Film Review: Pick of the Litter

This modest documentary follows five awfully adorable puppies as they’re trained by the Californian Guide Dogs for the Blind. Yes, it’s very cute.

Filmed by Dana Nachman and Don Hardy Jr over a period of two years, this is too low-key to truly move and could have gone a bit deeper into the human side, but remains pleasing anyway. It’s also abundantly clear from the outset that this is going to be as pro-dog as possible, with an opening montage featuring interviews with blind subjects praising their sometimes dear-departed canines for saving their lives. One beloved hound fearlessly led his owner down 78 floors from the World Trade Center on September 11 2001, even though it was essentially against the mutt’s training.

It’s this kind of ability to formulate decisions in almost human-like fashion that makes potential Guide Dogs special, and not just whether they can merely behave or not. And while most of the dogs in the ‘P Litter’ – which includes Patriot, Phil, Potomac, Poppet and Primrose – are sweet-natured and loyal, it’s not enough.

An early statistic states that only 300 of the 800 trainees will make the cut, and it’s no spoiler to state that not all the Ps will get through their training and become proper Guide Dogs. But they’re not ‘failures’ or ‘rejects’, as that’s too unkind: they have a ‘career change’. And you can probably guess which of these pooches will be ‘career changed’ first.

Again, if you want to watch this simply for the precious antics of the irresistible doggies then that’s just fine, and yet there’s an undercurrent of darkness here as well, which the directors should perhaps have investigated further. Families that foster a puppy during their training and know full well that the animal will have to eventually be taken from them are nevertheless shown in anguish when their four-legged friend leaves, while Patriot is fittingly paired with a psychologically traumatised veteran of the Iraq War who says that he needs something to take his mind off grim and dangerous thoughts. What will happen when he must inevitably say goodbye?

But this is the internet, and you probably came here to find out about cute puppies. Never fear because Pick of the Litter is as cute as cute can be. Try not to smile when, early on, one of the puppies licks the camera, and someone is heard laughingly scolding, “Don’t do that!”

Pick of the Litter (G) is in cinemas from January 10

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