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A Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  3,666 ratings  ·  356 reviews
People who love dogs often talk about a "lifetime" dog. I'd heard the phrase a dozen times before I came to recognize its significance. Lifetime dogs are dogs we love in especially powerful, sometimes inexplicable ways.--Jon Katz

In this gripping and deeply touching book, bestselling author Jon Katz tells the story of his lifetime dog, Orson: a beautiful border collie--inte
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published September 26th 2006 by Villard (first published January 1st 2006)
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Oct 25, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: Absolutely noone!
**Spoiler Alert**

Look into the eyes of the dog in the picture on the cover of this book and you are looking into the eyes of a troubled dog whose adoptive owner (Orson was a rescued dog) gave up on him and was too lazy to do the things that would have truly helped Orson. This is a horrid, horrid book about a horrid, horrid man who prides himself on being an amazingly wonderful dog lover, but who in the end MURDERS his dog because he just can't be bothered to take the time to ensure the dog's saf
Bev Sykes
Sep 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals
Katz has taken a lot of flak for his story of Orson, a trouble dog ultimately put to sleep for attacking three people, but I found this the story of a man fiercely devoted to trying to change the behavior of a "broken dog," to the point of buying a farm and spending hundreds of hours doing everything he could to discover how to fill the dog's life so that he would not feel the need to lash out unexpectedly. This is written with great love, and having been in the position of having to make that d ...more
Mar 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
I read the book based on the fact that the book reviews dealt more with the morality of euthanizing dogs versus the merits of the storytelling.

I really enjoyed A Dog Year (by the same author) but did not enjoy this book. It wasn't because of the very sad and conflicting ending, it was because Jon Katz's storytelling was self consumed and overly self indulgent. This book was not about his dog it was about himself. I really enjoy his other books, but think he missed the mark here.
May 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
Moral of the story--don't rescue a troubled dog if you can't do the work, don't take on more than you can handle, and don't quit on your dog like Katz did to Orson. Jerk. ...more
Joan Colby
Apr 10, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
As usual Jon Katz managed to annoy the hell out of me so why do I persist in reading his dog stories? I guess I hope he’ll eventually have some insight on his relationships with canines, and occasionally he makes steps in this direction recognizing that the acquisition of border collies was a springboard to a change in life for a man bored with his suburban existence. Fair enough. Katz’ Labs weren’t providing that challenge so he obtained a known problem: Devon, on the recommendation of a sheeph ...more
~Theresa Kennedy~
Sep 17, 2020 rated it did not like it

I'm writing this directly TO you. I hope you can handle it. I recently read your 2006 book, "A Good Dog: The Story of Orson Who Changed My Life." I finished it today to be exact, and frankly, I was appalled. I think you probably enjoy knowing that. Something in my intuition tells me you get a kick out of offending and even probably hurting the people who represent your readership. You strike me as the type.

From what I can tell of your book, it is not an incredibly written book, but is
Steffany Cartellone
Jan 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-top-10-or-20
After I finished this, I immediately called my friend Dori and told her to read this book. Sometimes I think my love of animals is strange and then I read a book like Katz's and realize I am not the only one. I cried so hard while reading this book and when my beloved kitty died in September, re-read the ending again and cried all over again. The tears were of pain but also a wonderful realization that something so small had touched your heart and life forever. I also read Dog Days: dispatches f ...more
Pris robichaud
Jan 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The Broken Parts of Me, The Broken Parts of Orson, We Healed, 15 Nov 2006

"Two things fill the mind, with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law with in me". Immanuel Kant

