Yes, dogs can improve your writing. Actually adding any animal to a story can improve it significantly, but I am a dog parent, I live with two dogs, so I’m going to use dogs.
We’ve all noticed there are people to whom dogs are naturally attracted or just the opposite, they avoid them as if they were the dog-catcher. Dogs are good judges of character. We can also judge a person’s character by how they treat dogs.
This is the first way adding a dog into your story can improve it. We want to let our readers know if this is a “good guy” or a “bad guy,” right? Having them interact with a dog is a way of showing, rather than telling, that the person is gentle or harsh. For example, your main protagonist is eating a hot dog, in walks stay dog (or his girlfriend’s dog), and he ignores the big brown eyes. In fact, he turns his back on the animal. What do we know now? He’s not such a softy after all. Or what if your main antagonist can’t resist taking home every stray dog she finds? Maybe there are some redeeming qualities there after all. What if a character is growled at every time the dog is present? That might be someone who is not trustworthy.
In the above example, the dog is primarily a prop, no different than a gun or umbrella. But a second way to include an animal is as a full-fledged character. There are lots of examples of this. Lassie and Big Red, of course, comes to mind. As does, Buck in Call of the Wild. These are main characters, but they can also be supporting characters. Think of Fang in the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer Stone, Nana in Peter Pan, and Pilot in Jane Eyre. These dogs are not primary characters, but without them, the story would be diminished.
Here are some examples from The Princess of Sweetwater using the dog to tell the reader something:
After dinner, Victoria sat on a stool in front of the big fireplace reading one of the textbooks, while Ox rested his massive head on her lap.
“I have never seen that dog take to someone the way he’s taken to you.” Hiram stretched out in his chair. “Did you have dogs at home?”
“Not as pets. My father keeps deerhounds and wolfhounds, but they’re hunting dogs.”
“Maybe he misses a woman’s attention. Marta spoiled him, and Maria won’t have anything to do with him.”
“You’re always welcome to join me by the fire, big boy.” She buried her face in his thick fur.
Ox is the ranch dog, and he likes Victoria, maybe he’s telling Hiram, she should stick around
And here’s Ox again:
At five o’clock, the boys washed up for supper. They ate in silence. Victoria saw a mix of worry and fatigue in the older boy’s eyes.
As Maria began to clear the table, a dog’s bark mixed with the clinking of the dishes.
“That’s Ox,” said Harvey, shoving away from the table.
He ran to let the dog in, the wind rushed through the open door blew out most of the lamps.
Ox continued to bark and ran back to the barn. Halfway there he stopped and looked back.
“I guess he wants us to follow him,” said Harvey running after the dog.
Victoria and the other boys followed.
On the barn floor, they found Hiram wet, muddy and bloody.
What happened to Hiram? You’re going to have to wait until the book release in March 2017.
And here’s a cute little beagle named Dudley:
Kate came out of the kitchen when she heard voices in the inn’s main room. The dog bounded after her. She found two men in suits going through the cabinets and drawers. “Can I help you, gentlemen?”
“We’re from the Pinkerton Agency,” said one of the men. Both pulled out their badges.
Dudley growled at the men. They took a step back.
Maybe Kate shouldn’t trust those Pinkerton agents.
And here’s a bonus on how dogs can make you a better writer – owning a dog will get up and moving. You can’t sit at your desk and stare at the computer screen all day. You need a break. Take the dog for a walk, go play in the yard, or visit the pet supply store. While you’re taking that much need break, your brain will still be churning, and when you come back, there will be fresh ideas waiting for you.
Until next time, remember the door is always open, and the kettle is always on.