappears.” This is revelatory story about a culture in transition and the universality of the strength of the human-dog bond. See Bark’s interview with the director.    - Buy The Cave of the Yellow Dog on Amazon

 

Sounder Let’s not mince words, this is a tearjerker, but one that is devoid of mawkish sentiment. A story of a black’s sharecropper family in the 1930s and their trusted dog, Sounder, a great hunter and loyal companion. He’s affectionate and joyful, and the pride of the family. With amazing performances from Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and the young, Kevin Hooks, this four-time Oscar-nominated film is a powerful story about racism and injustice, but also about how a family overcomes insurmountable obstacles and about the hope that is represented by their dog, Sounder.   - Rent or Buy Sounder on Amazon

 

Babe While everyone knows this is the one of the two seminal movies about a smart pig so one might wonder what it is doing on this list. Babe, the piglet, not only has aspirations for sheepdogdom, but is coached along by a real Border Collie, Fly. So it has a well-deserved spot here—besides it is also one of the best movies ever made about animals. All the animals are beautifully crafted and fully realized characters, and James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett puts in a memorable performance especially in the scene when he takes Babe to the herding trial and the pair go on to prove to one and all that you can do just about anything if you put your mind, and snout, to it. As he gently intones to Babe at the film’s end, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”   - Rent or Buy Babe on Amazon

 

Old Yeller This 1957 Disney classic is a coming-of-age tale set in the post-Civil War frontier. His father away on a cattle drive, young Travis must act as the man of the house, watching over his mother and younger brother. He’s initially mistrusting of a yellow stray dog who wreaks havoc and steals food, but the dog wins his affections and proves his loyalty by battling bears and boars to protect his new family. The tragic conclusion has overwhelmed generations of viewers, and the themes of love and loss resonate as clearly today as they did on the film’s first release.   - Rent or Buy Old Yeller on Amazon

 

My Dog Skip Based upon a memoir by Willie Morris, one time editor of Harper’s magazine, My Dog Skip takes place in 1942. Young Willie has few friends and the prospect of a lonely summer, until his mother decides her son needs a dog. Skip changes Willie’s life forever. Best friend, talented performer, endearing dog-about-town … Skip introduces Willie to new worlds, new friends, seemingly the whole town. Moose (Eddie from Fraser) steals the film with his lively portrayal of Skip.   - Rent or Buy My Dog Skip on Amazon

 

Where North Begins (Rin Tin Tin) Considered to be the first film starring Rin Tin Tin, this 1923 silent black and white reel has a the young German Shepherd puppy adopted by a wolf pack after being lost in transport across Alaska. As a grown “wolf-dog,” Rin Tin Tin comes to the rescue of a young trapper, Gabriel Dupré, who is attacked while transporting furs and left for dead. The young man and dog become fast friends, and Rin Tin Tin again proves his bravery by saving Dupré’s sweetheart when her life is threatened.  Surprisingly realistic given the early age of cinema and the demanding feats asked of its canine star.   - Buy Where the North Begins on Amazon

 

Because of Winn-Dixie One of the few “dog” movies featuring a little girl (the other is our pick, “Cave of the Yellow Dog”), in this case, a lonely 10-year-old named Opal. Having been abandoned by her mother when she was only three, finding a large scruffy dog at the supermarket, gives Opal another way to explore the world and her community and come out of her shell. Also because of Winn-Dixie, her father, played by Jeff Daniels, agrees to tell her ten things about her missing mother. Inspired by her attachment to her dog, Opal learns many things that summer.   - Rent or Buy Because of Winn-Dixie on Amazon

 

Lassie Come Home This is the first film in the Lassie series, made in ’43 and starring Roddy McDowall and canine actor, Pal, in a story about the profound bond between the boy and his dog. When a poor Yorkshire family is forced to sell their beloved Rough Collie to a rich duke, the dog does everything to escape and make her way back to her “boy.” A lovely young Elizabeth Taylor plays the duke’s granddaughter who, sensing how much the dog loves her family helps Lassie escape. A movie classic that launched an industry, but its poignant and uplifting story is well worth your viewing.   - Rent or Buy Lassie Come Home on Amazon

