Literature: A Dog's Purpose

A Dog's Purpose is a novel by W. Bruce Cameron.

After a tragically short life as a stray, Bailey is surprised to find himself reborn as a new puppy. He is taken in by a loving family, and becomes especially close to the son, a young boy named Ethan. Throughout the years that Bailey lives with them, he decides that his purpose in life is to be with the boy, to have fun with him and protect him.

But that isn't the end of Bailey's journey. As he is reborn again and again, he begins to wonder: what is his purpose on this earth?

A sequel, A Dog's Journey, was released in 2012. It follows Bailey as he decides to protect Ethan's granddaughter, Clarity ("CJ"), and realizes that his purpose may not yet be fulfilled after all.

This novel provides examples of:

  • A Boy and His X: A boy and his dog, from the dog's point of view. A girl and her dog, in the sequel.
  • Abusive Parents: Gloria in the second book, from neglectful to outright abusive.
  • Angry Guard Dog: In his life as Max, a Chihuahua/Yorkie mix, Bailey takes on this role: he's particularly aggressive because he wants to show that even though he's tiny, he can still protect his girl.
  • Berserk Button: Trying to harm anyone Bailey loves will result in him attacking you; it's the only time he's ever violent.
  • Career-Ending Injury:
    • Ethan's leg injury puts his dreams of football behind.
    • In his life as Ellie, Bailey permanently damages his sense of smell when trying to save someone and inhaling acid. He's retired from his career as a police dog afterward.
  • Cats Are Mean: Bailey firmly believes this. If they're not mean, they're useless at best.
  • Chekhov's Skill: In each of his lives, Bailey learns something that carries over to his next life and contributes to his main purpose. As Toby, he learned how to open a gate, which, as Bailey, led him to find Ethan; he also uses this at the end as Buddy to open a closet and retrieve an item to bring to Ethan. As Bailey, he learned to love people, and he also learned to dive underwater, which enables him to save a drowning boy as Ellie. As Ellie, he learns to Find and rescue people, which as Buddy leads him to Ethan again and inspires him to help turn Ethan's life around.
  • Cone of Shame: Has to wear this several times, usually after getting spayed/neutered, and is highly embarrassed about it. It's a bit of a Running Gag.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: A big part of the plot.
  • Driven to Suicide: CJ attempts this, but fortunately fails.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first time we see Gloria, she's sleeping on a lawn chair while her daughter is wandering off the edge of the dock of the pond, and then blames the dog for pushing the baby in, when really he dove underwater and pulled her out. This sets the tone for what we can expect from her for the rest of the book.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Bailey can tell early on that something's a bit off with Todd, thanks to his empathic ability.
  • Gender Bender: Bailey is reborn into his third life as a female dog that gets named Ellie. His fifth life is also as a female, a poodle mix named Molly.
  • Heroic BSOD: Bailey, when he's reborn as Buddy. He was so certain that saving people was his purpose, so after he died as Ellie and was reborn again, he did little more than mope around for months.
  • Heroic Dog: Particularly in his life as Ellie (trained to scent and track missing people, serving in a K-9 unit), but he's got some heroic moments in his other lives as well: he saves a drowning boy, detects a stroke, and protects his humans from someone trying to hurt them.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: Bailey's first mother, a stray, believes this. When they're taken in by Senora, he realizes that humans aren't bad. At least, not all of them.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender: Ethan was excellent at football and was being looked at by several colleges for it, but his leg was permanently injured in the fire that Todd started.
  • I Have Many Names: The main character goes over his list of names and lives at the start and end of the second book. He's had many - the actual names he's been given, as well as nicknames. For the purposes of this page, he's referred to as Bailey, because that's who he most identifies as and what the first book's blurb calls him.
  • Revealing Injury: Bailey bites an arsonist in the leg, so the cops are able to easily find the person.
  • Shipper on Deck: Bailey is one for Ethan and Hannah, and Trent and CJ.
  • The Empath: Bailey is this, and it is implied that all dogs are.
  • Weight Woe: Clarity is obsessed with her weight and is bulimic, thanks to the way her mother raised her (even when she was a baby, Gloria wouldn't let her have cookies because "she's already too chubby").
  • Where It All Began: When Bailey, as Buddy, runs stray, he finds himself near the home he'd had with Ethan. He is also given the name "Toby" in his final life.