Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Small Yapping Dogs

I went over to a neighbor's house a few days ago. He has a small dog, perhaps one foot tall, who runs around the house. When the door opened and I stepped inside the dog stood about half a yard in front of me, took a defensive pose, and begin to bark its hostility. That dog has never liked me, but neither the shushings of my neighbor and his family nor their generally non-hostile reactions to my entrance were able to calm him and the people involved decided to take our conversation out to the quieter yard.

It occurs to me that, for all the implied sociopathy displayed by my neighbor in adopting said yapping dog, the dog itself is displaying some marvelously pro-social behavior. What could I seem to that poor animal but a monstrous titan, wholly alien in appearance, towering perhaps six times it's height, and making all manner of utterances. I could crush that dog with my feet even without effort, or if I decided to make an effort there are very few scenarios in which I do not win a one-on-one fight with that dog. Nearly every cat in the neighborhood, cursed with the same small size as that dog, responds to those same triggers with distance, caution, and flight. Fans of last year's Attack on Titan saw the same reaction justified over and over again in humanity.

And yet, there stands the dog, obviously frightened but still taking its stand. If I do attack and the dog is unsupported, this would be a disastrous strategy. But dogs are social creatures, and this dog believes that the sight of it being attacked would bring the rest of the pack to its rescue. In reality, I would give my neighbor about a 50% chance of either rushing in to attack me or to just stand there, confused and horrified that an acquaintance would attempt to kill a dog in someone else's house, but what does a dog know about social customs?

And we see now that this terrifically annoying behavior is the selfless devotion of a million movie heroes who shout, "Stand back, love interest! I shall face this peril!" to which the culturally determined correct response is, "What grand heroism! I may not have much strength to lend, but what I do posses is yours to employ in violence, lest we forsake that which is precious to us!" or, for the brief, "and my axe." Perhaps I have been watching too much anime, but what follows from the dog's perspective is either a self-sacrificing martyrdom to allow the rest of the group to escape, and thus worth doing, or the heroic trigger that will bring the rest of the pack to their duty in dispatching the predator once and for all by sheer weight of numbers. Or, perhaps, both.

What it doesn't do is make the dog any safer, though the following analysis is surely beyond the mind of an animal. The family across the street owns two dogs who are larger, perhaps thigh height and in better fighting shape pound-for-pound. While I could fight one of those dogs with some success, I would be hard pressed to do it without injury to myself. Both dogs together would be a genuine threat to my health. These dogs are substantially more dangerous, but until writing this post, I have never once fantasized about killing them.

Pit bulls get sensationalist newspaper headlines and yapper dogs get poisoned by angry neighbors and survive only through the forbearance of a general mass of humanity averse to violence even in the face of provocation. The objectively more dangerous retrievers and Irish hounds face none of this, because they are pretty and quiet and interact well in human society. The more aggressive dogs may do well in some post-apoc society where they can once again run in packs, but it is those dogs who have been bred into quiet submission, shown off for physical beauty and repertoire of tricks, that seem likely to thrive in more plausible futures.

This being December, it is time for predictions about the future. I predict that terror cells and the scattered remnants of global communism (except, obviously, for China) will continue to evoke passion well beyond the amount of danger they could ever conceivably pose. I predict that Russia has implicitly joined the European Perpetual Peace, even though they may never become accepted as a properly "western" nation. And I award the Senkaku Islands the honor of being both the most important and most underreported story of the year, especially if the most recent surveys of Pacific methane hydrate deposits pan out.

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