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McKinley is one lucky dog! He spends his days roaming freely around Steamboat Springs, Colorado, but at night he can return to his warm and loving home with Jack and his parents. And McKinley is lead dog in Steamboat Springs, respected for his strength, wisdom, and charisma. But McKinley’s world is turned upside down when a she-wolf comes to town and tries to convince the dogs to join her pack. Suddenly McKinley’s leadership is challenged by another dog, and his friends are in danger. And something deep within him responds to the she-wolf and the wild life of freedom she offers. Publishers Weekly notes, “Themes reminiscent of Jack London’s Call of the Wild ring throughout this vividly imagined animal story.”
1. In The Good Dog, Avi creates an alternate world for dogs, with rules, traditions, and phrases all its own. What are some of the differences between dog life and human life? Do these canine details add to or detract from the story?
2. McKinley feels a sense of ownership for Jack and his family, yet humans traditionally feel that they own dogs. Who do you think is right? Can it be a partnership? What does each party bring to the relationship? What is Lupin’s view of “ownership”?
3. Describe McKinley’s first meeting with Lupin. Why is McKinley so quick to show submission to the wolf? How do you think their meeting would have been different if other dogs had been present?
4. McKinley goes to great lengths to protect and save Lupin. Why does he do this? Does he expect anything in return for his actions? Do you think Lupin is grateful for what he does? Why or why not?
5. Lupin feels very strongly that a life of freedom in the wild is far superior to the life of a domesticated dog. What are some of the pros and cons of each lifestyle? In what ways does Lupin’s outsider status endanger her life? Is survival worth the compromises that must be made?
6. Aspen is McKinley’s best friend. Why do they get along so well? Who is the “lead dog” in their relationship, and why do you think this?
7. Discuss the social structure within McKinley’s pack. What benefits do dogs in the lower levels of the hierarchy—like Tubbs—receive from being part of the group? In what ways is this similar to human society and in which ways is it different?
8. Which of McKinley’s characteristics qualify him for the position of lead dog? Does Redburn have the right to challenge his status? Should McKinley continue to hold the position?
Activities and Research
1. The name “Lupin” comes from a Latin word. Research these origins and find other words that come from this same root. Try to determine if the other names in the story have deeper meanings too.
2. In the story the dogs navigate their neighborhood by using common sights, smells, and characteristics (Horse Smell Way, Most Cars Way, Howl Hill). Draw a map of your neighborhood using these sorts of descriptive labels.
3. Write a report on wolves. Include their habitats, their habits, how their population has changed over the years, and any other interesting information you find.
4. Choose an animal, or perhaps even an inanimate object, and create an imagined world for them as Avi does for the dogs in his story. Keep in mind what sort of environment your animal would be in, and interpret the world and the actions of humans through their perspective.
5. Read other books or stories that contain wolves. Some good ones to try are The Call of the Wild, Julie of the Wolves, or The Jungle Book.
6. Research the evolution of dogs. How did they become domesticated?
7. In the story Duchess is abused by her owner and runs away. We have organizations that try to protect and help dogs that are in similar situations. Tour a humane society or animal shelter in your community. Consider helping the animals by doing some volunteer work.
About the Author
Avi lives with his family in Denver, Colorado, and knows Steamboat Springs well. The Good Dog is alive with the weather and the sights and smells of the mountains. The author’s other novels include two Newbery Honor Books, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle and Nothing but the Truth; S. O. R. Losers; Bright Shadow; Blue Heron; The Christmas Rat, which was called “thrilling, mysterious, and suspenseful” by School Library Journal in a starred review; and the Tales from Dimwood Forest series, the first book of which, Poppy, won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award.
This guide has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Avi is the author of more than seventy books for children and young adults, including the 2003 Newbery medal winner Crispin: The Cross of Lead. He has won two Newbery Honors and many other awards for his fiction. He lives with his family in Denver, Colorado. Visit him at Avi-Writer.com.