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Book Review
K9 Structure and Terminology
by Edward Gilbert & Thelma Brown

Review by: Kate Connick, January 2006

The average pet owner would probably have little interest in Gilbert and Brown's K-9 Structure and Terminology, but it is an excellent book for the hobbyist who wants to understand how a dog's structure impacts its functional ability.

Readable, yet intelligently presented, this book explores dog conformation and movement and offers general guidelines for evaluating structure as it relates to utility, soundness, and breed standards.

The 30-page glossary includes general terminology such as, "Cheek. Fleshy part of side of head below eyes and behind and above mouth." It also clarifies more breed-related concepts such as:

"Cheeky. Cheeks prominently rounded. Well developed cheek or masseter muscles in retrievers are undesirable (retrievers are soft-mouthed and do not need well developed jaw muscles to gently pick up and carry birds). Desirable in the American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier."

Chapters focus on such things as fronts, rears, heads and gaits. Written by AKC conformation show judges, the book explores how one can evaluate a dog within that context. Obviously, the best way to really determine if a dog is functional at a task is through performance activities, but given the limitations of a show ring environment, how can one attempt to evaluate dogs? That is the gist of the book.

The authors assert, "For every purpose of a dog, there are specific builds that give superior performance." To their credit, they acknowledge that aesthetics are a significant component of judging, so much so that "judging is classified as an art." Yet the authors urge the hobbyist to understand enough of the simple anatomical principles they present to make better decisions in evaluating dogs from a more scientific angle. Elegantly stated:

"The difference between a scientist's view and an artist's view regarding speed is as follows: The scientist thinks, 'What is the correct placement and size of bones, muscles, tendons and joints in a Greyhound that will produce the greatest speed?' The artist thinks, 'What arrangement of the Greyhound's parts makes it look as though the dog is fast?' Since appearance is an optical illusion, it is better to rely on sound scientific fact."

Why is single-tracking desirable in most dogs? Why might some breeds benefit from straighter shoulders than others? How can a steep croup affect movement? Does eye color serve a purpose?

The authors compare dogs to other species for illustrative purposes, and it works to good effect, even given the limitations of interspecies comparisons. They also quote from numerous breed standards to highlight the various ways of expressing similar concepts. Explanations and illustrations are clear and cogent. Even though the book is 11 years old, it remains relevant and useful.

Obviously, the book accepts the arguable premise that AKC conformation shows serve a legitimate purpose in selecting and exhibiting physical "perfection." Suggesting, for example, that "Bulldogs are structurally designed to perfection for bullbaiting" is laughable, as today's bulldogs don't resemble their working ancestors. What we see in the show ring would fail miserably at the task for which it was originally developed, and no reasonable person could believe otherwise. Modern-day bulldogs are a caricature of a functional bulldog, with all parts distorted to a cartoonish extreme.

This is probably true, albeit to a lesser extent, of many breeds. In other words, while the broad principles of structure may be true, the specifics as they relate to particular breeds and their actual abilities may need to be taken with a grain of salt. The only real way to determine functional ability is to require the dog to actually function, of course. So while the book - and conformation showing itself, for that matter - may be a fine intellectual exercise, "perfect" form really only suggests function and certainly is not its equivalent.

That disclaimer stated, the authors do a good job of trying to reconcile the limitations of the show ring with what is known and understood about the ways in which form affects function. In that respect, they attempt to make conformation judging more relevant and meaningful than a simple beauty pageant. This is excellent reading for anyone with a serious interest in dogs, especially showing and breeding. The presentation is understandable, informative, thought-provoking, and will leave the reader both better informed and craving more.


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K-9 Structure and Terminology by Edward M. Gilbert & Thelma R. Brown
Published by Howell Book House, 1995. ISBN: 0876054211

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