A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain: Summary, Analysis and Review

the words "a dog's tale mark twain" written next to a picture of mark twain

A Dog’s Tale is a short story written by Mark Twain. It was first published in 1903. The story is told from the perspective of a dog and narrates the journey of a dog’s life..

Mark Twain had once said:

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s.

If you are a dog lover, whether or not you own one right now, you will understand in an instant what Mr Twain is saying here.

You come home tired from a bad day in office, the minute you open the door, you get the welcome reserved only for kings and queens, the dog is so happy to see you that for a minute there you forgot you had a bad day.

You sit restfully on a weekend with coffee in one hand and your favorite crossword in other, your dog calmly climbs on to your lap and sits there comfortably staring at the crossword in amazement, like that was the best thing in the world at the moment, you feel your sense of calm multiply manifold.

There is something ethereal about the connection between a man and his dog. I stand corrected: a dog and his man, which explains why we see so many on-screen adaptations of this beautiful relationship.

I have a huge list of movies that I would recommend if you are planning to start on what I call the Dog Movie journey, but more on that later..

This is about a Dog’s tale. Twainspeak.

A Dog’s Tale: Summary and Plot Analysis

Aileen Mavoureen is a Presbyterian. As the story opens, she reminisces about her mother, an ‘educated’ Collie, she likes big words and shows off her prowess to the rest of them, leaving them surprised and envious.

Although Aileen did think of her mother as a rather vain character, she believed her virtues more than made up for that flaw. There was more to  Collie than just her education.

Aileen grows up fully and is eventually sold to another family. Broken hearted at their impending separation, they cry.

Aileen’s mother comforts her the best way she could leaving her with the wisdom to perform her duties as a dog with the utmost dedication. To think not of oneself but others in the times of danger.

Aileen finds her new home charming. Her Grays are a loving family. She feels like a part of the family and enjoys the affections people send her way.

Mr Gray is a scientist, Mrs Gray a homemaker, Sadie, their elder kid, a 10-year old girl and a one-year old baby.

a white puppy sits and looks at the screen
Humans’ best friend.

Aileen’s days are mostly spent being petted by the family, watching the baby in nursery, playing with Sadie on the grass and in occasional visits to the neighboring dogs.

Aileen is positively pleased with her life and has nothing more to ask for. Her happiness multiplies manifold when she welcomes her pup into the world.

Aileen finds her world too perfect until one day where an incident happens during her nursery watch.

The baby and Aileen were both sleeping when the baby’s crib caught fire. Awakened by the baby’s cries, the dog darts, and is half way on her way out when the parting words from her mother strike her.

When in danger, don’t think about yourself.

Aileen ran towards the baby in the nursery and drags the crying baby out and is almost out of the door, feeling proud and happy about her feat, when Mr Gray mistaking it for a dog’s mischief strikes at her with his cane.

She is able to duck all but one painful blow to her left foreleg, which leaves her whimpering in pain. Mr Gray soon realises his mistake upon noticing the fire in nursery and runs in that direction.

The dog thinking that Mr Gray would soon return for her escapes to the storage trying to hide away from further torture, all the while licking her wound for comfort.

After a while the frenzy from the fire dies down and the family begins looking for her, calling out his name, whereas she continues to hide.

She eventually devises a plan to escape the house but stops dead in her tracks in despair when she realises she does not have her puppy.

Accepting her fate, she decides to stay back dreading her fate, for she was sure that torture would continue when she is found.

She is eventually discovered by Sadie and is very happy when she realises that she is actually being celebrated for being a hero that saved the baby. She is happy again being the object of the family’s worship.

The days pass by and one day Mr Gray invites a few of his colleagues over to his laboratory. They discussed the fire at the house, the dog’s role in saving his child and went on comparing intelligence and reasoning in a human and a beast.

She feels proud that she is an object of their conversations and thinks about her mother wondering how proud she would have been of her that day.

One day, Mr Gray and his friends take the pup to the laboratory for an ‘experiment’. Aileen is excited and proud for her pup but is horrified to see that they have blinded the pup to prove a point.

As the pup staggers, Aileen runs to comfort him but the pup succumbs to his injuries shortly after. Aileen observes the footman burying the pup in the ground and mistaking it to be the same as the process of planting a seed resulting in a fresh healthy plant to come out, sits there in anticipation of her pup coming alive.

