The Puppy Bowl: Longtime referee on all the 'ruffing' and 'invasive sniffing' you won't see at the Super Bowl

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, 24, ranks as the fifth-youngest quarterback to start a Super Bowl in NFL history. But he’s a seasoned veteran compared to the adorable lineup of puppies preparing for Puppy Bowl XVI.

Dan Schachner is entering his ninth year as the referee for Animal Planet's annual Puppy Bowl. The 96 puppies participating in this year's event — unlike the human athletes in the Super Bowl — are very much untrained, Schachner noted.

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“The puppies need to be between 3 and 6 months of age,” he explained. “It's better if they don't know how to sit or fetch, and makes the play that much more entertaining to watch.”

“The network said, 'We know we really can't compete with the Super Bowl’s ratings, so let's just throw a bunch of cute puppies on a little field,'” longtime referee Dan Schachner explained of the show's origins.

“The network said, 'We know we really can't compete with the Super Bowl’s ratings, so let's just throw a bunch of cute puppies on a little field,'” longtime referee Dan Schachner explained of the show's origins. (Animal Planet)

The original Puppy Bowl started 16 years ago on Animal Planet as their first original counterprogramming to the Super Bowl, Schachner told Fox News. He noted that it was also first produced with low expectations because the network knew they weren't going to win the ratings that day.

“The network said, 'We know we really can't compete with the Super Bowl’s ratings, so let's just throw a bunch of cute puppies on a little field,'” said Schachner. "'It's cheap to produce, and easy to make.' Well, lo and behold, it started to gain viewership, and over the years, the ratings have increased, and millions of people tune in every single year.”

The referee might make calls including "fouling the field," “ruffing” the passer, invasive sniffing, and false “barks.”

The referee might make calls including "fouling the field," “ruffing” the passer, invasive sniffing, and false “barks.” (Animal Planet)

The number of puppies featured in the Puppy Bowl has more than tripled, too, from only 30 during the inaugural Bowl to 96  in 2020.

“When we first started Puppy Bowl, it was just puppies playing on a piece of turf," said Schachner. “They threw a couple of lines down, a couple of goalposts, and hoped for the best.”

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Originally there was no referee, he said, adding that the puppies have kept him busy over the past eight years. Schachner also said viewers could expect to see plenty of “fouling on the field," but it's a call he won't be making very often.

“Because peeing on the field is something that the little dogs do left and right,” said Schachner. “So, if I did showcase that call every single time, the entire Puppy Bowl would be the Poopy Bowl.”

The other calls viewers will see include “ruffing” the passer, invasive sniffing, and false “barks.”

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The most rewarding part of the job for Schachner, however, is the ability to see the impact of getting every single dog adopted. He's also especially proud that he can potentially save thousands of dogs' lives by giving these animals a showcase during the Puppy Bowl.

“When we first started Puppy Bowl, it was just puppies playing on a piece of turf, says Schachner. “They threw a couple of lines down, a couple of goalposts, and hoped for the best.”

“When we first started Puppy Bowl, it was just puppies playing on a piece of turf, says Schachner. “They threw a couple of lines down, a couple of goalposts, and hoped for the best.” (Animal Planet)

“When I first started Puppy Bowl, there would be between 500,000 and 600,000 dogs and cats sadly euthanized every single year because the overpopulation problem [was] so huge; that number is down to about 300,000 now,” said Schachner. “And it's still going down little by little, so there's definitely a great change. However, it remains a problem.”

Schachner suggests five things that viewers can do to help save dogs and cats across the globe, which include adoption, fostering, volunteering at local shelters, donating to shelters, and advocating for the animals at the shelters.

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The Puppy Bowl airs this Sunday, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. EST/12p.m. PST on Animal Planet. For more about the Puppy Bowl and its origins, watch the rest of Schachner's interview above.

Emily DeCiccio is a video producer and reporter for Fox News Digital Originals. Tweet her @EmilyDeCiccio.