Looking Closer, column two (Top Dog Model)

WHILE I was having a TV dinner with a friend several weeks ago, I noticed her paying much more attention to the screen than usual. Her expression was a mixture of dreaminess and sneakiness, like she wanted to keep whatever she was watching all to herself. I put on my glasses and realised what had caught her attention.

He was tall, dark, and muscular; exotic, clever and obedient. Sound like the perfect guy? Well, he is… except that he’s a dog.

His name is Simba, he is a 9st 6lbs Leonberger, and he was recently crowned winner of the first series of ITV2’s Top Dog Model. The creators of the show set out to combine the glamorous world of modelling with Britain’s love of dogs. They were looking to find themselves the next ‘Claudia Sniffer’, ‘Elle Macfurson’ or ‘Cindy Pawford’. To help with such a momentous task they enlisted the help of ex-X-Factor star Stacey Solomon, fashion model Lilah Parsons and Addison Witt, a dog agent (all the way from Hollywood).

From that first accidental viewing, I immediately found myself sucked into this ridiculous, yet entertaining world of canine modelling. What I found most intriguing about the whole affair was how seriously everyone took it. I watched dog owners fall to pieces – a display of emotion you’d expect  upon receiving news of a death, not upon being told ‘Sorry, but this isn’t a very good picture of your dog.’

The thing that really took the biscuit for me was the way the judges critiqued the dogs after their ‘modelling’ assignments. I witnessed a dog being sent packing because, well, she ‘didn’t convey the right emotion’ in her photo. That really stumped me. One of the dogs had to convey an appropriate emotion for a ‘get well soon’ card. How does a human even make a face to sell that? Did they expect the dog to turn around saying, ‘Aye, no bother’ and then sport a different facial expression for each frame? You could literally take a dog, sit it in front of you, and as long as your tone of voice was calm, tell it they’re the ugliest bloody thing you’ve ever seen in your life and they’ll still look at you in the same way: tongue out, tail wagging, none the wiser.

In the same episode, the dog’s challenge was an underwater photo shoot, shot by Seth Casteel, who is, apparently, the world’s leading underwater dog photographer. I wonder how he found out he was good at that? Upon hearing his job title, I suddenly felt less worried about my employment prospects after uni.

Now, I am not a TV snob. I find myself emotionally invested in the lives of fictional characters and I watch the X-Factor every weekend. And yes, it was nice to see all of the pooches, large and small, being very cute and dog-like in Top Dog Model. But I genuinely worry about how far we will go. What will be in store for reality TV next? As humans, it seems we’re constantly on the look-out for easy entertainment, especially on those days where the telly is your best pal. But how long will it be before modelling dogs and the ‘stars’ of shows such as The Only Way is Essex and Geordie Shore aren’t enough for us? Will we soon start to crave more, envisioning less gory versions of the Hunger Games as our next big fix?

The positive thing about Top Dog Model is that, unlike the other reality shows mentioned, something actually came out of it. Simba got a ‘modelling contract’ and now his owner has his fortune sorted as the big guy struts through the latest Cif advert – where, by the way, he outshines his fellow (human) actress. So it’s all good in doggy land.

Saying that though, I can’t think of anyone (dog or human) who will suffer if the first series of Top Dog Model is also the last one.

By Zoe Storrie, Columnist
(Published: Issue Two, November 2012)}