Because I was writing from the point of view of a dog, I knew that some aspects of my writing were going to have to change, but the more research I did, the more I realized that not only my writing, but my entire worldview needed to shift to even begin the process of creating a dog’s perspective on the world.

The first and perhaps biggest change that I had to make was that I had to learn to “see” the world nose-first, meaning I had to think about everything from a scent perspective. Try it yourself—smell your way around your house or room. Try to imagine everything from a scent-first point of view. It’s super hard, but when you do it, the spaces around you change dramatically. Suddenly, your laundry hamper or stinky gym shoes or the garbage is the most interesting thing in the room. Gross, but true. ☺

This is how dogs sense the world—smell-first. Dogs smell MILLIONS of times better than human beings. That’s right, millions. They can smell trace amounts of sugar dissolved in the equivalent of swimming pools of water. They can smell when someone is about to have a seizure. They can smell the difference between one petal of a rose from another because a bee landed on one and left a dusting of pollen. One author posits that they can smell the time of day. How awesome would that be? But what a different way of experiencing the world from our own! For most of us humans, our primary way of experiencing the world is through sight. This bias is evident even in the way we talk about things. When you agree with someone, you might respond, “I totally see what you’re saying, dude.” Would a dog say, “I totally smell you, dog”?

Dogs can also (obviously) see, but they see differently than we do. They see a slightly muted color spectrum because of how their eyes are structured. Dogs’ eyes only pick up blue and greenish-yellow light, so they only see a color when it is in the range of blue or green. They also see “faster” than we humans do, which is why they can catch a flying Frisbee mid-air.

All of this research into how dogs sense the world changed how I wrote my scenes. When I thought about my main character, Shep, interacting with other dogs, I had to think about how he would smell them first, and then see them. What would he be able to tell from the other dog’s smell? I decided that he would be able to tell a lot about him or her—that she was a girldog, that she was a young dog, etc.

Through my research, and using some common sense, I knew that dogs communicate not only through barks and growls, but also through their body language. For example, once Shep saw this girldog, he would notice more than just whether there was a smile on her snout. He would see how the other dog held her tail—was it up and wagging, friendly, or flat and rigid, or between her legs, showing fear? He would notice how the dog held her ears, whether she was crouched down or standing proud.

On the subject of communication, I wanted to capture on the page a uniquely doggy kind of language, a dog-dialect. The book is written from a third-person close point of view, meaning that I tell the story from over Shep’s shoulder. The reader hears his thoughts and the story is told in his voice. I thought of what human words Shep might understand—Go, Car, Walk, etc.—words my own dogs understand. I also thought of how Shep might describe human things that he didn’t know the human words for—what would he call the vacuum cleaner? The refrigerator? A television? What kinds of metaphors would a dog use? Shep might compare something he really liked to a big bowl of kibble with gravy or a squeaky toy. How might he describe something he didn’t like?

Sometimes I had to depart slightly from the dog’s eye view of the world. For example, even though dogs live in a smell-first world, us human readers need some visual details to picture a setting. And so I describe certain locations as a human might experience them—I say what Shep sees around the room, give details of colors he might not really be able to sense. I also made some assumptions in writing the book, like that dogs would know what glass and plastic were. All of these choices required me to balance the authenticity of the “dog’s eye view” against what would best serve the story, and ultimately the reader.

As you can tell, I really got into all this dog research. It’s fascinating! If you’re interested in learning more about how dogs sense the world, check out Alexandra Horowitz’s amazing book, Inside of a Dog. She does a great job of talking about complex science in an easy-to-understand way. Or watch the great NOVA special, Dogs Decoded. You’ll never see your dog the same way again!