SUBJECTS — U.S./1945 – 1991 & West Virginia;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Caring for Animals; Father/Son; Mother/Son; Parenting;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness; Caring.

AGE: 10+; MPAA Rating — Rated PG for mild violence;

Drama; 1997; 93 minutes; Color. Available from

TWM DOES NOT RECOMMEND SHOWING THIS FILM TO CHILDREN UNLESS THEY HAVE ALREADY READ THE BOOK. The film omits the transformation of Judd Travers, the abusive owner of the dog. This is one of the key elements in the story. In addition, some of the hero’s internal monologues about lying are omitted from the movie. For these reasons, the movie can best serve as a treat or a reward, after children have finished the novel.

The information and cautions in this Guide relate to BOTH THE BOOK AND THE MOVIE. However, the Guide does not attempt to provide materials sufficient for a full lesson plan based on the novel. There are many lesson plans for the written version that are available on the Internet.

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Marty is eleven years old and lives in the mountains of West Virginia. He develops an attachment to a beagle hunting dog who has twice run away from an abusive owner. Marty names the dog Shiloh and desperately tries to find a way to keep him. These efforts lead Marty to secrets, lies, and confusion over right and wrong. Instead of returning the dog to his owner, Marty hides Shiloh in an old shed and lies to everyone when asked if he has seen the dog. Although Marty’s family is on a tight budget and his father has said that they can’t afford to feed a dog, Marty sneaks food to Shiloh.

The shed does not provide Shiloh with adequate protection. One night, Shiloh is badly mauled by a much larger dog and Marty’s lies are exposed. However, through an unexpected stroke of luck, combined with courage, perseverance, and hard work, Marty eventually convinces the once abusive owner to sell him the dog. Unfortunately, this also requires that Marty lie one more time to his parents.


Selected Awards: None.

Featured Actors: Scott Wilson as Judd Travers; Blake Heron as Marty Preston; Bonnie Bartlett as Mrs. Wallace; Rod Steiger as Doc Wallace; J. Madison Wright as Sam Wallace; Ann Dowd as Louise Preston; Michael Moriarty as Ray Preston.

Director: Dale Robertson.


The film can serve as a treat or reward after students have read the novel. The Possible Problems section will discuss how to turn the substantial problems with the story (both the book and the movie) into a strength.

“Shiloh” is a compelling story of a child falling in love with an animal and doing what he has to do to save the animal from an abusive situation. The story is realistic and there is much that rings true. In fact, one of the authors of this Learning Guide lived this story in part; but there was no opportunity to lie and the ending was tragic for the dog, a beautiful German shepherd named Dan.


SUBSTANTIAL. There are major problems with the book and the movie. In both, Marty repeatedly rationalizes lying to serve his own interests. One of the lies is made to his parents at the request of an adult. It is extremely dangerous for children to lie to their parents at the behest of another adult. (The novel won the Newberry Award. TWM cannot understand why this award was given to a book whose hero accomplishes his goals by lying.) A second and less important problem is that the story shows mountain people in West Virginia defying the laws concerning hunting and cruelty to animals.

Adults suggesting the book or the movie should take the time to turn the story’s substantial problems with lying into strengths. Benefits can be found in pondering the great value of honesty and the special dangers to children when they lie to parents at the request of another adult.

As to the value of honesty, the question comes down to whether being honest would result in the sacrifice of a greater good. Good cause or bad, a lie is a lie. Only in extreme circumstances, when the good to be achieved is important and the lie is the only way to secure that good, can an ethical person lie.

In addition, when the lie will benefit the liar, one must be careful of making rationalizations to justify the result desired. A person in Marty’s position had to make an objective determination that the good to be achieved, without his own interests being considered, justified the lie. Specifically, before Marty could justify lying about Shiloh’s whereabouts he had to make sure that the benefit to Shiloh was sufficient to permit an ethical lie and that the only effective way to protect Shiloh was for Marty to keep him. A good argument can be made that in the circumstances of this story, the only way to protect Shiloh was for Marty to become his master.

However, when a person lies, he or she takes responsibility for the situation. In this story, Marty got in over his head because he didn’t have the resources to protect Shiloh during the night. As a result, Shiloh was attacked by a larger dog and suffered injuries that Judd Travers contended he would never have inflicted.

