Written at Kipling's home in Brattleboro, Vermont between February and March 1895, it was first published as "Good Hunting: A Story of the Jungle" in The Pall Mall Gazette for July 29 and 30 1895 and McClure's Magazine for August 1895 before appearing under its definitive title as the 7th and penultimate story in The Second Jungle Book later the same year. It was also the penultimate Mowgli story to be written.
Mowgli the feral child is about 16 years old and living contentedly with his brother wolves in the Seeonee jungle when the peace is disturbed by the arrival of Won-tolla, a battle-scarred wolf whose mate and cubs have been killed by dhole, the red dogs of the title. Won-tolla warns the Seeonee wolves that the dhole-pack will soon overrun their territory and urges the wolves to flee for their lives, but Mowgli persuades them to stay and defend their territory, vowing to fight beside them despite having previously been cast out of the pack.
Later that night Mowgli meets Kaa, the huge old python, and tells him the news. Kaa does not believe that Mowgli and the pack will survive a direct assault by the dhole, and enters a trance to search his century-long memory for an effective strategy. When he awakens Kaa takes Mowgli up the Waingunga river to the Bee Rocks, a gorge where huge hives produced by millions of wild bees overhang the river. Mowgli and Kaa devise a plan to lure the dhole to the gorge so that the bees will attack them.
Mowgli lays in wait for the dhole in a tree-branch and smears himself with garlic to repel the bees. When the dhole arrive he taunts their leader into a furious rage and then cuts off the leader's tail before fleeing toward the top of the gorge. Just before leaping into the water Mowgli kicks piles of stones down into the beehives, having strategically placed them there earlier. The garlic prevents the bees from attacking Mowgli, and he dives safely into the river where Kaa swiftly coils around his body to prevent the current from sweeping him away.
The dhole chasing Mowgli are less fortunate. Some of them are stung to death by the enraged bees, while others drown in the raging torrent. The rest flee downstream, pursued by Mowgli and his knife. Eventually Mowgli and the surviving dhole reach shallower water, where the wolf pack is waiting for them. Kaa refuses to fight alongside the wolves and departs. On the riverbank Mowgli and the wolves fight a ferocious and bloody battle with the remaining dhole, but the dhole's numbers have been thinned enough to turn the tide of the battle. Won-tolla kills the dhole's leader before dying of his own wounds.
As the battle comes to its end Mowgli finds Akela mortally wounded. The dying Lone Wolf tells Mowgli that he has paid his debt to the wolf pack and must soon return to the man-pack. When Mowgli asks who will drive him, Akela replies, "Mowgli will drive Mowgli. Go back to thy people. Go to Man."
The story of how this occurs is told in "The Spring Running".