My Hero’s Best Friend

momlogolihThe hero in my current manuscript is a bad-to-the-bone gunslinger. This guy’s got a terrible past, and frankly, when I started the book I didn’t like him at all. I spend about six months with my characters while writing a book, so it’s a problem if I’m thinking, “I can’t stand this guy. He’s a total jerk.”

I had to fix my hero, but how?  The answer came in the middle of a movie on the Sci Fi Channel.  Maustralian-cattle-dogy husband picked it and I can’t remember anything about it, except that the hero had a dog. As hard and dangerous as the movie character was (I think he was battling giant snakes), the fact he loved his dog made him totally sympathetic.

Bingo!  I decided to give my hero a dog. I gave the dog a name, taught her some tricks and got busy reading about working cattle dogs.

Cattle dogs come in all breeds and sizes. One of the most well known breeds is the Australian Cattle Dog. These dogs are called heelers because they nip  at the heels of the animals they’re herding.

Welsh Corgis are another breed of heeler. Having had a Chihuahua-Corgi mix as a pet, I can testify to being playfully chased by a dog determined to herd me to the fridge for snack.

If you’ve ever seen a Corgi, you know that their legs are short. Cattle dogs are bred for speed and endurance, but the Corgi’s stature has a different advantage. BWelsh Corgiecause they’re so small, they’re less likely to get kicked by an irritated cow. I’m biased here, but I love Corgis.  They’re affectionate, playful and intelligent. 

Border Collies are another common herding dog. These dogs are different from “heelers.” Instead of chasing a stubborn cow, a Border Collie would get in front of the animal and give it what’s called “eye.”  In short, Border Collies staborder-colliere down the animals they’re herding.

These critters have another unique trait. While other breeds drive the cattle away from the handler, Border Collies circle the animals and drive them back to the handler. Because of this instinct, some people consider Border Collies the best of all herding dogs.

I didn’t give my hero a specific breed of working cattle dog. Instead I took the best traits of the various breeds and come up with a loyal, intelligent canine with strength, speed and an independent streak.  The dog in my story is a mutt and has  a little wolf in her. I made her female, and like any good heroine she’s knows her own mind.  Never mind that she has four legs!  The hero loves her, and somehow that makes him a better man.

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Victoria Bylin is under contract with Bethany House Publishers for two inspirational contemporary romances.Prior to jumping to the present day, she wrote westerns for Harlequin Historical and Love Inspired Historical. Her books have finaled in the ACFW Carol Awards, the Rita Awards and RT Magazine’s Reviewers’ Choice Awards. She and her husband live in Lexington, Kentucky and have two grown sons. You can learn more about Vicki at www.victoriabylin.com

28 thoughts on “My Hero’s Best Friend”

  1. Hi Vicki, oh, one of my up-coming heroes has a dog! They truly do make the man. This post is terrific, and the pix adorable.

    I have a niece-Corgi who totally loves to herd my three-year-old grandson 🙂 And my very first dog ever, as a newlywed, was a precious Border collie. We used to feel kinda guilty keeping her in a generic suburban back yard, especially after family friends wanted her to herd cattle on their ranch. We couldn’t part with her and felt guilty forever after. She was our sweetheart for 17 years.

    Thanks for the wonderful post. oxoxoxoxox

  2. Victoria, I love heroes with dogs! You’re right, they instantly make the man sympathetic, however hard he might be.

    The hero in my curent WIP is a Yorkshire Dales farmer who has a Border Collie to help with his sheep. The way these dogs work with a handler is amazing. I’ve also seen them at agility and flyball classes. I remember one flyball class where there were two Border Collies, my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and a Burmese mountain dog.If you haven’t seen flyball, the dogs run over a course of jumps, hit a target to get a tennis ball, and run back again. The Collies flew over the jumps for sheer joy of running. My Chance, an instinctive retriever, took them in stride to get that tennis ball at the end. The Bermie – a big, beautiful breed something like a St. Bernard – decided they were in his way and simply knocked them down.

  3. Victoria, I love heroes with dogs! You’re right, they instantly make the man sympathetic, however hard he might be.

    The hero in my curent WIP is a Yorkshire Dales farmer who has a Border Collie to help with his sheep. The way these dogs work with a handler is amazing. I’ve also seen them at agility and flyball classes. I remember one flyball class where there were two Border Collies, my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and a Burmese mountain dog.If you haven’t seen flyball, the dogs run over a course of jumps, hit a target to get a tennis ball, and run back again. The Collies flew over the jumps for sheer joy of running. My Chance, an instinctive retriever, took them in stride to get that tennis ball at the end. The Bermie – a big, beautiful breed something like a St. Bernard – decided they were in his way and simply knocked them down. I love dogs and horses in romances. They give the characters an added dimension.

