One man and his dog
by Lucy Dillon
If there’s one thing that makes me fall in love with a romantic hero, it’s finding out that he has a dog.
Forget floppy blonde hair, or killer abs. A bloke with a dog is already halfway to warming my heart – in books, and in real life. For one thing, if the dog likes him, he can’t be that bad. Cats hold grudges for strange reasons, and play favourites; dogs tend to be fairly straightforward about their emotions. If the dog seems happy, well-trained, well-fed and not wearing an amusing jumper or a collar saying ‘My name’s Killer and I eat cats’, then chances are the owner’s a fairly reliable sort. Dogs need to be fed regularly and socialised, and you can’t do that if you’re an out-of-control party animal or a vampire.
Plus, you can tell a lot by the name a man chooses for his canine companion – they’re a good humour barometer. Juliet’s scruffy terrier Minton in Walking Back to Happiness was named after a Tim Vine joke that her late husband, Ben, thought was particularly hilarious (“My dog Minton ate a shuttle cock. Bad Minton.”) I liked the idea of a couple sharing a joke, then the dog sharing it too. Dogs like to be in on a joke. It’s why they’re happy to wear your dad’s reading glasses while you take photos of them. A funny name really stands out, since so many popular dogs’ names are now human ones – Ben, Max, Sam, Jake, George – that there’s a sort of Wimbledon Common merging of Labradors and red-cord-wearing owners. A man who chooses a quirky name is already edging ahead of the pack for me; I’ve got a weakness for small dogs with dignified names – Scottish terriers called Mr McIntosh, or Lord Tibbs. I know someone who called their dog Spartacus, presumably so all the other dogs (or owners) in the park could shout, ‘No, I’m Spartacus!’ every time he called Sparty back. Funny, but not wacky, is never not attractive.
A hot hero’s dog doesn’t have to be a pedigree champion, but it has to share his personality somehow. When I’m thinking up male characters, I often know instinctively what sort of dogs they’d have, and it’s an interesting subconscious clue to parts of their personality that I haven’t quite dug out yet. Bill the hot but rather laddish doctor in Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts ends up being chosen by a toy poodle that somehow wins his heart – I liked what it said about Bill that his blokeish reluctance to be seen with a ‘cute’ dog was slowly worn down by Lulu’s charm and intelligence until he was proud to be seen with her. George the vet, on the other hand, is a black Labrador man through and through. Lorcan the builder, my own secret favourite of the Longhampton men, would have a lovely shaggy crossbreed of uncertain parentage, but with huge brown eyes.
But it’s the relationship between a man and his dog that melts my heart. The thing about even the smartest dogs is that however much they learn the tone of your voice and the sound of commands, the dog can’t actually understand a word you say, which is handy for me, given the amount of whingeing and plot-workings-out I inflict on mine. And so you end up developing a very personal communication, both human and dog studying each other’s body language, reading eyes, tails, sighs and silences. It requires patience, sensitivity, and endless trust. Not just on account of the massive jaws on one side, and the sad capacity for neglect on the other, but because one day, one of you will leave the other, and hundreds of happy memories and moments will vanish. When you get a dog, you open up your heart to a lot of happiness, but the certain sadness that you’ll have to say goodbye.
A man who can do all that – read your face when you’re not speaking, make room in his life for another living creature’s needs, and risk his own heart to love – is properly sexy. When it comes to romantic heroes, seriously, dogs are a girl’s best friend. Just make sure you’re not sharing a duvet with his other devoted companion.
Lucy Dillon’s first novel The Ballroom Class was a bestseller on publication in 2008. This was followed by Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts, which won the 2010 Romantic Novelists’ Association Novel of the Year. Her most recent novels are Walking Back to Happiness and The Secret of Happy Ever After. Lucy divides her time between London and Herefordshire. She is the proud owner of two basset hounds called Violet and Bonham. Follow her on twitter @lucy_dillon