A Dog's Actual Purposes, Based On Unscientific Observation Of Real Dogs

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Dennis Quaid (right) reunites with an old pal in <em>A Dog's Purpose</em>.

I haven't seen the new film A Dog's Purpose, in which a dog's soul apparently returns over and over in different dog bodies until it's reunited with its original owner.* I can't understand how there's such a thing as an original owner according to the Law Of Conservation Of Dog Souls — how was this dog's soul spontaneously generated for this owner, but everyone else in the succession got a certified pre-owned dog soul? Are dog souls ever retired like basketball jerseys? Like, "Okay, Buckley, you've done well. But I'm afraid this is the end of the line." (For some reason, I envision this conversation taking place in an office, where the dog is wearing a tie, then leaving the building, which I assume is in heaven, with a box of his possessions.)

Moreover, descriptions of the book say the fuzzy narrator lives his first life as a "feral puppy" who's then adopted by a human, and associating your first life with your first owner seems a little like bowing to the paw-triarchy.

(Oh, fine, you write it.)

Aaaaanyway, I may not know the film A Dog's Purpose or the book A Dog's Purpose, but I know a dog's actual purpose, based on several dogs I have known personally. Here are the elements of a dog's purpose.

1. Let everyone know it's the Fourth of July. A dog must stand ready to alert her owners that Independence Day is here and the fireworks are going off. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: (1) by making as much noise as doggily possible, whether by barking, snarfing, whining, or doing that thing with your dog mouth where you kind of go "waa-waa-waa-rrrrr-waaaa"; or (2) hiding under the table as if the Visigoths have drawn near.

2. Respond to crying in a way that leads to more crying. I once knew a dog who found himself in my presence as I watched the episode of NYPD Blue in which Jimmy Smits exited the show via his character's heart condition. I was watching while leaning back in a recliner, and all alone, I started to cry. Sort of a lot. The dog — a big wonderful weirdo I still miss — came around the back of the recliner, put his snout over my shoulder, and rested his chin there so that he, too, was watching NYPD Blue. He meant well, but the poignancy of this sweet, unavoidably empathetic gesture (he never assumed this pose normally, never) was more than I could bear. This was when the bawling really started.

3. Demonstrate the relationship between floor slickness and friction. Have you ever seen a large dog suddenly get extremely excited and try to instantly run to another place on a kitchen floor, bathroom floor, wood floor, or other entirely smooth surface? It is as close as you will ever come to live-action Looney Tunes.

4. Appreciate language by learning a very small number of words but caring about them very much. The Dog Of Jimmy Smits' Final Repose knew only a handful of words for sure: "outside," "treat," "walk," and "Jordan" (Jordan was the dog across the street who was his best friend.) But think about it: what single word can you hear that suddenly makes you perk up and run from wherever you are to somewhere else? (Confidential to NPR staff: I am not counting the word "donuts." And you know exactly what I'm talking about.) Dogs may not know a large quantity of language, but what they know has their total commitment.

5. Encourage megalomania. Have you ever had a dog? If you have ever had a dog, you know that a dog can easily swell your ego to the size of a county-fair pumpkin if you let her. Unless you are kind of terrible, your dog probably believes you are the best thing. You are better than treats, you are better than walks, you are better than food. You are the best thing out of all the things. Your dog has no appreciation of your flaws. Your dog has no memory of that time you accidentally stepped on her foot. (And even if she did, she'd be like, "It's cool.") Your dog doesn't appreciate the short-term, medium-term, or long-term consequences of your actions, but only the thing you are doing right this minute. (Spoiler alert: your dog is probably in favor of it.)

6. Lick everything, all the time — the more disgusting, the better. Why waste a good tongue on drinking water? The corollary here is: "If you don't know what it is, roll around in it."

*It's fair to acknowledge an ongoing controversy over the treatment of the real live dogs on set, about which I know only what existing reporting has uncovered. Make of it what you will.

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