Pick of the Litter review – heartwarming dogumentary

Labrador puppies compete for the title of cutest canine in this daft but delightful film about would-be guide dogs

Cuteness levels regularly exceed safe norms during this heartwarming “dogumentary” as five labrador puppies – Potomac, Patriot, Poppy, Phil and Primrose – are put into training to become guide dogs for the blind. Of the 800 born every year at their organisation, only 300 make it to be paired with a blind or visually impaired person. The others, for the faults they display in the 20-month process, are “career-changed”, in the parlance of trainers.

The dogs’ personalities, highlighted by a handy name-tag graphic every time each one gets a segment, bound and yap off the screen. For the initial 16 months, they are given to civilian volunteers socialise them and teach them basic skills; Patriot, with his yen for lunging for any unusual object and paired with an inexperienced college student, is the initial problem dog. But it’s a shame Pick of the Litter doesn’t locate a compelling human throughline to deepen its exploration of the sapiens-animal bond. Apart from the traumatised army vet who takes over guardianship of Patriot, and whose insistence that his charge is a star in the making speaks volumes about his own needs, the volunteers come across somewhat anonymously.

There’s no time to get seriously acquainted, the film shuttling friskily between dogs as they return to the shelter and begin formal training. Here, as well as learning the orders they will use in their working life, they must master “intelligent disobedience” – refusing to comply when their owner’s command would endanger them. As canine apprentices fail to make the cut, and are treated to career montages, it all starts to seem a bit Fido’s Got Talent. And the finale is more of a schmaltzy salute to the guide-dog ethos than intimate documentation of the new owners’ stories. The street training sequences, though – shot in swooping knee-high Steadicam – are thrilling; mini kerbside action movies.


Phil Hoad

The GuardianTramp

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