Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dog Watching

I hope to be the kind of person my dog thinks I am. ~ Unknown Author

I've always had dogs in my life. The only time I haven't lived with a furry friend in my home was when I was in the military, and traveled too much and worked too many weird hours to take care of one (which was propbably why I spent so much time with my parents' pups whenever I went home on leave.)

I am equally fascinated by other people's dogs, and over time have become a secret/sneaky photographer of them. Seeing dogs and people together sometimes gives you a little insight into their personality -- both human and canine.

This pretty girl and I met in town, and I had the chance to discreetly observe her and her owner for about an hour. Both were laid back, down-to-earth types who looked like they handle just about anything life throws at them: strong, content, not easily intimidated. From the casual affection of the owner and the relaxed adoration of the pup it was obvious they'd been together for years.

The most charming thing was seeing how the owner handled the pup -- with quiet voice commands or a brief touch on the head or neck -- and the dog's slow but good-natured response. Despite the breed's rep (these are powerful, muscular dogs) every rottweiler I've ever met has been a big sweetheart, and always seem to have a glimmer of amusement in their eyes when they're watching us.

When I spotted this little princess with her owner I thought, Which came first, the hair color or the Pom? A reasonable assumption, as I often see small dogs being treated like fashion accessories by their female owners. Princess also had been ruthlessly groomed; she didn't have a hair out of place and was so clean she practically glowed.

I grew up with Penny, my grandmother's chihuahua, so I know with small dogs there's a lot more than meets the eye. They're smart, intuitive, and own their humans, not the other way around. These little ones are often so in tune with their owner's emotions they seem like pint-size psychics. For an elderly person, owning a small dog provides opportunities for exercise and welcome relief from loneliness and depression.

When I first saw Princess Pom she was behaving skittishly, evidently made nervous by the crowded conditions of the sidewalk. She tried to retreat into a doorway, at which point her vigilant owner scooped her up and carried her. From that moment on Princess grinned at everyone she and her owner passed, as if she'd gotten exactly what she wanted.

I don't know what breed this pretty pair of pups are (I love their fur; they look so exotic) but seeing them together reminded me of the joys of having two dogs in the house. I've never owned two dogs at once until this year, when we adopted Skye and brought her home to meet Cole. If one dog is a big responsibility, two are double that. Even something simple like walking the pups together can turn into a real challenge.

The owner had no problem with handling these two; they strolled in delighted sync, their eyes bright and heads high. The owner didn't seem to be paying much attention to the dogs, but then, they weren't misbehaving at all. As much as they belong to their owner, they were each other's companion, too. It was a beautiful day, they were together, and all was right with their world.

When I'm busy with housework or writing, I often see Skye and Cole forget about me while they play with their toys or curl up together for a nap. They also hate to be separated; when I took Skye to be spayed Cole was utterly miserable and wandered around the house looking for her for hours.

Not every story we write can include pets, but one good creative exercise is to imagine what sort of dog (or other type of pet) your character would own. You can go back in time to imagine a furry friend from their childhood, or what type they might consider adopting someday. If you're not familiar with the characteristics of different breeds, do the research, but also talk to other people about their dogs, why they chose that breed and what life is like with their pet.

What do you think a character's dog or other pet say about them? Let us know in comments.


  1. The pair of dogs are Australian Shepherds (which, oddly enough, is an breed developed in US).

  2. I believe the breed is Austrailian sheepdog or something like that (can't remember off the top of my head but someone in my area has a breeding pair and I've seen the adults and their varigated pups around. Adorable :)).

  3. Anonymous5:41 AM

    The matched pair are Australian Shepherds; the coat color is blue merle. That was what my mom thought she was getting when she adopted Zip; instead she got a Catahoula Leopard Dog.

    Think of a dog the size of a Great Dane but with the energy level of a Jack Russell Terrier, the intelligence of a Sheltie, and the dominant personality of an Alaskan Malamute. Eep!

    Zip's playmate is a Pit Bull mix named Snoop, who's not too bright but very sweet.

    In my current WIP, one of the main characters is a Marine, so she can't have pets. But I had a scene where she remembered the dog she had as a child.

  4. I think the pair are Australian Shepherds. Their color is called Blue Merle.

  5. Hi Lynn,
    lovely post as always!

    I believe this "unknow" dogs to be australian shepards.

    They have different color coats, and in this links you can find a pic of one with a coat like the ones in your photo

    The wikipedia page about them is

    Happy hollydays to you and all your family

  6. As others have mentioned, the pair are Australian shepherds. My baby, who lived with me for 15 years was an Aussie. Today, I just have rotties. And you're right, they are the sweetest dogs you'll ever meet.

    Ref: characters and their pets

    While a breed (or mutt) might say something about the character, sometimes the animal is a character in itself. Not so much an extension of the MC, but an additional layer to the story.

    --We must be on a pet wave this week. I've had two dog posts this week, and many of my regulars have been talking about pets too.

  7. Funny, I have been focusing a lot on my MC's cats in the last week. They aren't essential to the plot, but they are telling of her character. I also find it is a good way to include a little dialogue when she is home alone and the exposition needs to be broken up a bit. Because who among us doesn't talk to our pets when we're home alone with them? Or even when others are home with us. :)

  8. My dad always owned pitt bulls when I was growing up and they are really great dogs, very affectionate. Now that I am on my own, I have a Chihuahua, and I would say he owns me much more than I own him. He keeps me sane while my fiance is out on the road (he is a truck driver) as I am alone alot. Great post, and maybe I'll hit the park soon and take pics of the dogs too.

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  9. That pom looks like my dog! I think they're really easy to groom--all you have to do is brush them, and they look gorgeous. At least that's all I have to do for mine to look gorgeous.

    Someday, when I live in a place that allows it, I think I would like to own a Rottie. I love their black and brown color, and like you, every one I've met so far was a sweetheart.

    But I like a lot of other breeds too. I grew up with an Irish Setter. So it would be hard to pick just one.

    About characters: For some reason, even though I love dogs, I never think of dogs as being part of a story. Don't know why.

  10. This is an awesome post, Lynn! That's a good question...I think that providing a character with his/her own pet would let the readers be able to see how the character is when he/she is alone or not with other characters. Gives us a bit of introspection of who the character really is. :)

    Three words. Must love dogs. :D



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