Study Guide

My Life in Dog Years

By Gary Paulsen

My Life in Dog Years Introduction

Have you ever met one of those dogs that thinks he's a person? Author Gary Paulsen sure has. Paulsen, who in his 70s still works as a sled dog trainer, has had hundreds of dogs. At this point, he might even be part canine himself.

Hmm. That would explain a lot.

In any case, here's one thing we know for sure: Paulsen's autobiography/dog memoir, My Life in Dog Years, features a whole lot of dogs that have people names—suggesting that his dogs, with names like "Fred" and "Quincy," play a much more human role in his life than the typical Spot, Fido, or Barkley. One by one, Paulsen tells us about nine extra-special canine companions that have played important roles in his life.

Roll call:

  • Cookie, the sled dog that saved Paulsen's life
  • Snowball, a brave adventurer and protector
  • Ike, Paulsen's mysterious hunting partner
  • Dirk, his mangy bodyguard
  • Rex, a farm dog with a luxurious hairdo
  • Caesar, the gentle giant that loves hot dogs (what a cannibal, areweright?)
  • Fred, a fat pup whose best friend is an actual pig
  • Quincy, the mop dog that loves Dairy Queen
  • Josh, a clever collie that loves to be tickled

Awwww.

Paulsen's written more than 200 books and 200 stories, mostly for a younger audience—work that's won him the Newbery Medal three times. He specializes in adventure stories about the wilderness and young boys who are coming of age, but many of his books contain bits and pieces of his life. My Life in Dog Years is one of those.

Reading a Paulsen book, whether it's a memoir or fiction, feels like sitting around the dinner table hearing stories from your wacky uncle. Unlike that uncle, though, Paulsen's raced dogs across the Alaskan tundra, lived in an isolated cabin in the woods, and landed a crashing airplane. He's even written for TV and movies.

This book, however, is all about his pooches, each of which has its own interests, talents, and quirks. None of them has landed a crashing airplane (at least, so far as we know), but they're still pretty impressive. Some are heroes, some are good listeners, and a couple of them mostly just eat shoes. Paulsen loves them all. After reading this book, we bet you will, too.

What is My Life in Dog Years About and Why Should I Care?

Gary Paulsen has rescued dozens—maybe hundreds—of dogs, but he's not the hero of this book. My Life in Dog Years is about all the ways in which dogs have rescued him.

Some of those were literal rescues. (Seriously, this guy's life could be an action movie.) Wonder dogs Cookie and Snowball both saved Paulsen's life, and a third pup, Quincy, saved his wife from a bear attack. Other times, dogs saved Paulsen in less dramatic ways—through simple companionship and lending an ear (or a paw) during a lonely or difficult time in his life.

The thing is, human beings (and dogs, for that matter) are social animals. What makes us who we are—what brings meaning to our lives—are other creatures, whether they're family, friends, colleagues, or pets. (Paulsen would probably say his dogs fit in all four categories.) We learn more about who we are through our interactions with others. If you spent every day sitting in a room by yourself, you probably wouldn't have much of a personality.

When the humans in his life let him down, Paulsen looked to dogs for protection, companionship, love, and comic relief. He didn't get much care or guidance from his neglectful parents, who were alcoholics, or from friends (uh…he didn't have any). His dogs were his role models, his guardians, and his emotional support system. They made him the man he is today. And who knows? Maybe they even taught him some dance moves.

Of course, you might not have a dog. Maybe you have a cat, or a hedgehog, or a turtle. Maybe you have pals, or siblings, or teachers, or relatives who care about you. As you read My Life in Dog Years, think about all those creatures in your life that have helped make you the person you are, and be grateful for the joy (and sometimes the sadness) that they've brought into your life. Those relationships are an important part of what makes you—and all of us—human.

My Life in Dog Years Resources

Websites

The Author's Website
BTW, this page is maintained by his publisher, Random House Kids.

Articles and Interviews

NYT Profile
The New York Times profiled Paulsen in 2006.

Instant Message Interview
In 2003, the author answered readers' questions for the New York Public Library.

He's On a Boat
A writer set sail with Paulsen in 2013…and you won't believe what happened next.

Wild Man
Paulsen's not crazy about most people, but he will give interviews, especially if they're about getting kids to read.

What a Life
Here's Jim Trelease's bio of the highlights of Paulsen's adventurous life.

Video

An Interview With the Author
Here's Gary Paulsen talking about being an author and racing sled dogs.

Libraries Rule
Paulsen talks about how libraries saved his life.

Audio

Check Out the Audiobook
The narrator is the author himself, Gary Paulsen.

Images

Meet the Author
He looks a little like Hemingway, no? Writes a little like him, too.

Seriously Cold
Training sled dogs near his Alaskan home in the middle of nowhere—Paulsen's idea of a perfect day, no doubt.

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Neurosurgeon
The book's cover, featuring Paulsen and Josh.