The footman, after the burial, patted Aileen’s head. She notices tears in his eyes when he says “Poor Little Doggie, you saved his child?”

She waits by the burial ground for two weeks hoping  for the pup to come up but is disheartened when he doesn’t.

A terrible fear grips her and she could not eat or sleep. She doesn’t return home even when people beg her to ‘not break their heart’ and come back.

As she lies there waiting and fearful, she breathes her last.

The humble little friend is gone where go the beasts that perish.

A Dog’s Tale: Review and My Thoughts

If you are the sentimental type, I would be very surprised if Aileen’s story didn’t get a tear or two from you. But parking my own emotions for a minute, let’s get back to Mr Twain’s heart rending portrayal of Aileen’s tale.

There are many highlights in this  short story but these are the ones that tugged at my heartstrings the most.

When AIleen’s remembers her mother fondly:

She had a kind heart and gentle ways and never harbored the injuries done onto her, but put them easily out of her mind and taught her children her kindly way. And from her we learned also to be brave and prompt in the time of danger, and not to run away, but face the peril that threatened friend or stranger, and help him the best we could without stopping to think what the cost might be to us.

I could not help but wonder, is it possible for human to be this compassionate? If it was , these would be the most compassionate people walking the face of earth and we would all be in awe of them.

How come, a creature so close to us, goes unnoticed, having devoted their life for us? Are we even capable of devoting ourselves to any creature this way?

When Aileen tries to explain what a laboratory is:

The laboratory was not a book, or a picture or a place to wash your hands in- No, that’s lavatory; the laboratory is quite different and is filled with jars, and bottles and electrics and wires and strange machines.

Mark Twain, has nailed (for the lack of a better word) the innocence of a dog with this. For a fleeting minute Aileen transforms to an adorable toddler  just beginning to learn the rules of the vocabulary.

When Aileen waits for the pup plant to grow:

There the footman dug the hole and I saw he was going to plant the puppy, and I was glad, because it would grow and come up fine handsome dog, like Robin Adair, and be a beautiful surprise when they came home.

Oh, this broke my heart and I cried.

However to me, the story did more than just make me sob.

It filled me with hate. It filled me with disgust.

Hate and disgust both for human kind. About the cruelty that humankind afflicts on creatures just because it can.

It was pleasantly re-assuring to chance upon an article while researching Mark Twain’s animal-lover side.

I was so happy upon discovering that he stood up for animal laws back in the day. Giving us stuff to reflect, and at the same time walking the talk put him right up on the pedestal.

He did show us through his work and through his life, that there are things that we can do. We can still correct the wrong.

I don’t know if heaven or hell exists, but I am with Twain when he says that he would prefer a Dog’s heaven over a Human’s.

Want to read A Dog’s Tale?

A Dog’s Tale is available on Amazon if you want to get yourself a copy. You are welcome to use the links given below to order a copy:

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What do YOU think of A Dog’s Tale?

What did you like about the story? What stood out the most to you?

Do you have an interesting dog tale that you’d like to share with us?

We are open to any and all dogly conversations and we would love to hear your favorite stories involving our cute, pawed friends.

Also, if you’re up for it, let us know in the Comments and we’d be happy to share some awesome dog movies.

Till then, a friendly woof to all Friends of Words!



2 thoughts on “A Dog’s Tale by Mark Twain: Summary, Analysis and Review

  1. When I first read this story a couple weeks ago I was horrified, so much so that I almost got sick. VERY moving! I could hardly believe that a person could do such a thing! But we do when we test our products. The evaluation was good, it helped relax my emotions somewhat knowing the story was made up and concentrating on that to calm myself.


    1. I am sorry to hear that you were disturbed for awhile after reading his story. I can imagine ! It was quite disturbing on the first read mainly because there are animal cruelty stories littered all around us, and those are real ones. And like any human, the natural reaction is to imagine the worst, what if things mentioned in this story have been done too, and for real. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think them possible. That’s the power of great writers like Twain, with their writing they can create a world so real that it’s difficult to draw the line between imagination and actuality. You being so touched on reading it, only tells me that the love that you have for these beautiful creatures is the real kind. I hope you take some comfort in that :). Thank you Kelly.


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