"But I've sworn to protect this sorry world, and sometimes that means saying and doing what other people can't — they shouldn't have to."
When a protagonist does an ambiguously (a)moral act
because current circumstances make it the most pragmatic and logical thing to do. If The Hero
performs the job himself, he may even go so far as to hide it from the rest of the cast (possibly with serious repercussions later
) due to the risk of compromising his moral standards
, or they might say What the Hell, Hero?
to which he might reply I Did What I Had to Do
. Otherwise, he may delegate it to the Anti-Hero
or The Lancer
, whose reputations won't be hurt as severely for the deed. May demonstrate What You Are in the Dark
If one Shoots The Dog too often, one runs the risk of becoming a Knight Templar
or Poisonous Friend
. Alternatively, a Psycho Sidekick
, popular in hard-boiled crime fiction since the 1980s or so, is a character whom the author approves of whose main purpose is to Shoot the Dog whenever necessary. The Spock
is also likely to suggest shooting the dog and is the personification of this trope. Depending on the slant of
the series, he will also be the one to carry about the shooting, or the characters will Take a Third Option
at the last minute. If the author doesn't want to compromise his heroes' goodness, he'll have Big Damn Villains
do it. One common way to show the emotional pain this causes is by showing the shooter Cradling Their Kill
This trope is named after the climactic scene
of Old Yeller
, where the titular dog is literally shot to put it out of its misery
For a diametric opposition that makes you cheer
for the hero's senselessness, see Honor Before Reason
. For extra anguish, it may well have been a Senseless Sacrifice
because the one shot was no longer a threat.
Expect the shooter to go for the most Jerk Ass
solution even when Fridge Logic
indicates much less morally compromising ones are possible, because Murder Is the Best Solution
Note that this trope is not Kick the Dog But More So
(the closest thing to that would be Moral Event Horizon
); kicking the dog is the villain being senselessly evil just to show the audience how evil he is. Shooting the Dog is an ostensibly heroic character doing something that is necessary but morally gray
— such as putting down the old family pet after it's contracted rabies. (Bad Dreams
are far more likely after shooting the dog than after kicking it.) Senseless shooting of a dog would actually fall under Kick the Dog
or Moral Event Horizon
. And it also has nothing to do
with the desire every 8-bit gamer ever
has had to shoot the Duck Hunt dog
If an actual pet is involved, this is an exception to Infant Immortality
This may or may not be confused with Don't Shoot The Puppy.
, but do not confuse with Shoot the Shaggy Dog
, which is a particular form of Downer Ending
Compare/contrast with Light Is Not Good
, Omniscient Morality License
, Well-Intentioned Extremist
, Knight Templar
, The Unfettered
, Cruel to Be Kind
. The version where a bad guy does this for a hero is Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work
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- In 2008, Batista confronted Shawn Michaels for doing this to Ric Flair and ending his career. Old Yeller was referenced leading up to the friendly match at WrestleMania 24, but - as was referenced in the color commentary for the match itself - it was rabies, not age, that forced the main character to kill the dog. Still, the match was presented as Shawn knowing full well that Flair was too old to wrestle any more and that he was going to lose to someone soon - all Michaels could do was fulfill his friend's wishes and be the one to end his career.
- It's implied that Batista was jealous, because Flair asked Michaels and not him.
- Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon's actions in the Montreal Screwjob. Vince and Shawn really did screw Bret Hart out of the WWF Championship, out of Vince's fear that Bret would appear on rival promotion WCW with the title, since Hart was about to leave the WWF and go work for WCW. Something similar had happened before where then-WWF Women's Champion Alyndra Blaze dumped the Women's Championship belt into a garbage can on WCW's flagship program, Monday Nitro, and Vince didn't want the same thing to happen again. Hart refused to drop the title to Michaels, since the two had bad blood. Finally, at Survivor Series in 1997, as Michaels put Hart into Hart's own submission move, Vince called for the bell, costing Hart the match. Whether or not the real-life screwjob was justified or not is still a contentious issue among wrestling fans, even today.
- The Commissars from Warhammer 40,000 are justified in shooting their men as maintaining unit cohesiveness for the cost of a few men is preferable to having many more die in the chaos of a general rout.
