The Nose Knows: Detective Dogs

With their keen noses and unwavering attention*, dogs are the natural detectives of the pet world.  And so in each of these fun, short chapter book series, it’s a dog who sniffs out the clues, solves the mystery, tracks down the culprit, and protects the homestead — and who narrates the story, from his own canine perspective.

*except when distracted by food, squirrels, cats, other dogs, trees, fire hydrants, cars, and, well, food.

The Trouble With Chickens, by Doreen Cronin (lexile: 570; AR book level: 3.8; 119 pp)

“It was a hot, sunny day when I met that crazy chicken.
So hot that sometimes I think the whole thing may have been a mirage.
But mirages don’t have chicken breath, mister.”

So begins the tale of former search-and-rescue dog J.J. Tully.  He’s supposed to be enjoying the simple life of retirement on his trainer’s farm, when a frantic mother hen, Moosh, and her two equally annoying chicks, Dirt and Sugar, show up needing help.  Her two other chicks are missing — J.J. agrees to take the case for a cheeseburger.  Soon a ransom note appears, and the plot thickens with the involvement of the “inside dog,” Vince-the-Funnel (so-named for the contraption around his head).  There’s more going on than just a chick-napping — and J.J. may be the target of the plot!

While adults may appreciate it more than kids, J.J.’s narration sounds a lot like the classic detective novel (think “Guy Noir” on Prairie Home Companion).  This is the first in a new series, and as it progresses I expect we’ll find out more about J.J.’s past exploits as a search-and-rescue dog.  The next book, The Legend of Diamond Lil, is also in the library.

The Case of the Lost Boy, by Dori Hillestad Butler (lexile: 450; AR book level: 3.0; 128 pp)

King is a rambunctious, eager golden retriever who uses his nose and reasoning to solve mysteries.  And in this opening book in the series,  the first mystery is his family — where have they gone?  His people left and never returned, now he’s found himself in the P.O.U.N.D. (dogs don’t dare to say it; they spell it).

From there he’s adopted by a boy named Connor and his mom, who name him Buddy.  But then Connor disappears, and everyone is frantically trying to find him.  Buddy thinks he can figure out where Connor’s gone, but can he get Connor’s mom to understand?

The chapters are short, vocabulary easy, and typeface large, making this a good choice for dog-lovers moving into chapter books.  As the series progresses, Buddy continues the search for his missing first family, and later gets to be the library dog at the school, where kids read to him.  The other titles so far are:

Hank the Cowdog, by John R. Erickson (lexile: 760; AR book level: 4.5; 136 pp)

Hank the Cowdog — in his own words, he’s “strong, fearless, dedicated, smart, and has a nice kind of nose that the women really go for.”  And he’s Head of Ranch Security at a west Texas ranch, a job he takes very seriously.

As this first book in the series opens there’s been a murder on the ranch — a chicken murder!  Hank and his often timid sidekick Drover set out to find who did it, but false leads land them in more trouble (with a cow, a raccoon, and a porcupine).  Things get worse when a second chicken is killed, and Hank finds himself accused of the crime!  (It doesn’t help that his snout was covered with chicken feathers.  After all, why waste a perfectly tasty dead chicken?)  Unable to bear the shame of living with humans who don’t trust him, Hank decides to run off and join the outlaw coyote band. Will he stay with them, abandoning the only life he’s ever known?  And whose side will he be on when the coyotes plan an attack on his old ranch?

Hank the Cowdog is wonderfully funny, particularly Hank’s narration of the story from his own perspective.  And all the stories in the series (58 so far!) are available on tape or CD, read by the author, John Erickson, who has himself been a cowboy and ranch manager.   He’s also an excellent storyteller, with different voices for each character, and the recordings include sound effects, music, and the occasional Hank the Cowdog song.  Any of these would be great to entertain everyone on a family car trip.

You can find the other titles  in our library system here.  You can see the whole series list, in order of publication, here.  And check out for more information about the author, the characters, and all the books.


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