The dog's origins are never explored, but when he appears to the child, he has a bit of a rope leash dragging behind him, which he often trips over. He is a small and conciliatory dog, and when the child attacks him he rolls onto his back and appears to "pray." Though he occasionally panics at the child's aggression, he forgives the little boy instantly and is a loyal companion to the child. He endures the family's abuse without malice, mostly managing to dodge projectiles and steal food when he is being deliberately starved. In the beginning he howls at night, but eventually he calms down. He is described as having prospered in the apartment. He is, however, not able to comprehend the casual malice of the father. Rather than run when beaten, he resorts to his praying posture, expecting mercy and humanity. Unfortunately he finds none. The dog represents the freed slaves in the Jim Crow South, who often lacked the political or practical power to stand up to their white neighbors. Many people tried to be accommodating to avoid trouble but were not able to when some members of the community resorted to violence.
The child is described as so young that he needs to crawl down stairs backwards, but he spends much of his time unsupervised. He is initially interested in the dog only for the moments it takes to hit him, and then yells at him to go away. However, the dog eventually wins him over and the child decides he wants the dog, "avariciously" as the text describes it. From the point the child brings the dog home, he becomes his de facto protector from the rest of his family, as their mistreatment of the dog upsets him. Despite this, the boy himself sometimes mistreats the dog. But he also comes to depend on it for comfort and companionship. The child even stands up to his father when the dog is in danger, though it is not enough. The child is an allegory for the relatively small segment of white Southern society that favored racial integration. He presents moral ambiguity, both beating the dog and helping the dog. His thoughtless cruelty shows that he is a product of his environment. He ultimately lacks the power to protect the dog from older, more vicious elements.
The father is vicious and authoritarian. He drinks to excess regularly enough that his child has learned to recognize it and developed strategies to avoid him. Though references to it are oblique, he appears to beat his wife (or "quell her rebellion" as the text puts it). His only stated motives in the story are amusing himself by causing pain and inconvenience to others, which is his initial reason for keeping the dog. The father represents the entrenched white supremacy and conservative order of the South, enforced both by law and by violence.