- the Imperium regularly Blows Up The Planet The Dog Was Living On in response to the worst outbreaks of heresy, daemon invasions, or alien threats. Billions are killed, but the alternative is generally much, much worse.
- The number of times preventative measures such as Exterminatus are justified are balanced by the equal number of times in which they are not, but are used anyway because the people in power are deranged lunatics like the Monodominants. It is a rather grim setting after all.
- All instances of Exterminatus are put under Inquisitorial review. If insufficient justification is found, the person who ordered it is sentenced to immediate execution, or to be killed on sight if they have already fled. Also, Exterminatus is not used nearly as often as certain parts of the fandom make it seem. Exterminatus being Flanderized into something the Imperium does if someone on a planet sneezes and it sounds vaguely like "Chaos!" is pure Fanon.
- This is based on the real life way old fashioned armies operated. When a military unit (UK anyway) forms up to do drill, the NCOs are at the back of the formation and march behind the unit. They were originally there to shoot soldiers who ran from the enemy, as formation drill was originally about standing up with no cover in massed ranks and shooting at each other. The idea was that if you stand there and take the fire, there's a pretty good chance you'll be shot, but if you run the Sergeant will definitely get you.
- In many countries desertion in the face of the enemy (as opposed to going AWOL) holds the death penalty if convicted by a Court Martial.
- Including the US, though rarely invoked nowadays.
- In Legend of the Five Rings, the Scorpion clan's 'hat' is that they exist solely to shoot the necessary dogs. The Scorpion, despite being traitorous bastards, are extremely loyal to the Emperor, and people who are worthy friends. Make sure you are one of those two, and preferably both.
- A story explaining them: An author asks, in jest, each clan what the most important virtue is. Each clan picks one, and the Scorpions pick loyalty, while the Lions pick honor. The other clans laugh at the Scorpion talking of Loyalty, since they are traitorous bastards. The Scorpion proposes that each Daimyo will call his greatest warrior in, and give him a task. The one whose warrior does not hesitate, loses. The others are suspicious, but he talks them into it, offering to demonstrate the task first. He calls his warrior in, stares at the author, and gives her a look that says, "You know what I am about to do." He then says his command. "Kill me." Without hesitation, the Scorpion Warrior kills his Daimyo, then draws a knife and commits seppuku. Everyone else can only stare in awe.
- The titular Nobles of Nobilis, who have transcended human morality anyway, do some bad, bad things in their Forever War against the Omnicidal Maniac Excrucians.
- This was pretty much Urza's whole hat in the original storyline for Magic: The Gathering. He had several thousand years to prevent a Phyrexian Invasion on his home plane of Dominaria. In the end, he started wars, killed thousands, ruined other planes (particular Rath and Mercadia), betrayed the person who was the closest thing he'd ever had to a son, sacrificed the lives of half a dozen other pre-sundering Planeswalkers, and was himself destroyed. When the smoke cleared, Dominaria was badly damaged, but still standing, while Phyrexia was a ruined husk, it's Machine-God destroyed in the process. Pity that It Got Better a few years down the line.
- One bit of flavour in Eclipse Phase is a message from a Firewall veteran telling you how much of your career will consist of this and how shitty you will feel afterwards. One of the examples given involves a child infected with The Virus, and a handy airlock.
- In Philoctetes, after spending ten years away from home caught in a war with heavy casualties, it's reasonable that if Odysseus knew of a way to end it soon and with Greek victory, he would pursue that course. That course requires bringing a crippled man he had personally wronged and left alone on a Deserted Island for years back to the war front. He is pragmatic in trying this first by deceit and then by force, because the man would never agree, but it's not very flattering for Odysseus.
- In All My Sons, this is discussed when Chris is arguing with Ann about why he can't put his father in jail where he deserves to be. "We used to shoot a man who acted like a dog, but honor was real there, you were protecting something," Chris says. In this dog-eat-dog world, however, Chris doesn't see any sense in singling out his father for acting the way everyone else has to, even though "it just happened to kill a few people this time."
- Survival of the Fittest character Adam Dodd was forced to euthanise his friend Marcus Roddy, as he had fallen into a coma. Most of the rest of his group didn't agree with the action, but Adam pointed out that had they left him catatonic, somebody else would have just come along and done the same, or he would have just been eaten by animals or some equally gruesome fate.
