“Dog” by Richard Russo: Summary of Short Story

“Dog” is a short story by Richard Russo published in 1996. It’s told by a man who remembers his persistence in asking for a dog as a nine year old boy, and how his parents responded. Here’s a summary of “Dog”.

“Dog” Summary

The narrator’s parents, who divorced when he was in junior high, agree that he was an exasperating child. He relates a story that they tell about him as a boy.

Henry’s parents were professors and moved around frequently, as his father was often a visiting distinguished professor for a year or two at a university. He had a light schedule and wrote. The mother taught a full schedule. They would entertain other university folks or important visitors. Henry was the only child around and he was lonely. He wanted a dog more than anything.

When he was nine, his badgering reached a breaking point for his mother, who made a mistake. She told him he could earn a dog, thinking he wouldn’t be able to meet the standards required.

Dog by Richard Russo Summaryshort story synopsis
“Dog” Summary: Richard Russo

Henry starts talking about dogs constantly and leaves library books about dogs open around the house. His father doesn’t pay much attention, but his mother feels the strain of the pressure. His behavior doesn’t really change while he “earns” a dog. He’s active and interrupts his mother while she tries to work. His father takes meals with the family but spends a lot of time at his university office writing his book.

In a final attempt to block Henry, his mother tells him to stop slamming the screen door. This is difficult because the door is on a tight spring and sound carries through the house with perfect clarity. Henry genuinely tries to be gentle with the door and remembers about half the time.

After a week of this, Henry’s father goes out on Saturday morning and returns with an old, tentative, rust-colored Irish setter. Henry realizes he’s been outsmarted; he wanted a puppy or young dog but this was never part of the deal. This dog belonged to a professor emeritus who was just put into a nursing home.

Henry’s father acts like nothing is unusual. His mother sees his disappointment, and acknowledges the unfairness. The dog shivers and sighs like it wants to lie down. The father didn’t get the dog’s name and doesn’t pay attention when Henry points out it’s female.

Henry bolts out the door, letting it slam loudly. The dog is lying on the kitchen floor.

Henry’s father digs a grave in the backyard. The dog died before they could even name her. His father lowers the dog with a sheet into the hole. He pauses with the shovel before filling it in. Henry says they’ll name the dog “Red”.

After Henry’s father left the family, he became more famous as a literary scholar. Henry’s father is most real to him in his memory of him digging the grave that day. It was one of his father’s few experiences that didn’t come from the printed page.

His father was confused when Henry suggested a name for the deceased dog. He dropped the shovel and looked at his son like he had stepped out of a book he was reading long ago. He realized that his son, his living legacy who bore his name, was very different from himself and would never see things the way he did.

I hope this summary of “Dog” by Richard Russo was helpful.