Why Dogs Make Fun Writing Partners

A little less than four years ago, around the same time our youngest child was toilet-trained and sleeping (mostly) through the night, my husband and I took a bold step and decided to add to our family. Almost everyone told us we were crazy to do it, but we were determined. There was something missing from our lives—we just knew it.

So we got a dog.

Not just any dog, either. We adopted a Polish Lowland Sheepdog, a rare breed that is known for its intelligence, loyalty, vigilance, and extreme distrust of strangers. In Ellie’s case, that distrust soon manifested itself as the habit of perching herself on the sill of our living room’s bay window, the perfect vantage point from which to observe suspicious activity in the neighborhood.

The difficulty is that, in Ellie’s eyes, suspicious behavior includes the following activities:

  • pushing a stroller
  • riding a bike
  • looking at our house (even in passing)
  • wearing a hat
  • wearing sunglasses
  • carrying a parcel
  • walking another dog (double points)

In short, Ellie barks at anyone who walks past our house. Those who are so bold as to approach our house—the letter carrier, door-to-door salespeople, the meter reader—are treated to a round of frenzied barking with the dial turned to 11.

We’ve tried everything to deter her. We’ve moved the furniture. We’ve blocked the window. We’ve misted her with water from a spray bottle. We’ve tried a no-bark collar that she didn’t even notice. We’ve tried walking her more. We’ve tried walking her less.

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It was only when I set up a home office (upstairs at the back of our house, and well away from any distractions) that things got better. Ellie insists on being in the same room as me, day and night, and when I’m in my office the only intruders she can see are squirrels. Although she detests squirrels and will happily chase them up a tree if they wander into her back yard, she doesn’t perceive them as a threat. No threat means no barking.

So how do I prevent her from barking all day? Simply by sitting at my desk and writing. As soon as the kids are off to school, Ellie and I head upstairs and get settled in at our desk and basket respectively. She looks out the window. I write. And when it’s time for a break, she gets up, sets her chin on my knee, and stares at me relentlessly until I close my laptop.

Sometimes I only have time to take her for a short walk around the block; sometimes we go on long, aimless rambles that let me think and stretch and rub the cobwebs from my brain. Then we head home and get back to work.

In the interests of fairness, I should add that we also have a cat. Sam is a wonderful animal—possibly the nicest cat I’ve ever known. He’s friendly and affectionate and apart from leaving fluffy tumbleweeds everywhere (he has very long fur), he never gives us any trouble. But Sam is absolutely useless when it comes to helping me with my work.

I know this from bitter experience. A few times each winter, I succumb to some random bug my kids bring home from school. I try to write every day, so if I’m feeling really sick I start the day by saying to myself, “I’ll bring my computer to bed with me. That and a cup of tea and a heating pad and I’ll be set.”

This, of course, is Sam’s signal to join me on the bed. “You don’t need a heating pad when you have me,” he seems to be saying. “I’ll cuddle up close and soon you’ll feel much better.”

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Can you see where this is going? Before long I’ve set aside my laptop, the cat is draped across my legs, three or four hours have gone by, and the dog is sitting next to the bed, whining softly, desperate for her walk.

Sam, naturally, is unrepentant. “Hold on—you mean you weren’t planning on taking a nap? Isn’t that how everyone spends their morning?” All I can do is drag myself out of bed, take Ellie on her walk—and then, when we’re back home, sit down at my desk and get back to work.

For better or for worse, dogs never take a day off. They’re always excited about the new day—about the things they’ll see and the places they’ll go. And that excitement is contagious, even if I never go any farther than my desk. With Ellie, I have the best writing partner around.

Somewhere-in-France        Jennifer-Robson-3-sml

Column by Jennifer Robson, who first learned about the Great War from
her father, acclaimed historian Stuart Robson, and later served as an official
guide at the Canadian National War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, France. A former
editor, she holds a doctorate in British economic and social history from the
University of Oxford. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and
young children. SOMEWHERE IN FRANCE (William Morrorw, Dec. 31,
2013) is her first novel — find it on Amazon or Indie Bound. Connect
with Jennifer on Twitter.

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23 thoughts on “Why Dogs Make Fun Writing Partners

  1. Janet Hartman

    I must stick up for my Westie, Iris. When I’m in my home office in my ranch style house, she rests on her pillow on top of a twin bed about 4 feet away where she can look out a window into the side yard. (Princess and the Pea?) She alerts me when it’s time for lunch and again later when I might want to either start dinner or call my husband to get takeout on his way home.
    It’s rare that a cat, squirrel, or rabbit comes into view, but when one does, she barks and runs from from window to the next to make sure the trespasser keeps going. I take that as my cue to stretch and get some exercise.

