Being a dog lover stuck at home during the pandemic, I watched Amazon’s “The Pack” as soon as it was available this November. “The Pack” is like “The Amazing Race,” except instead of individual competitors, participants bring their dogs on a worldwide adventure.

Typical of reality TV (but at least not attempting to hide it), the show starts in Los Angeles with a glitzy, star-studded intro that doesn’t quite match the rest of the season. Lindsey Vonn hosts the show along with her dog Lucy. Vonn is a World Cup champion in alpine skiing, but the show assumes the viewer already knows some details about her life. Vonn’s a documented dog lover who has used her adorable pups as emotional support to combat depression. As a largely isolated person living in a home with an emotionally supportive pug during the pandemic, I wish the show would have given a bit more background on Vonn and her connection with her furbaby Lucy. Vonn displays empathy for the contestants, including the pooches, throughout the season.

As the season progresses, we learn about the contestants and their bonds with their companions, including Lucy Riles, a mom with an emotional journey. Riles competes with her dog Duchess, and she reveals that when emotionally suffering after a miscarriage, Duchess knew how to comfort her and to gently encourage her to get moving and go outside again. As a chronic illness sufferer, I found this part of Lucy and Duchess’ journey relatable. When bedridden with presumed COVID-19 in March, my roommate’s pug Spanky would not leave my side. When I stopped breathing in my sleep, he pushed his paws on my chest until I woke up. When I couldn’t walk and had to crawl to the bathroom, he barked and wagged his little curly tail, cheering me on.

While I’ll never be physically capable of competing in such an adventure, it was easy to understand why each contestant had a special bond with their dog.

I also enjoyed the story of Mitra Yosri and her canine companion Bozley. Yosri discusses how her dog helped her cope with a move from Utah to Los Angeles, and how having the validation of Bozley’s love helped her overcome the challenges of attending school as an Iranian American in a post-9/11 world.

Safety in “The Pack”

I watched “The Pack” not just as a dog lover, but as a game designer. The show includes challenges which test the intellect and physical capabilities of these human/dog teams. (The humans, by the way, are never referred to as dog owners; instead, they are “partners” of the dogs.) Each human/dog team is part of one of two packs: blue and green.

Dog on leash

Dog on leash for safety. Credit.

Safety should always be the foundation of solid game design, and “The Pack” hits the mark. The show documents the participation of the Dog Safety Team, which ensures dogs are properly buckled in to any vehicles. Additionally, partners almost always have their dogs on-leash when outdoors, and the host and participants frequently mention the initial training the dogs received prior to competing. The show also has veterinarians on the crew.

In more than once instance, dogs display signs of distress during a competition, and the partners are the first to either take an alternate challenge route or opt to lose the challenge rather than harm their dog. In one instance, the showrunners make a clear call about the importance of dog and human safety, greatly impacting the outcome of the competition.

As Reality Blurred’s Andy Dehnart puts it, Amazon’s “‘The Pack’ cares for its dogs more than its design challenges.” Any skilled experience designer should do just that.

Included for Amazon Prime Members

“The Pack” is included in the Amazon Prime subscription. That’s great news for Amazon fans, and for people like me who require the accessibility of Amazon’s delivery services during the pandemic. However, the educated consumer should know that there are great ethical concerns about Amazon’s operations and the amassed wealth of its CEO Jeff Bezos, a man who could singlehandedly solve almost any problem in the world with his money.

“The Pack” is Family Friendly and Not Focused on Sex

Many reality shows focus on the sexual and romantic chemistry between the human contestants. “The Pack” avoids that entirely, allowing viewers to learn about the home lives and relationships of the contestants as time goes on. While I wish we had learned more about the contestants’ jobs, the focus on the human-dog bond and the lifestyles of the contestants and their dogs was heartening to watch. I have no doubt that each and every participant displayed their genuine connection with their dogs.

Again, the show also conveys a safety-first attitude. Even when asking drivers to move quickly, participants often say things like “safely, but quickly as possible.” In addition to safe dog handling and socialization, the general safety displayed on the show is ideal for families to see and practice.

Like many adult viewers, I enjoy steamy dramas and laughable, romance-centered reality tv shows. However, this alternative is refreshing, and also great for kids (rated age 7+) or for adults who prefer family-friendly content.

Two dogs

Two Dogs and a Ball. Credit.

Sometimes Dogs Poop

Have you ever watched dog competitions or shows and wondered about how and when the dogs poop? Amazon’s “The Pack” is pretty real about the call of nature. If a dog needs to urinate or defecate, they just do. The camera doesn’t show anything too gross, but it’s a fact of life that dogs need to go, even if costs them a place in the competition. Kudos to “The Pack” for keeping some of the real in reality television.

Overall, “The Pack” is a refreshing quarantine watch, worthy of consuming in one sitting. It has 10 episodes in its first season and is available on Amazon Prime Video. Worldwide locations are panoramic, and Amazon ponied up a million dollars for prizes and animal charity ($500,000 to the winner, $250,000 to the winner’s charity of choice, and $250,000 to locally impact charities where they visit).

Overall rating: 4.5/5 barks.