Me and My Dog is “a contest like no other: a physical and mental competition for humans and their dogs,” declares presenter Chris Packham. And this is a TV show like no other.
With all the heart of The Great British Bake Off but with a fraction of the budget, a new BBC2 series brings together a pack of eight humans and their eight dogs for a series of ridiculous challenges.
Each contestant is aiming to prove they and their dog share the best relationship. But the canines competing in Me and My Dog are a pretty average bunch, and would hardly be A* students at doggy obedience classes. The humans aren’t exactly athletes either: they are just ordinary people who really love their dogs.
Each of these contestants has gamely agreed to spend four weeks in the Lake District with Springwatch’s Chris Packham and dog trainer Sian Ryan. On their first day they are handed one-size-fits-all red and yellow bibs last seen at a school sports day, at which point it becomes clear what a brilliantly amateurish programme this is going to be.
Take the nature slalom. Here, the red team tackles a series of gates constructed out of tree branches and wooden pallets, where the fiendish final challenge is to get your dog to go through the gate using only eye contact.
Some of the dogs go through, but to be honest it was probably a fluke. Most of the dogs just stare at their humans, bewildered, before running off or leaping up or lying down for a belly tickle.
But nobody can be angry at these dogs because they’re trying so damn hard to please, and they have absolutely no idea what’s going on. “Those caramel eyes were staring at me. They were trying to understand,” says Toni, who thinks her Labrador Flapjack is gorgeous (he is) but admits he is also very dim.
While the red team run around a field taking in the delights of the Lake District, the yellow team has drawn the short straw because their equivalent task involves jumping into a freezing stream to collect some balls, climbing over rocks and scrambling over a waterfall.
“This is quite a hardcore challenge isn’t it?” says Toni from the red team as she watches on. An understatement.
The humans jump in merrily, but not all the dogs are up for it. Zuri the Samoyed, for example, isn’t keen on messing up her hairdo (understandable, she’s gorgeous and fluffy).
Several of the dogs are just about willing to grab a ball, but bringing it back is another matter. Nineteen-month-old Douglas has his reservations about playing this game and is clearly wondering what his stupid human is doing standing in the water when it’s clearly too cold to go swimming.
He may also be wondering how to join fellow canines Flapjack, Monty, Betty and Benny on the red team, who don’t have to do this ridiculous task.
Oh boy, and then there’s the Dog Science segments, presented by a Dog Scientist in a little white tent in the middle of a field.
For some reason Dog Science isn’t widely studied in schools and at universities, but this is clearly a massive oversight because Dog Scientists have made big leaps forward in recent years and now they can even tell if your pooch is left or right pawed, or – in the case of Betty – ambidextrous!
Now they’re trying to get to the bottom of why that matters, and why dogs play-fight, and what exactly it means if a dog wags its tail a little to the left. I demand more Dog Science funding right away.
After a dose of Dog Science, the final challenge of the first episode involves tying dogs to the front of bikes and then pedalling along frantically behind them, trying to stop them from going off-piste. The fastest one around the course wins.
This is a great challenge for the big dogs and the fit humans, and not so great for the little dogs and unfit humans. The little dogs really have to sprint round the course with their little legs, while the more athletic dogs can just phone it in. Can this be fair?
But despite the (human) contestants declaring themselves “competitive” and “determined to win”, in Me and My Dog it’s definitely the taking part that counts. Andrew doesn’t even lose his cool when his Border Terrier Betty stops for a quick poo in the middle of the challenge. Everyone is genuinely rooting for each other, having bonded over a shared love of their pups.
“I think she’s done brilliantly. She gave her best,” says Daisy as she hugs Zuri, even though the Samoyed is bemused by the whole thing. Badger (aka Jenny) thinks Bodger is “ace”. Every dog owner thinks his or her hound is 100% the best dog ever to walk the Earth, so it’s going to take more than failure in a nature slalom or bike race to dent their self-confidence.
Chris and Sian also can’t resist giving the losing dogs bonus points for “effort”, because honestly who can look a dog in the face and tell him he’s not a good boy? He did his best! No dog deserves to come last!
Me and My Dog: The Ultimate Contest is honestly one of the best things on TV, and the good news is that there are three more episodes until the winner is crowned (though, from experience, getting a dog to accept having a crown on its head is not an easy task).
Even better, from the look of the “Next time on Me and My Dog” preview, things are just getting started. There will be cross-country running! And swimming! And paddle-boarding! And canine parkour! Forget Crufts – this has all the cute dogs and way more humour.
Four-part series Me and My Dog airs from Wednesday 5th April at 8pm on BBC2