(Originally published July 18, 2008)
Past experience has made me something of a skeptic about TV shows involving dogs. I fear that they'll showcase the humans at the expense of the dogs; advocate coercive, discredited training techniques; or otherwise do stuff that indicates that the producers know zilch about how to interact with the canine species. So it was with some trepidation that I watched the first and second episodes of the new CBS reality show, "The Greatest American Dog" (http://www.cbs.com/primetime/greatest_american_dog/).
The show employs the basic reality competition template of people having to perform tasks and facing elimination by a panel of judges if they don't perform those tasks successfully--but in this case, the human contestants are paired with their canine companions. Some of these contestants appear to have good, healthy relationships with their dogs while others seem to believe that dressing a dog in human clothing is a pre-requisite to loving ownership. In other words, while some of the people seem reasonably sane, there are others who are fodder for yet another disdainful look-how-much-we-pamper-our-pooches article in a magazine or newspaper, not to mention having some off-the-wall ideas as to how good their relationships with their dogs really are (not).
But so far the judges have surprised me -- pleasantly. Each of the two human-dog pairs they chose for elimination was having difficulty because the humans, not the dogs, were messing up, and the human mess-ups were stressing not only their own dogs but the other contestants. Each week, the dogs have clearly been the priority.
Way to go, CBS. And I hope that other networks are watching -- and learning.