- Among the many morally-grey choices characters make in Worm is, in Chapter 26.6, Weaver shooting Aster to prevent Jack's Slaughterhouse Nine from doing their thing and possibly causing the end of the world. What makes this example all the more depressing is it turned out to be meaningless as it was something else entirely that will cause the end of the world.
- Happens a lot in Shadow Unit; one instance involved an actual dog, which (hidden for squick) a gamma nicknamed "Mrs. Chow" had started eating. Alive. From the middle.
- Diddybob in Mind My Gap finds himself stuck on the mountains with his only son Jona screaming and crying his head off. Nothing he tries to sooth him helps and the cries become too much for him to bear. He's right at the end of his mind until he's interrupted by the man from the mountains. "You've got a gun in that frikkin suitcase no? What are you waiting for? Use it man!"
- Ami from Sailor Nothing was a haughty Alpha Bitch whom most of the main characters hated, to the point that Shin said she hoped something horrible happened to her. And it does. She's kidnapped by Argon of the Yamiko, who then turns her into a living music box by surgically strapping her into a machine made from human bones and teeth. Ami is kept in place with wires and hooks that are inserted into her face, eyelids, arms, legs, breasts, and her vagina. The worst part is that Ami is still alive, and her mind hasn't been shattered so much as it has been obliterated completely, save for her mad laughter. And Argon purposefully targeted Ami because he knew the Sailors hated her, to make it a point that the so-called soldiers of peace and justice wished for an outright evil fate to befall on Ami.
- In The Penguins of Madagascar episode "Lost Treasure Of The Golden Squirrel", Skipper comments that money can't buy honour or respect - just as he looks into the Eyes of the Squirrel and sees himself buying an arsenal of high-grade military weapons to blow up hippies with as his greatest desire.
- Happens several times in Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. These unpleasant-but-necessary duties seem to fall on Shayera "Hawkgirl" Hol's shoulders quite frequently:
- Ben 10: In the episode "Framed," Ben and his Evil Counterpart Kevin 11 are dueling on a bridge, surrounded by an army led by Lieutenant Steele, an Inspector Javert alien hunter, whom Ben just stopped Kevin from killing. After Ben wins and spares Kevin, he ends up dangling from the bridge.
Kevin: You know why you can't beat me? Cause you're a good guy, and good guys never have the guts to finish guys like me!
Steele: But I do. (orders his men to shoot Kevin down)
- Avatar: The Last Airbender: Avatars Kyoshi and Yangchen (and probably others, but notably not Aang) believe this to be part of the duty of the Avatar.
- Word of God has it that only was Kyoshi actively advocating that Aang kill the Fire Lord. Yangchen's advice ("be prepared to sacrifice your spiritual needs") is ambiguous, as Yangchen was not necessarily stating that killing Ozai was the best option; she was only telling Aang that, if a better option didn't present itself, killing Ozai was a very viable option, and not something to be dismissed out of hand because Aang was feeling squeamish.
- For her part Kyoshi takes responsibility for the death of a conqueror during her time as the Avatar, who fell off of a cliff after Kyoshi separated her home from the main continent. When Aang consults her in later episodes, he claims that she was not responsible for his death as he was killed by a freak accident when the rocks he was standing on fell away. Kyoshi refuses to recognize the distinction, and adds that she would have killed him had it come down to that.
- Sokka also has a tendency to this. At one point, he immediately leaps on a (somewhat poor) village's asking how they can be repaid despite Katara's Keep the Reward attitude, pointing out that trips across the world are expensive. He also goes back on a promise made to a powerful spirit who is disgusted by human belligerence (made on his behalf by Aang, no less) in order to discover information necessary for forming a strategy to defeat the Fire Nation. Notably, when Aang hesitates to "kill" a training dummy of the Fire Lord and asks how he can be expected to kill another human being, Sokka coldly lops the training dummy's head off with his sword and replies, "like that." Sokka acts as the team's Plucky Comic Relief so much that it's easy to forget that he's also the prince of a warrior tribe and has trained in warfare his entire life.
- In Teen Titans, when Robin becomes Red X to uncover Slade's plans.
