The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 1, 2008

Book review: Encyclopedia explores history of dog breeds

As we approach the “dog days of summer,” here’s a terrific new resource on dogs at the Joplin Public Library.

“Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds” by D. Caroline Coile is beautifully illustrated, with at least two good-sized color photographs of each of the 150 profiled breeds. Every breed recognized by the American Kennel Club, with the single exception of the Swedish vallhund, is covered.

The coverage of each breed includes its history, including the place of origin and original purpose of the breed and when it was recognized by the AKC. The “family” of the breed is also mentioned (spitz, terrier, mastiff, etc.) as well as the usual current function of the dog (like “water rescue” for the Newfoundland). The AKC popularity ranking is included as well, which may indicate both the likelihood of being readily able to find a dog of the breed as well as raising a caution flag for dogs that are very popular and may be being bred indiscriminately in order to provide sufficient stock for the demand.

Other information provided includes temperament (whether the dog is suited for life with children or other pets, or presents challenges with training or barking for example) and upkeep. It may be obvious that some breeds (like the poodle) have extensive grooming requirements, but it may not always be obvious that a dog has issues with heat or cold. In the case of the Chinese crested dog, an owner must be prepared to put sweaters on the dog when the temperature drops and apply sun block when spending time outdoors.

There is an illustrated breed standard for each dog, including coat color, foot shape, ear shape and carriage and so on including any disqualifiers from show standard, such as being over 12.5 inches or under 10 inches for the miniature pinscher.

Health concerns are addressed as well, broken down into major concerns, minor concerns, occasionally seen problems, suggested tests and normal lifespan for the breed. Of course, all dogs can get sick or have issues, but particular breeds are often more inclined to some problems. For example, elbow dysplasia and bone cancer are major concerns for rottweilers while gastric torsion is a major issue in Bernese mountain dogs. This information can help a potential owner check with a breeder on problems that run in genetic lines (like hip dysplasia in German shepherds) or to alert an owner to problems to watch out for in their dog.

One of the really nice and interesting features is the “At a Glance” box for each breed. Thirteen characteristics are listed and rated 1 to 5. The energy level, exercise requirements, ease of training, grooming requirements, and heat and cold tolerance ratings are helpful in selecting a dog based on what it will require in the way of care. The ratings on playfulness and affection level (which are ratings I’ve never seen anywhere else) tell you what you can expect the dog to give back to you.

There are also three separate ratings for friendliness — one toward dogs, one toward other pets and one toward strangers. Those, obviously, are geared to helping you match a dog to your particular circumstances. If you have other dogs and often have company, perhaps you should think twice about adding a Chinese shar-pei to the household. On the other hand, a shih tzu might be just the thing.

Want a dog that will alert you to strange goings-on? Lots of dogs are capable of that, some not so much. Want a dog that can protect you? Not all large dogs are protective, and some small to medium size dogs are. An Irish wolfhound is an imposing sight, but they tend to be too mild-mannered for protection. An Irish terrier may not be all that big, but they can be aggressive and very determined when confronted. Speaking of size, the last thing in the “At a Glance” box is height and weight, so it’s easy to sort through the breeds based on size if that’s a concern.

All in all, it’s a really good book on the AKC breeds with good general dog selection and care information thrown in for good measure. I heartily recommend it, if only for the great photography. Don’t miss the photo of the standard poodle that opens the “Non-Sporting Group” section!

If this interests you, you might find some of our other 300 or so items on dogs of interest, including the 90-plus AKC breed videotapes we own.

Linda Cannon is the collection development librarian at Joplin Public Library.