As for the last lie that Marty tells, the lie to his parents about why Judd Travers changed his mind and let Marty buy the dog, Marty clearly makes the wrong decision. The risks of lying to parents at the request of another adult are obvious, as demonstrated by the plight of the millions of children who have been sexually abused and then at the demand of the abuser, withhold the information from their parents, permitting the abuse to continue. Most kids cannot compete in experience or cunning with an adult who tries to induce them to lie to their parents. Children should be cautioned that when an adult asks them to keep something secret or to lie to their parents, the adult is usually doing something wrong. The request alone makes it very important for the children to tell their parents. The fact that the resolution of “Shiloh” involves Marty withholding information and lying to his parents at the request of Judd Travers makes it important that adults who offer the book or the movie to children stress this point.


TWM strongly advises that if you show this film to your child, it should only be after your child has read the book and that you confront the issues with respect to lying. See Possible Problems section above and Trustworthiness Discussion Questions 1 – 6.


Legislation affecting the lives of animals can be traced back to the second century B.C.E. when King Asoka of India created laws to protect animals. He promoted vegetarianism to help eliminate the domestication of animals and to assure that animals were not held as slaves. He banned sports hunting and would not allow animals to be killed in religious ceremonies. All of Asoka’s actions make sense when you understand that he embraced the notion of Ahimsa, which is a Buddhist belief that people should not use violence against any living being.

Anti-cruelty legislation in the West can be traced back to Ireland in 1635 and to the Puritan Colony in North America in 1641. Throughout the 1700s there were several attempts to regulate the treatment of animals. All through the 1600s in Europe, the use of animals for scientific research and experimentation grew increasingly common. Yet there were no laws regulating this experimentation until the late 1800s.

Judd Travers’ assertion that the contract was not binding because there was no witness is an antiquated view of the law. Moreover, even if the contract was unenforceable, once Marty started working for Travers, courts in common law countries would enforce the contract under the doctrine of part performance. The doctrine is also called “detrimental reliance”. Once Marty had started working for Travers, Marty had relied on Travers’ promise to his detriment. Courts routinely enforce verbal promises in such situations. In this story, the stakes weren’t worth going to court and no one had the money to hire a lawyer, but Travers’ interpretation of the law was defective. Travers’ error about the law is just another aspect of his friendless, uneducated persona.

The part of the contract between Marty and Travers in which Marty promised not to report Travers’ taking game out of season is illegal and unenforceable.


INTO: Before reading the book or watching the movie, students should be given the following information:

The story takes place in rural West Virginia in the 1950s and 1960s. The mountain people in Marty’s community had a long tradition of ignoring the laws regulating when they could hunt. In the story, Judd Travers supplements his income by hunting and trapping, violating these laws frequently. While Marty’s father does not necessarily approve of Travers’ actions, he won’t report Travers to the game warden.

To Travers, dogs are working animals; a necessary part of his business. The dogs spend most of their time chained in Travers’ yard and his punishments for misbehavior are harsh. Some people, including Marty, consider this to be animal cruelty but the adults believed that dogs were property (like farm animals) and that how a man treated his animals was no one else’s business. Marty’s father points out that no law enforcement official would take the time to investigate the mistreatment of a dog, even if it was against the law.

To get students into the story it is helpful to have them think about their relationships with animals. Have students write narratives using one of the following prompts:

1. Write about an animal you have liked in your life. This can be your pet or an animal that belonged to someone else. Be sure to describe the animal and explain your relationship with it.

2. If you have ever watched a program on “Animal Planet” or a show like “The Dog Whisperer” on television, write about a particular episode that you remember. Write as if your reader has never seen the show; give details.

3. Write about a trip to the zoo or to an animal sanctuary when you saw an animal that brought out some feelings in you. The animal may have made you sad or it may have delighted you. Be sure to describe the situation.

4. Write about a time when you went horseback riding. Describe the event.

5. Write about a time when you were near wild animals. Where were you? What kinds of animals did you see? What were they doing? How did you respond to the experience of being around them?

6. If you have ever been on a whale watching excursion, write about what you saw and what you learned. Be sure to let your readers know what the trip felt like, smelled like, and sounded like, as well as what you saw.

7. If at your home or at a friend’s house a cat had kittens or a dog had pups, or any other animal bore young, explain what you saw and felt. Try to describe the situation.

8. Write about a trip to an aquarium. Describe which tank of fish, or which particular sea animal, made the deepest impression on you.

9. If you have had an experience with animals that does not fit in to the prompts given here, share it with as much detail as will allow your readers to completely understand.