  4. Hello Jennie! I’ve seen some of the agility and flyball competitions on TV. Those dogs are amazing, not only for what they do, but how well they understand what’s expected of them. Your Chance sounds like an awesome dog! And I had to smile at the Bermie bowling down the obstacles. They’re big dogs!

  5. Well the old saying goes” You can tell a lot about a man in the way he treats dogs and kids”. says it all really.. So I like that you have made him more appealing. There is not all bad or good in a person espeically if he has a pet…

  6. Hi Kathleen O! Not only did I give the hero a dog, I gave the heroine a little brother. Between his dog and this boy who needs a father, the hero’s doomed to “finding his Inner Good Guy.” It’s been a fun journey!

  7. Great post Victoria, I have never thought about this before but I can see how this would work, after all a dog in man’s best friend. I have seen people treat their pets better then their spouse.

  8. Hello Quilt Lady! I’m having as much fun writing the dog as I am my human characters. The best thing is that the dog loves the hero for who is now. She has no idea that he has a rotten past. She only knows that he gave her food and water when she needed it. The dog has given this guy a major “Do-Over.”

  9. Hi Vicki,

    I had a female border collie once and I can’t say enough about that breed. Daisy was so smart and extremely loyal. She could look at you with so much love in her eyes and make you melt. I’m really glad you added the dog to your story. She’ll make the hero much softer. There’s something about a hero and his dog. I love writing dogs and usually put one in each of my stories. Sadly, Daisy died (of old age) two years ago and I can’t bring myself to get another one. The pain is still too fresh.

  10. Hi Linda, Daisy sounds like a very special dog. We had Chico, the corgi mix I mentioned, for 16 years. We got him from an animal shelter, and I think he knew he had it good. It took us a long time to get another dog, but then one day it just happened. Hartley’s a Jack Russell mix, and we often say he got an extra dose of “happy” because he always makes us laugh.

  11. Hi Vicki,

    I loved this post. My favorite breed is the wolf dog. In one of my mystery novels I am going to use a dog and of course it will be the wolf

    Thanks Vicki

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

  12. You made me smile, Victoria! Thanks. And I absolutely agree: a man who truly loves his dog has got to have some good points somewhere. 😉

    Jennie, too funny!
    “The Bermie – a big, beautiful breed something like a St. Bernard – decided they were in his way and simply knocked them down.”

  13. I love how you did this to make your hero more likeable in your own eyes (and probably in others’, too). We have 2 dogs, both of which we got from the Blackfeet rez where the dogs run wild.

    They took a liking to us while we were there and so they came home with us. : )

    Fascinating post.

  14. Vicki – what a great blog. I love Border collies. They are precious! And very smart of you to soften the hero by his love of a dog. And if you want to make a villain even more villainous, make him be mean to a dog! I just did that in my story, a man who mistreated his horse!

  15. Hi Tracy, The more I explore this guy’s character, the more I like him. The dog has a lot to do with it!

    Hello Karen! It sounds like it was love at first sight when those two dogs found you 🙂 A dog that’s been a stray or a rescue dog really appreciates a secure home with regular meals 🙂

  16. Hi Vicky,
    We have had several Queensland Heelers (that’s what we call them). They are great dogs. Very loyal and very protective. We have left them in the back of the pick up with lots of expensive things in the cab and nobody in their right mind would ever get close enough to steal anything. They also learn quickly about herding and the heeling is just a natural thing. Love them.

  17. Love the idea of a hero with a dog. We recently lost our dog. She was great! She could climb trees and she waked me to the door when I would come home after dark 0 we live on a farm)and she was always glad to see us. I miss her but am not ready yet for a new one.

  18. Victoria–this new books sounds REALLY great! I love a hero like this… a really tough/hard man that has a soft spot for an animal-be it a dog or his horse…shows another side-the one they keep hidden from everyone!

  19. Hi Connie, I’m so sorry to hear about your dog. She sounds like a wonderful friend who was well loved. You’ll known when/if it’s time to get another one. Or maybe one will just appear in your life. That happened to my husband and me with Hartley the Jack Russell mix.

  20. Hi Melissa, the hero for this book has me totally charmed, and it’s all because of the dog. The hero takes excellent care of her, to the point of sacrificing meals, etc. so the dog is happy. If it weren’t for the dog, the heroine would have sent him packing, but she likes the mutt a lot.

  21. You got it right, Victoria. If a guy is loved by a good dog, he can’t be all bad. If someone is afraid to care because they are afraid to be hurt, a pet is the best friend they could have. They don’t have an agenda, other than being fed and maybe scratched behind the ears.
    If kids and dogs like a guy, there has to be something there worth giving a chance.

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