Let’s be clear: Every dog in the Netflix series Dogs is a special blend of hungry eyes, wagging tails, and flapping tongues. But some of the dogs in this six-part documentary series stand out above the others.
So I decided to make like a Westminster Kennel Club judge and rank the show’s top 18 dogs. This is, obviously, a subjective process. The following bundles of slobbering joy are the ones I deemed the best boys and girls, in order, as of this writing. Tomorrow, I could conceivably change my mind about who belongs in first place because, aww, all these pups are the best.
18. Santa (“Scissors Down”)
The “Scissors Down” and “Second Chances” episodes of Dogs are the major ensemble pieces of the docuseries, i.e. the ones that introduce us to the most furballs by name. (The fifth episode, “Territorio del Zaguates,” contains the most dogs numbers-wise, but there’s really only one, Max, that we get to know well.) Hence, the dogs from those two episodes dominate this list, starting with Santa, the pet owned by master groomer Kenichi of “Scissors Down.” We don’t spend a ton of time with Santa, but the fact that he has essentially the same hairstyle as Elaine Benes from early-’90s Seinfeld is reason enough to love him.
17. Tinkerbell (“Scissors Down”)
Tinkerbell is one of Kenichi’s clients, and she’s an adorable lap dog. But she’s also spoiled rotten. Her clothes are nicer than mine. Her bed is probably comfier than mine. (It’s so posh!) She even has a larger stash of Champagne than I could ever afford. And you can tell she knows it, too. If she were a human, she’d be maddening, but to be that entitled as a dog? That’s a level of confidence that’s kind of amazing, and also worthy of one of those dumb talking-dog movies that you can easily find on Netflix.
16. Herman (“Scissors Down”)
Here’s what I like about Herman, the canine cotton ball that Kenichi snips into shape in that Groom Expo West contest: He’s super-chill even though you can tell that he’s already had it with the American judge who can’t understand the way Kenichi pronounces Herman. Watch him during that fun little misunderstanding — he won’t even give that woman a glance.
15. Zeke (“Scissors Down”)
This is the dog that — spoiler alert — ultimately wins the freestyle grooming competition, and I understand why. If it’s possible for a dog’s fur to look like it’s having a bad, high-humidity hair day, that’s what Zeke looked like when his groomer, Cat Dotson, got started. But she turned him into a whole new dog, texturing his fur so that his two-toned coloring is runway-ready. He’s basically the Eliza Doolittle of Dogs.
14. Princess (“Scissors Down”)
This is the dog that Kenichi does a grooming demonstration with before he competes at Expo West. It’s a shame he didn’t compete with Princess instead: His artistry transforms her ears and head into a continuous fro of awesomeness that moves as one unit when her mom calls her name. If you saw that ear trick and didn’t say, “Awww,” either out loud or in your own head, you are the Ebenezer Scrooge of Dogs viewers.
13. Eva (“Scissors Down”)
Eva was robbed and so was her groomer, Miki, who came all the way from freakin’ Japan to compete in Groom Expo West. Look at that beautifully sculpted, absolutely darling face. How could she not place? The main judge notes how cute she is and seems like she’s leaning toward giving her a prize, but then another judge talks her out of rewarding Eva because, and I quote, she doesn’t like “her rear.” This isn’t an ass-judging competition, lady. It’s a grooming contest and a cute-off and Eva is a winner, dammit!
12. Penny Lane and her puppies (“Second Chances”)
When Anna from Hearts & Bones and her Texas rescue partner Whitney came across Penny Lane and her itty-bitty babies — who are wiggling all over each other like one big mound of puppy — I wanted to reach into the television and adopt them all myself.
11. Ichi (“Second Chances”)
People say New York is an unfriendly place just because it’s overwhelming and every once in a while, someone might yell a curse word in your face. And by someone, I mean a friend or co-worker. But New York really can be friendly, especially to dogs and dog owners. Ichi, the little head-turner owned by Hearts & Bones dog fosterer Kyla, is a classic New York dog, the kind who helps her owner make 20 new friends every time she takes her for a walk. Also, take note of her ears: They are absolutely perfect little triangles!
10. Every dog at Bistro Loves Dogs (“Scissors Down”)
I love every dog at this dog birthday party and every owner who believes that it makes complete sense to dress her dog in a denim skirt that matches her own. Every single animal in this restaurant has a look on his or her face that says, Good lord, what are we doing here? Oh, there’s food? All right, fine. I’ll keep wearing these dumb outfits.
