The Question and Answer section for Where the Red Fern Grows is a great resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Billy learns that he must care for and train his dogs. His dogs are dependent on him and he is dependent on his dogs: they work as a team.
I think Billy gains companionship of the dogs the minute he picks them up from town. Billy and his dogs are inseparable. He spends hours hunting with them every day.
Only three sets of hounds are left for the runoff.