Woof Woof

I ran across a fun little article in last week’s Slate about the prevalence of barking dogs in literature.  And, not just any barking dogs, but dogs barking somewhere in the distance.  Authors as diverse as Stephen King, Robert Bolano, Jodi Picoult, James Joyce, Robert Penn Warren, and dozens of others have all used this particular image.

The author, Rosecrans Baldwin has an amusing take on this:

Picture an author at work: She’s exhausted, gazing at her laptop and dreaming about lunch. “[Author typing.] Boyd slammed the car door shut. He stared at his new condominium, with the for-sale sign in the yard. He picked up a pistol and pointed it at his head. [Author thinking, Now what? Gotta buy time.] Somewhere a dog barked. [Author thinking, Hmm, that’ll do.] Then Boyd remembered he did qualify for the tax rebate for first-time home buyers, and put down the gun.” If a novel is an archeological record of 4.54 billion decisions, then maybe distant barking dogs are its fossils, evidence of the novelist working out an idea.

He further points out that, while the dogs bark throughout the cannon of western literature, the dogs themselves very seldom make an appearance.  “The thing is,” he says,  “these so-called dogs are nameless and faceless, and frankly I doubt them.”

A very fun, very interesting read.  Check out the full article here.



  1. Dean Koontz has so many dogs in his books, that I’m convinced his labrador ghost writes them for him, explains why always the positive mutt image.

  2. @Jessica – It’s something I’m going to be looking for now, as well!
    @Parrish – You’re absolutely right. Although my Dean Koontz phase was a while ago, I do remember quite a few dogs featuring prominently in his books.

  3. Thanks, Pete, for one MORE thing to obsess about as I try to write my sequel. I was tempted to go back and check for barking dogs in the first book (I don’t think there are any). Now I have to decide if I want to go with them for solidarity or avoid them or make them characters just for the brain exercise! *Sigh.*

  4. Every time I read a book I’m now going to notice these barking dogs. I love the line “The thing is,” he says, “these so-called dogs are nameless and faceless, and frankly I doubt them.”

    1. That line cracked me up as well. The idea of phantom, non-existent dogs barking simply to give the writer a chance to collect his/her thoughts is an absurdly funny idea.

    1. Just got around to reading your post. Your son must be really observant to notice something like that at ten years old. Great that he’s reading enough to notice this from one book to another.

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