I cannot believe how many writers tend to give animals, largely horses, dog-like traits. Disney/Pixar is especially guilty of this — I could not help but groan that the horse in Tangled behaved so doggish, despite the fact that I knew it was done for humor. It is understandable why some writers have the animals in their novel take on doggish traits, because let’s face it, must individuals have had more access to dogs during their lives compared to with horses, cows, chickens, etc.
While the trope is commonly used for humor, serious writes need to get — well, serious. Find places where you can have access to animals that appear or play a major rule in your novel, or find people who raise them and work with the animal on a daily basis. In this era of the internet, there is no excuse not to be able to do the latter with several handy dandy forums specializing in different animals and different animal breeds. The NaNoWriMo forum is also a great place to pose questions about different animals behaviors and receive a multitude of responses.
Beyond the species itself, writers need to research the breeds they will be using in their novels as they will have different temperaments, mannerisms and behaviors. In my experience with pigs, Yorkshire pigs are more high-strung when compared to Hereford pigs, Hamps or Durocs. In the goat world, I’ve observed Nubian goats tend to be easier to startled compared to Oberhasli goats or Alpines. Horse breeds are no different with “warm-blooded,” “hot blooded” and “cold bloods” breeds all having unique feels.
Writers also need to understand that some animals are just not domesticated. A wolf is not going to play fetch, even though they are closely related to the domesticated dog. Komodo dragons will not make cute, cuddly pets. While it is acceptable for characters to approach non-domesticated animals, the writer better be portraying their characters as ignorant, naive, stupid or just plain arrogant. There must be repercussions or the writer should have the animal flee.
For some fun reading on this topic, visit TvTropes.com for a list of examples. For information on horses, the most commonly misrepresented animal, visit The Horse Forum or one of the other countless forums dedicated to one of man’s oldest companions: the horse.