Why Rez Dogs Will Rule the World, Planet of the Apes Style

Gyasi Ross

Just like with any culture, to understand Natives, a person must understand those queer, quirky cultural institutions.

In the past month, we’ve been doing the pow-wow/see-family thing really heavy every weekend.

One thing that happens when you go to a lot of different reservations is that you begin to compare and contrast differences. Sometimes there’s not a whole bunch to do, so you begin to compare minutiae—Indian I-Spy. “Oh, this reservation has 16 more outhouses than the last one.” or “I’ve seen an entire 4 white people here today.” Cool game—I’m thinking about packaging it up and trying to sell it.

One game that we also enjoy playing is “Rez Dog Quizzo.” Before I discuss much of the details of the game, let me first say that I unabashedly love wild rez dogs. See, we grew up with rez dogs our whole life—in recent times, I actually got a dog that was only one breed, and that almost got me disowned from my family. We enjoy not being able to explain the many components and breeds that went into the dog, and thus the dog’s first name became all the explanation that it needed. Like Madonna.

“Well he kinda looks Pekingese. But he has a pit-bull head. And a long body, like he might have some wiener (not Anthony) dog in him. Yeah, his name is Per Cappuccino.”

Rez Dog

That’s all you needed to know. Now, Per Cappuccino now had his own “type” of dog—he was as official on the rez as AKC papers for a pureblood German Shepherd.

Now make no mistake: Per Cappuccino (and all rez dogs) are the smartest dogs in the world. Rez dogs represent case studies in natural selection—Charles Darwin could’ve come to the rez instead of the Galapagos islands to find out about evolution. That is, on the rez there is extreme competition for food/warmth/shelter. Therefore, the survival instincts that these dogs develop are incredible—feral dogs, many times, they are simultaneously suspicious, fraternal (travel in packs) and brilliant. For example, I was doing a little bit of experimentation with some beef jerky—trying to feed various dogs, that live amongst a lot of people on reservations, pieces of beef jerky to see how they took to strangers. The vast majority of dogs sent a “recon” (see: sacrificial) guy to reluctantly take the jerky before the others decided to take some, just in case some creep decided to put anti-freeze on the jerky to keep rez dogs away.

Rez Dog

Just like a royal taster—rez dog packs have hierarchies and specific job titles. I wonder—if that jerky turned out not to be poisonous, did that recon dog at least get the biggest chunk? If not, I’d probably ask for a transfer.

Also, some of the evolutionary stuff includes thick coats of fur as compensation for no shelter. Much intermixing to strengthen the immune system—these dogs are designed to survive nuclear holocaust because “surviving” is all that they know. Promise: they will be here long after “civilization” because they’ve already shown an ability to adapt to the harshest of conditions. Mark my words, one day rez dogs will rise up against all of you white tourists who come to the rez in sandals and socks and don’t feed them beef jerky, and they will lock all of you up in cages and tease you from the outside. Genetic memory—it might not be your descendants who treated them badly, but they remember what your people look like.

Rez Dog


Anyway, in the game Rez Dog Quizzo (patent pending), a person has to guess the most recent 4 breeds of dogs that went into this particular mutt. Then (thank the Creator for technology), we go to google images and try to match up features—“Ok, you’re right. It definitely has a doberman’s butt.” Finally, whoever makes the most persuasive argument concerning the dog’s composition wins—the other person has to cook hot dogs for them! A sign of ritual sacrifice—those (hot) dogs pay the price for the many dogs it took to naturally select these genetically superior rez dogs.

It takes skill—many of them are completely unrecognizable as anything other than a “rez dog.” Still, that’s fine; they’re beautiful, strong and incredibly adaptive—all of you suckers who pay for AKC-registered and “papered” dogs are missing out on the smartest dogs in the world.


Gyasi Ross is a member of the Blackfeet Nation and his family also belongs to the Suquamish Nation. He wrote a book called Don’t Know Much About Indians (but i wrote a book about us anyways) which you can get at DKMAI.com. He is also co-authoring a new book with Robert Chanate coming out in the Summer of 2012 appropriately called The Thing About Skins, and the website and publishing company for that handy-dandy book is CutBankCreekPress.com (coming soon). He also semi-does the twitter thing at twitter.com/BigIndianGyasi

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oceanturtles's picture
Submitted by oceanturtles on
Oh, this story made me giggle and laugh out loud! My Six Nations friend Skye found this almost chewed alive dog on the Blood Rez in Alberta, so she calls it a bloodhound. It has a narrow, sharpened pencil head and no neck to speak of, so any collar just slides over his ears and off of him without effort. Long hotdog body, the cutest short legs and a curly tail that makes him twice as tall as he really is. Dragon is his name, but he ain'no dragon or has any fierce genes in him at all. When my friend was walking him in a politically correct town, some well-meaning white person asked what he was, so she correctly said, "Rez mutt". "Oh no, it is a FIRST NATIONS dog."

