You're watching or reading something, and you're approaching a moment where the villain is on the spot. He's got a choice: continue being his old bad self, or do something nice. He does something nice. Aww, a Heel–Face Turn, isn't that sweet?
But it's more complicated than that. What if it's not the villain who does it? What if it's the protagonist in a story of Gray-and-Gray Morality? What if you weren't at all sure the character was going to do something good because everything was lining up for a Crapsack World Downer Ending? That's Adopt the Dog: it's when, to quote a wise old man, someone chooses to do what's right instead of what's easy; if Kick the Dog is when the character decides to be bad, then Adopt the Dog is when he decides to be good. And for greatest effect, Adopt the Dog applies itself to a character who was sort of morally neutral. This isn't really a Heel–Face Turn; this is a character who decides to be a Face after, previously, being neither.
In addition to having an effect on the character (declaring themselves Good instead of Neutral, occasionally followed by death), it also has a profound effect on the audience. When you're dealing with morally ambiguous protagonists and (more often than not) spending a lot of time in the drowning end of the Sliding Scale pool, you're never sure what the ending's gonna be like, who's gonna win, or whether you're going to be happy about it. Adopting The Dog is when the audience believes it might be possible to Earn Your Happy Ending — or, for that matter, that the character has earned it — and begins to actively be on that character's side. Adopt the Dog is not just about the character's choice, it's also how that choice completely changes the tone and message of the story.
As previously mentioned, can lead to Earn Your Happy Ending, Redemption Equals Death / Redemption Earns Life, and Big Damn Heroes, since there finally is a Hero who can Big Damn. Compare Last-Second Chance, in which the character is given the choice, instead of making it out of their own heart. Contrast The Atoner: a character who Adopts The Dog may not have actually done anything that requires atonement.
Unmarked spoilers ahead.
- Famously in Dragon Ball Z, when Piccolo takes the brunt of a blast intended for Gohan. His dying words (in the manga and in Kai) include bemoaning having done something so noble, after years of being a Big Bad.
- Lancer in Fate/stay night. He's Lawful Neutral serving Neutral Evil Kotomine. He despises his orders but feels honor-bound to follow his wishes anyway. However, he will neither work with Gilgamesh even though he knows he can't beat him nor will he kill Tohsaka after protecting her so much. Therefore, in the latter, he pulls off multiple CMOA (check FSN's page for details) before making a Heroic Sacrifice and getting to Go Out with a Smile.
- Sekirei provides an in-universe example with Mutsu and how he ended up at the right-hand man for Mikogami of the South. His former comrades state he was always difficult to know, and are surprised at his decision to have settled down with a master. The trope is even invoked in discussions of how the two met, with Mutsu stating he "lost to that abandoned dog expression", while Mikogami complains that he felt like a "stray being picked up on a rainy day".
- In ElfQuest, Rayek allows Cutter to beat the crap out of him after he had forced Cutter to spend several thousands of years without his family. It effectively finally solves a conflict that had existed since issue 2.
- A small moment in Watchmen: Rorschach apologizes to Dan for being a shitty friend and promises to help save the world, instead of focusing on his violent hatred of... pretty much everything.
- Frank Castle has one at the beginning of The Punisher MAX story arc "Kitchen Irish". He's in a diner in Hell's Kitchen when a bomb goes off across the street, and the big glass window of the diner turns into a deadly hail. He finds a man with a hole in his chest through which his heart is visible, and all the man can gasp is "Help...me." So he does. Instead of getting out of there before the police arrive, he works on the man's heart until an EMT gets there, and then they both work for half an hour until the man is stabilized... after which the EMT discovers that the man who helped him save an otherwise-doomed life is a mass-murdering vigilante. The following moments where the EMT treats Frank's injuries have an oddly comfortable silence to them; both understand that the EMT will go on saving lives, and Frank will brutally kill whoever started a war in New York. A prime Adopt The Dog example.
Frank: It's not every day you meet your polar opposite.
