What causes the dogs' fear in Woodsong?

Quick answer:

In Woodsong, Gary Paulsen relates how his young dogs become extremely fearful when he lights a campfire. The dogs are terrified by the flames at first, but later, they are fascinated and even miss the fire after it goes out. Paulsen also mentions that dogs are afraid of bears.

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Woodsong by Gary Paulsen is a memoir of the author's experiences in the wilderness and his adventures running sled dogs.

In chapter 4, Paulsen reflects on one of the primary differences between humans and animals. Humans use and control fire; animals do not. Paulsen speaks of making a training run with a team of young dogs who do not have much experience with the world yet. When night falls, Paulsen feeds and settles the dogs, then starts a campfire for himself so he can make some tea. The flames are only about a foot high, he says, "but the effect [is] immediate and dramatic."

The dogs are terrified, "crazy with fear." They have never seen fire before, and they actually slam against their chains, not just barking but screaming. Paulsen has a difficult time calming them down. He thaws some meat by the fire, and then feeds the warm meat to the dogs, helping them accept the flames. He does not understand why fire is so frightening to these young dogs, for they have seen many new things that day and were not scared of anything else.

When the dogs finally calm down and cease to be terrified of the fire, however, they are fascinated by it. They sit quietly and stare into the flames. They even seem to miss the fire when it dies down. Paulsen marvels that in only an hour the dogs have moved from terror to acceptance to apparent regret when the fire is gone.

Paulsen also mentions that the dogs fear bears and that the bears take advantage of that fear to snatch the dogs' food.

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