Like most dog lovers, whenever I see anything on TV that features a dog, it's guaranteed to catch and hold my attention. If that happens to be an old Turner Classic "Lassie" movie, before I know it I'll have dropped whatever I was doing and ended up watching (for the 100th and who knows how many times) the heartwarming story of a dog who fights insurmountable odds to return to the master she loves.
Or as happened last week, while online I might just as easily get pulled in by one of the "The Doberman Gang" movies featuring an incredible team of dogs trained by the late Karl Lewis Miller. While these low-budget films aren't as compelling as the big studio "Lassie" movies and are clearly lacking in the dialogue and acting department, they do contain some of the greatest dog training work ever done for the movies by a master in the genre. (Miller also trained the animals for "Babe," "Beethoven" and "Cujo.")
Then we have the talking dog movies. Except for "The Incredible Journey," which I'll watch repeatedly because of my childhood love for the book and my affinity for old golden retrievers, I find myself unable to give most of these movies more than one viewing (to see how the dogs are trained) because I find the computer-generated moving mouths so disturbing. No wonder people anthropomorphize their dogs.
That brings me this week to the disenchantment many in the dog community are having with the way some dogs are being used in TV commercials and the fear that the advertising agencies and the companies they represent may often be giving dog owners the wrong message.
For instance: The sight of a young puppy sliding out of control on a slippery floor that pratfalls spinning and crashing off a wall and into his food bowl may get big laughs, but it's enough to make a breeder cringe and threaten new puppy buyers that allowing puppies with delicate joints to practice this behavior will void their health guarantees. With repairs for cruciate tear injuries now the No. 1 performed orthopedic procedure, that goes double for the commercial featuring the new treat container that acts like a launch pad to shoot treats high into the air so the dog can vault up and catch it. That's a trick that could permanently injure an underage or under-conditioned dog.
But if there was a commercial of the year award given for igniting a nationwide firestorm and causing dog owners, breeders and even some trainers to scream foul, it would have to go to the one featuring a child riding cowboy-style on a rearing mastiff in the popular chip commercial that began its run during the Super Bowl. Although it's a well-known fact that the image was computer-generated, many dog owners say that doesn't matter and that the general public is still being left with the impression that allowing a child to ride on a dog's back is acceptable. Some groups feel so strongly about this issue that they have taken their outrage to social media to advise people not only of the pain that can be inflicted on a dog's back, but also the danger that it poses to a child from a less than tolerant dog.
Some are even demanding that the chip company cease showing the commercial, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for that to happen. With advertising agencies taking an anything goes approach to capitalize on the selling strength of dogs, the protesters may have to be content with alerting pet owners to the potential for danger and take solace in the fact that in another commercial, the "e-trade baby's electronic devices were taken away for riding the family's golden retriever.
I'll have to admit when I first saw this commercial I didn't find it particularly funny, clever or even give it a lot of thought since in my line of work I deal with the child/dog dynamic on a regular basis.
Besides, I've been too busy being creeped out by the ad that shows dogs grinning with human teeth!
Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@ yahoo.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.