- Forum of Thrones: When Samantha is in dire need of help to find Lunett, Lucas and Leonard, she stumbles upon Sasha, who eventually decides to help her. Said help goes way beyond what they agreed upon during their initial contract and while Sasha insists that she is Only in It for the Money, she doesn't manage to fool anyone, firmly being one of the good guys by the start of Chapter 6.
- In Nymeria's War, Ser Joran Storm, in no way affiliated with the Kingdom of Blackmont or its inhabitants and very much neutral to their plight, grows to like and respect the captain of the city guard of Gravesend, Brennin Kell, to the point where he wishes to help him with retaking his city from rebels.
- Action Pack: 12 years ago in the story's timeline, Kira could have just as easily left Naruto alone to take care of himself, but he didn't while everyone else notably did. As Sarutobi put it:
Sarutobi (To Jiraiya): Kira-san was the only one who did the right thing all those years ago by sticking with Naruto.
- In American Beauty, in which the main character has spent most of the movie lusting after a sultry cheerleader his daughter's age. When he finally gets a chance to seduce her, though, she reveals that she's a virgin and her sexualized act is just that, an act, and he can't go through with it - instead, he just wraps her in a blanket and tries to actually help her.
- Star Wars:
- Luke Skywalker rises above the need to kill his father.
- Also happens to Han Solo in all three of the original movies, to the point that it becomes a Running Gag in the Expanded Universe:
- In A New Hope, his last-minute change from mercenary rogue to hero when he swoops in to save the day in the end.
- In The Empire Strikes Back Han tries to leave Hoth so he can repay Jabba, but first risked his neck to save Luke who was freezing to death, and the Imperials show up in the system.
- And then in Return of the Jedi, he did it again when he accepted command of the assault team.
- In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the Man with No Name shows a lot of compassion in the last half hour to soldiers on both sides, often at great cost, after spending most of the movie an apathetic True Neutral.
- At the end of Crash, when Ludacris, who has done various bad things, including breaking his own 'no black on black crime' rule, releases the Asians from the minibus he's stolen instead of selling them.
- In The Dark Knight, two boats full of people are faced with a Sadistic Choice: explode the other boat, or face death in an explosion themselves. In a boat populated by convicts, one of the convicts stands up and approaches the guard holding one of the detonators:
"You don't wanna die, but you don't know how to take a life. Give it to me. These men will kill you and take it anyway. Give it to me. You can tell them I took it by force. Give it to me, and I'll do what you should've done ten minutes ago".
- The instant the guard obliges, the convict tosses the detonator out the window so that exploding the other boat is no longer an option. This trope also applies to Gotham as a whole, because the people in the other boat are innocent civilians, and they know that the other boat is populated by criminals, including convicted murderers. And what do the civilians do? They don't press the button. They don't let fear overcome their humanity. At that moment, the people of Gotham, as a whole, Adopted the Dog.
- Twice at the end of Casablanca: first, Rick tells Ilsa to stay with her husband for her own good and the good of the world, and then Louis refuses to turn Rick in for shooting Major Strasser and agrees to join the resistance. "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
- The Searchers. Ethan Edwards says that, when he finds his niece, he's going to do her a favor and put a bullet in her brain for having lived with the Comanches for so long. When he finally does catch up with her, he takes her up in his arms and says, "Let's go home."
- After spending the last few minutes of Karate Warriors trying to convince the kid he'd protected (and whose father he killed) to move to a foster home out of concern for both of their lives, Chico decides to adopt him anyway at the last minute.
- The World Security Council from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After spending The Avengers and most of Captain America: The Winter Soldier being obstructive, unfriendly, and just plain ambiguous, they show their true colors when Alexander Pierce is revealed to be with HYDRA. They immediately denounce him and attempt to help Fury and Romanov take him down. Not that it helps them much, as Pierce was ready for just such a thing.
- In Dragon Bones Ward shows that he's different from his father by adopting his father's horse. The horse is partly responsible for the accident that killed his father, and his uncle insists it should be put to death, but Ward keeps the fierce stallion, renames him "Pansy", and tames him a bit by being friendly to him.
