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Book Review
Choosing a Dog: Your Guide to Picking the Perfect Breed by Nancy Baer & Steve Duno
Review by: Kate Connick, Oct. 2002

There was a time when it was virtually impossible to find any unfavorable commentary in print about different dog breeds. Although most breed-selection books are still very sanitized in their presentation of various breeds, the trend now is towards a bit more candor. Baer and Duno's Choosing a Dog: Your Guide to Picking the Perfect Breed pulls no punches in this regard. They present breeds as they have encountered them, warts and all. It is for this reason that I recommend that anyone in the market for a new dog read this book.

This book has occasionally been criticized for being too negative, but that is its very strength. Written by dog trainers who too often see the disastrous mismatching of owner and dog, Baer and Duno attempt to warn potential owners of the mistakes others have made. "By choosing the right dog you can avoid much heartache," they sensibly declare. It is not their intention to label breeds good or bad but to describe, from the perspective of dog trainers, how things can go awry for the typical pet owner seeking a pleasant pet.

Breeds are categorized by AKC group, which allows the authors to begin each section by discussing the commonalities within the group. Sporting dogs, for example, "should be owned by active persons who enjoy a busy dog." Most working breeds, "are large, dominant, strong... very territorial and require a confident owner with great leadership skills." Non-sporting breeds? "A collection of dissimilar breeds... None can easily be placed into any of the other groups." They then go on, within each group, to discuss the individual breeds.

Some of the information is dated, and the scope of breeds has limitations. Since the book's publication in 1995, Border Collies for example, have moved from the Miscellaneous Class (as indicated in the book) to the AKC's Herding Group. Similarly, Jack Russell Terriers are no longer in the Miscellaneous Class but are in the Terrier Group. Some of the breeds that are currently in the AKC's Miscellaneous Class, e.g., Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers or Beuceron, are not discussed at all. Nor are some relatively common, although not AKC recognized breeds, such as American Bulldogs. That being said, most of the breeds that one would encounter or be likely to investigate for ownership are discussed.

Each breed's origin and appearance are mentioned briefly. Then a breed profile, describing temperament and training challenges, is presented. Finally, the authors propose what constitutes a suitable or unsuitable home for the breed. Not only do they suggest whether the breed is appropriate for children but whether it would do well with the elderly or disabled, whether it requires a fenced yard, and whether it would be a good jogging companion. The information is a good summary of what is relevant to a potential owner. A simple, illustrative pencil-sketch accompanies each breed.

So what about my own breeds? Cesky Terriers, not surprisingly, are not found within this book (or almost any other, for that matter).

Regarding Boxers, the authors present a fair picture of the breed as "friendly, headstrong, high-energy breed that is very affectionate but easily distracted." They stress the importance of exercise, obedience training, and good leadership and suggest that the dogs may be too powerful for the elderly, disabled, or small children. They do mention that some dogs are aggressive towards people or other dogs, and to my amusement, they note that the dogs snore and pass gas. I don't expect an all-encompassing breed review in a book of this nature, and yes, if I had written the description it would read somewhat differently. That being said, their representation of the breed is reasonable.

The Scottish Terrier profile stresses the discriminating nature of the breed. "Though affectionate and personable with its own family, it is very discerning about other people... A one or two-person dog, it is likely to be dog-aggressive and suspicious of strangers." They stress the need for socialization, patient training, and avoidance of spoiling. And yet they note that the breed can adapt to apartments and fit well with older children, the elderly and the disabled if trained and exercised. Does it capture the full essence of the breed? Of course not, but it does in fact warn the potential owner that Scotties are not cute, cuddly little stuffed animals that can be treated as such. Again, it gives the potential owner meaningful information to consider en route to deciding on a breed.

I certainly don't agree with everything in the book, and I wouldn't expect to. As a trainer, I have my own biases. Some may relate to region (the authors are located on the opposite coast), some to the fact that the book is a few years old, and some simply to different experiences. And that's okay. I believe that the authors have encountered exactly what they describe, and if for no other reason, the book is worth reading just for that.

Some of the breed descriptions are quite amusing, albeit not flattering. "If you like personable, affectionate, obstinate dogs that shed a lot and like to run and eat squirrels, then (a Siberian Husky) is the dog for you." Other descriptions are more ominous. "Cockers bite... Of all the breeds we work with, they top the list... Families with kids should stay clear of this breed." This is one of the few books that will mention aggression in Basset Hounds, reserve in Bichon Frises, and attempt to describe the primitive quality of Basenjis. The authors even remark that several breeds can have a mildew-y odor when damp. This is not the stuff you'll find routinely in your average dog breed books.

Although the bulk of the book describes the various AKC breeds, the authors also briefly discuss mutts and wolf hybrids. They touch on how to select a reputable breeder and how then to select an individual puppy from within a breed. To their credit, they write well. This very readable book attempts to focus on the practical and attempts to be a helpful cautionary guide.

Sure, I can find things to disagree with in this book, but I still recommend it to anyone who is researching breeds. I admire the authors' attempt to present a brutally honest view of breeds as they see them, and overall, they do a reasonable job. No single book is enough when someone is investigating breeds, but this book will surely give the potential owner food for thought.

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Choosing a Dog: Your Guide to Picking the Perfect Breed by Nancy Baer & Steve Duno.
Published by Berkley Books, 1995. ISBN: 0425149587

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