Tony Armstrong Loves Dogs As Much As You Do

We talk to the man of the moment about dogs, sleep schedules, and self-care.

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We once again give thanks to the person who came up with the idea of Tony Armstrong hosting a documentary about dogs.

And look, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who isn’t keen to watch Tony Armstrong do literally anything — after all, he’s an icon, he’s a legend, and he is the moment.

Combine that obsession with Australia’s love affair with dogs, and you get A Dog’s World With Tony Armstrong, a three-part series that digs into the science of what makes dogs unique: their fascinating evolutionary journey, why they’re the perfect human companion, and presumably, why they’re so adorable. 

In an interview with the man himself, Tony says that he was approached about being involved in A Dog’s World, he jumped at the opportunity. “I love dogs. Dogs are the best. That’s all I needed to know,” he tells Junkee. And while the show might seem sickly-sweet at first glance, he says there’s more to it than meets the eye. 

“I was kind of glad that it had some substance to it,” he says of A Dog’s World, which comes grounded in scientific expertise. “I think we package up really interesting information in a really nice way.”

There’s something it is for not just dog lovers, but people who love any type of animal. It’s more than what you’d expect. You actually learn stuff, which is good.” 

And guys, you definitely do. The show features the world’s top canine researchers from all over the world, who draw on genetics, neuroscience, and behavioural and physiological research to uncover what makes dogs and their relationship to humans so unique. You also get to see a bunch of adorable pups participate in experiments, including one where they’re prompted to try and rescue their owner! Poor little pups. 

“Everything I Do Is A Learning Curve”

A Dog’s World is the AFL player turned ABC News Breakfast reporter first time hosting a documentary series. “It was really exciting,” he says. “It’s a little bit different [to other documentaries] in that it’s not necessarily me going around and interviewing people. I kind of stitch it together — that is my role. To get us from one bit to the next,” he says, stressing that it’s the scientists who take centre stage. “But I had a lot of fun. Hopefully, there’s more down the track, we’ll see what happens.”

“I love dogs. Dogs are the best. That’s all I needed to know.”

It’s worth mentioning that Armstrong comes off as very friendly and normal, especially for someone experiencing his level of fame. He responded to the many instances of background noise outside of my flat — including a procession of garbage trucks — with kindness and good humour. “Are you on the road?” he queried after I apologised for a sudden burst of car honking. “I’ve heard that’s a shocking spot to conduct an interview.”

Perhaps that unfazed, roll-with-the-punches energy is what makes the sports reporter’s presence on our TV screens such a joy to watch, and explains how he went from AFL player to ABC News Breakfast sports reporter in only a few years.

“I just kind of went for it,” he said when I asked how he developed his documentary voice, before joking that he obviously took some inspiration from David Attenborough. “Everything I’m doing is a learning curve, and this is another one. I’ve got an inquisitive mind, but I don’t have any formal education behind me at this stage, so I just did my best.”

The Emotional Toll

As Armstrong remains one of the few high-profile Indigenous people on mainstream TV screens, he bears the burden of commenting on big heavy issues such as racism in the AFL and Indigenous Deaths in Custody. “When you’re commentating on sport and you’re commentating on sociopolitical stuff, unfortunately — every day, really — there’s bad stuff happening, and there are a few of us who are in that public position that get called on to commentate,” he explains.

“It does take an emotional toll,” he says. “It gets exhausting.” A Dog’s World, however, offered the sports reporter a break from the grind. “The nice thing about A Dog’s World is that I could kind of just park having to worry about the fact that [racial politics] could rear its head within the confines of the show.”

In working on a relatively light and joyful project, Armstrong found a sort of resting place where he didn’t have to think about politics or his identity as an Indigenous man on Australian TV. “While I was working on it, I didn’t have to worry that about — oh my god, is this dog going to say something cooked?” he says. “It was nice to know I wasn’t going to be called upon”.

Between waking up at 3:30am for ABC News Breakfast, making appearances on The Project and The Weekly, and doing press, Tony doesn’t mince words when asked how he’s coping with the trappings of success. “Oh yeah. I mean, I’m fucked,” he laughs. “I’m so tired, all of the time.” 

And while he has a bit of a sleep schedule happening — sleeping for a couple of hours after his breakfast shift and then going to bed at around 10pm — he’s only just managing to keep a “full-blown mental breakdown” at bay.

“In all seriousness, I need to get better than I was last year,” he says. “At the end of [2021], I was just running on fumes. I just need to get better at taking the time to make sure I don’t burn the candle too hard.”

Please do, Tony Armstrong. The world needs you, and it needs you good and well.

A Dog’s World With Tony Armstrong is available to watch on ABC iView. 

Reena Gupta is Junkee’s culture writer. Follow her on Twitter.