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[[quoteright:250:[[Franchise/GIJoe http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/cobra-commander-kicks-a-puppy.jpg]]]]
[[caption-width-right:250:Would-be [[TakeOverTheWorld Dictator]]. Murderer. Kidnapper. Terrorist. [[ArsonMurderAndJaywalking Puppy punter]].]]

->''"In the old days villains had moustaches and kicked the dog. Audiences are smarter today. They don't want their villain to be thrown at them with green limelight on his face. They want an ordinary human being with failings."''
--> -- '''Creator/AlfredHitchcock'''

When a character does something evil for no apparent gain, because the author wants to demonstrate that he's not a nice guy and shift audience sympathy away from him.

Why this trope works could be expressed in the words of William Cowper: I would not enter on my list of friends (though graced with polished manners and fine sense, yet wanting sensibility) the man who needlessly sets foot upon a worm. In other words, a cruel act, no matter how trivial, establishes someone as a cruel person. Conversely, the creator may show Bob [[PetTheDog being kind for no apparent gain]], to demonstrate that Bob is a nice person and someone the audience is meant to vouch for. Both devices are used to help the audience become emotionally invested in the story.

What separates this trope from Bob's other evil or cruel acts is that this bit of evil is gratuitous. It doesn't net Bob anything or even advance the plot. The sole reason for this story beat existing is to place Bob squarely on the wrong side of the RuleOfEmpathy.

Dog-kickings can be verbal as well, when a line of dialogue is used to shock the audience with its sheer repugnance. If it's uttered in the presence of the hero in an action series, he'll echo the audience's thoughts and tell the villain "YoureInsane"

Needless to say, this trope can be enacted without harming any dogs. Any act or statement that shows the character's [[{{Jerkass}} meanness]] will do, such as a boss demanding an employee come in to work during Christmas when the employee's kid is [[LittlestCancerPatient in the hospital]], or a passer-by stealing from a blind beggar's coin dish, or TheDragon inflicting a vicious NoHoldsBarredBeatdown on the hero or one of his TrueCompanions or {{Protectorate}}. A PoliticallyIncorrectVillain can kick the dog by showing gratuitous racism, sexism, homophobia, or some combination of such non-PC traits. If the event happened off screen in the past, just have Bob [[ReminiscingAboutYourVictims fondly recall the incident]] and make it clear that he has no remorse whatsoever. Bingo, mission accomplished.

If the evil act ''is'' directed toward an animal, however, a dog is usually the victim of choice, partly out of connotations of blind loyalty, partly from tradition. Arguably, however, substituting a cat can be even ''more'' shocking. After all, [[RightHandCat even bad guys like cats]]. So, the argument goes, if Bob goes out of his way to harm one, he must ''really'' be a bastard.

This trope is common in horror-based MonsterOfTheWeek shows, often to set up the AssholeVictim for the KarmicTwistEnding. Anthologies are especially prone to this, as they have to set up their villains really quickly, since they only have one episode to tell their story. This can be played up by having the very same kick of cruelty be [[LaserGuidedKarma the cause of their downfall.]] At the very least, it is designed to let you know who is going to lose at the end. The opposite of KarmaHoudini.

In cartoons, [[AssholeVictim someone who does this]] can be [[KarmicProtection legally]] [[ThisMeansWar harassed]] by Characters/BugsBunny, Daffy Duck, or [[WesternAnimation/{{Animaniacs}} the Warner Brothers and their sister Dot]]. The ScrewySquirrel, however, won't wait that long.

One possible origin of the trope name comes from Westerns, where three bandits would ride into the town, one would shoot the Sheriff, one would shoot the Deputy, and one, just to prove he was also a bad guy, would Kick The Dog.

If what is supposed to be a character's Kick The Dog moment is excessively horrible, cruel, or otherwise despicable enough to make an audience lose all sympathy for him, then he's crossed the MoralEventHorizon, if he's not on the other side of it already. If the Dog in question is someone the character cares about and discovers BeingEvilSucks, then they've KickTheMoralityPet and ''might'' be in time to avoid a FaceHeelTurn. If the dog belonged to a minion, expect it to help cause a MookFaceTurn because EvenMooksHaveLovedOnes. On occasions, if karma works in the dog's favor, [[TheDogBitesBack he'll manage to get a last laugh]]. On even rarer occasions, after being pushed around too many times, the dog may decide to [[TheStarscream plan against the Big Bad for his own ambitions]], because BeingTorturedMakesYouEvil. When the dog-kicking is done in a way that (usually inadvertently) increases sympathy for the villain, it becomes StrawmanHasAPoint.

A more benign, and more comedic, form of this shows the immorality of the villain by [[PokeThePoodle having them cheat at Solitaire]].

Of course, the crux of this trope isn't just the cruel act; it's also about the innocence of the victim, ie they have done nothing to warrant their abuse. If the target is an AssholeVictim instead, the cruel act can become a sympathetic one for the villan/anti-hero instead. If going after the [[AcceptableTargets Acceptable Target]] is a coincidence, it becomes KickTheSonOfABitch; if the victim was specifically targetted for their assholery, it becomes PayEvilUntoEvil.

Kicking the Dog is also done for no practical reason (apart from demonstrating the dark side of the kicker); if the perpetrator does it because they care about their victim and want to help them somehow, they're being CruelToBeKind; if their actions have a broader purpose la [[IDidWhatIHadToDo doing what had to be done]], they're trying to ShootTheDog ([[MercyKill that's what you do when Old Yeller has rabies, after all]]).

A sign that EvilIsPetty. Compare with CantGetAwayWithNuthin, AndYourLittleDogToo, KickThemWhileTheyAreDown, TheDogBitesBack, ThrewMyBikeOnTheRoof, IWillPunishYourFriendForYourFailure. See "IfYoureSoEvilEatThisKitten" for when bad guys do a Kick The Dog test to make sure undercover heroes are really evil.

Contrast PetTheDog (proving you're good) and AdoptTheDog (going from [[CharacterAlignment Neutral to Good]]).

* KickTheDog/AnimatedFilm
* KickTheDog/AnimeAndManga
* KickTheDog/ComicBooks
* KickTheDog/FanFic
* KickTheDog/{{Film}}
* KickTheDog/{{Literature}}
* KickTheDog/LiveActionTV
* KickTheDog/{{Other}}
* KickTheDog/ProfessionalWrestling
* KickTheDog/RolePlay
* KickTheDog/VideoGames
* KickTheDog/WebComics
* KickTheDog/WebOriginal
* KickTheDog/WesternAnimation