I’ve gotten some feedback recently that I don’t describe people as well as I describe dogs. No huge surprise, since I don’t like people as much as I like dogs. But I would like my readers to be able to “see” the human characters, or at least, that’s what they keep telling me they want from my book.
I decided to use this week’s writing challenge as an exercise to get inside the head of a tertiary character.
Tracey adjusted the pouch of dog treats clipped to the front of her jeans as she waited eagerly for her new pupils to arrive. At five minutes after the scheduled start time, they finally streamed in: yippy little white dogs, a couple of mixed breeds, and two German shepherds. Plus their owners.
“Welcome, welcome.” Tracey’s eyes shined bright behind her blonde bangs. She shook off the momentary nervousness that no one would show. After all, she was a pro, having designed this class to help dogs with behavior problems such as leash aggression, lunging, barking, and growling.
A brown-haired woman in her thirties maneuvered one of the German shepherds into the room, carefully avoiding getting too close to the other dogs.
“What a pretty girl,” Tracey cooed at the black and gold shepherd. Flipping her long straight hair over her shoulders, she reached into her pouch for a cookie to offer in exchange for a sit. Without needing to be told, the bright-eyed shepherd sat and smiled happily at Tracey.
“Do you have a restroom?” the woman asked.
Tracey pointed the way, and the woman looked uncertain.
“Can she come with me?
“Of course,” Tracey said. “Dogs can go anywhere here.”
“She comes with me at home,” the woman confided.
“It’s a sheppy thing,” Tracey said. “I just love sheppies.”
Australian shepherds were her favorite; she had five at home. Notoriously hard to train, they had been her inspiration to get into dog training. She loved helping other dog owners going through the same struggles. She knew they valued hearing stories about her own dogs.
Tracey arranged the people in a circle of chairs positioned about five feet apart. Since she was a positive reinforcement trainer, she told them to give their dogs lots of treats to keep them from barking at each other. After introducing herself, she explained that all dog behavior problems begin at home. “Does this sound familiar to anyone? Your dog free feeds, meaning he eats whenever he wants. The bowl is always full.”
She paused, validated by her students’ guilty expressions. “He can go outside whenever he wants, through a doggie door. There are toys all over the place. He decides when to play, with what, and gets your attention with a nudge or a bark or a whine. Maybe your dog budges you with his nose. ‘Hey, I’m here. Look how cute I am.’ And you play with him.”
Tracey handed out a worksheet she found especially helpful, detailing house rules that each owner should implement if they wanted to improve the dynamic with their dogs. “I know, no one likes being told to keep their dogs off the bed,” she said. “But let me tell you, one of my Aussies was used to being on all the furniture. I didn’t think anything of it, until he started ignoring me in agility class. Once you start taking privileges away, it makes a huge difference in the relationship.”
At their skeptical faces, she added, “I once had a student whose dog bit her husband in bed twice. Twice! Apparently it was more important to her to have her dog in bed than to have a dog who doesn’t bite. If I were sharing a bed with someone, I know I wouldn’t want my dogs biting him.”
She hadn’t meant to reveal her single status to her new students. Not that there was anything wrong with it. Tracey was independent, young, slender, blonde, and pretty; she would have no trouble getting a man if that’s what she cared about. For now, she was happy to concentrate on her career.