  2. Debby Hanoka

    Oh dear. The Feline Contingent takes great issue with this. I have three editorial cat-sistants who take their jobs very seriously. I think they do a wonderful job! When I rehearse dialogue out loud, I know I’m on the right track when she meows along with what I’m reading. When she tries to shred the paper I’m reading from, I know I have to go back and rewrite the dialogue. When the other two cats come visiting, I know it’s time for a break. The sense of timing for all three are impeccable and spot-on.

    Debby Hanoka
    (From Somewhere In The 4th Dimension)

  3. Rachel Bergman

    I couldn’t agree more. I have a Welsh Corgi and a pile of cats. While the cats will push up on my hands to come between my fingertips and the keyboard, dropping cat hair into my coffee as they push, my little dog, Truffles, likes to sit next to me and watch me type. Barking is no problem, since she would basically approach a serial killer holding a bloody knife and believes no threats exist in the world at all. She’s quiet and supportive.


  4. jazzknitsa

    This was the most motivational comment I’ve read all week: “For better or for worse, dogs never take a day off. They’re always excited about the new day—about the things they’ll see and the places they’ll go. And that excitement is contagious…” Thank you for this article. Getting ready for work and facing another day tomorrow will be a lot different for me because of this.

    K. Howard

  5. CynthiaAFortier

    Can Ellie train my Chinook, Ben? I can’t imagine life without a dog, but HE takes his role as protector to an extreme – his hearing is acutely trained to hear the vehicles passing 3/4 of mile from our home and thus the need to warn me of their passing – this is only a slight exaggeration 🙂
    For the moment he is fast asleep in my unmade bed…

    Thank you for sharing!

  6. Jane M Juza

    Congratulations on publishing your book. I saw on World News how a dog helped its owner sense she had breast cancer and saved her life. I also saw on World News that a dog went into surgery with a young girl. The dog alerted the medical team a couple of times when the girl was in trouble. The dog even allows the girl to attend regular school with her classmates. Dogs are used to help aid disabled people.
    Your dog stays calm when you write. I think we are going to learn that dogs are smarter and more useful than we think.

  7. Pretty_Doesome

    This is a lovely thing to consider – pets can not only make us feel better, but also motivate us to become better. My dog used to bug me while I was studying and never stopped until I take her out for a walk. I hated that interruption but in the end it proved a useful distraction, after which I was able to study with a fresh mind!


  8. BevBaird

    Loved your story about your new writing partner. Almost makes me want to go out and get a dog! Not just for the writing aid but for the exercise! Your novel sounds like a must read!
    ( I grew up in TO – now live in Cambridge. )

  9. kurtpatt

    My Lab Goldberry and my beagle Elanor both come into my study and watch me write. I like to think they’re using their telepathy to help me work. It’s fun to know other people do the same thing. My dogs also show me when to take a break (potty that is)

  10. Lindsey

    Sounds like you have a great buddy! My two bark at pretty much the same things as well as skateboarders, various types of birds, random cats, squirrels… They are pretty good about sitting with me when I’m writing, though. They’re also great to talk to; they’ll never hurt my feelings or tell me something is a bad idea! Walking them is never helpful, though… I’m constantly getting them untangled from each other or trying to get them to stop chasing leaves. They’re so cute that I can’t stay mad at them, though.

  11. wurdbyrd

    What a great story! Dogs are such great companions and require attention. It’s so great he lets you know that all work and no play makes for a dull owner. Exercise is good for the soul & body and great thinking time too! I would love to read/own your book.

  12. davepad

    Perfect story Jennifer as it hits home on a few different levels for me. Would love to write that first novel, love reading anything (fiction and non) related to France or England (reading The Yard right now), and as soon as I can spend more time at home am getting a dog! Looking forward to reading your book! Thanks, congrats and good luck!

  13. priscilla newcomb

    Never underestimate the power of dog to give meaning to your life. Two years ago, when I was critically ill and at risk of dying, I adopted an abused dog. As I rehabilitated my dog, i also recovered. Who knows if either of us would be alive today, without our bond for survival. He is now a loving, trustworthy and vigilant companion, who also guards at the window. I am alive to tell the story.

  14. Lina Moder

    Not only does she keep you right on your writing routine, she also makes you get exercise!! I think it should be a given – If you want to write, get a pet who needs writing space time! 🙂

    This was a wonderful post:)

    Thank you!!

    linamoder at gmail dot com

  15. kylegwhite

    This is very touching and funny. I haven’t laughed so much in a long time. Congratulations on the publication of your first novel and on having such a supportive writing partner. Who doesn’t need to be reminded to take the occasional break?

    Kyle White


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