Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Second Look at the Puppy Bowl

It's that time of year again. Game fans are gearing up with a bounty of snacks and cold ones, eagerly awaiting the day where they all gather around the TV. I'm talking, of course, about Animal Planet's Puppy Bowl! What else could there be? ;)

I have to say that I am a big fan. People are shocked when I tell them that I get a real kick out of watching puppies play for almost two hours. What the heck is so fascinating about puppies playing, anyway?

There's plenty, especially if you're interested in canine body language. In addition to some instances of utter cuteness, as well as the occasional sight gag from Animal Planet (who could forget the streaking Chinese Crested?), Puppy Bowl is a gold mine for students of the dog. Of course, the best way to learn from this event is to have a text nearby or at least read, such as Roger Abrante's Dog Language or Brenda Aloff's Canine Body Language; both are excellent reference materials that I would recommend to anyone in a heartbeat. Once you know what to look for, you begin to see this puppy playtime as a giant social experiment and experience for them: what happens when I do this? What happens when I do that? That puppy is doing that, I'm going to try that too! Oops, shouldn't have done that. Oh well, what's that? The subtle cues dogs give each other--every lift of the eyebrow, tail tilt, or body shift--suddenly jump out at you, and you are now learning along with the puppies. Talk about a trip! How can you not get excited for Puppy Bowl now?

Yes, it's a great learning experience for we the students. The puppies are the ultimate beneficiaries, though. Every year when I watch the Puppy Bowl, I can't help but think that a whole handful of pups is going into the world with better social skills that most dogs severely lack, and will most likely never see. I think of all the "cute" dogs who were bought as a fashion accessory or a cuddly toy and will grow up terrified because they missed out on the critical socialization period in puppyhood. No, Puppy Bowl won't guarantee a perfect pup, but it will certainly get them started in the right direction.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm rooting for the Nordic puppies this year!