Finally, before assigning the book or showing the movie, tell students to take careful notice of when Marty lies and how he makes up excuses to justify each lie. Suggest that we can all understand some of Marty’s lies but that Marty’s last lie is a big problem. Ask the class to describe Marty’s last lie and tell them that there will be extra credit for anyone who figures out why lies like that are such a big risk for a child.

THROUGH: Students will read the book and afterward watch the movie. Chunk the movie, as appropriate, for the points the teacher or parent wants to stress.

Go through the discussion questions under Trustworthiness, at least questions 1 – 5. Teachers can conduct the class discussion using “Accountable Talk” which promotes listening skills, respect, thinking and providing support for points made. Several websites provide information about this method of class participation. Accountable Talk requires:

  • Constant monitoring by the teacher;
  • No interruptions;
  • Active listening;
  • Support, evidence or examples to clarify points;
  • Respectful challenges; and question speakers when points are unclear.

For discussion questions, scroll down. For assignments, projects, and activities relating to the book and the movie, scroll down.

BEYOND: Assignments, projects, and activities to take students beyond the book and the film are set out below:

1. Students can research and write about animal protection agencies, animal shelters, farm sanctuaries, or local organizations attempting to protect animals and prepare presentations to be given to the entire class.

2. Students can research and write about proposals to improve protection for animals such as the elimination of veal crates and poultry battery cages, outlawing the fur apparel industry (see Learning Guide to “The Witness”), outlawing or restricting the use of animals in scientific research, the elimination of factory farms, etc.

3. Students can make posters taking a position on any of the issues described in #2.

4. Students can organize community service projects that work with agencies trying to help or protect animals.

5. Students can adopt a whale or a polar bear or any other animal in need of attention and help.

6. Students can organize a campaign to inform and educate other students at their school about issues relating to the treatment of animals.



Let’s change the facts a little. Let’s suppose that after Shiloh had run away from Travers the second time and Marty was keeping the dog in the shed up the hill from his house, Travers had sincerely said that he was sorry for hurting the dog and had decided to change his ways and never hurt a dog again. If that had happened, what affect would it have on whether Marty had any moral basis to lie and keep the dog hidden?

Suggested Response:

Marty’s only justification for lying was based on the claim that it was necessary to protect Shiloh from abuse by Travers. Thus, Travers’ change of heart would have meant that there was no basis for Marty to lie. Marty would have to be content with visiting Shiloh at Travers’ kennel.



1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

[These questions relate to the book.]

2. Until the last 11 pages of the book, Judd Travers is seen as a bad man. However, there are certain incidents in his life that cause the reader to have sympathy for him. What are they?

Suggested Response:

When Marty claims that kids who are mistreated will run off the first chance they get, Travers reveals that he was beaten as a child and he didn’t run. Travers says he didn’t run off because he didn’t have any place to go. Travers appears to be poor and he needs to hunt to earn his livelihood. A dog that does not do its job will cost him more than it will earn him. It appears that Travers lives alone, is virtually friendless, and is poorly educated.

[Questions 3 and 4 should be asked together.]

3. Does the character of Judd Travers change or grow through the course of the story?

Suggested Response:

Travers changes from someone who is hard-hearted where the dog and Marty are concerned to being their friend and giving Marty a collar for the dog. This change occurs at the end of the book beginning when Marty goes to work at Travers’ home. The transformation occurs at page 133 of the 1991 hardback copy, eleven pages from the end of the book. One doubts that Travers will ever abuse another dog.

4. What is the significance of Judd Travers’ name?

Suggested Response:

The word “traverse”, as a verb, has two interesting meanings. The first is to go against or to act in opposition. Certainly, Judd Travers did that. The second is to go across, to move or to pass through. These definitions both apply to Judd Travers. For most of the book he is Marty’s opposition, the antagonist. However, he slowly changes when Marty begins to work for him.



See Question #1 under Trustworthiness.

1. When Marty talks to his father about how terrible it is to abuse a dog, his father asks him if he ever noticed dogs chained and suffering in a yard on his way to school. Marty’s father is implying that Marty cares about this dog and his relationship to it rather than to dogs as a whole. Does this make Marty’s situation less compelling?

Suggested Response:

Students need to wrangle with the idea that Marty may be serving himself rather than Shiloh. As in many of these questions, there is no right or wrong answer. The question arises: would Marty return the dog should Travers see the light and begin to treat Shiloh properly?


See question #9 under Trustworthiness.

2. When Marty’s father says the boy cannot have a dog, the mother says, “This is a family. We should all have a say.” Do you think parents should share power when it comes to making decisions that affect the whole family? Should children have a voice?