- In one of the Ender's Shadow novels, the current presidents of India and Pakistan (two nations who have been hostile to each other for a very long time) are encouraged by the resident Manipulative Bastard to form a non-aggression pact so that they can conquer other neighbors than each other. Then it turns out that they have been betrayed by said Manipulative Bastard (duh)... And, as a bit of Epistolary, the prime minister of India publishes an open letter to the ruler of Pakistan, inviting Indian from both nations to unite against the barbarian invaders.
- When Jaime returns to Harrenhal to rescue Brienne in A Song of Ice and Fire. It wasn't the first time that he'd tried to protect her, but before that point, protecting Brienne had always meant protecting himself, too, since she was a good fighter with a vested interest in keeping him alive and really the only person in hundreds of miles who was actually on his side. Once he left Harrenhal, though, he had a whole escort of soldiers and was on his way home — going back to help her got him nothing, and in fact nearly got him killed. That scene would have been a pivotal moment in his Heel–Face Turn if this weren't the kind of series that made the idea of a Heel and the idea of a Face very complicated.
- Game of Thrones: After a moment of consideration, Renly Baratheon grants Brienne of Tarth's wish to join his Kingsguard. It would've been easier for him to adhere to everyone else's expectations by rejecting her request (he was presumably pondering the consequences of having a female protector during the brief pause), but he chooses to do the right thing by giving the position to a warrior who earned it, regardless of her gender. The reaction to Brienne's appointment is fairly negative; his bannermen audibly gasp, his wife gives him a Disapproving Look, and his lover berates him for it later that evening, but Renly sticks firmly to his decision.
- In the Doctor Who:
- In "The Parting of the Ways", the Doctor is prepared to commit another double genocide... and then he decides that no, once was bad enough, he's not doing it again.
- In "Journey's End", we're led to believe that Dalek Caan is prophesising the triumph of the Daleks... when actually he's constructed a gigantic Batman Gambit- only saved from being a roulette by virtue of the fact that Caan has seen all of space and time - to bring down the Dalek Empire once and for all. But he forgot the Daleks have Joker Immunity.
- The Doctor himself started out as a selfish character who tried to be True Neutral and didn't like getting involved. However, we can see he has changed in "The Rescue" where he invites Vicki onto the TARDIS.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- "Intervention". Pretty much the definitive moment in Spike's change from immoral to good (which is different to his Heel–Face Turn, strangely enough). To elaborate: Spike is in love with Buffy and has a soft spot for Buffy's little sister, Dawn. Then the Big Bad abducts Spike for information about the location of a a magical living Key—who Spike knows is actually Dawn. Despite brutal torture, Spike refuses to give Dawn up and is rescued. Later Spike's adoring Buffybot offers to reveal the Key's identity and so protect Spike from future harm, but Spike forbids the Buffybot to do so: if Buffy lost Dawn, it would destroy her, and Spike "couldn't live with her being in that much pain." After this point, Spike still commits morally questionable to downright horrible acts, but he never pulls a full Face–Heel Turn again. And this was before he got a soul.
- Cordelia mounting a Gunship Rescue in "Prophecy Girl" with her BMW marks her permanent transition from Alpha Bitch rival to Buffy to Honorary True Companion to the Scoobies, even if her bitchy tendencies do occasionally still land her in The Friend Nobody Likes territory.
- On Dollhouse, the amoral Topher gets this in "Belonging" when he refuses Adelle's order to basically sell Sierra to Kinnard. Adelle makes her own final choice in "Stop-Loss" when she decides to turn on the Rossum Corporation (though this isn't revealed until the end of the next episode, "The Attic").
- The ending of the Firefly pilot episode has Mal choose to adopt the dog when he takes on River and Simon rather than cut them loose on the border worlds. Later on, in Serenity, he does it again when he chooses to take River on board once more after learning of how dangerous she was when her killing-programming was activated.
- In the episode "Dog Tags" on NCIS, McGee literally adopts the dog that attacked him (which he then shot) after Abby talks/forces him into it.
- Another literal example happens in the first episode of Hannibal: the decidedly odd and unsocial Will rescues and adopts a stray. It's then revealed that this is the sixth time it has happened. Better yet, he's gentle and cheerful when around his dogs, cementing his status as a good guy on the show.