 

Umberto D  This is one of the greatest films of all time and a classic masterpiece by Vittorio De Sica. This is a story about a retiree, played by a 70-year-old non-actor Carlo Battisti, who finds that the bond he has with his dog, Flike keeps him tethered to his own fading life. In fact, the dog shows him why he must continue to live. As Roger Ebert summarized it: “Umberto loves the dog and the dog loves him because that is the nature of the bond between dogs and men, and both try to live up to their side of the contract.” (This film was recently remade starring Jean Paul Belmondo, in a French version, “Mon Chien Un Homme et Son Chien.”)   - Rent or Buy Umberto D. on Amazon

 

The Thin Man (any or all of this six-part series) Although it starred the sophisticates William Powell and Myrna Loy (as Nick and Nora Charles) it’s the performance of Asta that made this series from the ’30s all the more enjoyable. Adapted from the last novel written by Dashiell Hammett, Asta, the Charles’ dog/child was a female Schnauzer in the book, but in the movies the role went to male Wirehaired Fox Terrier(s). As a Bark reviewer noted, Skippy who played Asta in the first two movies, was “a consummate canine comedian who was the perfect counterpart to the socialites lushes the Charles.”   - Rent or Buy The Thin Man on Amazon

 

My Dog Tulip This animated full-length feature film was adapted from J.R. Ackerley’s startling 1956 memoir that then, and even now, has a way of evoking either readers’ displeasure or intense admiration. Award winning-filmmakers Paul and Sandra Fierlinger codirected this film, and have done an artful job at bringing this eloquent study in love and adaptation to the screen. With the voices of Christopher Plummer, Isabella Rossellini and Lynn Redgrave this inimitable story of a man’s love for his dog showcases Ackerley’s determined efforts to ensure an existence of perfect happiness for his Alsatian, Tulip. See our review and interview with the filmmakers.   - Buy My Dog Tulip on Amazon
Culture: Reviews
Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers
Very Fetching, 2012, 180 pp; $16.99

I’d like to see Barbara Shumannfang’s book Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers in the hands of more people with new puppies. It’s upbeat and full of practical wisdom conveyed in an easy-to-read conversational style.

Shumannfang understands normal puppy behavior and offers smart advice for helping puppies behave appropriately in human houses. She focuses on setting puppies up to succeed by considering what we DO want them to do, making that happen and rewarding the puppy for doing it. Her training advice is positive, humane and modern. 

Refreshingly, Shumannfang acknowledges that puppies can be emotionally and physically exhausting. She lets readers know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes, while offering information and ideas to prevent that feeling from overriding all others as you raise a puppy. 

This book covers the issues typically facing puppy guardians—house training, puppy biting, jumping up, chewing, grooming concerns, crate training, exercise, play, training basics, interactions with kids, whining and barking, and when to seek additional help. It can be read straight through, but it’s also easy to use as a reference.

Shumannfang uses a lot of humor, so you can look forward to laughing as you read Puppy Savvy, knowing that what you learn will mean you will be laughing more as you raise your puppy than you would without this book.

Culture: Reviews
Dog Gone, Back Soon
Book: Dog Gone, Back Soon By Nick Trout

Nick Trout’s first novel, The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, charmed readers everywhere, including here at Bark. A Boston-based veterinarian, Trout has an insider’s view of vet practices, the people who run them, and the quirks and foibles of clients and their pets. With this book, he continues the story of Patron Saint’s Cyrus Mills, DVM , reluctant owner of a small-town Vermont clinic.

Trout adeptly weaves three plot lines: the David v. Goliath nature of independent and corporate vet practices, Mills’ awkward pursuit of an emotional life, and the gamut of situations vets encounter daily. And once again, Mills finds himself the reluctant guardian of a dog—this time, a service dog with a mysterious background.

Trout writes from a place of deep knowledge and regard for the bonds people have with their companion animals, and his wry sense of humor provides many smile-inducing moments. It’s an enjoyable read.