Suggested Response:

There will be a wide range of answers to this question. In most modern families, parents will make the decision together. Some couples divide up the responsibilities. The voices of children should be heard but it has to be the adults who make the decision.


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)

1. Judd Travers and Marty’s father thought that it was wrong for Marty to keep Shiloh after the dog ran away from Travers the second time. Marty thought differently. Describe the basis for each position, give your own position, and explain why.

Suggested Response:

Judd Travers and Marty’s father believed that dogs were property, just like a piece of wood or a car and that people could do what they wanted with their property. While Marty’s father disapproved of the way Travers treated his dogs, he didn’t think that anyone had the right to stop him. Marty believed that whatever ownership rights Judd Travers had in Shiloh were lost when he mistreated the dog. Another way to frame the ethical argument that Marty instinctively responded to is that people are all powerful to domesticated animals. Just like parents who have a responsibility to take care of children, people have a responsibility to take care of the animals who are dependent upon them. In this view, people are, morally, the guardians of the animals that they own. There is no one right answer to the rest of the question. Any well-considered response will be appropriate.

2. When Shiloh ran away the second time, was Marty right to keep the dog hidden and to lie about having seen him?

Suggested Response:

This is a difficult question. Lying is not a good thing to do. Marty’s father makes a good argument against lying when he says that once someone has lied to him, he doesn’t know whether or not he can trust what that person says in the future. Trusting and loving relationships are very difficult if we can’t rely on what the other person says. But Marty was in a bad place. Marty believed that Judd Travers had no right to the dog because he had abused it but the society in which Marty lived said something different. In rural West Virginia, animals were property and people could abuse them any time they wanted. There were some anti-cruelty laws, but they were never enforced. Marty knew that his father would take Shiloh back to Travers if Marty told him that the dog was in the shed up the hill.

Marty’s lie was understandable. He felt powerless. Sending Shiloh back to a situation in which he was going to be abused was unjust, and it was wrong for Shiloh. So, Marty had a choice and he felt that considering all of his ethical principles, he should keep Shiloh hidden until he could get the money to buy him from Travers. However, Marty had fallen in love with Shiloh and wanted the dog for himself. When we decide to lie or compromise our ethics for something that we want, we have to make sure that we are not just doing it for our own reasons but that there is some independent reason that justifies the action. Marty was convinced that keeping Shiloh away from Judd Travers was important for Shiloh’s own good.

There are at least two ways to think about this. One is that Marty should never have lied, because a lie is absolutely wrong. However, most people believe in the second position, that you can lie when it is really necessary to prevent some greater wrong. We call this the “Rule of the Most Honoring Choice”. Marty was in a situation in which his values conflicted. He knew it was not right to lie. But he also believed that Judd Travers had lost his ownership rights in Shiloh by abusing the dog and that Shiloh would be hurt if Marty sent him back to Travers. The “Rule of the Most Honoring Choice” tells us that when our ethics conflict, it is all right to chose the ethic which, overall, sustains the most important values that we hold. Marty chose the value of loving and protecting Shiloh and, as a result, he felt that lying was the best thing to do.

However, the “Rule of the Most Honoring Choice” comes with a warning. We have to be very careful that our real motive is not to just get something we really want, such as revenge on someone or being able to keep a dog. And so, Marty had to ask himself the question, “If I wasn’t going to get Shiloh would I still lie to keep him away from Judd Travers?” The answer to this question was, most likely, “yes”.

3. [This is the quick discussion question.] Let’s change the facts a little. Let’s suppose that after Shiloh had run away from Travers the second time and Marty was keeping the dog in the shed up the hill from his house, Travers had sincerely said that he was sorry for hurting the dog and had decided to change his ways and never hurt a dog again. If that had happened, what affect would it have on whether Marty had any moral basis to lie and keep the dog hidden?

Suggested Response:

Marty’s only justification for lying was based on the claim that it was necessary to protect Shiloh from abuse by Travers. Thus, Travers’ change of heart would have meant that there was no basis for Marty to lie. Marty would have to be content with visiting Shiloh at Travers’ kennel.

4. Marty said that he had made a promise to Shiloh to take care of him and that this was one reason why he had to lie about keeping the dog in the old shed. What affect did this have on Marty’s right to lie about the fact that he was keeping Shiloh in an old shed?

Suggested Response:

One way to look at it is that it was Marty who made the promise and therefore he set up the conflict. He very well could have made the promise to give himself an excuse to do what he wanted to do all along, which was to keep the dog. Another is that a promise to a dog is no promise at all. A third but weaker way to view this promise is that Marty made it in good faith and he was bound to do his utmost to keep it.

