The 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. My 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. Because 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 stare 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.