That the dog's love is unconditional is evident in how quickly he becomes a companion...
Old Yeller's unconditional love for Travis, and for the rest of the family, was clear from the passages in Chapter Two of Fred Gipson's novel and would continue to the dog's tragic death.
That the dog's love is unconditional is evident in how quickly he becomes a companion to Travis, who is forced to assume a level of responsibility for his home, mother and younger brother, Arliss, than his age would suggest. When Old Yeller is introduced to the reader, Travis takes an immediate dislike to the dog, which has raided the family's food stock. Travis' initial description of this interloper displays his initial contempt for the dog:
"He was a big ugly slick-haired yeller dog. One short ear had been chewed clear off and his tail had been bobbed so close to his rump that there was hardly stub enough left to wag."
The physical description of Old Yeller Travis provides, however, is insufficient to convey just how extensive is the boy's disdain for dog. A hint of the dog's nature is provided in this initial encounter between animal and boy, when Travis discovers the mess the dog has made and the dog's failure to display contrition for its crime:
"Well, to lose the only meat we had left from last winter’s hog butchering was bad enough. But what made me even madder was the way the dog acted. He didn’t even have the manners to feel ashamed of what he’d done. He rose to his feet, stretched, yawned, then came romping toward me, wiggling that stub tail and yelling Yow! Yow! Yow! Just like he belonged there and Iwas his best friend."
Travis is determined to rid the family of this ugly, thieving intruder ("I might have to put up with him for a day or so, but sooner or later, I’d find a way to get rid of him..."), but the dog's commitment to Travis, his mom and Arliss is unmistakable. It doesn't take Travis long to begin to feel an attachment to Old Yeller. An early display of the unconditional love the dog feels for Travis, however, is suggested in the boy's description of the dog's willingness to fight other animals that wander into the farm with the intent of stealing the family's crops. Discussing Old Yeller's willingness to fight-off skunks despite how sick the latter animals' spray would make him, and how unbearable it was for Travis to be near the dog when it got sprayed by the skunks, the dog's love for Travis remains evident:
"After every skunk killing, Old Yeller would get so sick that he could hardly stand it. He’d snort and drool and slobber and vomit. He’d roll and wallow in the dirt and go dragging his body through tall weeds, trying to get the scent off; but he couldn’t. Then finally, he’d give up and come lie down on the cowhide with me. And of course he’d smell so bad that I couldn’t stand him and have to go off and try to sleep somewhere else. Then he’d follow me and get his feelings hurt because I wouldn’t let him sleep with me."
Old Yeller's love for Travis, evident in the dog's sadness when the boy would walk away from it because of the stench, wins over the boy, and soon Travis comes to appreciate what Old Yeller has come to mean for him personally:
"Working there, night after night, guarding our precious bread corn from the varmints, I came to see what Iwould have been up against if I’d had it to do without the help of Old Yeller. By myself, I’d have been run to death and still probably wouldn’t have saved the corn. Also, look at all the fun Iwould have missed if I’d been alone, and how lonesome Iwould have been. I had to admit Papa had been right when he’d told me how bad I needed a dog."
Old Yeller's unconditional love for Travis and his family will be displayed throughout Gipson's novel. It is evident in the way Old Yeller protects the humans from threatening animals, as in Chapter Seven, when Old Yeller helps Travis subdue an out-of-control heifer, or, in Chapter Fourteen, when Old Yeller comes to the family's aid when the livestock is sick and dangerous. Travis comes to love Old Yeller so deeply because the dog has been so loyal to him and to his family, at the risk of its own life. The unconditional love the dog has for Travis is presented throughout Old Yeller. From the dog's affection for the family upon uninvited arrival to its ultimate demise, Old Yeller's love for this family is beyond doubt.