Kids movie alert: Does Show Dogs groom kids for sexual abuse?

Show Dogs might be sending the wrong message to children about sexual abuse. (Open Road Films) (Riverstone Pictures)
Show Dogs might be sending the wrong message to children about sexual abuse. (Open Road Films) (Riverstone Pictures)

TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual abuse.

On 6 July, the 2018 family comedy Show Dogs will be released nationwide, perfectly timed for the July school holidays. But parents, you need to be aware of the international outcry, as the film includes scenes which some parents and experts feel might be grooming children for sexual abuse. Cause for Justice (CFJ) – a South African non-profit human rights organisation – fears the current age restriction of 7-9 PG LV is far too low. 

The film follows Max, a macho police dog, who has to go undercover as a showdog in a prestigious dog show with the help of his human partner, in order to rescue a kidnapped baby panda. Max is voiced by Ludacris and also stars Will Arnett, Natasha Lyonne, RuPaul, Stanley Tucci and Shaquille O’Neal, a great line-up.

The trailer doesn’t seem threatening in the slightest and it sounds a lot like Miss Congeniality with dogs for kids, but CFJ warns of a scene in the film that sends the wrong message to children about sexual abuse.

To qualify for the final round of the dog show, Max is required to have his private parts inspected. He is very uncomfortable with the unwanted intimate touching and wants it to stop, but is told to endure the discomfort by going to his ‘zen place’. And all for the sake of receiving the reward of qualifying for the final round and then rescuing the baby panda.

This is common practice at show dogs – yes, dog show judges do an up-close physical inspection of specifically male dogs, and those who do not have “two normally descended testicles” will be disqualified, according to American Kennel Club rules).

But CFJ said the movie employs the same tactics used by child abusers to condition children to allow and accept sexual abuse. “Abusers tell children to pretend they are somewhere else (like going to a ‘zen place’) and promise children rewards (similar to qualifying for the final round and rescuing the baby panda) for enduring the discomfort of the sexual abuse.”

CFJ said they were in full agreement with international groups and experts that agreed the film is and should not be sending confusing messages that endorse unwanted genital and other intimate touching, adding that it might also lead to the possibility of children reenacting these inappropriate scenes in a play fashion on house pets and other children.

“Children need to know that they have bodily autonomy and the ability to say ‘no’,” comments CFJ. Executive director of the organisation and legal counsel Ryan Smit adds, “This film arrives on South African shores at a time when child sexual abuse is a major problem in our society and equally worrying, child-on-child sexual abuse is on the rise. 

“South Africa faces alarmingly high levels of violence against children, including sexual violence. Sexual violence against children is not only perpetrated by adults against children, but also by children on other children. The current age restriction of 7-9 PG LV given by the FPB is dangerously inappropriate and socially irresponsible.”

CFJ has urged Nu Metro and Ster Kinekor not to play the film under the current age restriction after producers of the film said they would cut these scenes from the film – but hasn't yet. Both movie houses have yet to respond.

So before allowing your little ones, from as young as 7 years old, to watch the film, you might want to consider the message it might be sending, even if it isn’t intentional or directly so.

Are there any other so-called children's films you can think of that simply aren't for kids? Tell us by emailing and we could compile a list for fellow parents on the site.

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