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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pick of the Litter is an upbeat documentary about training dogs to be service companions for the blind. While it's not specifically aimed at kids, it's tame enough for viewers of most ages. The tone is definitely positive, but kids might be a little sad when puppies get "cut" from the program and/or change ownership, since the idea of losing a pet or having someone they love leave and not come back can be upsetting. Kids will learn a lot from watching -- both about how the guide dog program works and about the issues that sight-challenged people deal with regularly. The latter in particular will encourage kids' empathy and expand their understanding. The movie is also a wonderful way to open up a dialogue about community service and the importance of teamwork. Expect to see a few scenes of a couple drinking wine during a trip and hear single uses of "jerk wad" and "God" (as an exclamation).
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What's the story?
PICK OF THE LITTER shines a light on what goes into raising a guide dog. Directed by Dana Nachman (Batkid Begins) and Don Hardy Jr., it follows one litter of puppies bred into a career of service work in the Guide Dogs for the Blind program, starting from their birth and tracking them through 20 months of training. Cameras follow puppy siblings Poppet, Patriot, Potomac, Primrose, and Phil as they experience the challenges of obedience training that goes well beyond what's expected from your average pet canine. The cameras capture the excitement, disappointment, heartache, and joy of the community of volunteers who dedicate months of hard work in hopes of delivering a guide dog who will be able to protect and improve the life of a sight-challenged person.
Is it any good?
This easygoing, upbeat documentary is a treat for dog lovers.Pick of the Litter is all about all the time, effort, sacrifice, heartache, hope, and love that go into teaching a guide dog to be a helpful companion for a sight-challenged person. This is a a subject that most people probably haven't given much thought to, and getting insight into the rigors of training one of these dogs is enlightening. And while you may be drawn in by the puppies, it's the human volunteers who drive the story. Many people are involved in the lives of training just one dog -- and those people experience not only joy from their involvement, but also heartache when the inevitable happens and they must return their "student" back to the organization. (Those emotional pangs help balance out the puppy fever the movie sparks.)
The movie's information can feel a little too breezy: Sometimes it seems like it could be a presentation video titled "So You Want to Be a Guide Dog Trainer!" And for a film that's all about dogs learning stringent obedience training, it's disappointing that there are no specific takeaway lessons. (For that matter, no information is offered on how to become a trainer family, which feels like a missed opportunity.) But with a brisk 81-minute run time, it does provide a snackable, captivating experience that will likely open viewers' minds, hearts, and opportunities for awwwws.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Pick of the Litter's subject material. Do you prefer documentaries about animals to those about humans? Why or why not? Who did you connect with most in the film: one of the dogs or one of the humans?
What didn't you know before about the life of someone who is blind? If your vision were limited, how would it change your life? Is your vision is limited, how has it affected your life? How does hearing the stories of people who are visually impaired increase your empathy?
How do the Guide Dogs for the Blind staff and at-home trainers demonstrate teamwork to get each puppy to achieve its full potential?
The trainers, who serve as human "parents" to the puppies, are the most invested in whether the pups achieve guide dog status. Do you see any similarity to how parents and kids approach school, grades, and/or the college application process?
Why do people volunteer for community service? How do you think you could help your community?
- In theaters: August 31, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: December 4, 2018
- Directors: Dana Nachman, Don Hardy Jr.
- Studio: Sundance Selects
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Cats, Dogs, and Mice
- Character Strengths: Empathy, Teamwork
- Run time: 81 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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