"Owning and loving a dog is a very individual experience. Orson's story was complex, his behavioral problems probably stemming from multiple sources.' Jonathan Katz is a writer and a writer of prose where Orson is concerned. Th
Sep 30, 2013 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the parts of the book dealing with Jon Katz and his life, especially his life on his marvellous farm. I did not enjoy so much the parts of the book covering the story of his beloved border collie Orson. The poor dog just had too many problems. I don’t know if anyone could have solved them, and I don’t know if the kindest thing to do was try and solve them. But that is easy to say retrospectively. You don’t know that until you try, and Katz - in his fairly offbeat way - tried really har ...more
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: animals-dogs
An almost four. Jon Katz has written many books about the animals he has owned. Especially dogs. this one is mostly about Orson. Orson is a border-collie he got when Orson was about three years old. Orson was a very wild dog. even for a border collie. he had a tendency to chase. buses, trucks, people etc. he also tended to snap at and even bite. he was very anxious dog. Jon Katz tried very hard to tame this out of control dog. took him to Veterenerians, even a vet that specialized in holistic me ...more
Mar 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-on-tape
In another book, Jon Katz states right up front, "No dogs die in this book." So forewarned by the fact that no such disclaimer appeared in A Good Dog..., I opened the book with some trepidation. Yet, as soon as I began reading and until I turned the last page, I could hardly put it down. What makes this such a special book is not only its touching and sometimes hilarious descriptions of what it is like to live with a psychologically wounded, behaviorally impossible, and totally engaging dog - bu ...more
Kasey Hill
Jan 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This one was a doozy, having lost my 'lifetime dog' less than a year ago. I did make it most of the way through without crying... Although the story of Orson was much different that the story of my Shadow, the lesson is the same. The author brought me to a few realizations that I had a hard time putting into words on my own. Dogs bring us closer to nature which gives us a deeper understanding of all life. And he says 'you gave me so much and I gave you so little back. isn't that the story of hum ...more
Apr 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: dogs, non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
I learned to expect that most books about dogs end badly and I am bound to cry my eyes out...
No, seriously, this book (and others by this amazing man) restores my faith in humanity because I realize that I am not the only one who is touched deeply by things I learn from the experiences I have with my companion animals as well as how they directly express love and pyschic, spritual wisdom through their sweet personalities.
Here is a sample,
"Lifetime dogs intersect with our lives with particular i
Sep 15, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Not all dog stories are automatically heartwarming. I became so annoyed with the actions of the author in the story I couldn't finish this book. Mainly because my eyes got sore from rolling them so much. I felt so sorry for Orson. His owner is so willfully clueless about dogs it burns. He's willing to buy an entire farm, ostensibly 'for' his dog, and yet can't make himself see that dog as an individual - he can apparently only treat him as a cliche, either angel or monster, with only a passing n ...more
Sherie Weber
Jan 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
As a person living with a true "animal" I thoroughly enjoyed all of the ups in this book - I even laughed out loud and woke my husband from a sound sleep - The downs brought tears to my eyes and it all evened out eventually - This is a story written from the author's heart and soul and any person who lives with pets will certainly be touched by this life story ...more
Jun 04, 2007 rated it it was ok
See my review for A Dog Year or whatever the name of the other Katz book is. This one retells all the same stories anyhow, so why should it get its own review? Oh, and, HE KILLS THE DOG. JESUS CHRIST ALL MIGHTY HE KILLS THE DOG.
Apr 23, 2008 rated it liked it
While I didn't enjoy the writer's style, I related strongly to the story. I cried uncontrollably because it touched me on such a personal level. Anyone who has ever had a "once in a life-time dog" will understand what Jon Katz had to overcome when making such a difficult decision. ...more
Feb 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I’m giving this book a 4 star rating, not because I agree with the author’s ultimate solution, but because he tells the story of his life with Orson clearly and engagingly. I can empathize with the dilemma of this difficult dog. My special dog, a Belgian Malinois named HHarpy, also has serious issues with self-control and aggression when stimulated by her triggers. She too has lost control, gone into what we call “The Red Zone” and bitten. We have also participated in extensive training, found “ ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sep 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: No one.
Recommended to Kattie by: it was a gift
Like other reviewers, I too had problems with this book. At times it drove me to frustration. There are some slow areas. I too had problems with the author's decision to put the dog down. He describes Orson as his version of a "heart dog" but doesn't really get to why. The dog drove him nuts and misbehaved but still loved his owner deeply. He owned much more affectionate labs (a breed he admits is his favorite,) but we never really get to the root of why Orson was so special, so needing to be "f ...more
Tony Lacey
Aug 21, 2007 rated it liked it
I had trouble getting through this one, it started out fine but about half way through the book, I felt like I was digging through a six foot wall of snow with a tea spoon, slow, tedious and laborious. But, despite that, I plodded on and was pleased I did so, it reveals how strong the human/canine relationship can grow to be, it shows the trials, Joy, success, hardship and heartbreak that taking on dogs with unknown histories can lead to. and how heart wrenching the decision to let go can be.
Sep 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
I liked it. It gave a very realistic, non-Disney look at one man's relationship with a difficult dog. He explores what the dog means to him, and the amount of work he's willing to do to make Orson (the dog) happy, including buying a farm and sheep to keep him busy.

