The story begins in Yalta, Crimea, a seaside vacation town on the Black Sea coast. Dmitri Dmitritch Gurov has been there two weeks and is taking an interest in new arrivals, in particular a lady with a little dog, a white Pomeranian. Sitting in a pavilion, he spots her walking along the beach with her pet wearing a beret.
Over the next few days, Gurov bumps into this woman several times each day. (Yalta is a small place.) He decides they should be friends.
Now for some background on Dmitri Gurov. He's under forty, married, and has three children. His wife, whom he married when he was young, seems to be half his age. She is a self-proclaimed intellectual whom Gurov secretly considers to be unintelligent and inelegant. He's been unfaithful to her a lot. He thinks women are a "lower race."
He also can't do without women for the life of him, and so is a bit of a womanizer. There's something about him that women find attractive, so he has no problem going from one affair to the next. He does find it problematic, however, when the women grow emotionally attached to him.
Anyway one night in Yalta, while Gurov is dining in the gardens, the lady with the dog, wearing her beret, takes the table beside him. He can tell just from looking at her that she is married, a lady, in Yalta for the first time, alone, and bored. He remembers that Yalta is famous as the land of easy seductions, and decides to pursue an affair with this woman.
Gurov makes his move through the dog; he tries to pet it, and the woman, blushing, tells him that the dog doesn't bite.
The woman reveals she has been in Yalta five days and is bored. They banter for a bit. They take a walk and admire the beautiful atmosphere. Gurov tells her about himself: he has a degree in the Arts and even trained as an opera-singer, but now he works at a bank and lives in Moscow.
The woman reveals some of her background; she was raised in Peterburg and now lives in "S." with her husband. She'll be in Yalta for another month or so. And her name is Anna Sergeyevna.
That night, alone, Gurov lies in bed and thinks about Anna, how not too long ago she must have been like his twelve-year-old daughter. (Anna is definitely younger than Gurov.) He imagines that this is the first time she's in a situation like this one, alone and at the hands of a man like Gurov; she must know what he wants. He concludes that there's "something pathetic about her" and falls asleep.