It occurred to me whilst watching the excellent fifth series of The Walking Dead that you don’t see many animals in that world. Particularly there are no dogs. In fact barring the film adaptation of I Am Legend I can’t think of a zombie(ish) film with a dog on the side of the heroes. (I say zombie-ish because it is debatable as to whether the monsters in I Am Legend are zombies, in the novel they are more like vampires.) This lake of canine friends feels like a bit of an oversight on the part of our post-apocalyptic heroes, for surely a dog could be a great benefit in surviving the new world. That was my initial thought, which however immediately strayed to imagining how my own dog, a Cocker Spaniel, would help me. Or not. He would need some training. Quite a lot in fact.
Firstly he would need to come to heel instantly, at either a hand signal or a quiet spoken command. This would be essential in the initial chaos when you need to flee but also useful later when you need to remain hidden, or there are the usual post-apocalyptic dangers around. You need to be able to walk with your dog glued to your leg. This would be a challenge for my dog, who when called looks at you, considers the request then ignores you and carries on sniffing whatever smell he has found. I think that he actually knows what the command means, he just decides that he’s not going to listen.
The next requirement is no barking. Barking would bring more zombies. A low growl to warn of an approaching monster or human would be fine, in fact this would be one of the main advantages of a dog, as a great early warning system. Presumably they would be able to smell and hear danger well before a human could, but there has to be no excessive noise in the warning. This would be an extreme challenge for my dog, who barks at the slightest noise which reminds him of a knock on a door. Once he starts barking I can’t shut him up. It would be like broadcasting fresh food to every zombie in the vicinity.
If things got hairy then the dog would need to attack on command. A dog can fight and it can be a weapon too. The dog should be able to attack a human and disable them. However it’s probably best to avoid attacking zombies who care little about teeth clamped around their legs, save that for the Tiger owners. Unfortunately my dog would run up to an enemy barking, sit in front of them and then wait to be stroked. All bark, no bite, the opposite of what is required when the zombies arrive. I don’t think it would even be possible to train him to be vicious.
Another classic dog tick would be useful, retrieving. A dog could sneak into somewhere that a human couldn’t and retrieve something useful. It could be a gun or a key or a tin of food. Whatever it is your dog needs to leave your side on command, find the item you wish to be retrieved, pick it up without breaking it or injuring themselves and return it to you quickly. Finding and picking up an item would be no challenge for my dog, he loves doing that, returning however is a different matter, he never returns anything. Instead he loves to run away from you with the ball or toy, growling if you approach and then delighting in running away again. A recipe for disaster in a zombie ridden world.
And finally in an apocalyptic world when food is scarce you need to eat anything you can find. Your fussy spoilt dogs who only eat cooked chicken and bits of steak will not fare well. This is the first item at which my dog excels, he will try to eat anything, anything you drop on the floor, anything he finds lying around. Even stuff that appears to be inedible he will eat. He wouldn’t go hungry, that’s for sure.
All in all it appears that I have a lot of work to do, but it still surprises me that in fiction that perfect dog isn’t create more often.