It’s a question as vital as whether the UK should remain in the EU: could a dog be trained to fly an aeroplane? What do you mean you’ve never thought about it before.
Well, Sky1 is here to set the record straight with a new reality show that sounds as if it were dreamt up by a deranged Alan Partridge brandishing a round of cheese. Never mind the stilton, smell the damp dog.
Constructed like a talent show (The Rex Factor?), abandoned and stray dogs at rescue centres around the country are auditioned by pooch behaviour expert Victoria Sitwell, dog scientist Adam Miklosi and animal trainer Charlotte Wilde. We’ll call them the judges.
The judges then decide which four dogs they’d each like on their teams, to fight for one of three places at “flight school”, where genius/bonkers animal psychologist Mark Vette will train the three remaining “contestants” how to pilot a single seater plane. He’s already taught a dog to drive a car, so he has form.
The show, presented by Jamie Theakston – no longer the bounding pup, but still a faithful retriever — has good intentions about highlighting the increasing problem of abandoned dogs. We’re told that each year over 120,000 end up at rescue centres, and how the overbreeding of staffordshire bull terriers has become a particular problem.
Each of the dogs chosen by the judges will be housed with a “loving family” once the series is over, and the judges are visibly upset at being only able to take four each, leaving many others to languish in the rescue centres.
In subsequent episodes we’re promised tests that will reveal the science behind canine behavior and the judges are strong on explaining the subtle negotiations needed to train a dog.
But always in the back of your mind is the voice saying, “But you’re training a dog to fly a plane!” So when one of the judges says, “dogs have such potential, people don’t know what they’re missing,” all you can think is, “They’re missing a dog that can fly a plane?” That will help getting to the supermarket on a Saturday morning.
Though I suppose they would make excellent guard dogs — what burglar would want to be dive-bombed by a shih tzu in a Piper twin prop?
Last Saturday, Radio 4 broadcast an interview with Wendy Hillings, who’s disabled and has relied for years on her carer, a golden retriever called Teddy, to help keep her alive and well.
It may be invidious to compare the output of Radio 4 and Sky1, but you can’t help feeling that it would have been sufficient of a talent show “journey” to take skittish rescue dogs and train them to look after disabled people. If not more fun, it’s definitely more heartening.
And if not for the dogs, do it for the presenter. Poor old Jamie Theakston looks as if he’s trying hard not to laugh when he announces, “We’re going to teach a dog to fly a plane!”
The fake situation is summed up by the fate of lively chihuahua Short Stuff, who’s biddable and trainable, but can’t take part as he’s, er, too short. It’s like Simon Cowell telling a fantastic singer they’re not through to the next round because they’re too fat. Back in your cage, Short Stuff.
What you have to ask yourself is, do we need another talent show? Or rather, do we need a talent show in which rescue dogs compete to see if they could fly a plane? I know my answer.
Dogs Might Fly starts on Sunday at 7pm on Sky1