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.
  • Department of Dog Disservices: In his first life 'the yard' where the dog is being kept is shut down because it is keeping too many dogs in an enclosed space. However, other then their mistakenly accepting a dog trained for dog fighting which bullies the rest of the dogs there was no other sign that the dogs are suffering or unhappy in the yard, while the titular dog is put to sleep shortly after leaving the yard. One can wonder if shutting down the Yard was a good option for the dogs. At the very least they could have let them keep the titular dog!
  • 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.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: a straight example with one unique twist. While he describes the conversations around him to the reader, he personally only understands a hand full of words like stay and good dog. He therefor regularly fails to understand what's going on, which can be tragic since his other senses make him aware of things that could have saved allot of pain for the humans if he just understood the importance of them. He is, however, less innocent then some examples, having a bit of an elevated sense of self importance. More interesting, as described below Baily counts as an empathicic Innocent Inaccurate. He sometimes is *more* aware of his owners needs, at least when it comes to their need for emotional support, then the humans around him despite his obliviousness to the specifics of the situation.
    • The dog also has some examples of Innocent Inaccurate beyond his inability to understand humans. Most noticeably he doesn't seem to quite understand sex, or his mating instincts. He describes females having a scent that attracts him without his understanding why, and developing a new version of 'wrestling' where he would wrap his front legs around his bitch friend and start thrusting; a game that other dogs seem to steal from him and which for some reason the bitch in question doesn't seem to enjoy playing as much. This is mostly because he keeps being spayed (yes, plural, it doesn't stick ) before he has an opportunity to figure out what his instincts are telling him.
  • Revealing Injury: Bailey bites an arsonist in the leg, so the cops are able to easily find the person.
  • Reincarnation: a major part of the plot. The dog is reincarnated multiple times.
  • Shipper on Deck: Bailey is one for Ethan and Hannah, and Trent and CJ.
  • The Empath: as a dog Bailey has a highly evolved (literally in this case) ability to sense the emotions of humans around him; a trait it's believed dogs evolved when domesticated to allow them to work better with humans. While he doesn't understand context of situations around him, he can read body language of humans so well that he always knows exactly the emotions they are feeling, and often discusses what emotions he senses radiating from a person. It's implied all dogs have this trait.
  • 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.