Pick of the Litter
2018, NR, 81 min. Directed by Don Hardy Jr., Dana Nachman.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 14, 2018
Does a working dog know that it's a working dog? It's one of those old conundrums that has plagued the human-canine relationship, but such issues do not bother this latest collaboration between Dana Nachman and Don Hardy. They may have made their reputation with hard-hitting documentaries like Love Hate Love (tackling living with the legacy of terrorism) and pharmaceutical red flag warning The Human Experiment, but this fluffy tale is much closer to Nachman's adorable 2015 heart-warmer Batkid Begins, about how an entire community came together to make one kid happy. This time, it's how an adorable puppy becomes a guide dog.
In this case, it's five dogs – Poppet, Potomac, Patriot, Primrose, and Phil – all squishy-faced Labrador pups from the same litter, who are put into 20 months of training and assessment to see which ones can become guide dogs. And that's it.
Nachman and Hardy are simply trying to explain the process of how a dog is selected and trained and nurtured into becoming constant and reliable enough to be given a person's fate and life to guard. It's not the kind of story to win Oscars, but it will definitely make you want to pet a pupper. These are clearly very loved dogs – not just by their eventual companions, but also by the kennel staff that breed them, and families that volunteer to initially raise them, and then the trainers that get them to the last exams. Not that the dogs know any of this, of course: They just learn what is expected of them, and what will make their people happy. When they don't make it to the next stage, the disappointment is not that of failure, but just an acceptance that this isn't the role for them. Honestly, I'd probably fail most of the more complicated tests, and audiences cannot get upset when their favored pupper washes out of the program. That's what happens to most dogs, but even then it's not a sad thing. After all, they're all good dogs, and all loved, and when the handful that are just the right fit find the human they can help, it's a special moment &ndash whether it's as a breeder, a family pet, a PTSD support animal, or a guide dog.