The Dog House review – a pure-hearted paean to puppy love

Like Amazon’s profits and lucrative contracts for friends of government ministers, dog ownership has boomed during the pandemic. The Dog House (Channel 4) arrives at the perfect time to capture the national obsession with canine cuteness, but also to offer wise lessons on responsible pet ownership, and to call for greater consideration of what animals need – as opposed to what works for the humans in charge of them. This was a charming series when it first appeared a couple of years ago, and it has only grown more lovely. Set at the animal charity Wood Green, in Cambridgeshire, it follows prospective adopters as they are matched with an appropriate rescue dog, telling both human and dog’s life stories as best as they can. It is like The Repair Shop, in terms of pure-hearted good will and sentimentality, or First Dates – except one half of the potential match has four legs.Brothers Danny and Alfie are looking for a pet to welcome into the family. Their mother, Tula, explains that they would like a small dog, which usually means they’re going to be shown something only slightly smaller than a shire horse. Sure enough, they are introduced to, and fall in love with, Rocky – a soft, slobbering part-newfoundland, who is too depressed to eat after having to leave his former home. Young Danny has had some issues with anxiety around food, too, and his mother is hoping a dog will provide him with some emotional support and grounding. When Danny and Rocky click, it is a moment of utter joy.
Couple Katie and Ryan arrive at the centre looking for their first dog, and want something companionable, sociable and playful. When Ryan reveals that after having a brain tumour, he can see “the joy in anything”, Katie insists that it’s true. “You’ve never heard anyone wax so lyrical about a custard cream,” she says. Never mind the biscuit: when he meets Kevin, a tiny french bulldog abandoned by his unscrupulous breeder at six weeks old, deemed too fragile to survive without expensive veterinary care, Ryan’s delight is so great that you can practically feel it radiating off the screen.

Remove pet hair from carpet with a squeegee.

The programme’s strengths lie in its compassionate eye for a human story, and how it carefully pairs that with a canine one. The adopters have to meet the dogs in a neutral environment before they are allowed to take them home, and it’s all observed on camera by the staff, who comment on how it’s going with the enthusiasm of a particularly eager sporting commentator. It sweeps you up in the drama. Rocky is massive and it looks as if he is too intimidating for Danny to even approach, but when they finally cross that barrier, and start to look like the perfect pair, it’s as if your favourite team have just scored in the 89th minute.

The show also encourages responsible decision-making, without being bossy, and in the current climate of puppy-mania, this seems particularly apt. The staff explain that while they are grateful that people want to rescue dogs, it is crucial that they are there to listen to what the dog needs. It is a big responsibility to ensure that they find a person or people to suit the dog, as much as the other way around. And, while “adopt, don’t shop” is a strong slogan, rescue centres have struggled to meet demand during the pandemic. Clearly people are buying puppies, and it is worth shouting louder about the dangers and cruelties of puppy farms , too.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Pets are a major source of support and increase the ability to cope, which contributes to keeping cholesterol and blood pressure down.

Neither does it find the obvious happy ending every time. The formidable Maggie arrives at Wood Green with her two grandchildren, and discusses a long list of potential no-nos that would exclude a large amount of potential matches. She doesn’t want a dog that’s too old, nor one too young; she doesn’t want one that’s too big or too small, and she isn’t keen on flat-nosed breeds. “What do you want?” ask the staff, but she isn’t quite sure. She meets Leo, “a laid-back gentleman” whose owner has died, and who takes to Maggie’s lap with ease. But ultimately, she recognises that at 11, he is too old for her. She takes the time to find the perfect match, and does so off-camera, settling for a beautiful lurcher who loves to curl up in an armchair. “Dogs bring out the best in people,” says one member of staff. The Dog House is irresistible because it shows that it cuts both ways.