After four years of calling the biggest game of the year – Puppy Bowl, that is – referee Andrew Schechter can tell which dogs are going to be good sportsdogs, and which are going to be a little rowdier on the field. “If a puppy comes out of the starting lineup gate and starts to nip a little, starts to sniff around, starts to tackle puppies, I know that’s a troublemaker,” he says. Schechter, who is also an Associate Producer with Animal Planet, gets to work on shows like Dogs 101 during the off-season, but it’s all in preparation for his biggest job, refereeing Puppy Bowl. PEOPLEPets.com caught up with Schechter during a break from Puppy Bowl filming.
What kind of training do you need to be a Puppy Bowl ref?
It’s a lot of hard work. I like to do a lot of TV watching, especially football, to watch referees. Some of the best in the, uh, other league, doing their thing. It’s all about keeping your composure. In the other league, they have football players breathing down their necks, and I have puppies licking my neck. When it comes to making an important call, I have to make sure I’m cool, collected and also show the puppies who’s boss.
Do they ever get upset with you?
There was one year where I threw the flag – I think it was an unnecessary ruff-ruff-ruffness call on a little corgi. I looked down, and my flag was gone. All of sudden, I was chasing this corgi around the field. I know that was the corgi saying to me that he didn’t agree with the call.
Do you have any preferences toward a specific breed? Do you ever have to think about a potential bias?
It’s an even playing field, always is. I make sure there’s no bias. Sometimes, out of the corner of my eye, I secretly have a soft spot, but that doesn’t show on the field, and my performance reflects that.
You’re a true professional.
Absolutely. In every sense of the word.
The puppies will be glad to hear that.
And puppy fans.
What’s going to be different about this year?
We always try to add new elements, and bring back fan favorites. The Water Bowl Cam is back again. To bring it up a notch even more, this year, we have chicken cheerleaders gracing our sidelines. We also have a Puppy Point-of-View Cam, which is going to offer the best view from all of sports. Also this year, we’re going to have a Kiss Cam. We’re going to find animals and humans kissing, animals kissing other animals, and we’re going to feature them. That’s on top of the Kitten Halftime Show, the Icebreaker Blimp and the playing.
Have any human audience members complained about calls you’ve made? Has it gotten to that point?
It hasn’t yet. Most humans appreciate the game I call. I like to do a fair game. I think people understand that it’s a dirty job. I’m up to my neck in puppies. I’m up to my knees, sometimes, in puppy fouls. And puppy fouls are the foulest of fouls, if you catch my drift. It’s a tough workday, but who can complain? I’m playing with puppies all day long.
Do you have any dogs of your own?
I don’t. Personally, I don’t think a dog would be very happy in my closet-sized New York apartment.
Plus, the objectivity thing.
Yes, I have to stay neutral. But the message of Puppy Bowl is – we have fun and it’s tongue-in-cheek – but it’s to get dogs adopted, from a local shelter, especially. Something that’s important about adopting is to know when you’re ready to adopt. I know I’m not ready to adopt right now. I think I’m making a responsible decision.
For any aspiring puppies who dream of making it to the Puppy Bowl someday, do you have any advice?
If you make it to the Puppy Bowl – and those puppies probably aren’t even born yet, because they have to be puppies! – I would say to just come out, have fun, and be yourselves. This is what this is about: natural puppy behavior. We let the puppies do their thing, and if they get out of line, I will be there to blow the whistle, but I will also be that puppy’s best friend if they behave themselves on the field. I just encourage natural behavior and having fun out there.
Do you watch the game when it airs?
All the time. The cool thing is that people have tailgate parties, Puppy Bowl parties. You can make a game out of it with your friends and family. How many times did the ref blow the whistle? How many dogs slide across the field?
Puppy Bowl drinking game, is that what I’m hearing?
I’m saying Puppy Bowl family game! Eat a potato chip every time something happens. I go to a tailgate party every year. A “tail” gate party.