descriptors / setting / writers / writers resources

How To Describe Dogs in Your Novel

casey poolIf you’re a writer, you know what I mean. You can’t just say, The dog laid down at my feet and fell asleep. That’s boring. It tells the reader nothing about how cute the dog is, how innocent his sleep was, how you reacted to this most loyal of activities.

I’ve spent years collecting snippets on how to describe characters, create settings, describe actions that I am now going to share with you over a period of, oh, a lot of weeks. I have a big Excel spreadsheet with cells for things like:

  • dogs
  • horses
  • animals
  • nature
  • how eyes move
  • how mouths move
  • how faces look

…it goes on and on. They are all written by other authors, so don’t use them. Treat them as imagination starters. They force you to think about what it was in your character’s face that gave away his lie. Why the horse in the corral looked so agitated. Those types of descriptions that, being in a book, can only be conveyed with words.

I’ll start with dogs (if you read my blog on Michael Vick, you won’t be surprised this is where I’d start):

  • The dog snorted happily and bounded forward
  • The dog curled into a wet lump and lay shivering on the ground
  • Dog was doing impression of a corpse
  • He stretched, shook himself and circled several times before dropping to the ground
  • With pricked ears, he watched for a moment and then yawned
  • Roaming the backyard, engaged in dog intrigue
  • Dog’s eyes wide, ears flat, a vibrating growl deep in his chest
  • Exulting in whatever it is that dogs exult in
  • dogs wandered off to rest their noses in their paws
  • roughed them up the way Labs expect to be treated
  • paws up, aerial
  • The dog was sprawled across her lap, his sides rising and falling, his nose mashed against the ground in a most uncomfortable-looking manner. Dogs were funny. They could sleep in peculiar positions.
  • Dogs, after voiding their excrement, often make with all four feet a few scratches backwards, even on a bare stone pavement, Wolves and jackals behave in the same manner, yet, as I am assured by the keepers, neither wolves, jackals, nor foxes, when they have the means of doing so, ever cover up their excrement, any more than do dogs. All these animals, however, bury superfluous food.
  • Dogs and jackals take much pleasure in rolling and rubbing their necks and backs on carrion. The odor seems delightful to them. wolves don’t roll in the odor
  • Dogs scratch themselves with one of their hind-feet; and when their backs are rubbed, they rapidly scratch the air or the ground in a useless and ludicrous manner. by licking the air as if it were a hand.
  • As he prepares to spring with a savage growl, canine teeth are uncovered, and the ears pressed close backwards on the head
  • flopped onto the floor in a full doggy snit
  • happy woofing sounds of a dog discovering hidden treasures
  • wag its tale and watch with hopeful eyes
  • dog watched him, ears up, head slightly cocked
  • dogs, when intently watching and slowly approaching prey, keep one of their fore-legs doubled up for a long time, ready for the next cautious step. they behave in exactly the same manner whenever their attention is aroused. I have seen a dog at the foot of a high wall, listening attentively to a sound on the opposite side, with one leg doubled up
  • the one which first sees the other, lowers its bead, crouches a little, or even lies down; takes the proper attitude for concealing himself
  • When a dog approaches a strange dog or man in a savage or hostile frame of mind he walks upright and stiffly; his head slightly raised; tail held erect and rigid; the hairs bristle, especially along the neck and back; the pricked ears are directed forwards, and the eyes have a fixed stare
  • trotting gravely with high steps, head much raised, moderately erected ears, and tail carried aloft but not stiffly
  • young dogs in play growling and biting each other’s faces and legs
  • The dog got worried, crawled up on the bed, raced around chasing a ball, finally chased it out of the room. From her roommates room, she heard her barking, growling at the dog, slapping and playing, tossing the ball and the dog returned. She wondered who thought who was whose pack.

Who could not love a dog?



Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blog,Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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7 thoughts on “How To Describe Dogs in Your Novel

  1. They force you to think about what it was in your character’s face that gave away his lie.

    Outstanding! That is what story telling is – the story behind the words, the meaning in the closed fist behind one’s back, the action in one’s bones. Thank you for this excellent article. Saving it, of course.

    The chair at the crit group awaits your return.

      • Well, Marlene passed out her chapter and I can’t remember who else is submitting. I don’t remember Diane asking to submit hers. Of course, we now have 3 Dianes. You might ask Paul.
        BTW: The dog Grady in Tree House looks a lot like lovable Casey. But that’s a coincidence. I wrote Grady into the book long before I met Casey. I love big galumphing dogs with smiley faces. Best animals Noah put on the ark.
        They are shooting off artillery at Camp Pendleton right now, and my house and my computer and my nerves are shaking. Thirty-five miles from my house! Yikes!

  2. Jacqui

    What a treasure trove of idea generation possibilities! This will help us, the novice writers, expand our thought process. Many a thanks and look forward to your future snippets. Arun

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