If you’re not watching ABC’s “Downward Dog,” you should check it out before it disappears. (ABC just announced that the show will be canceled after its seventh and eighth episodes air this week.) Martin, the narrator, does a pretty good job of capturing the cynomorphic take on the human-dog relationship. That’s the dog’s point of view.
Martin, a medium-sized mixed-breed dog, shares a home with Nan, a single woman with a demanding advertising career, an unreasonable boss, and a frustratingly immature and undependable on-again, off-again boyfriend. Martin chronicles the ups and downs of their relationship and his days.
While he might not speak for every dog in every instance, a lot of what he says rings awfully true: His assumption that Nan drives around all day in her car and his inability to understand why she’d want to do that without him; his hurt when he finds out the truth. His certainty that he has super powers when he can make the automatic dog door open (one of our dogs seemed to have the same take on it; the others either thought it was magic or just another way the lazy human staff tried to get out of doing their jobs; Cali thought a trainable ghost ran things). His conviction that he makes the rules in the relationship and sometimes has to show Nan who’s boss — by chewing up an Ugg boot.
One of my favorite parts so far is Martin’s soliloquy on why he is compelled to eat trash. I could just see Jana, my ultrafeminine princess who loved to roll in dead things, nodding in agreement. Sometimes, a dog’s gotta do what a dog’s gotta do.
The show doesn’t get everything right. For instance it leans too heavily on the assumption that, in a dog-human relationship, someone has to be “dominant.” And Nana’s character embodies way too many clichés about single women. But, though Martin is self-involved — like many dogs — he’s a lovable guide to the dog’s world.
I’ve spent years trying to understand how dogs see our relationships with them; I’ve tried with mixed success to teach students to consider the many angles and nuances of life with dogs from the dogs’ point of view. If I were teaching those students now, I’d use the eight episodes of “Downward Dog” as an imperfect but enjoyable presentation of one dog’s unique perspective.