Culture: DogPatch
Q&A with Theresa Schwegel
Author of The Good Boy

What could be better than a novel that combines a strong sense of place, a fast-moving story and a dog as a primary character? Theresa Schwegel’s newest book, The Good Boy (Minotaur), fulfills all these requirements and then some; Butch, a Chicago PD K9, races through its pages in a most authentic way. Despite a busy book-tour schedule, Schwegel kindly took time to answer a few questions—like all dedicated dog people, she enjoys talking about her co-pilots.

Bark: In the acknowledgments, you thank the dogs who inspired you, Wynne and Wiley and CPD K9 Brix. Tell us more about the first two, and how you came to know Brix.

Theresa Schwegel: Wynne is my wonderfully neurotic Australian cattle dog mix; Wiley is my stomach-brained Ridgeback-Lab. They’re rescues and they’re my best friends. My husband trained them when they were puppies, and they’re easier off-leash (especially since Wynne’s herding instinct only tangles us). They both exist in Butch— his yin and yang, I suppose—as does Brix, the German Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix I met when I asked a detective friend to find me a working K9. And yes—Brix is Butch’s physical model; I’d seen Bloodhounds work as well, but I needed a dog who could track and trail and detect and protect.

Bark: Your portrayal of the world of the working police dog has a lot of authenticity. Were you already tapped into it, or did it require research?

Schwegel: Research, of course. I need to see what I write, whether it’s a place or person or procedure. I was fortunate to spend time with some German Shepherds; both a trainer and a former K9 officer were kind enough to let me peek into their homes to see how a working dog lives off the clock. And Brix’s handler, Tara Poremba (now a trainer for the Chicago Police Department), was instrumental in teaching me how a dog team works; at one point, we staged a mock drug search at a neighborhood bar. Truthfully, though, I think Butch’s authenticity comes from living with my two dogs. I think Wiley would be a great K9 if I put bacon in the Kong.

Bark: Butch has a brief foray into dog fighting. What made you decide to add that element?

Schwegel: I felt Butch needed to fight his own fight, too. To be the real “good boy.” What limited research I did with regard to dogfighting was mortifying. The culture, the language, the cruelty. Despite the tough bullying scenes in the book, I could only bring myself to allude to the dogfight.

Bark: Butch really is a central character, one who in some ways drives the action, or at least inspires a lot of it. Did you start with that intent, or did it develop as you wrote?

Schwegel: I knew Butch would cause Joel’s journey, and I knew he had to go along (Joel would need someone to talk to). He became a central character as I realized he was the only one who couldn’t tell a lie (and everybody else in the book was buried under them). His “personality”—if I may anthropomorphize, because I always do— developed as a result of his interactions with Joel.

Bark: We were also interested in your choice to give Jack London’s book White Fang a role in the story; what inspired that? Are you a reader of dog books, or other mysteries with dogs in them? Any favorites or recommendations?

Schwegel: I wanted Joel to have a city map and a moral compass on his journey. White Fang is one of my favorite soul-searching books, and so it was an obvious choice. I don’t really seek out “dog” books, though two favorites that both feature dog-as-narrator are Timbuktu by Paul Auster and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

Bark: Are there any more “Murphy and Butch” books in the works?

Schwegel: I don’t have plans for a series, though I had a writer-friend recently comment that Joel would be a “pretty interesting dude” if I let him grow up. The novel I’m working on now jumps to the other end of the spectrum, as it deals with financial exploitation and elder abuse. (I must admit, though, that I’m partial to the idea of giving the detective a dog.)

Culture: Reviews
The Good Boy
Minotaur Books

“Butch did his job . He recognized threat. He defended his handler. And lately, it seems like he’s the only one who will.” In Edgar Award–winner Theresa Schwegel’s new book, Chicago PD K9 officer Pete Murphy is under siege both on the job and on the home front. Fortunately, his partner Butch, a Belgian Malinois/German Shepherd mix, has his back. Butch is also devoted to Murphy’s son, Joel, an intelligent, intensely focused 11-year-old with a penchant for playing detective.

