Being the Ref for the Puppy Bowl may seem like all fun and games but getting puppies to play by the rules - in the most adorable way possible - comes with some interesting challenges. When you have more than 130 puppies there is a lot more happening behind the scenes than you realize.
I had the incredible opportunity to chat with Dan Schachner, the iconic referee of the Puppy Bowl, and it was eye-opening. Dan shared insights and stories that you simply can't get from just watching the game on TV. Here's your insider look at life of the ref himself .
1. Anything Can Score a Touchdown
Literally, anything can be used as a football to score a touchdown. According to the person who calls the plays, “Any little imaginable toy that could fit in a puppy's mouth is thrown onto the field, and that counts as a football.” And he does mean anything — from toys, to his foul flag, to pieces of the field!
In Puppy Bowl XVIII, "I got notified that I should shut down the field because 'Archer is up to no good.' He had chewed up the goal posts [...] It had this sort of foam thing around it. He had torn that up and had that running toward a touchdown, so he used part of the football field as a football!"
Previous players like Archer, in Puppy Bowl XVIII, have proven that even a piece of a chewed up goalpost can be used to score in the big game.
2. There Are More Puppies Than Ever
This year, Animal Planet is breaking the puppy meter with a record-shattering 131 pups making their grand entrance into the Puppy Bowl! Imagine the scene: a bustling arena filled to the brim with fluffy tails, floppy ears, and more puppy paws than you can count. It's like a puppy party of epic proportions, where every wag, woof, and tumble is more adorable than the last.
3. Some Adoptable Puppies Are Still Looking for Homes
Puppy Bowl boasts a 100% adoption rate, eventually. But hold your horses — it doesn't mean all the pups find their forever homes right off the bat. Dan explained, “We have actually a few dozen [from Puppy Bowl XX] that are still not adopted. So people think, oh, what's the point of trying to adopt the puppy bowl dog? They're all gone by the time it’s on. But that’s not true. There are adoptable dogs. I can say this for a fact.”
4. He's Super Into Rescue and Fostering Himself
If you haven't turned detective on the Puppy Bowl's Ref, you might not know this: he's a big-time hero in the rescue and fostering world himself! Yep, when he's not calling fouls and touchdowns in the furriest game of the year, he's out there being a champion for pups in need, giving them a temporary home and a whole lot of love.
"We've been fostering for 10 years, so dogs have been in and out of my house, and [during] that time we [have] fostered over 40 dogs. I'm proud to announce that I got them all adopted. I've learned a ton, and talk about variety; we have large and small and all types."
5. Puppy Bowl Has the Cutest Draft Process
While I was diving into the archives of past Puppy Bowl glory, a curiosity bubbled up within me: How do they pick which puppies get to jump into the spotlight? And OMG the answer is adorable.
“There's the Puppy Bowl draft that really requires us asking for a photo of the puppy in question. Next to them is a soda can, a 12-ounce soda can, so we get perspective as to how large they are. And that is their photo submission.” I think we can all agree that we need wallpaper of all these entry submissions, please.
The purpose of this adorableness? Perspective, “We're looking for as wide a range as possible to showcase all the amazing adoptable dogs out there. Often people go to shelters, and they don't realize what variety [of dogs] there are up for adoption.”
As high as 25-30% of dogs found in shelters are purebred, so whether you're looking for a mixed breed or purebred pup, they've got 'em.
6. The Entourage is HUGE
When filming happens, even though the audience isn’t there, that doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of people on set. “This year, we had a record-setting 131 dogs participate. A lot of those dogs have 1-2 people assigned to them.” Add that to a 100-person crew, and that’s a lot of people and pups!"
7. Puppy Bowl is Filmed in a Hockey Arena
Who would've thunk it? The Puppy Bowl unfolds in a hockey stadium. And here I was, too mesmerized by the puppy pandemonium to even wonder about the filming location. Dan directed us to his social where he posted a time-lapse of the process: "It shows the incredible process of how they transform. It's, I mean, it's a straight-up hockey arena, like you can see where the ice is laid down and these huge fan stands. But you know, in this time lapse, you'll watch the crew come in and convert it into the Puppy Bowl stadium. It's really incredible. So it's a huge space. And in this case, it's even more appropriate because it's our biggest year ever.”
8. The Ref is the Last Human Standing
The Ref is the last human left standing, as literally everything on the show has been taken over by dogs. "It's possible we're all fearful and paranoid about being replaced by puppies." From former human coaches (including Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg) to chicken cheerleaders and more, the staff of Puppy Bowl has been transforming... into puppies.
