Opening ShotsFEATURESAbout NYRM

Modern Dog

Circulation: 66,000
Date of Birth: October 2002
Frequency: Quarterly
Price: $4.95
Natural Habitat: Next to the designer bag used to carry the beloved dog from the high-rise Manhattan apartment to the town car below

By Michele Wilson

Of the two kinds of dog-people in this world—those who simply prefer their furry friends over cats, and those who push Muffy in a stroller and unquestioningly consider her part of the family—I fall somewhere in the middle. I can understand how a $41-billion pet culture exists in the United States, but I don’t quite get the behavior of what I call the dog extremists: people who dress up their dogs or carry them around in tote bags, or even the ones who let them lick clean the dinner plates.

Expecting to see those very people in the pages of Modern Dog, I was surprised to find, instead, a publication that is not by and for the dog-obsessed, but one that offers entertaining, engaging, newsworthy stories. Some of its content does border on quirky or even strange, and the ads blend with the articles a little too much for my taste, but in general, the glossy quarterly offers something for every breed of dog lover (and some cat lovers, too).

Based on look and feel alone, it’s clear the publication has some heft to it, figuratively and literally; it weighs in at nearly 150 perfect-bound pages. One flip through it and you can actually feel the bulk of its 50 pages of advertisements. With all those ads, it’s sometimes tricky to tell where the narration ends and the selling begins.

In a recent issue, the nine feature stories and three short columns all shared space with at least one ad, and many of the full-page ads faced full or partial stories. In the back of the book, the “Modern Dog Marketplace” offered 10 pages chock full of ads for everything from holistic dog food to personalized dog treats. I suppose it’s not entirely fair to punish a publication because its ad team knows how to sell, but the distinction between editorial content and advertisements could be more obvious.

That doesn’t mean the publication isn’t eye-catching and beautiful, with full-color images throughout. And Hollywood celebrities like Paula Abdul, Ellen DeGeneres and Tori Spelling who have graced Modern Dog’s cover make it easy to mistake the glossy for a canine Vogue or a classier Us Weekly.

But Connie Wilson, the publisher and editor in chief, seems to understand that having a good-looking publication with a celebrity on the cover might get readers to pick it up, but to get them to return every quarter, the magazine must inform and enlighten. Modern Dog accomplishes this with a mix of serious and entertaining topics.

Take the winter 2007 issue. It includes stories about an animal shelter in San Francisco, the transition period when dog owners become parents and the outcry over dog fighting, keyed to the scandal involving football player Michael Vick. A veterinarian answers reader questions about dog health problems, and five trainers offer their advice on canine behavioral issues.

Modern Dog does sometimes cross the line between informative and over-the-top. The pictures of dogs in the “latest” styles—a Chihuahua in a blue wig and sequined top, a French bulldog wearing a tuxedo and top hat—look silly. And the two-page column called “Ask the animal psychic” makes me question how serious the magazine is trying to be.

Despite its sometimes unintentional silliness, Modern Dog declares that it has a worthy goal. “A large part of Modern Dog’s mission is to support the efforts of organizations that work tirelessly to assist abused, neglected or homeless dogs,” reads the website. The magazine doesn’t accept advertising from known puppy mills where dogs are, in effect, mass-produced and sold, and it strives to get the message out about donating to animal-rescue organizations.

Perhaps the publication does exude some dog-extremist qualities—“I believe that our dogs give us a truly amazing gift,” says Wilson in the Editor’s Letter of a recent issue. “They help us to evolve spiritually, enabling us to see more clearly our interconnectedness with other people and species, and the world at large”—but that doesn’t hamper the entertainment value of Modern Dog. In an age when negative often overshadows positive and politics trump everything else, the publication offers a friendly, refreshing perspective, with some cutesy canine flair.


About | Site Map | Archive | Masthead

Copyright © 2008
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
George T. Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism | 2950 Broadway, NY, NY 10027