Dick wrote “Roog” in 1951 and it became the first short story he sold, appearing in Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1953. In the notes to the first volume of The Collected Short Stories of Philip K. Dick, you can find a discussion by Dick about the significance of this story in his career. He also discusses the background of this story and how he was inspired by the actions of a real bog named Snooper, who barked at garbage men. Pages numbers come from Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick (New York: Citadel Press), p. 13–17, 400–403.
As the story opens, the dog—later identified as Boris—is watching a Roog as it comes to the house. The name is the same as the sound that Boris barks when he sees the creatures invade his yard. Boris is owned by the Cardossi family and they are enjoying their breakfast routine. The Roog appears to have been the paperboy.
Around 11:00, Boris notices two Roogs sitting on the fence talking about Boris, who they refer to as a “Guardian.” Speaking directly to Boris they demand that he allows them to take the offering provided by the Cardossi family. The Roogs proceed to use a map to study the neighborhood and state a frustration for the large number of Guardians. That evening Mr. and Mrs. Cardossi discuss Boris’ temper and tendency to bark furiously at other people, especially the garbage men who come on Friday morning.
On Friday morning, Roog watches as the Roogs come again. Boris begins barking violently, disturbing Mr. Cardossi. The Roogs dump the contents of the “offering urn” onto the ground and then shifting through it. One of the Roogs eats an egg shell. Boris’ barks stop the Roog’s suspicious gaze at a shaded window. Boris, defeated in his attempt to stop the Roogs, watches them leave with the “offering” in a blanket.
This story is a creative look at the world through a dog’s eyes, explaining why they incessantly bark at the people who come to suburban houses on various business. Dick adds in his notes that Boris is clearly insane. Much of what he sees and hears is not common in the everyday process of paper delivery and garbage collection. Casing the neighborhood for “Guardians” and eating garbage are not normal activities for garbage collectors (although we could imagine that some may truly wish dogs ill will). Of course, since most people rarely notice these workers arriving to their home, the most paranoid interpretation can be that the dog is not at all insane and actually sees these workers as they are, malevolent forces in the neighborhood. Either the dog is driven insane by the daily torment of unwanted visitors or Dick is telling us that we really should pay more attention to the people who come to our door.
Dick seems to prefer the first reading writing: “We’re not just dealing with a dog and a dog’s view of garbagemen, but a crazy dog—who has been driven crazy by these weekly raids on the garbage can. The dog has reached a point of desperation. I wanted to convey that. In fact that was the whole point of the story; the dog had run out of options and was demented by this weekly event. And the Roogs knew it. They enjoyed it. They taunted he dog. They pandered to his lunacy.” (402)
This does not mean that the later reading is wrong. The invisibility of oppression seems to quickly come to the forefront. Oppression—in this case a rather banal example of consuming garbage—is often hidden in the everyday experiences that we take for granted and assume as a normal part of life. How many of us actually look that closely at waiters, cashiers, postmen, and the others we interact with. Perhaps a dog’s eye point of view will help us see the ideological forces at the root of our interpersonal relations.
Of course, I do not want to accept a literal paranoid reading of “Roog,” but it does lead to some of his critique of suburban life. Notice that Dick set this story in the suburbs where people consciously lock themselves up into small boxes, dividing themselves from their neighbors. Dogs are sometimes encouraged to be paranoid for the added benefit of home protection. There is something profoundly anti-social about suburban life.
Article on how dogs see the world.