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Pick of the Litter

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Adorable and illuminating peek into the world of guide dog training.

Image of Pick of the Litter

Dana Nachman, Don Hardy / USA / 2018 / 81 mins

In cinemas and on digital from Fri 17 May 2019

For the blind and visually-impaired, a guide dog can have an immeasurably beneficial impact on their quality of life. From imparting the confidence to go about their daily routine without human assistance to providing loving companionship at all times, a dog acts as far more than just their eyes. However, in order to fulfil these manifold roles, a successful guide dog must be carefully selected and undergo rigorous training to become the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the pick of the litter.

This adorable and informative documentary shines a light on that difficult training process, following the fate of five Labrador pups as they’re put through their paces by a startling number of handlers, trainers and examiners. Potomac, Poppet, Patriot, Primrose and Phil are siblings born to the same breeder mum, but in order to prove themselves as up to the task of aiding America’s visually-impaired populace, they’ll need to work hard, curb any boisterous habits and pass all tests with flying colours.

One only need to consider the popularity of pet videos on YouTube to realise the rich source material with which Pick of the Litter’s creators have been gifted here. 81 mins of mutts being mutts? What could possibly go wrong? Not a whole lot, in all honesty, but to be fair to the filmmakers they have done an exemplary job of setting these canine montages against a backdrop of human empathy and a competitive element of win-and-lose, complemented by the typical US penchant for pathos. It’s a recipe that could hardly fail.

As well as being richly rewarded with the sight of puppies growing into adult pooches, including all the tomfoolery and hijinks which inevitably accompany this learning curve, viewers will also gain an insight into the sheer volume of work it takes to transform an energetic but undisciplined dog into one capable of caring for and even saving the life of its human handler. Placed in that context, it’s little wonder that only 300 of 800 hopefuls graduate from guide dog academy every year, or that dozens of people are involved in the process for each and every candidate.

Let’s be clear: this is primarily a film for dog lovers. Those keen to learn more about the training of animals for the visually-impaired, or to have their cockles warmed by a good, old-fashioned tale of triumph over adversity, will certainly be serviced as well, but the movie’s main draw is unabashedly its canine cavorting. Know that at its outset, and you can’t fail to be delighted with the results.