The Kicked Puppy: prevention and recovery

A Kicked Puppy looks almost exactly like this

“Why are you so mean to me?”

This is the second part of our special series on under-studied life skills. The first part, The Poor Baby, a research based approach, was immensely popular and confirmed the need for this type of elaborately well-crafted but transparently pointless pseudo-academic discussion. Indeed, our research has shown that the Kicked Puppy is second only to the Poor Baby as a subject of panicked texts between close friends (“I lost it and kicked the puppy. I am so screwed. Can I come over?”)

What is the Kicked Puppy?

The Kicked Puppy is a member of your household who has been (in their view) undeservedly berated and looks at you with sad and wounded eyes, thus inflicting copious, even crippling, amounts of guilt.

Is the Kicked Puppy larger than the Puppy Kicker?

If you kick a real puppy, or some other entity incapable of defending itself, you deserve to feel like crap. The Kicked Puppy applies only in cases where a demeanor of ill-used innocence is incongruous with the size, strength and general cussedness of the kickee (the recipient of the kick) relative to the kicker (performer of the kick).

Is the kicker always female and the kickee always male?

No, the gender of the persons involved is unimportant. Both participants in the kick event might easily be of the same gender. Because women tend to be smaller than their male partners, Kicked Puppies are common in straight relationships.

Standard form

Ironically, the kicked puppy occurs most commonly when a woman has been particularly patient. Over several days, possibly weeks, she has asked her SO (boyfriend, husband, sex slave, ex), for something relatively minor, perhaps to take out the trash or do the laundry. Saintlike, she has even done the chore herself once or twice but then things start mounting up again. Eventually, she will come home from a particularly bad day at the office and find that the refrigerator is empty and the trashcan full, and before she can restrain herself, she will execute a short sharp (metaphorical) kick to the puppy.

The kicked puppy will immediately look severely ill-used and say “If you had just said something, I would have done it.” You can apologize all you want. The kicked puppy has the moral high-ground and he knows it. By being patient for too long, you devalorized the urgency of the task and the abrupt escalation is seen as disproportionate to the wrong-doing. There is nothing more to do other than to feel guilty about your ill-nature until the Puppy finds something better to do.


There is no known method of prevention.  The Kicked Puppy happens specifically because you tried too hard to be nice and reasonable in the first place.  Mean and unreasonable have their own drawbacks.


Kicking the puppy is the worst way of getting something you want. Nothing but time can get you out of it and the severity of the event is not mitigated by the number of times you asked nicely before eventually snarling savagely. In this case, prevention is better than cure.

Variant form

I was under the impression that the Kicked Puppy is pretty much a universally defined behavior but I was wrong. A friend recently told me about the Wounded Dog. While the actual kicking event is technically similar in both cases, the Wounded Dog has aggrieved and angry eyes and is liable to bite back. I’m not an expert on this form but apparently, the guilt is less because the Wounded Dog is sure to do something stupid (like accuse you of something unconvincingly trivial or shout back) that loses him the moral high-ground.

Further research 

If you have any information on how to deal with the Kicked Puppy (prevention and/or recovery), please let the rest of us know.