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Book Review
Choosing a Dog for Life
by Andrew DePrisco & James B. Johnson

Review by: Kate Connick, June 2003

Andrew DePrisco and James B. Johnson's Choosing A Dog for Life is one of many books that showcases a variety of dog breeds in shopping catalogue format. The brief introduction essentially amounts to a plea to the reader to investigate breeds before taking the plunge and acquiring a new dog, lest the match be an unhappy one. Over 160 breeds are then presented in alphabetical order, each occupying an eye-catching, two-page spread. Several photos of each breed give the reader a good view of body type, facial expression, and often puppy appeal.

Bright, glossy pages are filled with gloriously attractive, full-color photographs by Isabelle Francais, and white space is generously used to excellent aesthetic effect. This book has tremendous eye appeal. Few books are more enjoyable to simply look at, and as such, this makes an outstanding coffee table book or book for kids who love to admire pictures of dogs.

Written content for each featured breed is divided into four categories, labeled as follows: description, owner suitability, growth, and health. Additionally, captions underneath the photographs may contain tidbits of relevant breed information.

In general, the weakest section throughout is the description section. That part includes uninspired and stilted conformation-speak, along the lines of:

"The neck is long and slightly arched, not throaty; topline level; loin slightly arched; close coupled; chest well developed... forearms of medium length and straight; fore and hinds well boned, not coarse; thighs muscular; moderate bend of stifle..."

Ho hum. I can't imagine that the target reader - a potential pet owner who selected the book because of its pretty pictures - really gives a flip about toplines and forearms. The good stuff - like the dogs' size, coat, and easily recognizable physical features - tends to get lost in the sea of esoteric conformation details.

Further, because the descriptions focus on an idealized, show ring version of the breed, they neglect some non-showable variations that make perfectly good pets. For example, the authors state, "In color the Boxer is... never more than one-third of the body and never solid white." Actually, white boxers are quite common and arise from even the most reputable of breedings; they make wonderful companions, only differing from their colored counterparts in the paint job they wear.

Similarly, the authors assert a dire warning about oversized Pomeranians. "A Pomeranian adult never weighs more than 7 pounds... Don't accept an oversized puppy - not even for a discount! You'll more than pay for it later." Wow. Would a 10-pound Pomeranian really be that disastrous as a pet?

An alert reader will find some inaccuracies, as well - e.g., although the authors state that Australian Shepherds have natural bobtails (and some do), most of these dogs are born with tails that are then docked.

The heading "owner suitability" is somewhat misleading, as this is the section under which basic breed character is addressed. It really speaks more to breed temperament than to a description of the ideal owner or environment for the breed.

Some breeds are better characterized than others. Although in general one gets some sense of the breeds and how they differ, descriptions are too concise to really give one any meaningful feel for the particular breeds. That is true for most anthologies of this nature. The authors rather accurately describe English Cockers as "sweet and biddable... lovely family-oriented dog(s)... politely manipulative, turning on their soft, pleading eyes to get their way... merry..."

There are some attempts at candor. Kerry Blues are presented as dog-aggressive and manipulative. Yorkies will become "yappy and paranoid" if spoiled. Irish Water Spaniels are intolerant of children. To some degree, this works to paint different impressions of the different breeds.

That being said, some passages are meaningless, such as referring to a dog as "generally equable in his dealing with people and in his decisionmaking." Other passages are corny and overly idealistic, such as the many dogs termed intelligent, rewarding to own, or the "main purpose in life is to please his master."

Some passages appear flatly contradictory. Beagles, for example, are presented as manipulative dogs that will become fat, noisy, and dirty without early training. Yet they are termed biddable and "have an insatiable desire to please their masters." Absolutely revolting is the remark about the Japanese Spitz's relative rarity: "Why not be the first one on your block to have this priceless spitz breed?" That kind of flippant question seems to fly in the face of the very purpose of the book, to help the reader make a responsible decision about breed selection.

I was intrigued by the "growth" section. A clever addition to the routine information typically provided in breed guides, this section includes comments on puppy size, rate of maturity, color/coat changes, and the like. A unique and useful tidbit is typical puppy size at 8 weeks (e.g., 8 lbs. for a Whippet, 28-36 lbs. for a Mastiff), the time when many potential buyers would seek to bring a puppy home. Unfortunately, the authors don't consistently report this. Sometimes they only comment on birth weight, and sometimes they report weight at 3 weeks, neither of which has any relevance to the puppy buyer. Sometimes they omit the information altogether. It would have been a nice touch if they had included comparative weights for all breeds at 8 weeks.

Perhaps the strongest section is the part covering health. This lists common and less common conditions that affect each breed, as well as indicating life expectancy and grooming needs. Information is often quite good, but there are omissions as well. Bloat and osteosarcoma aren't even mentioned as health concerns for Greyhounds, for example. Gingival hyperplasia is reported for Collies but not for Boxers, in which it is relatively common.

This book isn't a bad springboard to get a feel for what different breeds look like and perhaps act like, but it's very limited in the latter respect. In the end, I think of this book as something like Playboy magazine. Oh sure, it has text, and some of it isn't bad. One could actually read the text if he was so inclined. But the real reason to buy this book is for the pictures. The graphic design and quality photography make this book pure eye candy.

Choosing a Dog for Life by Andrew DePrisco & James B. Johnson.
Published by T.F.H. Publications, 1996. ISBN: 0793820871

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