Katz has to make a heart breaking decision about his dog, a beautiful border collie with some personality difficulties. I hope I never have to make the same kind of decision, but if I do, I hope I do as well for my dog.
Michael Huang
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Not always polished, and at times drifting into unnecessary details of the irrelevant; yet the book is overall a generally touching story of a man and his dogs that animal lovers can appreciate or relate to.

To be perfectly honest, this would be a 3 star book, maybe 3+ on a good day, but given that my sweetheart daughter gingerly recommended it to me, it earned its 4 stars.
warts and all account of author's attempts to train and live with an adopted dog with multiple challenging traits, potentially down to early life experiences

not all sweetness and light depiction, but among all the dogs in his life, despite or because of the issues, he feels this is his special dog among all the others he has owned, and it is the one that prompts him to move to countryside and try his hand at farming life
Aug 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I liked the concept of a "lifetime dog." The one dog that comes into your life and is like your animal soulmate and Orson was Jon's lifetime dog. I had a lifetime cat for 14 years and this book made me nostalgic for her. Makes me want to work on obedience training with my current dog to see if I can deepen our relationship some more. I look forward to reading more of his books about dogs and trying some of his techniques on mine. ...more
Apr 28, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dog-books
I have little to add to the many reviews. I agree with the person who said this was more about Katz than about Orson but that's ok. I was more interested about the relationship between the writer and his troubled dog and curious to know how he handled it. Rescuing and raising a dog with issues will require a lot of difficult decision making and, although I might not agree with all of the decisions Katz made, he was clear in his relating how he came to make them. Worth a read only if you, too, ha ...more
Nov 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: animals-nature
Another of Jon Katz's books about his relationship with the dogs of his life. I realize there is big controversy about this book, and how the writer ultimately dealt with his dog Orson.

i have nothing but compassion for the writer and situation he faced. that's all i'm going to say about it. Having read most of Katz's books and following his Bedlam Farm blog, i have to say my views on the nature of the relationship between dogs and humans, and animals in general and humans, have modified. I appre
Oct 14, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: dog
The author shows a love for his dog that only dog owners can understand. However, at times that seems a little over the top and he repeats the same ideas over and over again in different chapters. It gets a little too new-age, touched by an angel at the end for me but it is a nice idea...that are dogs can watch out for us.

The author has to make hard emotional choices and I liked that he made rational ones. This book is a "get the tissues" ready type of book so be prepared.
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Jon Katz is an author, photographer, and children's book writer. He lives on Bedlam Farm with his wife, the artist Maria Wulf, his four dogs, Rose, Izzy, Lenore and Frieda, two donkeys, Lulu and Fanny, and two barn cats. His next book, "Rose In A Storm" will be published by Random House on October 5.
He is working on a collection of short stories and a book on animal grieving.

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“She lived upstairs in the farmhouse; guests and visitors occupied the B&B rooms downstairs. She kept crates tucked all over the house, in which herding dogs-border collies and shepherds-slept while waiting to work, exercise, or play.

These working dogs, I'd come to learn, led lives very different from my dogs'. Carolyn let them out several times a day to exercise and eliminate, but generally, they were out of crates only to train or herd sheep. While they were out, Carolyn tossed a cup of kibble into their crates for them to eat when they returned. I asked her once if she left the lights on for the dogs when she went out, and she looked at me curiously. "Why? They don't read...

Still, they were everywhere. If you bumped into a sofa it might growl or thump. Some of her crew were puppies; some were strange rescue dogs.”
“The true heart of Carolyn's farm was her kitchen, where sausages and pungent dog treats lay scattered over they counters, along with collars, magazines and books, trial application forums, checks from her students (Carolyn, not big on details, often left them lying around for months), leashes, and dog toys.

Pots of coffee were always brewing, and dog people could be found sitting around her big wooden table at all hours. Devon and I were always welcome there, and he grew to love going around the table from person to person, collecting pats and treats. Troubled dogs were familiar at the table, and appreciated. If we couldn't bring our dogs many places, we could always bring them here.”
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