‘The Dog’ by Banjo Paterson: Short Story Analysis
‘The Dog’ is a short description of dogs by Australian writer and Bush poet Banjo Paterson. Banjo Paterson was a Bush poet who wrote about rural Australia. In this brief description, Paterson talks about a dog’s life, especially sheepdogs on farms in rural Australia. Paterson narrates the job, sense of responsibility, and working life of a sheepdog in a detailed manner similar to Mark Twain’s style, but cruder. He shows the reader that dogs, especially sheepdogs were very responsible, probably more accountable than human beings. They had a greater sense of responsibility towards their work, making them more human-like than regular humans. He rejects the fancy dogs that people in the towns and cities keep as pets as they do no work. To Paterson, a true dog is the one who works, and he finds such dogs only in the rural regions of Australia or Bush Country. I have analyzed two other short stories about dogs’ uncanny humanness and the workings of their mind. They are: ‘A Dark Brown Dog’ by Stephen Crane and ‘Memoirs of a Yellow Dog’ by O. Henry. Paterson is not as dramatic as Crane and O. Henry but makes a point regarding dogs’ determination to work.
At the beginning of this short description, Banjo Paterson shows that it would not be odd to treat canines like human beings who work for their keep because that is precisely what they do. They are not like fancy dogs who to Paterson are merely showpieces in the homes they are kept as pets. This is a contrasting image of urban Australia versus rural Australia. There is a certain crudeness or rudeness in Paterson’s tone of voice and narration in this text. He uses cuss words like ‘slut’ to:
- Indicate that the Australians of Bush Country were not respectful of their female dogs, especially female dogs nursing their puppies.
- They did not respect the sacrifice female dogs made by leaving their puppies to rear the sheep the ‘live-long day’.
- Paterson wants to depict the crudeness of rural Australia.
- Paterson wants to show that dogs were more dignified and cultured than their human masters.
- They literally ‘worked the live-long day like dogs’ sweating their lives out. However, all they get are cuss words and ingratitude from human beings who see their own deficiency in the dog’s complete humanity.
Paterson has no respect for fancy dogs. He loves the sheepdog and focuses this short description on the sheepdog. To him, a man of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, it was fascinating to see how dogs, as mere puppies, were already equipped with the capabilities to rear sheep for their human masters. He called such sheepdogs or puppies ‘half-educated’. The sheepdog puppy does the following, which shows that he is well educated and willing to take the plunge immediately and get to work rearing sheep:
- He watches his mother rearing sheep. Through observation and activating instinct, he learns that which is already present in the marrow of his bone and being.
- He tries rearing or practices rearing sheep, fowl, or hens into enclosed spaces just like his mother.
- When the time comes he is ready to rear sheep like a professional sheepdog.
- He closely follows his mother’s activities at the feet of horses used widely in Australia’s rural areas.
The sheepdog has instinct and reasoning that is akin and sometimes beyond human reason where their devotion to work is concerned. We see in the case of the mother dog who leaves her newborn puppies to do a whole day’s work rearing sheep when it is time to do so. Her master or another human, instead of appreciating her worth, yells at her to go back to nursing puppies, which she does only after proudly finishing a day’s work. More and more, we see humanity drifting away from humans and being more animatingly present in dogs, especially sheepdogs.
There is a mention of Thomas Carlyle in this short description titled ‘The Dog’. Paterson mentions sheepdogs as the followers of Thomas Carlyle, a British historian, satirical writer, essayist, translator, philosopher, mathematician, and teacher. Essentially a Romantic, Carlyle attempted to reconcile Romantic affirmations of feeling and freedom with respect for historical and political fact. Many believe that Carlyle was always more attracted to the idea of heroic struggle itself than to any specific goal for which the struggle was made. He propounded the theory that the only happiness man had was his work and doing his work. This short description shows less of this in human beings and more of it in sheepdogs.
Banjo Paterson is crude and racist. This is evident from the way he alludes to Jews or Hebrews who horde shekels. The reference to ‘Hebrews’ could be a Biblical reference. Coming to the point about reason. Banjo Peterson says that the sheepdog reasons like a human and is, therefore, a master in his craft. He has pride in his work because of his reasoning and is a professional artist in the line of sheep rearing. This indicates that he considers his sheep rearing to be an art in itself. It is a fact of life that the more one treats their jobs as art or something more than art, the more one finds satisfaction in what one does.
Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you’re willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.—Lou Holtz
The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.—Steve Jobs
People rarely succeed unless they have fun in what they are doing.—Dale Carnegie
Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.—Maya Angelou
It is essential for one to love one’s work and treat it as an art to succeed in life. Where humans are concerned, they are dissatisfied because they do not love their work and therefore do not make a masterpiece of their daily chores. But the sheepdog treats his work as something near the divine, which is why he finds happiness in what he or she does. The dog finds fulfillment but not the humans he serves. It reaches such a level that sheepdogs are trusted to rear sheep all by themselves without a human’s need.
But the sheepdog can sometimes be afraid of their humans. This is brought on because dogs like horses and other animals can sense fear, anxiety, and excitement like waves floating in the air. They can behave normally in the most bizarre conditions. However, they get ruffled up or unnerved in certain situations when it is necessary to be afraid, excited, or anxious. In this way sheepdogs, horses, and other animals show themselves smarter than human beings, for they are only scared when there is a hundred percent valid reason to be afraid. They do not get frightened or confused otherwise as quickly as human beings.
There is a mention in this short description titled ‘The Dog’ of a great Queensland strike when shearers attacked and burnt Dagworth shed. That was the time the sheepdog or dogs really got afraid and anxious. Dagworth Station is a cattle station located northwest of Winton in central west Queensland in Australia. In 1894 the station’s shearing shed was burned down along with seven others in the district as part of a protest by shearers over wages. It is the historical event in Australia that Banjo Paterson is referring to. The short description titled ‘The Dog’ ends with the writer’s final remark that there is no real understanding other than a certain sense of ‘responsibility’ why sheepdogs work when they should be doing or could do other things.
I enjoyed reading and analyzing this short description by Australian poet and writer Banjo Paterson. If you are interested in a collection of short stories in the form of parables or moral stories where animals, especially dogs play main character roles, you can check out my book S.O.S Animals and Other Stories on Amazon. I hope to read, review, and analyze more short stories by Australian writers soon.
If you are interested in book reviews, book analysis, short story analysis, poems, essays, essay analysis, and other bookish content, you can check out my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in purchasing my books, you can check out my blog’s product’s page or my author’s page on Amazon. There is a lot of good stuff to buy! Happy reading to you always!
Copyright © 2021 Fiza Pathan