Kick the Dog

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/cobra-commander-kicks-a-puppy.jpg
Would-be Dictator. Murderer. Kidnapper. Terrorist. 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."

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 a character being kind for no apparent gain, to demonstrate that the character is a nice person and someone the audience is meant to cheer for. Both devices are used to help the audience become emotionally invested in the story.

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

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 "You're Insane!"

Needless to say, this trope can be enacted without harming any dogs. Any act or statement that shows the character's meanness or outright evil will do, such as a boss demanding an employee come in to work during Christmas when the employee's kid is in the hospital, or a passer-by stealing from a blind beggar's coin dish, or The Dragon inflicting a vicious No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on the hero or one of his True Companions or Protectorate. A Politically Incorrect Villain 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 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, 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 Monster of the Week shows, often to set up the Asshole Victim for the Karmic Twist Ending. 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 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 Karma Houdini.

In cartoons, someone who does this can be legally harassed by Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, or the Warner Brothers and their sister Dot. The Screwy Squirrel, 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 Moral Event Horizon, if he's not on the other side of it already. If the Dog in question is someone the character cares about and discovers Being Evil Sucks, then they've Kicked the Morality Pet and might be in time to avoid a Face–Heel Turn. If the dog belonged to a minion, expect it to help cause a Mook–Face Turn because Even Mooks Have Loved Ones. On occasions, if karma works in the dog's favor, he'll manage to get a last laugh. On even rarer occasions, after being pushed around too many times, the dog may decide to plan against the Big Bad for his own ambitions, because Being Tortured Makes You Evil. When the dog-kicking is done in a way that (usually inadvertently) increases sympathy for the villain, it becomes Strawman Has a Point. If the character appears to be likable or sympathetic when introduced and the dog-kicking proves that he is actually evil, that is Bait the Dog. If the villain shoots for this trope but fails to actually do anything seriously evil, it's Poke the Poodle.

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 Asshole Victim instead, the cruel act can become a sympathetic one for the villan/anti-hero instead. If going after the Acceptable Target is a coincidence, it becomes Kick the Son of a Bitch; if the victim was specifically targeted for their assholery, it becomes Pay Evil unto Evil.

Kicking the Dog is also done for no practical reason apart from the meta-reason of 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 Cruel to Be Kind; if their actions have a broader purpose à la doing what had to be done, they're trying to Shoot the Dog (that's what you do when Old Yeller has rabies, after all).

This trope is often used to counter or prevent a character from being seen by the audience as a Designated Villain or Strawman Has a Point. These tropes tend to occur when poor writing or characterization causes a character to become more sympathetic to the viewers than intended. Since the writers can't just give these villains their just desserts if the audience likes them too much or prefers to take their side on an issue, an effective Kick the Dog moment can make them lose their sympathy and make them punishable again. This can backfire though.

A sign that Evil Is Petty. Compare with Can't Get Away with Nuthin', And Your Little Dog, Too!, Kick Them While They Are Down, The Dog Bites Back, Threw My Bike on the Roof, I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure. See "If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten" for when bad guys do a Kick The Dog test to make sure undercover heroes are really evil.

Contrast Pet the Dog (proving you're good) and Adopt the Dog (going from Neutral to Good).

For bad people who literally kick dogs, see Bad People Abuse Animals.


Examples Subpages:

Examples:

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    Advertising 

    Comic Strips 
  • The would-be-governor villain of the season from this Mark Trail storyline decides to cement his evilness by kicking the proverbial pet deer.
  • Little Orphan Annie: While it wasn't the first sign that she was no good, the fact that Trixie Tinkle kicked Annie's dog Sandy established that she didn't actually like Annie.
  • Garfield occasionally kicks Odie. And by "occasionally" we mean "constantly".

    Music 
  • Neil Young lets you know just how evil the FBI agents are in Greendale. When they break into the Greens' home looking for "evidence" after Sun's arrest, Sun's kitten scratches one of the men, who promptly shoots it dead and leaves it at the foot of Sun's bed.
  • Devo has a song called "Jimmy" which depicts the titular character as a corrupt CEO and domestic abuser (who is responsible for, among other things, a literal Kick the Dog). His ultimate fate is ending up in a wheelchair which, according to the song, was an instance of "justice strikes every once in a while."

    Print Media 
  • The famous National Lampoon cover with the headline "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog" and a photo of a dog with a gun held to its head.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Space 1889 has an almost literal example in Canal Priest of Mars. That also doubles as Establishing Character Moment “She is accompanied by a maid and by three poodles housed in the kennels. Her character may be indicated by the fact that she won’t visit the dogs once during the voyage.” The trip in question is expected to take ten weeks.
  • This scene in the continuing examples in Bliss Stage:
    Keenan Caine: Man, Sara is getting all girly and clingy and shit...lousy lay, too.
    Josh Preston: Fuck. That. Noise.
  • It happens all the time Warhammer 40,000. Kick the Dog barely begins to describe the treatment of choice for civilians, cute fluffy critters, and planets in this supremely fucked-up universe. Even Moral Event Horizon barely begins to cover it. Meta-example: every time a faction is viewed more sympathetically by the fans, the writers have a nasty trick of making said faction do this. Eldar looking too much like a Woobie Species? Make them destroy an entire world and kill millions to save a handful of their own kind, and do not gloss over this. Tau looking too much like the good guys of the setting? Make them brutal fascists and hint at hidden sterilization of non-Tau, brainwashing and genocide. Imperium looking too much like a Lawful Good empire? Play up their religious dogma, virulent xenophobia and/or lack of respect for the lives of innocent people to remind the players that Humans Are the Real Monsters. Orks looking too much like a comic relief (for a given value of "comic") faction? Show them gleefully slaughtering unarmed women and children to remind you that they're violent, amoral monsters. Warhammer 40000 is Evil Versus Evil, and the creators want to keep it that way.
  • The example for Mind Control in Hero System 5th edition is a hypnotist ordering a Flying Brick to kick a puppy. Fortunately, it doesn't work.
    Mighty Man then uses his Phase to dispose of two of Hypnos’s henchmen who are bent on causing the puppy harm.
  • The goblins of the Pathfinder RPG often come off as insanely clownish, what with their singing and antics and pyromania. Some players might forget that they're hateful and sadistic as well, until they demonstrate their absolute glee in killing horses and domestic dogs, which goblins consider to be mortal enemies.
    • In the gamemaster's guide, a section on determining the game's tone suggests taking care with potentially sensitive topics like sexual slavery, drug pushing, or violence against children and animals - some players might find their inclusion in a game to be tasteless, but they can be used to make a villain truly worthy of a righteous beatdown. The illustration on the page is a goblin standing triumphantly over the bloody body of a small dog.

