Netflix’s documentary series Dogs is a surprisingly human portrait of people and their pets

The show reveals, to moving effect, how humans rely on dogs for more than just companionship.

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It didn’t take more than the title to get me interested in Netflix’s new documentary series, Dogs. But if you’re expecting a full-length viral video of kids writhing around in a playpen full of adorable puppies, think again. Documentarians Glen Zipper and Amy Berg show shrewd restraint across the six episodes.

We barely see Rory, the goldendoodle service dog for Corrine, an epileptic young girl from Ohio, for the first 20 minutes of the first instalment, “The Kid with a Dog”. Instead of focusing on the many adorable puppies learning how to be service dogs at charity 4 Paws for Ability, we get to know Corrine and her family as they wait for their dog, learning the specific challenges her epilepsy presents, and just how desperately she wants Rory in her life. In “Bravo, Zeus” we meet Berlin-based Syrian refugee Ayham, as he tries to get his Siberian husky, Zeus, transported from Damascus to be with him in Germany. In “Ice on the Water”, we see ten-year-old Labrador Ice – more stoic than cute and fluffy – as he helps his owner, fisherman Alessandro, prepare for tourist season in his Italian village on the shores of Lake Como.

There are episodes that show you a whole range of sweet, playful pups: “Scissors Down”, set in a Japanese grooming parlour, and “Second Chances”, which follows dog rescuer Anna as she ferries abandoned dogs from Texas to their new homes in New York. But each one avoids silliness and schmaltz by telling the stories of dog owners, giving us a sense of their vulnerabilities and their dreams, before showing us how their dogs have taken up such a crucial position in their lives. The show is more touching as a result. Ultimately, and to its credit, Dogs is a study in humanity first, and dogs second. 

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.

This article first appeared in the 28 November 2018 issue of the New Statesman, How the Brexit fantasy died