As in her four earlier books—all of which are also set in the city of Chicago —the people in The Good Boy struggle with professional and personal complexities. In Pete’s case, the suggestion that he had an affair with a female judge he was assigned to protect affects his job and his marriage. He’s been reassigned to the K9 unit, fellow officers keep their distance, and his wife and teen-age daughter are furious about having to move to a cheaper neighborhood. Joel, on the other hand, considers their new situation ripe with opportunities for “undercover” work. For Butch, whose specialty is drugdetection, life is straightforward: he works hard, is devoted to Pete and his family, and will defend them—especially Joel—at all costs.

The story hits terminal velocity quickly. Joel, accompanied by Butch, follows his sister when she sneaks out to a party at the home of a boy Joel knows is dangerous. As they spy on the partygoers, Butch scents drugs and leaps into action. In the process, shots are fired. The narrative follows Joel and Butch as the two make their way across Chicago, armed with a map, four dollars and a copy of Jack London’s White Fang, to the one person Joel feels can save Butch from the consequences of doing his job. As his mother frantically waits, and his sister hides her role in the situation and his father anxiously searches for them, Joel and Butch navigate some of the city’s bleaker byways.

Both Joel and Butch qualify as the “good boy” of the title. Joel is bright and innocent and loyal; Butch is honest, and honestly portrayed by a writer who knows dogs and their behaviors (she even knows why dogs’ feet smell like popcorn, an intriguing bit of trivia).

Culture: Reviews
Dog Sports Skills, Book 1
Developing Engagement & Relationship

A couple of years ago, I was walking beside an acquaintance and her Golden Retriever at an agility show. It was difficult to hold a conversation because I was distracted by her frequent leash “pops.” The Golden would start in heel position, forge ahead by a front paw or two and then would be jerked back into place.

This behavior continued for the length of our two-minute walk. Clearly, the dog didn’t understand what to do, and worse, neither did her owner. The correction was so automatic that it had become a mindless habit.

If I had mentioned it, I guarantee she would’ve denied it. She considered herself a “crossover trainer,” that is, someone who previously relied on compulsion and now uses positive reinforcement and force-free training methods.

If only I had been able to give her Dog Sports Skills, Book 1: Developing Engagement and Relationship by longtime dog trainers and competitors Denise Fenzi and Deborah Jones, PhD. The first in a series for dog-sport enthusiasts, it will also benefit dog lovers who would not willingly hurt their canine companions but lack the guidance or resources to learn humane alternatives to aversives.

All of the information is based on scientific techniques and principles of learning, such as classical and operant conditioning. This underscores the authors’ mission: “We feel that it is important to not only understand what to do and how to do it, but also why you should do it in a particular way.”

Just as important, the training exercises are simple to follow and realistic, so the reader does not have to be a professional dog trainer or dog-sport fanatic to follow through. For example, the “Slow Treats” game is a wonderful way to teach a dog self-control; all you need is a handful of treats (or part of the dog’s meal). The tricks chapter includes a variety of fun, easy tricks that reduce stress on the human to get it exactly right, unlike obedience.

Perhaps the most enlightening chapter is the one dealing with stress-reduction techniques. As a dog trainer myself, I often hear students say, “But he does it at home!” Assuming they have been taught what to do, dogs who struggle with stress or distraction in public are often mislabeled “stubborn” or “dumb” by their frustrated or embarrassed owners. In response, that owner might resort to correction-based methods to make the dog perform, even if it erodes the trust between them.

“Am I comfortable holding dogs responsible for their trainer’s lack of skill?” asks Fenzi, who has firsthand knowledge of the patience required to successfully leave compulsion behind for good. She is one of the few obedience and IPO (a protection sport formerly known as Schutzhund) competitors who have achieved success at the highest levels of these sports using positive-reinforcement methods. She and her students around the country are proof that pain does not have to be used to be successful in these exacting activities.

