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Dog Sense
(For Young Readers) Peachtree, 176 pp., 2005; $14.95

Sneed Collard is a biologist, teacher, inveterate traveler and—with more than 50 books for young readers to his credit—a prolific writer. Dog Sense is his first work of fiction. Rarely am I drawn to books in the “young reader” category, but this one, with a silhouette of a dog catching a Frisbee on the cover, piqued my interest, and I wasn’t disappointed: It’s more than the typical “boy and his dog” story.

Collard weaves an entertaining and lesson-filled narrative. The story is told by 13-year-old Guy Martinez, whose mettle is tested with a move from California to Montana. Guy’s mother, still smarting from her husband’s desertion, thinks that changing states and starting life anew will help her son. So, over Guy’s protestations, they return to her rural hometown and move in with her father, who cracks bad jokes laced with mots of generational wisdom. But a small town in Montana is a far cry from Guy’s Santa Barbara life, so, to make the adjustment easier, Guy’s mother presents him with Streak, a Border Collie mix adopted from the local humane society, thus setting the story in motion.

As the new kid in school, Guy quickly attracts the attention of the class bully, Brad, but he also makes friends with Luke, a bright and sensitive boy. Their friendship is formed when Luke, the son of a veterinarian, teaches Guy the importance of giving Streak a real job to do—like playing Frisbee. Together they begin training Streak for the big local competition. As both Guy and Streak hone their sport skills, school—darkened by Brad’s many threats—and home life goes on.

Though the main storyline revolves around playing Frisbee and making it to the state finals, the book has other interesting subthemes: Guy’s coming to terms with his father’s departure and learning to go beyond his comfort zone and tackle new subjects; his attraction to a smart and confident girl named Catherine; and most of all, his ability to follow his grandfather’s council that “the best victory is when the other guy wins, too.” This advice is put to the test when it turns out that Guy and Streak’s main rivals are the bully Brad and his champion Frisbee dog, Shep.

Readers from age 8 to 12—especially those who love dogs—will enjoy this book. The dogs are treated humanely and with a keen appreciation for their skills and abilities. The plotline and character development, as well as the dialogue, seem to be about right for young readers, and the important lessons learned by its young protagonist will surely be passed on to the reader as well.
 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 43: Jul/Aug 2007
Zoe Conrad is a Bark contributing editor.

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