The movie opens with the narrator (Josh Gad) telling us about his life as a dog. He starts out as a newborn puppy looking for milk from his mom. A few weeks later, he is out raiding garbage with his siblings (He appears to be a mutt at this point). Two men show up and capture him in a net and put in a vehicle for the city pound. Fade to colored bubbles.
(It is implied he was euthanized) We never learn what time frame this life was, but the vehicle was very old fashioned.
Bailey: He regains awareness inside of a cage as a recent puppy. He is shocked that he remembers his previous life and wonders what the purpose is. (The time is set in the 60's) These cages appear to be part of some kind of breeder or outdoor pet store who sells many kinds of dogs. The handler shows him to a client and introduces him has a 'Red Retriever' (A type of Golden Retriever), the client is not interested as he is looking for a smaller dog, and they place him back. They neglect to lock the cage, and the dog escapes in a hole in the fence.
After wandering in the road, he's picked up by two men in a pickup truck thinking that they can get a 'few bucks' for selling him. The two men park the truck on the street and head into a building (presuming a bar), leaving the dog without water and all the windows up. The dog starts to dehydrate and is thinking it's time for the next life. A boy named Ethan (Bryce Ghesiar) and his mom see the dog dying, break the car window, and take the dog home. (We do not see them nurse the dog, but it's implied). The dog opens his eyes and is glad to be alive. The boy and his mom try to convince his dad if he can keep it. We see at this point that the dad might be an alcoholic.
The dog is taken to a local engraver who makes a large metal tag with the name Bailey on one side and Ethan Montgomery on the other (Important for later). Bailey is shown going around the house and neighborhood and even learning to live with the housecat, who's Bailey is giving 'dog lessons' to. Bailey is continuing his internal monologue for things like 'I see Ethan get on the yellow box with wheels and leave for a while, I miss him.' Ethan calls him 'Boss Dog' which Bailey agrees by barking loudly. (Another important item)
We see the family on a trip to the family farm where Bailey is impressed by all the new smells especially the smell of goat. (The family is less impressed by the bad farm smell). Bailey enjoys chasing the chickens around as well as play with 'Horsedog' a donkey kept by the family. At this point we see Ethan and Bailey playing with an old deflated football where Ethan teaches Bailey how to use Ethan's back to launch and catch the ball after throwing the ball straight up.
Back at home during one of his 'dog lessons' Bailey messes up Ethan's father's desk (He's a traveling salesman who has a home office) and when Ethan's father gets home, he sees Ethan trying to clean it up and tells Ethan, he needs to hurry because his boss is coming over, and he might get a promotion (It's implied the traveling job is putting a lot of stress on him). The father pulls out his treasured coin collection which Ethan starts playing with his rare 'Eagle' coin. Bailey, thinking it was a snack, swallows the coin. The boss shows up that night with his wife. It's obvious what Ethan's dad wants, and his boss turns him down saying that he's the best field agent, and a promotion to a desk job isn't forthcoming, the boss then asks the father about the 'Eagle' coin. At this point, Ethan runs outside with Bailey and tried to encourage Bailey to 'hurry out' the coin. Some scenes where Ethan is shaking and carrying the dog to force digestion is shown. Eventually, the dog does let 'go' of the coin. Ethan runs into the house and sees his dad about to open the case (where there is obviously a missing coin), and Ethan screams 'Rat!' and during the confusion, puts the coin back. Unfortunately, this sets Bailey off (who wants the rat), and it ends up with the Boss's wife landing in the cake, and the dining room table destroyed and all hopes for a promotion gone. Bailey has been banished to the garage (though he does sneak back in the house later that night).
(10 Years or so later) Ethan (Now played by K.J Apa) is now a young man who is the star quarterback in high school. We also meet Todd (Logan Miller), the 2nd string quarterback who is very jealous of Ethan and calls Bailey 'the girlfriend.' Bailey doesn't like Todd and trips him. Ethan comes home to share the good news with his parents, and we see his father apparently drunk sitting on the couch. He has not come to any of Ethan's games. They take a trip back to the family farm where Bailey has fun with Horsedog. Ethan goes to a local fair where he falls for a girl (Brit Robertson) at the shooting gallery named Hannah. Bailey decides to get them together ('Ethan has this funny smell') by running up to Hannah. We see Ethan and Hannah go on a few dates where Bailey comments internally things like 'Why does Ethan keep licking her face? I've tried it, and she doesn't have any food there'. We also see a scene where the cat has passed away, and they bury it only to have Bailey dig it back up thinking they were playing hide and seek. (Bailey is a retriever)
Back at home, we see that Ethan's parent's relationship has worsened to the point where his father is hitting his mother and drinking heavily now. Ethan breaks them up and kicks his father out. His father comes to Ethan's final game where we find out that Ethan has gotten a full football scholarship to Michigan and Hannah will go there on an academic one. Ethan's father shows up at Ethan's celebration party very drunk and makes a scene much to Todd's delight. Ethan decks Todd for pointing that his father is a drunkard. That night, Todd puts a large firecracker in Ethan's house starting a fire. Bailey wakes up Ethan who goes and wakes his mom. The fire is too hot to go down the stairs, so Ethan lowers his mom and Bailey out a window. Ethan then jumps out, and lands on a rake, as well as part of the house, falls on his leg crushing it. We see Ethan, and his mom leave in an ambulance where Bailey leads the police to Todd who confesses everything.
