Pick Of The Litter

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Pick Of The Litter
"A beautifully composed documentary full of information and insight."

Cute puppies. Cute puppies learning new tricks. Cute puppies training to make people's lives better. Are you sold yet? If not, this probably isn't one for you. If you're swithering, it's worth noting that this is also a beautifully composed documentary full of information and insight.

Patriot, Poppet, Primrose, Potomac, and Phil all belong to the same litter. They have all been bred to possess the qualities that make a good guide dog: intelligence, patience, a willingness to work hard and, most importantly, the presence of mind to defy a direct command if following it would put a handler in danger. But they're puppies, and puppies want to play. Getting them from that stage to the point where they're ready to enter guide dog school takes serious training, and that's where foster families come in. But even with their help, only the best of the best will qualify.

Fostering a puppy like this is an emotionally charged situation. Some of the families introduced here have been doing it for years; others are new. All are volunteers with different reasons for getting involved. The most touching relationship develops when the high-spirited Patriot is assigned to a disabled military veteran. The idea was that fostering would help the ex-soldier feel like a useful member of society despite being unable to work, but the dog helps him in ways that go much further. It becomes a partnership that you won't want to see come to an end.

The duty of the foster carers is not simply to civilise the boisterous youngsters but to take them through a carefully structured programme that will teach them key skills and deal with any attitude problems. Each dog approaches this in a different way but that's not necessarily a bad thing - one of the programme organisers reminds viewers that blind people want dogs who will be companions, not just helpers, so it's a good thing if individuals with different personalities make it through. There's room for Phil's quiet diligence, Primrose's love of hard work, Poppy's natural cautiousness and even Patriot's boundless energy if they can be effectively harnessed. Potomac's tendency to get distracted is more of a problem but his foster family works hard to try to help him make the grade.

Though most of the film is devoted to the puppies themselves, we also meet some of the people in the queue to be matched up with fully trained guide dogs, so we can appreciate what a difference all this can make. Exactly what happens at guide dog school remains a bit of a mystery but this isn't a problem - rather, it gives it a greater sense of status, the same kind of mystery that university has to ambitious high school students. It's the great prize that successful puppies can look forward to - but it's what happens on their journey that matters here, and for the puppies who are not successful, there are different rewards.

Reviewed on: 01 Dec 2018
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Pick of the Litter follows a litter of puppies from the moment they're born and begin their quest to become Guide Dogs for the Blind, the ultimate canine career.

Director: Don Hardy Jr, Dana Nachman

Writer: Dana Nachman

Starring: Patriot, Potomac, Phil, Primrose, Poppet

Year: 2018

Runtime: 81 minutes

Country: US

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