- In the season 2 finale of Transformers Prime, Optimus Prime destroys the Omega Lock — thus ruining any chance of restoring Cybertron — in order to prevent Megatron from using it to terraform Earth and wiping out humanity in the process.
- Parodied in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) where in an episode of Leonardo's favorite sci-fi show one character gets taken over by a Puppeteer Parasite and another character instantly decides they should kill him, doing so without a second thought.
- In A World Gone Mad, Jack Bauer-esque Anti-Hero Agent Griffin's whole philosophy is that someone like him has to do horrible things in order to protect the naive, peace-loving citizens who don't even know he exists. The joke is that he's horribly incompetent. So, not only does he kill civilians, cause the death of innocents, double-cross his own allies, and torture prisoners out of necessity, he often ends up killing, double-crossing, or torturing the wrong civilians, innocents, allies, or prisoners who have absolutely nothing to do with whatever evil plot he's trying to stop. It helps that he's a Sociopathic Hero and Karma Houdini.
- A classic cover for the National Lampoon magazine features a gun being held to the head of a dog with the warning "If You Don't Buy This Magazine, We'll Kill This Dog". At the time the magazine was struggling, so the cover was intentionally controversial to inspire interest.
- George Washington (hero number one in the U.S.A) has a Shoot the Dog episode among his many awesome moments. With the revolution in danger of falling apart due to the demoralizing effect of endless military defeats, Washington broke the traditional Christmas truce to lead troops across the Delaware River◊ and sneak attack a group of enemy mercenaries. The resulting lopsided victory had a crucial psychological effect.
- The real reason for the disastrous Dieppe raid of 1942 was to ease considerable pressure on Britain to launch an invasion of France that year. Churchill chose to deliberately sacrifice 7,000 men, several Navy vessels and a lot of aircraft to make the point to Russia and America that any premature attempt to invade France would be a total and utter disaster and it was best to plan ahead and do it properly in 1944. He chose to have a battle Britain could not possibly win to make this point as dramatically as possible.
- The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain controversial to this day, but those who defend them claim that, despite the horrific damage and cost of life, they prevented a longer and inevitably more bloody invasion of Japan. At the very least, they unambiguously saved the lives of almost every Allied POW being held by Japan. Their captors had orders to kill them if it was announced the Allies were actually invading Japan.
- A more literal example caused the suppressed version of the Smith & Wesson Model 39 pistol to be called a "Hush Puppy." Its purpose was for special forces teams to covertly eliminate sentry dogs and guards without alerting the main target. There is also the more openly marketed "Velo-dog" revolver, specifically developed for early cyclists to defend themselves from dogs.
- Another thing pretty close to literal is modern science's experiments on various animals, including dogs, for the sake of medical research. Whether you consider it justified or not, the reality is, many of the medical procedures that save lives today would not exist without experiments on animals, and if it weren't animals used as test subjects, it would be humans.
- German soldiers in World War II actually had orders to shoot every stray dog they encountered on the eastern front on sight. This was the result of the Soviets experimenting with "anti-tank dogs" that had a bomb strapped to them, a triggering mechanism on their backs, and were meant to run under German tanks. The dogs were easily confused by the loud noises of the battlefields and had no way of knowing how to differentiate a German from a Soviet tank, and the project wasn't pursued much further. So the Germans decided to Shoot the Dog literally because the Soviets did figuratively.
- Operation Catapult during WWII. Britain's main ally, France, has fallen to German forces and has signed an Armistice. Britain, resolved to fight on, is worried that Hitler will now be able to seize the well-equipped and trained French Navy. So the British launched a surprise attack on their former ally's fleet at Mers-el-Kébir. Caught completely by surprise by their erstwhile comrades, the French rapidly lost the battleship Bretagne and suffered crippling damage to the rest of their fleet. Britain would not be threatened by French ships, and would eventually be the jumping point for the liberation of France.
- Inverted courtesy of the Israeli Defense Force with the Kitty Corner Shot.
- George Orwell famously wrote, "Those who 'abjure' violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf" in 1945 essay "Notes on Nationalism," capturing the essence of this idea. The quote, incorporating similar sayings from other authors such as Kipling, evolved into the better known version since then, "People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf," which has been apocryphally attributed to many people.