    Theater 
  • In Assassins, Sarah Jane Moore shoots her dog for barking, then stuffs the dead dog in her purse — but it's Played for Laughs. As far as marking her as a credible threat goes, Sarah Jane's real Kick the Dog moment is when she turns her gun on her infant son, because he wanted an ice-cream. Thankfully, she doesn't pull the trigger.
  • Again in MacBeth: one of the witches has a ship tempest-tossed "sennights nine times nine" simply because the captain's wife told her to fuck off.
  • In Dream Girl, Clark is in the middle of torturing a cat when Georgina shoots him in her revenge fantasy Dream Sequence.
  • In Margin for Error, Sophie accuses the Consul of having poisoned her pet parrot, Winston Churchill, for annoying him.
  • Team Starkid examples:
    • In A Very Potter Sequel, Umbridge is telling Harry that Sirius is going to be sentenced to the Dementor's Kiss, which kills the victim in Starkid's interpretation. She then happily says "and maybe he can say hi to your parents!"
    • Lucius doesn't even have to be present to do this. In a letter to his father, Draco says that Lucius can feel free to write back at any time, even though he hasn't written a single letter all year.
    • Lucius also takes the drawing Draco made (that includes a picture of him in the background proudly saying "That's my son!") and crumples it up, before throwing it in Draco's face.
    • In Me and My Dick, instead of comforting Joey after his failed proposal, Joey's Heart calls him fat and ugly.
    • Twisted: Ja'far's pregnant wife is taken away from him by the Sultan. Before he can do anything to get her back, she dies. Ja'far is also hated by everybody in the kingdom and everything that goes wrong is promptly blamed on him.
  • In Twice Charmed, Anastasia and Drizella torment Cinderella as Franco prepares to shrink her.
  • In Urinetown Mister Cladwell's second Villain Song, Don't Be the Bunny is about this, with a healthy dose of Refuge in Audacity.

    Toys 
  • The Piraka in BIONICLE would occasionally kill animals for fun. Chiara, supposedly one of the good guys, had a scene where she casually killed a lizard with her electricity powers just to make a point. Because of this trope, many fans assumed it was foreshadowing a darker side to her personality, but Word of God states that this is not the case.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner:
    • Appears in Teen Girl Squad Issue 11. So-and-So is getting chewed out by her obnoxious manager at Shirt Folding Store when the manager is suddenly punched out by an astronaut ("MEET A FIST!"). The explanation for this behavior?
      Astronaut: *ckhk* She killed my dog.
      So-and-So: Um... 'kay.
    • Also referenced in the Strong Bad Email rated, where Strong Bad claims that some of his favorite movies have been banned in Transylvania, "where you're required by law to eat puppies for breakfast."
    • Strong Bad is also known to kick The Cheat, even though he's not really a bad guy.
    • In another Strong Bad Email, for kids, on his kids' show, Strong Bad invites children to play "Where's The Cheat?" with him:
      Strong Bad: All right, dumb children. Find The Cheat!
      [the Cheat peeks out from behind a box]
      Kids: [half-coherent] He's over there. Right there.
      Strong Bad: Um, no, he's behind the box. No, he's not even behind the box, he's barely obscured by the box. (getting upset) Look, The Cheat is behind the freakin' BOX! (screaming) HE'S BEHIND THE BOX!! I'LL KILL YA!! I'LL KILL ALL YOUR DOGS!!!
  • Richard kicks a dog.
  • Bunnykill:
    • Flint, Big Bad of Bunnykill 4, does this big time when he kills Ruby, Snowball's potential love interest. Oddly enough, this makes him the only Big Bad of the series to do something truly villainous onscreen.
    • As of Bunnykill 5, Smoke has joined the dog-kicking party. He has Snowball's friend Dust injected with Psycho Serum, turning him Brainwashed and Crazy and ultimately leading to Snowball's death. For added dick points, he also betrays his partner Professor Sludge, the designer of the serum, leaving him to become Dust's first victim. The second half also has him throwing his own mooks into Dust's way to save his own hide. Not that it helps him in the end.
  • In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, the Emperor says that snatching Angron from his last stand and leaving him to watch his men die hopelessly was absolutely hilarious. Worth noting is that this is what made Angron - already a ball of Unstoppable Rage - go off the deep end.
  • In the animation Ninjai the bad guy attacks the hero's little bird friend for no reason at all. The bird gets his own back later.

Alternative Title(s): Punt The Puppy

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/KickThedog