But when I first set about writing this novel, I immediately discovered how little I understood about the practicalities of breeding and training dogs. Childhood memories only took me so far when the scene involved day-to-day work—I’d done odd jobs as a kid and paid little attention to the larger process. As an adult, I’d always trained my dogs conscientiously (though not always successfully), but I’d never been interested in breeding. That’s where the research began. Over the years, I’ve accumulated a small but deep library of nonfiction books on canine physiology, behavior and training. (You can find a list of some of my favorite books on the Edgar Sawtelle website, EdgarSawtelle.com, on the Further Reading page.) Since my idea was that the Sawtelles selected dogs based as much as possible on behavior instead of physical conformation, I found myself inventing a lot of their procedures out of thin air, working back from the goal of a purely “behavioral” breed. It would make sense for them to keep careful records, I decided. They would have to raise the dogs to maturity, in order to evaluate them. And that evaluation would have to involve rigorous training.
The result is a blend of fact and fiction. As far as I know, no one raises dogs exactly the way the Sawtelles do.