"Those cheerleaders have been replaced by puppies; it's all puppy cheerleaders. We would have a photographer, called the puparazzi, taking pictures of athletes as they joined the field. Those, of course, have continued to be there, and that has expanded. They are now hanging out in the parking lot prior to the show, where they can tailgate (yes, pun intended). The cameramen are dogs in the control room. There are dogs in the overhead blimp — we used to have a hamster in the blimp looking down at the action and getting the flip-side view of it. Now there's a dog up there."
Jokingly (and possibly a bit serious!) Dan said, "You guys, it's just a matter of time before these dogs know how to speak... and I'll be gracefully forced out of my position and replaced by dogs, and good! Because that means that there will be one more adoptable dog to showcase."
9. He Even Has a Puppy Assistant Ref
This year Dan Schachner has an Assistant Ref, and no surprise, his assistant is a puppy! She's a super fluffy poodle mix, and she's about two months old. He said, "My assistant's name is Whistle, and we've got her in red stripes. And she's helping me follow the action on the field."
The adorable pup assistant is eyeing his Ref Whistle already. If she masters the art of speech, consider his job officially in the paws of puppy power. The Puppy Bowl will transform into an all-pup affair, with the last man on two legs playfully nudged out of the spotlight.
10. He Gets a Pretty Good Workout, Too
Think it's just the pups getting their cardio in? Nope, the Ref is racking up those steps too! Dan found himself in an unexpected workout regime, darting around the Puppy Bowl. Before the whistle blew on his first game, little did he know he'd be signing up for the furriest fitness challenge of his life.
It's not just a game; it's a pup-led exercise extravaganza! According to Schachner, he was surprised by “just how physically taxing it is. I mean, you're the only human in a sea of hundreds of dogs. And there's a lot of ups and downs."
11. Oh, the Pee Pads!
And Dan's not the only one getting a workout. With 131 puppies, the pee pads are getting stretched to their limits as well. “A typical puppy bowl uses about 1,500 pee pads. This year, we’ve got about 1,500–2,000 pee pads." Talk about a mountain of pee! Just imagine being on that clean-up squad — armed with nothing but gloves, disinfectant, and determination, braving the adorable yet perilous pee pad landscape. It's the unsung hero's journey of the Puppy Bowl, folks.
12. Every Touchdown is Celebrated, No Matter the Team
Puppy Bowl throws the regular Super Bowl playbook right out the window! Here, every tiny touchdown is a cause for celebration, regardless of the team the scampering scorer is sporting. It's an all-cheer, no-jeer zone where the only rivalry is who can be the cutest MVP!
Schachner excitedly explained, "Excessive celebration is a win. That's like something we want to happen. So every touchdown is celebrated. I usually pick up the ball, [get] a little cute cuddle, and give them a little belly rub!"
13. He Loves Puppies, But Senior Dogs Also Have His Heart
It's no secret from watching the Puppy Bowl that Dan is head-over-heels for puppies. But he holds a super soft spot for the wise and whiskered senior dogs, too! He explained, "I had a beautiful special needs dog named Mugsy who was a senior dog, and seniors are my favorite fosters. I mean, I love having a puppy, but seniors are amazing because they may come with some problems, but they've also come to you with some life experience."
The Puppy Bowl Ref shared that one of the reasons he adores seniors is "they know what they know. They know what they want. They're often house trained, and they're more chill."
14. Puppy Bowl 2024 Is Going to be the Biggest Year Ever
While there's going to be a record-breaking number of puppies, they're also going to have a few giant puppies to love. “This year, we have our biggest [puppy] ever," Dan says. "Look out for him; his name is Levi. He's a Great Dane and 73 pounds, and that's a 73-pound, three-month-old dog. Just to give you perspective, he’s going to be huge."
Of course, the tiny cuties will also be around, "On the smaller side of the spectrum, a dog named Sweetpea, who is our smallest dog, at 1.7 pounds.”
How and Where to Watch the Puppy Bowl
Mark your calendars and set those reminders for Puppy Bowl XX, hitting the screen on Sunday, February 11, 2024, at 2 PM ET/11 AM PT! Gear up for a tail-wagging, 3-hour marathon of cuteness that's going to take over not one, not two, but three channels: Animal Planet, Discovery, and TBS. And for the cable-cutters among us, fear not! You can dive into the puppy pandemonium via streaming on Discovery+ or Max. It's a pup-stravaganza you won't want to miss!