- In Mega Man Zero 2, Harpuia spares the title character. This point onwards starts his large amount of Character Development, firmly establishing himself as an Ensemble Dark Horse and Hero Antagonist.
- The Martyr in Hunter: The Reckoning has this as her backstory. Initially a Spoiled Brat who did nothing but party and spend her father's fortune, Kassandra Cheyung experiences an epiphany when the cops raid the party she's attending. Her small friend is knocked down by the ensuing rush for the exits, and Kassandra wasn't strong enough to move her to safety, so she shielded her with her body and was subsequently trampled. The experience had a dramatic effect on her, and from then on she gave her time and energy to helping others, making her perfectly suited for the Martyr path when she and the others become Empowered.
- Brad Evans of Wild ARMs 2 is a convict (named "Prisoner 666") on the run from the government at the start of the game. He comes across a lost puppy in the rainy forest. Bonus points for actually adopting a dog.
- If she survives the events of Mass Effect 2, Jack is essentially morally neutral. On one hand, she finds closure with her past, risks her life to save humanity, and is loyal to Shepard. On the other, she doesn't seem to have much faith in anything or anyone besides Shepard, remains callous about killing, and is clearly still cynical and lonely beneath her aggressive exterior. Even if Shepard initiates a romantic relationship with her, it comes off as somewhat somber instead of triumphant. By Mass Effect 3, Jack has taken a position teaching biotic students for the Alliance and is firmly on the side of good. Jack's students clearly look up to her as a badass galactic savior (despite being only a few years younger), and Jack in turn is affectionate and protective of them; she tries to come off as Drill Sergeant Nasty, but none of them buy it. Although still an Action Girl, she's become a Mama Bear instead of just a sociopath.
- Azrael can do it in Batman: Arkham Knight, if you choose not to kill Batman as his Order superiors demanded and leave. You can even choose to break the sword that was given to him to do the deed.
- Cole from Infamous starts off neutral, and can become good or evil. One of the earlier missions, if you decide to be a hero, and give the people the food, he notes that Good Feels Good, and, if Second Son is any indication, a heroic Cole is the canon one.
- Kronos from Wayward Sons was revealed to have adopted the young survivor or a village that was brutalised by one of his more sadistic minions. He wiped the boy's memory as an act of mercy, named him Menes and raised him as though his own flesh and blood, even growing to love him as a father. Such a shame for him, then, that, upon discovering the truth, Menes became The Mole against him for Suras' side.
- Played with in The Order of the Stick, with Belkar. He has performed unquestionably good acts during the comic, such as preventing an assassination attempt, refusing to join the Big Bad when it could have been beneficial to him, and even literally adopting a cat whose owner was killed. Every time this happens, the rest of the Order is pleasantly surprised. However, he always has a selfish reason for doing so: the would-be assassination target could have reduced his jail sentence, he just wanted to kill Xykon's recruiter, and he wanted to kill said recruiter with the cat. He did eventually form a bond with the cat, but it's hardly a Morality Pet for him. Reportedly, he's still Chaotic Evil.
Elan: I can't tell if the cat is a good influence on Belkar, or Belkar is a bad influence on the cat.Haley: Both, I think, but it probably still averages out somewhere south of Neutral.
- Discussed in this strip:
- In Hyper Fighting Machine Marmalade, Ursus, who designed the Humongous Mecha, initially has no problem with enlisting a few high schoolers as pilots, including his own daughter. But when the heroes' school is attacked, he decides that he can't just watch from the sidelines and put children in danger, so he gets into one of his mechs and goes into battle himself.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Prince Zuko in Season 3 actually fits here better than in Heel–Face Turn, because he was always more morally conflicted than most Firebenders and by the end of Season 2, there really was no telling which way he would have gone. His side-switch also coincides with a significant slant back towards the "Idealistic" end of the sliding scale.
- Almost literal in the He-Man and She-Ra Christmas Special, when Skeletor refuses to relinquish the skullface-licking cute robot dog Relay.