Think like a dog

Sage CohenProductive writing6 Comments

If you have ever lived with a dog, loved a dog, or even read about a dog, chances are good that you have an entire toolkit of strategies for your writing life woven into your nervous system — imprinted by your canine companion. My dog Henry thinks my company is so exquisite that he literally can’t bear to let a bathroom door come between us. My dog Hamachi, who was driven to the same park every morning for the first five years of her life, started shrieking and yowling with joyful anticipation when we were within a mile of that park each and every day.

What if we were  to hold our writing in such high regard–a companion whose every appearance is celebrated–and who must be escorted like a dance partner through every room of our lives? What if we were to approach that same, old desk or notebook or laptop with a newborn thrill each and every time, and then leap from mind to page with the entire wriggling mass of our forward motion: committed to the investigation, sniffing out every image and metaphor for signs?

And when we have covered every inch of our working document with our scent to our satisfaction, what if we were to leave the ball in the back of the car/the laptop on its shelf, flop ourselves down, fling our off-duty limbs every which way and sink into a deep and restorative nap that will provide the next energy boost necessary for house-defending, human-food-begging, cat provoking, and belly-rub receiving (translated: editing, pitching, social media collaborating and conversing).

Then, there is the single-mindedness of the dog. As far as I can tell, the thought process seems to be: I want it. How will I get it? Period. In my lifetime of co-habitating with dogs, I have yet to see evidence to suggest that any dog is asking him/herself: Am I worthy? or I might not get it, so why should I try? Or, Will I embarrass myself? or What if that other dog is better at getting it than I am? This seems to clear up a lot of space for simply going for it. And, this increases the odds of succeeding.

When the dog doesn’t get what is wanted? It experiments with strategies (begging, looking cute, being sneaky, getting the cat involved, bullying, pulling harder, etc.) until it finds one that works. Because I, for one, tend to need reminding that there are always alternatives to consider if a particular approach or attitude isn’t serving me, the ever-optimistic making-it-happen consciousness of my canine companions serves as a lovely reminder.

What does your inner canine want from your writing life? How does s/he intend to revel in the anticipation of getting there? How will s/he love the work of moving toward this goal? And when, oh when, is nap time?

6 Comments on “Think like a dog”

  1. Sage – your comparison of canine qualities to the craft of writing is good. I have often thought about the number of books about dogs that writers have written. I think that is because writers are very observant and having a dog close by to observe provides endless opportunities to write about the pet’s actions, habits, routines, behaviors and thoughts. I am thinking of A Dog Year by Jon Katz and Merle’s Door by Ted Kerasote.

    1. I loved A Dog Year, Barbara! And, I agree–dogs are the loveliest muses–with the wettest noses! I will check out Merle’s Door; thanks for the recommendation!

  2. Sage, I’ve realized over time from reading your blog that we are quite different – which is why I keep coming back for more! For you are the Eternal Optimist. Alas, I am not a dog person; I have a cat. In poetry terms this is not all bad, it simply means that I must never chase down the feline. I must wait patiently (sometimes for days) for HER to come to ME! I am tolerated in the feline’s house, but secretly she has to get her scent onto everything that has my scent – by scratching the sofa, etc. She is demanding, insistent, and has a sense of entitlement. Loud noises scare her. She hides in the closet for a portion of every day. I accept this and have made a nest for her there. No one else can touch her. She naps with vigilance. Aloof as she is, when we are alone she wallows in my affection so openly she drools. Her purr could heal a leper. I adore her more than any human, and I will never abandon her. We ARE still talking about writing…

    1. MKJ: We may be less different than we might appear! (I live with cats, too!) I love the teachings that you have distilled from your cat companionship. Pure poetry. May the feline choose you again and again and again.

  3. Sage, I loved your thoughts about canine single-mindedness. Our black lab is brilliant at devising new ways to achieve her goals and persistent in testing each one until the prize is reach which, in her case, is typically a tissue, napkin, or something else she deems edible. Even when reprimanded, she persists in using all the tools in her toolbox to overcome her obstacle (me). After reading your post, I am encouraged to give her perspective ample testing in my own life.

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