What is the summary for A Dog's Purpose?

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thielgrad04 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Dog's Purpose is told from the perspective of a dog, and describes the dog's adventures throughout multiple lives as he is reincarnated as a different breed with a new name, but possesses all the memories of his former lives. 

We're introduced to the story by a homeless and perhaps wild dog, although he remains genteel throughout the story. This first dog, given the name Toby, ends up at a nice old woman's place called The Yard, where there are other dogs. However, after some time passes, men come and take all the dogs because of poor living conditions and aggressive dogs, and the narrator himself is put to sleep. 

Life isn't over it seems, because our homeless dog comes back to life again and again, but as different breeds, and sometimes different genders. 

At one point, the dog comes back as a golden retriever, who almost goes home with a truck driver, but is instead left in a hot car while the man goes into a bar. Luckily, a woman rescues Toby from the truck and gives him to her son Ethan, who loves Toby, and names him Bailey. Bailey has a pretty happy life with Ethan and his family, but one day as the years pass by, Bailey grows old and sick, and was put to sleep by a veterinarian to end his suffering. 

But, once again Toby-Bailey is resurrected, and is now a female german shepherd, cared for by a police officer and named Ellie. Ellie is trained to help the officer when looking for missing people. After a while Ellie ends up working alongside the officer's partner, which is a pretty happy life. The partner, a woman, is set to marry her boyfriend, and Ellie is trained to be the ring-bearer. Ellie eventually dies.

Toby-Bailey-Ellie is reborn again as a lab, and has a couple owners and names in this life. A male again, he is given the name Bear by a woman who doesn't keep him for long because of a "no pets" rule where she lives. Bear goes to live with the woman's mother, but doesn't fare much better here than at The Yard. The boyfriend of the mother is a mean alcoholic and dumps Bear on the side of the road one day. To Bear's surprise, he realizes that he is close to one of his first owners, the little boy (now grown man) named Ethan. Bear's nose leads him to the house where Ethan lives, and has since married. Ethan keeps Bear, and names him Buddy. Now a lab retriever named Buddy, the dog is back with his former owner, and lives happily.

Unfortunately, one day when only Ethan and Buddy are home, Ethan falls ill and as he's dying, he begins to hallucinate that Buddy is actually Bailey (which would be correct). Ethan dies soon after, and Buddy remains dutifully by his side, waiting for Ethan's wife to return home.

laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"A Dog's Purpose" by W. Bruce Cameron is about a dog who lives a variety of lives, being reincarnated after each one. During the overarching journey, the dog tries to determine exactly what his purpose in the universe could be.

The dog lives four lives:

  • Toby
  • Bailey
  • Ellie
  • Buddy

Each life teaches him something different that lets him complete his journey. By the end of the book, he is reunited (as Buddy) with the master he knew when he was Bailey.

As Toby, the dog doesn't have a single, loving owner. Rather, he lives a rough life surrounded by other captured, feral dogs. After being involved in a fight and attempting to defend his sister, he's euthanized.

As Bailey, the dog runs away from his mother and siblings and is found by a truck driver. After being left in the truck by the driver and almost succumbing to heat exhaustion, Bailey is saved by a woman. She names him Bailey—before this, he had no name or was called Fella—and gives him to her son Ethan.

Bailey lives a long, happy life with Ethan. He sees the boy through his childhood and all the things he struggles with, including a devastating and life-changing injury. Bailey faces adversity in the face of Ethan's friend Todd, who tries to kill Bailey, burns down Ethan's house, and tries to take Ethan's girlfriend. At the end of his life, Ethan is a man who's gone through a serious relationship and the divorce of his parents. Bailey is put down when he is old and too sick to live comfortably.

In his next life, the dog is Ellie. She's a search-and-rescue dog who learns about tracking missing people. She lives a happy life with first one handler, then another. She travels to El Salvador to find the injured after an earthquake, but inhales a toxic substance and loses her ability to smell. She dies of old age after a long life as a school outreach dog for the police. 

In his last life, the dog is Buddy. He starts out with the name Bear but is eventually abandoned on the roadside. He remembers his life as Ellie and puts the skills to use—to find Ethan. Ethan adopts Buddy and gives him the name Buddy. They live out their lives together and Buddy is still alive at the end of the novel. 

Ethan, however, dies of an aneurysm. He imagines that Buddy is Bailey in those final moments. Buddy comforts him until the end. With Ethan's last words, "I will miss you, doodle dog," Buddy has an important realization. By being Ethan's companion and loving him, Buddy has found his purpose. He says, "I had fulfilled my purpose."

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