My Life in Dog Years by Gary Paulsen


Pros: Dog stories, Insight into author’s life

Cons: Some stories deserve an entire book.

…as I dropped I had time to yell—scream—and the last thing I saw as I went under was Cookie’s head swinging up from sleeping and her eyes locking on mine as I went beneath the surface.”  When author Gary Paulsen dropped through the ice he grabbed the rope that was attached to his dog sled and dog team. He clutched it and Cookie, his lead sled dog, responded immediately. When she saw him drop through the ice she quickly assessed the situation and made their dog team rise from their rest and pull the rope and  him from the icy water. Paulsen dedicates this book about the dogs in his life, those that followed this icy dunk, to his lead dog. He owed his life to Cookie.

The exciting introduction to his book, My Life in Dog Years, leads into a collection of short, memorable, and often heart-warming or bittersweet stories, about the dogs in his life. We, as dog lovers, often measure our lives through time spent with our dogs. Mine have shared the high and low moments of my life, getting me through sorrows but they also danced during the celebrations. They’ve traveled tens of thousands of miles with me exploring windy and cold high mountain peaks as well as narrow, hot and dry desert canyons. We’ve ducked to avoid and then watch as a giant great horned owl swoop several feet above our flattened bodies and we’ve switched lead on an intimidating narrow bear-country trail. (The “brave” dog decided dad was alpha and opted to walk behind him in the role of back-up.)


Gary Paulsen’s familiar, unpretentious and honest style of writing shares memories of eight dogs that he loved. While far from being his only dogs, these eight played significant roles in his life.  Through these stories we learn even more of his tough childhood and we can’t help but suspect that not only does he measure his life in dogs; his life was in formed, in part, by the character of these dogs.

 His life goes to the dogs

My Life In Dog Years is about Snowball, the first dog; Ike who became a good friend; Rex the farm dog; Caesar the giant Dane; and Quincy the wild dog of the Alaskan north. He begins with Cookie, a dog sister who was also his lead dog in his first Iditarod sled dog race and he finishes with Josh the smartest dog in the world. The story of Ceasar, the Great Dane, became so funny I had to read parts to my husband.

 A Dog that Talksmaia-1

His border collie, Josh, the last in this collection was so smart that when he spoke to the dog it talked back and participated in the conversation. I’ve recently had the pleasure of meeting a Doberman pinscher who exceeded my expectations on intelligence and sweetness. Her humans told me this dog talks to them and I said ha! to that. My yellow lab is smart and uses telepathy but doesn’t talk. Well, the dog proved me wrong and carried on numerous, lip-moving conversations in a very human way. I’ve no doubts that Josh also carried on these conversations with Paulsen.

 Final Thoughts

This book was a joy to read.  Simple line drawings of each opens the chapters and these enhance our appreciation for each dog. The intended audience was older elementary school readers but anyone who treasures their memories with special dogs will enjoy this easy-to-read collection of reminiscences. One warning though, this will cause readers to re-visit their own dog friend memories.  While it really is possible to tire from reading too many dog stories, My Life In Dog Years wants to be re-read.

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