What did John Thornton claim Buck could do?  

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The event your question is referring to occurs in the sixth chapter of Jack London's The Call of the Wild . In order to understand John Thornton's claim, you also need to understand his faith in Buck. Having made a name for himself around Alaska, the dog "was the...

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The event your question is referring to occurs in the sixth chapter of Jack London's The Call of the Wild. In order to understand John Thornton's claim, you also need to understand his faith in Buck. Having made a name for himself around Alaska, the dog "was the target" of conversation between Thornton and other men boasting about their own dogs. In a feat of one-upmanship, each man bragged that their dog "could start a sled" with a certain amount of weight—each claim outdoing the previous one. When it comes to Thornton, he bluffs:

'Pooh! pooh!' said John Thornton; 'Buck can start a thousand pounds.'
'And break it out! and walk off with it for a hundred yards?' demanded Matthewson, a Bonanza King, he of seven hundred vaunt.
'And break it out, and walk off with it for a hundred yards,' John Thornton said coolly.

Thornton here is engaged in what he believes is merely witty boasting. While he is unsure of whether Buck can truly "start a thousand pounds," he nevertheless has complete faith in his companion's devotion to him. One of the main reasons for this is that Buck recently saved his life not once, but twice: the first occasion happened when he intervened as Thornton became embroiled in an altercation at a bar; the second, when Buck pulled him to safety after he fell into a dangerous river. When Matthewson makes a substantial bet against his claims, Thornton internally falters, not knowing whether Buck is actually capable of pulling it off. Additionally, he does not have the money to match Matthewson's bet. However, after a friend loans him the money, Thornton takes the bet, albeit still worried:

Thornton had been hurried into the wager, heavy with doubt; and now that he looked at the sled itself, the concrete fact, with the regular team of ten dogs curled up in the snow before it, the more impossible the task appeared.

Being "in perfect condition," Buck is able to pull off the feat, earning the respect and admiration of everyone around.

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John Thornton claimed that Buck would risk his own life on John Thornton's demand. He demonstrated this when John signaled to Buck to jump into the river. By doing so, Buck risked his own life. Buck so loved and trusted Thornton, that he knew that his master would never ask him to do anything he wasn't capable of doing.

On another occasion, John Thornton bet money that Buck could pull a sled weighing one thousand pounds. On his command, Buck did so earning the respect of those in attendance and the enduring love from his master.

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