I'm writing a story about a group of dogs, mongrels mostly. I would like help finding the correct vocabulary to describe their physical appearance. Remember that, been mongrels, I can't say simply "he was a Doberman" or "he was a terrier").

All of the stories I've written have been about humans. Even if it's easy for me to describe different types of nose, mouth, etc., it's not the same with animals. We have to take into consideration that we humans are very good at visualizing humans faces, it's not the same with animals, so, in this case, my description MUST be even more accurate.

Also, I want to ask you advice and help in the description of the fights: how the movements are named and that kind of stuff

My thanks in advance.

  • Welcome! Have you had dogs, especially from puppies? Their emotional and facial repertoire is as complex as a human's, and it is how they speak to each other (along with more obvious features like tail-wagging and bellying the ground in submission).
    – Stu W
    Jan 4, 2016 at 15:22

4 Answers 4


I would suggest dedicating time to your research.

Going to the dog park like the answer before me suggested is one possible idea, but that will only give you a very, very small demographic. Some other ways could be:

  • Go visit your local shelter. See if you can volunteer with them, and learn to play/bathe/walk the dogs. Many dogs there are scared or shy, and watching their interactions could help learn how they express these emotions.

  • Talk to other dog owners. I know that I, for one, can read my dog very well. I know when he sits on your feet, he is nervous and is asking you not to leave him. This isn't something that can be very obvious to an outsider.

  • See if there are opportunities to dog-sit or walk a neighbor's dog. This may sound silly, but developing a relationship with any dog will let them open up more around you, and you may see another side to them.

  • Don't limit yourself. Go visit small dogs, big dogs, sick dogs, scary dogs. Explore how they like to interact with different stimuli. If one dog doesn't like fireworks they may cower, but another may jump and bark at them in excitement.

Dogs aren't too different than people, but you've had to interact with people for the majority of your lifetime. Feel free to look for books, videos or experts on the subject (Fight!: A Practical Guide to the Treatment of Dog-dog Aggression by Jean Donaldson may be a good place to start for fighting and aggression).

I wish you luck in your writing endeavors!


I call this a "grains of rice" problem. It's from a question over on Graphic Design SE, How do I draw rice grains in Photoshop?, but the idea is the same. If you want to draw grains of rice, you have to observe grains of rice.

In design terms, you can photograph or scan some actual rice and then trace it. In writing terms, if you want to describe how something or someone looks, moves, or acts, you must observe how the thing or person looks, moves, or acts.

Go to a dog park. Bring a notebook. Write down what you see. Do it every day for a month. See if the same dogs return. See how they interact with a familiar environment, or other familiar dogs. See how they interact with newcomers. See how they interact with weather (snow, rain, wind).

You can read books on dog training as well, to make use of others' observations and to learn some of the jargon vocabulary (like "play bow").

In short, this isn't something you can get from an afternoon on Stack Exchange. If you're writing a book, you must invest a chunk of time into research.


Read or talk to dog show judges and dog breeders. They can tell you all the kinds of things that distinguish dogs from each other (like coat colors, shagginess, face shape, tail length) as well as the things that are considered beautiful or remarkable about a dog.

He had the face of a pug with deep jowls like a Saint Bernard. His fur was mostly deep russet brown and long, except for his short tail, which was surprisingly ratlike and narrow. I admired the way he slathered his drool in his owner's smelly places, so boldly yet casually declaring his alpha status.


To jump start your observational skills before heading out to the dog park, read up on Dog Behavior and Dog Communication. Studying these two topics will give you the insight to understand what you are seeing.

Then read descriptions of animal behavior in literature. Read Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat first. Then consider works by Gerald Durrell and maybe Call of the Wild by Jack London. Hey folks, can you think of any other good dog stories?

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