This is my dog gift to you this holiday season: four short films about dogs to raise spirits, inform, and inspire. They are all available online, some for free.

Whether your family is a joy or the pits, these family friendly dog programs are a way to spend time with the family without spending time with them, if you catch my drift.

Making Dogs Happy, Catalyst, View Part 1 and Part 2

“The dog is man and woman's best friend, but how good a friend to your dog are you?” asks Catalyst science broadcaster, Jonica Newby. What makes dogs happy, and are we providing it?

Presented in two parts, Making Dogs Happy covers things that matter to dogs: science-based training that benefits dogs and people, subtle indicators of stress often missed in dog behavior, the meaning behind the dog’s ‘guilty look,’ as well as Doglogbook, an app that monitors and maximizes dog well-being. We are also introduced to ‘dogmanship’—a concept Elyssa Payne and Paul McGreevy from the University of Sydney are unpacking: what are the human characteristics “that may help or hinder us in our quest to train and bond with our dogs.” Do I—or you—have what it takes to make dogs happy? 

The good news is, we can always learn! In Making Dogs Happy, regular dog lovers discover learning theory and the tools of effective interspecific communication. People learn about “reinforcers” and how to identify what is reinforcing to their individual dog. Then, people learn to deliver reinforcement promptly. With this in the bag, people apply these techniques in a number of contexts including teaching their dog to find their keys or phone. You heard me. Everyday people train everyday companion dogs to find their stuff. Even better, anyone can learn to do this as the seven short training steps are listed on the Catalyst website.

If you are a regular here at Dog Spies, you’ll see familiar faces in Making Dogs Happy such as my Do You Believe in Dog colleague Mia Cobb and her monkey Fraggle of a dog, Rudy, as well as "Being a Dog" author Alexandra Horowitz and Paul McGreevy, who’s behind Doglogbook and dogmanship.

Making Dogs Happy is an upbeat and informative program with the added bonus of Australian accents. 

(Part 2 on YouTube seems to cut off toward the end, so it's better to watch Part 2 here).

Second Chance Dogs, view on Netflix

“I'm not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”  ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Puppy mills. Hoarding situations. Some dogs find themselves living in horrendous conditions. Once removed, many dogs simply can’t brush it off and say, “Oh gosh! Thank you for removing me from that place of horror. But that’s behind me. Let’s get on with the fun!” Instead, studies find that many undersocialized dogs continue to lead difficult, fear-based lives. 

Second Chance Dogs follows six fearful dogs as they learn the world is not a terrifying place. Go behind the scenes of the ASCPA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, the first shelter facility dedicated to the rehabilitation of undersocialized and fearful dogs. I covered the Center in more detail back in April.

Behavior-modification plans, not magic, transform the dogs’ outlook on life. “By implementing behavior treatments based on sound scientific principles, we’re able to help the vast majority of these dogs overcome their fears and become comfortable with normal pet activities like walking on a leash, enjoy petting, and playing with toys” explains Kristen Collins, the Center’s Senior Director.

Watching exceptional behaviorists and trainers at work is a joy, and with incremental steps, dogs make incredible progress. Keep tissues nearby.

A Dog Named Gucci, Numerous ways to view the documentary

In 1994, an Alabama puppy who was horribly abused came to pave the way for changes in domestic animal abuse laws. The 2015 documentary by Gorman Bechard, A Dog Named Gucci, tells the story of a resilient dog and his new owner, Doug James, who worked to strengthen Alabama’s animal cruelty laws. A touching documentary on decreasing animal cruelty in our society. 

Shelter Me, Episodes available at shelterme.tv

Shelter Me is a series of uplifting stories about shelter pets and the human-animal bond. It makes you wonder: Is there really such a thing as a “shelter dog”? After all, once removed from the shelter setting, “shelter dogs” are, well, like any other dog, capable of doing all the normal and exceptional things that dogs do. 

Six episodes share inspirational stories of dogs and other companion animals as they move through the shelter system and enter new lives. One episode highlights U.S. veterans affected by PTSD who benefit from being paired with ex-shelter dogs, and in another episode, dogs leave the shelter to work in search-and-rescue. Shelter Me, of course, is not only about dogs. Rabbits “speed date” to see who they get along with, and Cat Cafes take cats for adoption and free up space at high-volume shelters. There are also the many people sharing their talents and expertise. In one episode, Patrick McDonnell, creator of the popular MUTTS comic strip, visits Animal Care Centers of New York City (ACC) to find stories to share with his readers.

Throughout, the Shelter Me series showcases the many ways shelter staff work to enhance the well-being of their temporary residents, from training and environmental enrichment to dog-dog play and socialization activities. Shelter Me is a vivid reminder that shelter dogs are actually just dogs. 

Episodes available here, and below is the trailer for Episode 3: 

Happy holidays!