9. Rider (“Scissors Down”)
Consider what this obviously anxious dog has to deal with: a groomer who thinks he’s a freak, and a demanding mother who at one point says, “You’re a Standard Poodle, for God’s sake. You’ll be all right.” Rider’s only crime is that he just wants to get the hell out of this grooming expo and go home with his mom. He’s basically a walking episode of Toddlers & Tiaras. Plus, the fact that he’s been dubbed “kind of a weirdo” immediately puts him in the top ten.
8. Jimmy Buffett (“Second Chances”)
This Australian shepherd was depressed and hypothermic when he was rescued in Texas. By the time he makes it to New York, where he’s adopted by Neal, Emily, and their very happy daughter, Julia, he’s a whole new dog. I love that Jimmy overcame a tragic past, was temporarily named after an artist whose music is associated with drunken revelry, and ultimately became part of a stable home. That’s a quality story arc right there.
7. D.J. (“Scissors Down”)
Why did you waste all that time reading What Color Is My Parachute? when all you needed to determine your career path was a dog? As Miki the groomer explains in this episode, that’s all it took for her: She spontaneously bought her pup D.J. and their relationship immediately convinced her to become a groomer. I love that D.J. is so inspiring. I also love that his own personal life goals are as follows: 1. Snuggle on Miki’s lap. 2. Continue snuggling on Miki’s lap until death. 3. Go to Doggy Heaven, which will consist of nothing but an afterlife version of Miki’s lap.
6. Stax (“The Kid With the Dog”)
Stax, the goldendoodle who’s been trained to act as a service animal, was already adorable enough. But pair him with his new best friend — a sweet little girl named Meghan with a condition called VACTERL, which makes it difficult for her to maintain balance — and he grows at least six times cuter that day. With a harness that comes with a handle for Meghan to hold on to, Stax not only keeps her steady, but it’s obvious right away that he makes her very happy. I mean, look at them. They are so precious I can’t even deal.
5. Max (“Territorio de Zaguates”)
Max is, like most of the dogs in the “Territorio de Zaguates” episode, is a stray now living on a Costa Rica animal sanctuary. He’s also a stray with such a fierce loyalty streak that he turns Jonny, the head farmhand at Territorio de Zaguates, from dog ambivalent into dog lover. Max is such a solid exemplar of the canine species that he even attacks a tapir to protect his fellow dogs. Know what I would do if I saw a tapir in person? First, I’d Google it because I’d have no idea what it was — note: it’s this and I have no interest in ever meeting one — and then I’d run like the heels of my shoes were on fire. Not Max. Because Max is a hero.
4. Justin Timberlake (“Second Chances”)
This is Justin Timberlake. He’s four months old. He was picked up for rescue after a car hit him, breaking his leg and fracturing his pelvis. And every time he looks into the camera, I can swear I hear “In the Arms of the Angel” by Sarah McLachlan. May you find some comfort, sweet, sweet JT.
3. Zeus (“Bravo, Zeus”)
Zeus is a stunning Siberian husky, which makes the fact that he’s stuck in war-torn Syria all the more tragic. As you watch the episode focused on him, you get the sense that he’s like the dog version of The Matrix’s Neo: He’s a Chosen One. He was put on Earth to play with Syrian children; sing for his owner, Ayham, over Skype; and eventually escape to become Ayham’s companion once again. Bravo indeed.
2. Rory (“The Kid With the Dog”)
I like cats. I swear that I do. But can you imagine such a thing as a medical service cat? As soon as you had a heart attack, the cat would be like, Ugh, do you have to do this right now? I’m really busy licking my right paw. Dogs, though, are remarkable service animals. That includes Rory, who becomes the new BFF of Corinne, a sixth-grader with epilepsy. It’s amazing to see how quickly Rory goes into savior mode and barks when Corinne merely pretends to have a seizure. But what makes Rory even more special is that she’s also an instant comfort, quiet literally providing Corinne with a furry shoulder (or head, or belly) to lean on when she’s had a rough day.
1. Ice (“Ice on the Water”)
As I said earlier, this is a subjective list. But subjectively, Ice is the best dog in Dogs because he typifies the quality most valued in a dog: He is loyal. Every morning, he gets up to go fishing with his owner, Alessandro. He pays regular visits to his neighbors in his Italian village. He has resting steadfast face, so there’s never a moment in this episode when he doesn’t look noble, like a dog who is taking his dog responsibilities very seriously. I mean, look at him in the above photo: He sits at the kitchen table with his family like he owns the place, just paid the mortgage bill, and has some thoughts about how to redesign the living room to achieve more of a feng shui vibe.
Ice isn’t just a dog. As Alessandro says, he’s the heartbeat of the family. He’s also Alessandro’s rock, and he carries that title with so much dignity that you want to hug him, bow down to him, and salute him all at the same time.