5. Is telling half-truths or failing to tell the whole truth as bad as a flat out falsehood?

Suggested Response:

There is no difference between a half-truth and a lie. Failing to tell the whole truth is lying.

6. What about the last lie that Marty told, the one to his parents, when he claimed that he didn’t know why Judd Travers had changed his mind and let Marty work off the cost of the dog. Was this something Marty should have done?

Suggested Response:

This is Marty’s last lie in the book. He lies to his parents at the request of Judd Travers who made him promise not to tell anyone about Travers’ illegal activities. This was the worst and most dangerous lie that Marty told. CHILDREN SHOULD NEVER LIE TO THEIR PARENTS TO HIDE SOMETHING THAT AN ADULT HAS DONE AND ESPECIALLY WHEN AN ADULT ASKS THE CHILD TO KEEP IT A SECRET. In that situation, children should go right to their parents and tell them. When an adult wants to keep something a secret, it’s usually because the adult knows it was wrong. In this story, Judd Travers knows that it was wrong to violate the law and kill a deer or trap a rabbit out of season (the first instance is in the book and the second in the movie). An example in real life is childhood sexual abuse. The adult wants the child to keep the abuse secret because the adult knows he or she is doing something wrong. The adult will usually try to convince the child that it is all the child’s fault. (Sexual contact between an adult and a child is never the child’s fault. It is always the adult’s fault.) Most kids cannot compete in experience or cunning with an adult who tries to induce them to lie to their parents.

Travers had no right to try to make Marty lie to his parents. Marty was not bound by such a promise. The best thing for Marty to do was to tell his parents about what he had seen Travers do and ask them not to report Travers to the game warden. Marty’s father had already said he would not do this, but even if he hadn’t said this, as a child, Marty didn’t have the experience or the understanding to make this decision. It was up to his parents.

7. Marty’s father says that the trouble with lying is that no one can believe what you say after the lie. What does it take to be trusted again after you have lied to someone?

Suggested Response:

The liar must admit the lie and sincerely promise not to lie again. Then it takes a long, long time of being completely honest to rebuild trust.

8. When the neighbors start preparing food for the family after word gets around that Marty is trying to buy cheap food from the market, does Marty have an obligation to his parents to tell the truth so that the town won’t think that the family is in dire straights?

Suggested Response:

Fooling the entire neighborhood and subjecting them to worry about a family in their community is unfair and it is unfair to Marty’s parents to do something that makes people believe they are in financial trouble, when in fact they are not. However, the analysis is the same: was there any other way to keep Shiloh away from Travers and was it so important for Shiloh to be away from Travers that it was worth the whole community having the wrong impression of Marty’s parents?

9. When Marty’s mother gives him a day to figure things out before she tells his father about Shiloh, is she committing a lie of omission? Did she do the right thing?

Suggested Response:

Clearly, Marty’s mother knows that she is withholding important information from his father. She says that his father may not be able to trust her again if he were to find out that she knew about the dog and did not tell him. This is a lie of omission and there is no one correct answer about whether it was an ethical action or not. However, Marty’s mother is caught between the need to be honest with her husband and Marty’s request for one more day to try to find a way to keep Shiloh. Balancing these values, she decides that lying for only a day is worth giving Marty a chance to work it out.


(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)

See Question #1 under Caring for Animals.


1. The novel creates an image of Travers as a far more complex person than the movie. Students can be asked to write essays in which they show the differences in the presentation of Travers as a character in the novel and in the film.

2. Marty catches Travers in the act of killing a deer out of season. (In the movie, Travers traps a rabbit out of season.) Marty uses this to blackmail Travers into allowing him to work twenty hours and earn the right to keep Shiloh. Periodically Marty expresses the fact that he feels guilty about this deal. He even worries that more deer will be shot because he lets Travers get by with killing the doe. Marty justifies his bargain by saying it is worth it to save Shiloh. Students can write essays in which they defend or oppose Marty’s bargain.

3. Students can be assigned an essay in which they discuss the limits of not wanting to be a snitch when they see something that is wrong. Essays can balance the negative quality of tattle-telling as opposed to the social good that comes when bad deeds are reported.

For assignments, projects, and activities to take students BEYOND the book and the movie, review the Using in the Classroom section.

For lists of generic assignments see Assignments, Projects, and Activities for Use With Any Film that is a Work of Fiction and Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories, and Plays.

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