Reading about Fenzi’s evolution as a trainer brings some questions to mind: How responsible are instructors for giving their students the skills necessary to keep their dogs safe and happy? Conversely, how responsible are students for researching trainers before entrusting their dogs to them? While these questions aren’t specifically answered, the authors make it clear that we’re accountable for the training (and trainer) choices we make.

Rather than focusing on how to perfect an exercise, the authors invite their audience to learn how to train their dogs through observation, education and mutual respect. Dog Sports Skills is a thought-provoking guide to achieving an even better bond with your dog, whether your goal is an agility championship or good manners in public.

News: Guest Posts
App Review: Dog Decoder

Jill Breitner is a dog trainer with a mission: to make us aware of how dogs communicate by showing us how to “read” them. She developed her Dog Decoder app to do just that.

A helpful and handy primer on canine body language, it demonstrates the ways dogs let us know they’re scared, excited, cautious, willing and so forth. As Breitner explains, “If we understood what dogs try so hard to tell us, there would be fewer people bitten and fewer dogs ending up in shelters.” The app highlights 60 different poses/situations; each one (“butt sniff,” for example) comes with a helpful description that points out some common misconceptions, or the circumstances in which a dog will exhibit it.

A great tool for newbie dog people and those of us who need to brush up on dog talk. dogdecoder.com

Culture: Reviews
Puppy Mill Survivors
A new book celebrates extraordinary dogs

Meet Baby a Beagle-Rat Terrier mix, born paralyzed from the waist down. Like all of the dogs in the new book by photographer Melissa McDaniel she is a survivor of a puppy mill. Baby was lucky, and through a circumstance and kind hearted individuals—she was adopted and is thriving. Puppy Mill Survivors exposes the harsh underworld of the commercial dog-breeding industry by giving faces and stories to the courageous dogs who have escaped the unspeakable. The 64 portraits shine with personality and spirit while delivering an important message: Do not buy a dog from a pet store or off the Internet—end the demand and end puppy mills.
To meet more dogs and learn about Melissa’s book projects, go to thephotobooks.com

Bark is giving away a copy Puppy Mill Survivors, enter here for a chance to win this inspiring book.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Last Walk
Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives

No one who lives with and loves a dog wants to think about the subject of this book. We know quite well that one day we’re going to have to face life without our dog’s physical presence … that, indeed, we will very likely have to make the decision that ends our dog’s life. Yet, denial runs deep. Not now, we think. Not yet.

Hard though it may be to do, however, read this book. In it, the author seamlessly weaves journal entries detailing the last year of her old dog Ody’s life with what science has to say about animal aging, end-of-life care and, ultimately, death. She engages both heart and mind in her quest to come to terms with Ody’s deteriorating condition, and to figure out how to best meet his needs. Above all, she’s driven to answer two questions: What does a “good death” look like? And, by extension, how can she ensure that Ody has one?

Impeccably researched, the book covers the biological, philosophical, cognitive and medical aspects of animal aging. Pierce, a bioethicist and (with Marc Bekoff) co-author of Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, has a gift for explaining scientific subjects to non-scientists.

Yes, you’ll cry. The bond Pierce has with Ody, and her commitment to honoring it, will touch your heart. Nonetheless, traveling with her on that “last walk” is the best way to prepare yourself for the time you’ll have to make it with your own dog.

It has been said that knowledge is power. In this book, the author has given dog lovers a powerful tool to help them navigate one of life’s most profound passages.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Business of Dog Walking

Ever think you might want to consider a career move? One that would take you out of an office setting and, even better, reward you for spending time with many dogs in the great outdoors? Professional dog walking might just be your next calling. In this informative new book by Veronica Boutelle, author of two other dog-business books and co-creator of the Dog Walking Academy, you’ll find a wealth of information to help you get started.

There is a thorough examination of not only what it takes but also, what to expect if you decide to venture into this business. Chapters cover topics such as pack management (with a cautionary note that it is always best to keep it small), client intake, marketing and emergency planning. The author, who seems to have covered all the bases, also includes a helpful “to-do list” for legalities and liabilities.

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