husbandofmoonlight's picture
Submitted by husbandofmoonlight on
A most excellent article and it reminds me of my favorite "Rez Dog Joke". As most people who live on 'the Rez'(or ranch whre I grew up) know; after everyone goes to sleep at night, the Rez Dogs having slept much of the daylight hours are "up and working" (so to speak). One night one Rez Dog said to another "hey, cuzz have you heard all this stuff the humans are talking about, you know a 'tribal leader election'?" The other dog said "yea, but I don't know what they mean." Since humans always talk in front of their dogs, the dogs hear all that they say so all of the other Rez Dogs had heard the same things. So they decided to "form a committe" and find out what those humans were talking about. Soon the "committee" came back at another 'night meeting' and said that they had been trying to figure this thing out, you know, that "tribal election thing" and since they could not figure it out they decided to have one for the "Rez Dogs Tribal Election"--just to be safe and stay up with the "human's progress"--so the committee went back to 'spying on the humans' to 'GET MORE INFORMATION'---but several days later they still did not "know what to do" until one Rez Dog spoke up and said "Well, I am not sure what those Humans mean by 'tribal Leader', but that Yellow Dog over there sure smells good under his tail; I think he should be our 'elected' tribal leader"---so the committee went over to the Yellow Dog and sniffed under his tail and they all agreed he sure did smell good under there; and they were about to declare him the "Rez Dog tribal leader" when another Rez Dog spoke up and said "well now wait a minute, that black and white Rez Dog over there by that tree smells better under his tail than that Yellow Dog---and the committee went over to him and sniffed and they agreed with the other dog and soon they were sniffing all of the other Rez Dogs and either agreed to the "goodness of the smell" or not and--- ya know, those Rez Dogs are still looking for a "Tribal Leader"; you'll see them working on it even now, just look out your window. Perhaps the Rez Dogs have the answer for the humans. Just in case things "change" I would refrain from "voting"---and personally ; I don't "join committees". Thanks for your time

salish52's picture
Submitted by salish52 on
This article made me laugh. I see he forgot to mention that Rez dogs will "ALWAYS" dig in the trash, "ALWAYS" chase your cat, "ALWAYS" look for ways to escape from your yard, and last but not least..."ALWAYS hunt and eat the cute, cuddly bunnies next door. You can take the dog offa the Rez but you cannot take the Rez outa the dog!!

talyn's picture
Submitted by talyn on
The closest any of our dogs ever came to papers was one who would occasionally drag in a well-chewed newspaper. Had one we think actually had wolf in her. She was the BEST dog. Smart and loyal, but definitely a one-family dog. She didn't care for strangers at all. I love my mutts! Pure-breds have too many health problems, and some of them don't seem very bright. Like you said, natural selection brings out the best in a dog.

robinfiercecrybeasley's picture
Submitted by robinfiercecryb... on
Loved this article. Giggled all the way through it. Thank you for the grin and I'm going to give this game a try.

hjwjc's picture
Submitted by hjwjc on
I live on a reservation in Arizona and have never had to buy a dog. At one time we had 5 dogs who adopted us and were very loyal watch dogs... Most reservations here in AZ have a Bashas' grocery store. One afternoon I was leaving the store just in time to see a REZ dog jumping out of the back of a beat up blue pick up truck, holding a huge roast in his mouth! He must have been stalking the owner and then made his move for the meat..! As you said REZ dogs are very smart... No moral to this story.

thechief's picture
Submitted by thechief on
this is a funny article but I think on the serious side rez dogs are a reflection of the people of the rez. if you can't take care of your dog you shouldn't have one. one of my relatives chihuahas got eaten by a pack of rottweilers in front of their children while they were playing in their yard. their dog was on a leash but of course the bigger dogs weren't. the rez dogs often fall into the canals and drown and we end up with a dead dog body floating around. I think as Natives we should respect our four legged friends and take care of them responsibly. Have them leashed our atleast fenced in so people can go running on the rez without a pack of dogs chasing them. Maybe if kids could go for a good run or bike ride without getting chased by dogs childhood obesity would go down.

gyasiross's picture
Submitted by gyasiross on
Thank you all for the replies. Yeah, this was fun. I'm sorry I'm behind on articles--I have some deadlines coming up. Still, my writers and I fully intend to keep you entertained. TheChief--fair point!!