Ethan and his mom move back to the farm. Bailey thinks it's all fun with the two sticks (crutches) that Ethan plays with now. Ethan, all bitter that he lost his career (It appears his leg will never heal properly) breaks up with Hannah and sends her crying. Bailey is sad that Hannah is leaving. Ethan is sent to a farming school where he will learn how to take care of the farm, and Bailey is left behind at the farm. It is implied that Bailey is slowly dying of a broken heart. Ethan arrives as they give Bailey a shot to 'ease the pain.' Cut to bubbles.
Ellie: Our narrator again wakes up, and this time he's a female German Shepherd (Cut to comedy scenes where Bailey (Now Ellie) can't find certain items). Ellie appears to be a police K9 in training (Chicago) and complains how 'playtime' is more like work (Which it is work). Ellie is also taught to find 'Wally' who keeps losing his clothing (Standard Dog smell training). Ellie's handler Carlos (John Ortiz) appears to treat Ellie as a tool. We also learn that Carlos might've had a wife who no longer lives with him. (Picture on the nightstand and Ellie can smell that someone else used to live here). After a while, Carlos opens up to Ellie and allows her to sleep on the bed (Bailey always slept on Ethan's bed)
Ellie is given a smell of a girl who was kidnapped by her mom's ex-boyfriend. Driving around the city, Ellie catches a whiff of the girl's smell, and Carlos (using her barks) traces it to a small dam. The corner the man who is holding a gun to the girl. She kicks the man and falls into the dam. Ellie jumps after her to pull her to safety and Carlos chases after the man. Carlos is knocked down by the man and almost shot when Ellie jumps in and takes the bullet. The man is arrested, and we see Carlos crying on Ellie's body. Cut to bubbles.
Toby: He awakens again as a male Corgi (Toby) who was just adopted by a female College student Maya (Kirby Howell-Baptiste). He's amazed that he is so short now as well as not having a tail (He tries to do the standard 'dog chasing his tail' and fails). Maya takes him around school and even brushes off a fellow student Al (Pooch Hall) because she has to take care of Toby. Toby's vet tells Maya that Toby is getting too fat and needs exercise. At the local park, Toby meets another dog 'Roxie' and falls in love (Roxie is a larger dog like a Wolfhound and towers over Toby). Toby keeps harassing Roxie, and we find out that Roxie's owner is Al. Cue to scenes where Al and Maya and going on dates (with the dogs) and a comedy scene where Al proposes to Maya at a restaurant, but Toby sees the food being served 'flambe' and panics thinking the place is being burned down. (BTW he was 'saving' Roxie, not Maya).
More scenes where Toby is growing up as well that Al and Maya's children (They torture him regularly). Then we see that Roxie was put down and Toby slowly descends into depression (like with Bailey). Cut to bubbles.
Buddy: For the final part of the film, he wakes up in the back of a truck as a St Bernard mix puppy. He's picked up by a lady who takes him home. Her husband/boyfriend is not happy about him and chains him up in the backyard. Cue to some montages showing him living in the backyard (full of trash) during all kinds of weather including snow and rain and events like when the police came over (Not sure why they were there). Finally, the man puts him in the back of the truck while the girl says 'you are taking him to a good place right.' He grunts. Scenes of the truck driving around flash by. Finally, the truck stops on a bridge, and the man kicks the dog out and drives away.
The dog thinks it was good that he left that family, and starts walking around (he's very filthy and looks like a stray). He finally ends up outside of a dog park where he meetings a strange dog with piercing eyes. He thinks that he knows the smell on that dog, but the dog is led away by a little girl and her mom.
As he wanders, he realizes that his nose knows this place. It's Ethan's farm! He greets horsedog (who's still around) and barks at Ethan's door until an older Ethan (Dennis Quaid) shows up and feeds him. Ethan doesn't want a dog and takes him to the pound. After one night Ethan realizes that he does miss having a dog around and goes back and adopts the dog. Cut to a scene where Ethan is at the same engraver having the tag 'Buddy / Ethan Montgomery' made up.
Buddy realizes that Ethan is a lonely old man and decides to do something about it. He goes back to the dog park (This time as a clean dog with a tag) and meets up with the same dog again. This time he follows the family home (they live nearby) and when they get home 'grandma' comes over. Grandma smell verify familiar as Buddy realizes that it's Hannah! (Played by Peggy Lipton). Hannah looks at Buddy's tag and realizes who his owner is.
Hannah takes Buddy home to Ethan, and there are a few awkward moments where they discuss how their lives have been (Ethan never married, and Hannah's husband died). Finally, they reconcile (while Buddy wonders if they lick faces again). Cut to Ethan's and Hannah's wedding. (Ethan comments on how he has no family, but Hannah has more than enough). After the wedding, Ethan is cleaning up, and Buddy wants Ethan to know it's him. Buddy goes into the barn and brings out the old flat football they played with. Ethan plays with him a while and finds out that Buddy knows Bailey's old trick of jumping on him (Ethan is flattened by Buddy btw). Ethan then remembers how Bailey liked the term 'Boss Dog' and Buddy starts barking to the same term. Ethan then realizes that Buddy is Bailey!
The last scene of the movie shows Ethan making a new tag for 'Bailey.' Bailey ends the movie by saying that a 'Dogs Purpose' must be to have fun and help others have fun.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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This dog lives through 5 lives with his memories intact. He wonders what his purpose is.
As a unnamed mutt he hangs out with his siblings and gets captured by the pound.
As Bailey he helps a boy Ethan go through his early life and only leaves (from depression) after Ethan gets injured and goes to farming college (instead of Michigan).
As Ellie she helps his handler Carlos find criminals. She loses her life saving Carlos's.
As Toby he keeps his owner Maya company until Maya finds true love. (Toby finds it as well).
Toby then passes away from old age (and depression)
As Buddy he returns to Ethan and helps Ethan find happiness with Hannah.
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