This one starts out sounding as dark as any middle-grade dog story but lightens up at the end in typical Grimm fashion.
Old Sultan is a dog, a toothless wonder who has outlived his days, is slated to be taken out into the fields and shot the next day by the farmer. Overhearing this to dog trots off to the forest to whine to his cousin, a wolf. The wolf has an idea: the next day the wolf will pretend to steal the farmer's infant, the old dog will give chase, the wolf will drop the babe and the dog will prove that he is worth being kept around.
And it works, the farmer had him fed a fine bread mush and gives the dog his own pillow to lay about on. Old Sultan is once again king.
But wolf drops by and suggests that things are hard all around, and hopes the dog will reciprocate and look away now and then while he steals a few sheep. The dog, proud and loyal, refuses and wolf assumes he's kidding. But he isn't as Old Sultan warns his master who in turn chases wolf away from the sheep with his trusty rifle.
Well! Wolf isn't having any of that so in gentlemanly fashion he sends a wild boar as his second to meet him in the forest for a duel. Poor Old Sultan, all he can manage for a second is a three-legged cat in so much pain that his tail sticks straight into the air. Hobbling off to the duel wolf and the boar see them coming and think the cat's tail is a sabre. Boar spots the cat's three-legged hobble and assume he's walking that way because he's picking up rocks to throw. Freaked out and scared wolf climbs a tree and boar hides behind a bush.
Arriving at the clearing Old Sultan and the cat are surprised no one is there. Then cat sees the tip of the boar's ear twitch and thinking it's a mouse gives it a good bite. Boar squeals that wolf is hiding above them in the tree and, ashamed, wolf agrees to accept the dog's terms.
It isn't quite an old dog learning new tricks so much as it's an old dog getting a second wind late in life. No doubt the dog was suffering from a lack of confidence over the years as he lost teeth and grayed but that old bravado was restored the day he was able to restore his master's faith in him. As for wolf, if he was so smart he should have had his terms on the table when he first proposed a solution to the dog, when Old Sultan might have agreed to anything that kept his from taking a bullet in the head. A very interesting lesson about negotiation here.
Favorite detail: the three-legged cat. Old Sultan can't manage any better for a friend, and the cat certainly doesn't show any signs of being all that great, and yet were it not for the cat's natural behaviors -- the tail in pain, the hobbling, the biting of the boar's ear -- none of this would have worked out well for Old Sultan. I hope the dog gave up his master's pillow to his feline friend when they returned home.
I know it's not a new theme, but I like that the players are old, and that in their later years and with their infirmities they can manage to hold their own.