How do you make a romantic story even better? You add in a dog. Reading about a couple finding their way to their happily ever after with a furry friend by their side is an added bonus. Many authors weave canines into their stories as a way of softening a character who may come off a little harsh. (Who wouldn’t like a big, tough guy who has a Border collie waiting at home?) Their antics can also help to incorporate comedic relief. Or a dog can bring two people together in a doggie meet-cute. I’m sure many real-life romances have started with tangled leashes at the dog park or in the vet’s office.
One of the challenges of writing a dog as character is to make sure they are present without taking over the story. It’s easy to get sucked in and want to add them to every scene, but too much of anything can become a distraction and pull the reader out of the story. On the flipside of that, you also don’t want to have what I think of as the “self-sufficient dog.” Large gaps where the main characters are at work, then meet afterward for drinks, then go home with someone else. Umm… who is taking care of the dog at home?
Committing to a dog in a book is similar to the commitment needed in real dog ownership. You have to make sure they don’t fall off the page and are left alone for too long. They need to be walked, fed and cared for. In my historical, Her Reluctant Highlander Husband, I had a bit more freedom with this because in these times, dogs had free rein to hang out for scraps outside the kitchens or hunt for their meals. But I also wanted Rascal, the Scottish deerhound, to be part of the story. So while he does run off on his own at times, he’s usually found by Dorie’s side, protecting her.
Anyone who has a dog knows they can communicate without speaking. Writing wordless dialog for a dog character can be tricky. You need to it to be believable, while also making it clear what the dog is trying to communicate. There’s a lot of showing what the dog is doing and relying on the reader to process the action and tone. A dog pacing back and forth to the door means he needs to go out. A dog tugging at its owner or growling can mean danger. Whining and barking are also communication. Is a sharp yap or a happy bark? As with any other character, the dog in a story needs to be realistic.
You can certainly add a dog to a story just for the sake of adding a dog, however sometimes there’s a need. For example in Her Reluctant Highlander Husband, Dorie doesn’t speak in the beginning of the book. At least not to any of the humans. Giving her a puppy allowed her the chance to talk to someone who couldn’t betray her secret. And then later, when she’s faced with danger, she has a faithful protector at her side.
The type of dog can make a difference to the story as well. Certain personalities come pre-packaged with different breeds of dogs. Is it a pedigreed show-dog or a mutt from the pound? Is it big, rambunctious, lazy? Choosing a fictional dog for a character is just as important as choosing a real dog. It has to be the right fit.
So, the next time you have the pleasure of reading a book that includes a dog, know that great thought went into that furry addition even if it just to be the “fuzzy, wuzzy, baby boo.”