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Pick of the Litter

TV review by
Joyce Slaton, Common Sense Media
Pick of the Litter TV Poster Image
Guide dogs learn their trade in lovely docuseries.

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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

This series demonstrates the positive effects dogs can have on people, and vice versa. Trainers and everyone involved with the dogs' training show heartening compassion for the animals in their care. "It's really hard to be a guide dog," says a trainer sympathetically, going on to add that when a dog doesn't complete the training program it's called a "career change" rather than anything less positive.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Animal trainers work hard to train dogs to help the visually impaired, and are greatly pained when the time comes for dogs to leave their care -- but keep going anyway. Volunteer trainers talk about their impact their dogs have had on their lives -- one says she used to be shy, another talks about feeling isolated in a small community but how much companionship a dog brings. A parent of children on the autistic spectrum reveals that the dogs help them de-stress and relate more harmoniously to other people. 

Violence & Scariness

Trained dogs protect visually impaired people from dangers like crossing streets; a client describes almost stepping in front of a bus as we see images of traffic. 

Sexy Stuff

The focus is on dogs and training, but occasionally participants talk about their private lives, like one young trainer who mentions being transgender and gay and feeling lonely in their small town at times. 

Language

One owner says her dog chewed her slippers "for the heck of it" and that's about as intense as the language gets. 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pick of the Litter is a series about trainers who teach dogs how to help people who are visually impaired. There's a lot of love flowing between humans in this series, and trainers and everyone else who comes in contact with the dogs treats them with heartwarming compassion, playing with them and petting them in between training sessions. The nature of training means that trainers will only have dogs for a limited period of time, and the moments when they have to return the dog to the program or give them to a client are painful; we see crying and hear about how difficult it is to say goodbye. We also see, though, the difference that the dogs can make for people who are visually impaired, as well as in the lives of their trainers. We get to know trainers on a personal level, including a teen trainer who is transgender and gay and feels isolated, but is soothed by a dog's love. "Heck" is the most intense language you'll hear. 

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What's the story?

Based on the documentary of the same name, PICK OF THE LITTER focuses on the trainers who shepherd dogs through the Guide Dogs for the Blind training program, and the dogs who graduate -- as well as those who drop out. Of the hundreds of dogs born each year to Guide Dogs for the Blind, this series follows six, and we watch as they grow from playful puppies to serious dogs with a job to do thanks to the dedication, love, and hard work of their trainers. 

Is it any good?

With its clear-eyed warts-and-all look at the Guide Dogs for the Blind training program, this docuseries based on the movie of the same name is a real treat for animal lovers. As we hear repeatedly, not every dog makes it through the rigorous guide dog training -- only 300 out of 800 born each year at the facility make the grade -- and watching dogs working diligently and then moving on or not in the program has the painful immediacy of athletes training for a big game. Even when they do make it, there's more pain still, as the trainers who spent an entire year turning them from puppies into guide-dogs-in-training now must say goodbye.

But there's joy, too: the glee on on a teen first-time trainer's face when her dog is accepted into the program; a trainer who feels isolated in their small town cuddling rapturously with the dog who's become a loyal companion -- and, in the end, the life-changing magic the well-trained dogs represent for the people who need their help. A Guide Dogs for the Blind client says that the day she got the call that a dog was ready for her was "the most joyous, happiest moment of my whole life thus far," glowing as she imagines the new freedoms that will be possible with a dog by her side. If you don't love dogs before watching Pick of the Litter, it's a sure bet that you will by the end of this moving, emotionally gripping series. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how lives are transformed by involvement with the Guide Dogs for the Blind program and the dogs they train. What satisfaction do you think they get from the work they do? Is it important to love the job you do? What about the dogs -- do they seem to love their work? 

  • What do you think the makers of Pick of the Litter wanted to express about the relationships between dogs and people? What did you take away? Did any preconceived ideas you had about dogs change after watching it?

  • Families can also talk about how the people featured in Pick of the Litter show compassion toward animals. Why is this an important character strength?

TV details

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