Study Guide

A Dog's Purpose Family

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One day it occurred to me that the warm, squeaky, smelly things squirming around next to me were my brothers and sister. I was very disappointed. (1.1)

Our narrator doesn't identify with members of his own species. Instead, he bonds more closely with humans, who become his real family. Do you think this is an accurate depiction of how dogs behave?

Though my vision had resolved itself only to the point where I could distinguish fuzzy forms in the light, I knew that the large and beautiful shape with the long wonderful tongue was my mother. (1.2)

Okay, perhaps our narrator does care for his dog mother. And what's a better description for a mom than "large" and "beautiful," with a "long wonderful tongue"? Put that in your mom's next Mother's Day card.

I couldn't see that my brothers and sister had any purpose whatsoever. (1.2)

We're back to seeing our narrator not care one iota about his doggy siblings. What's with his lack of regard for them? If the dog were a human, how would you feel about his attitude toward his siblings? Or is this a normal attitude for a young person or young pup?

I decided my time in the Yard had prepared me to dominate the puppies in my family, and was irritated they didn't' feel the same way. (5.17)

Dog families appear to be defined by competition between siblings. Is that any different from the siblings behave in human families? If so, how?

My new mother wouldn't be joining me, I realized. She was staying with the family. I was on my own. (5.39)

Our narrator doesn't realize that his new mother's main job is to pop out new pups. She doesn't have any special attachment to her family, because they're all taken away, but she doesn't know any other life.

"The boy needs a family around him while he rebuilds." (16.49)

Again, we see the importance of family to a human. This experience shapes the dog's belief at the end of the book that Ethan needs a family in order to be whole. Is the dog right? Why or why not?

But Maya didn't carry that inner core of sadness with her all the time; she felt genuine joy at Mama's house, where there were all the children to play with. (22.12)

The dog often observes that the humans around him are happiest when they are with their families. The dog, too, is most happy when he's with his family—his human family, that is. His own dog family…well, he can do without those mutts.

That's what was different. In all the time I'd known him, Jakob had never once been happy. (24.25)

The dog lays the blame for Jakob's sadness on his lack of a family. Her belief (the dog is female at this time) is reinforced years later when she meets Jakob again. He has a family, and he's happy, so the two facts must be related, right?

"You take care of yourself, okay, buddy?" Ethan said softly. "You need a nice home with kids to play with. I'm just an old man." (30.42)

Ethan is lonely here, and he speaks with the regret of a man who doesn't have a nice home or kids to play with.

For Ethan to be rescued, he needed to have a family. He needed a woman and to have a baby with her. Then he would be happy. (31.23)

The dog, Buddy, takes it upon himself to build a family for Ethan at the very end of the story. He sees it as his greatest mission, and he pursues it with the zest of a child in a romantic comedy trying to help his father or mother find true love.

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