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Book Review
Barron's Illustrated Guide to 140 Dog Breeds
by Katharina von der Leyen

Review by: Kate Connick, May 2003

I admit that I'm a sucker for colorful, glossy photographs of dogs. As a result, I tend to accumulate books that feature handsome photos of various dog breeds, generally accompanied by a brief (and typically meaningless) characterization of each breed. It's remarkable how many of these books there are; yet a dog lover never really gets tired of them.

Barron's Illustrated Guide to 140 Dog Breeds falls within this genre. Translated seamlessly from German by Rita and Robert Kimber, Katharina von der Leyen's book is above average in eye and entertainment appeal, although the reliability of the content itself is somewhat uneven.

The photography (supplied by a variety of photographers) is stunning. I don't think there's a bad shot in the book, although certainly some breeds are better represented than others.

The photo of the galloping Afghan Hound convinces one that there is, in fact, an athlete under those fancy tresses. The Schnauzer looks fully prepped for mischief as he is shown lying with a squeaky hedgehog toy between his paws, the hedgehog's nose having been previously chewed off by the bushy-browed dog. Two Chihuahuas of different coat types look into the camera as if surprised that anyone would be boorish enough to intrude on their conversation.

On the other hand, the head study of the Samoyed largely conceals the breed's aesthetic crowning glory - its lush, white coat. A full body shot would have shown off the breed better. The Basset Hound photo is oddly cropped to show only the front half of a dog sitting in profile. The Italian Greyhound photo - an otherwise attractive conformation pose - has a sickly, yellow-green cast to it. Still, the photos are quite good overall and make this book a pleasure to thumb through.

To my delight, no dog is illustrated with cropped ears, and several look somewhat casual, as opposed to being tarted up for the show ring. I've never seen a more adorable photo of Dandie Dinmont terriers, for example. Although the Westie might look a bit scruffy to aficionados, I appreciate the illustration of what the breed really looks like when not professionally primped.

The warm, engaging, down-to-Earth, and candid writing style makes this book entertaining and avoids monotony - a difficult task for a book of this nature. The introduction, which warns the reader to put care and thought into dog selection, is nicely done.

Arranged alphabetically, each breed is displayed on an individual page, with a bright, colorful photo as the highlight. Brief comments cover size, coat, health problems, and degree of experience required for ownership. Three colorful graphs indicate - on a scale of 1 to 10 - the degree of grooming and exercise required, as well as the suitability for city life. A paragraph or two briefly remark on history, function, temperament, and special needs or drawbacks.

As with any concisely written guidebook, information is limited. As well, as with any book about different breeds, comments will be colored by the subjective experiences, preferences, and perhaps geography of the author. In other words, not everyone will agree with what she writes, and that's to be expected.

That being said, von der Leyen does attempt to give the reader a real feel for the different breeds, and with her engaging writing style, the descriptions are far from generic. She describes a Shih Tzu as, "all charm and personality: loving, self-confident, and very playful," while the often-confused Lhasa Apso is, "independent, strong-minded... a demanding dog that is no lapdog and doesn't want to be one... can turn into a full-fledged despot." You clearly won't get the two breeds confused in character, even if you do confuse them by appearance.

I found her descriptions of "my" breeds - Boxers and Scottish Terriers - to be fair. The Scottie description is dead-on in accuracy:

"It is a showoff that always has a thousand urgent things to do, a big dog on short legs, a tough rat catcher, absolutely fearless, and hard to impress. It loves and defends its family, but looks upon newcomers with skepticism, and upon strangers with downright arrogance, simply ignoring them. If it grows up with children, it becomes a magnificent playmate for them... It has an absorbing life of its own, and you therefore can't expect absolute obedience from it. It will come when called, but instead of taking the most direct route, it lets itself be sidetracked by all kinds of things it hadn't noticed before... When given a command, it first considers whether obeying right now is worth its while..."

Not surprisingly, Cesky Terriers are not in the book, although a number of unusual breeds like Hanover Hounds and German Spaniels are. Some breeds that you might expect to find - e.g., Schipperkes, Brittanies, Portuguese Water Dogs - are not included.

Do I agree with all of the content? No, and I wouldn't expect to. That being said, some of the information seems misleading. For example, I wouldn't recommend a Belgian Shepherd, Dalmatian, or French Mastiff for a first-time dog owner as does the author. More perplexing, she rates the Soft-coated Wheaten Terrier as a middling 5 (on a scale of 1-10) for the degree of grooming required. This appears to be a gross underestimate, especially when she also ranks Australian Shepherds and Boston Terriers as 5's. Certainly one can't equate the grooming demands of a seek-coated Boston with those of a shaggy Wheaten.

Some information appears dangerously (or laughably?) inaccurate, such as recommending that a Great Dane "run at least 9 miles a day," or a Greyhound receive "at least 120 miles a day of running alongside a bicycle or horseback rider." One can only hope that those are typographical errors. I don't know many bicyclists or horses that can cover 120 miles a day, and Greyhound are sprint runners - not marathoners. If you want to shock a Greyhound lover, give them this book, and get ready for an earful!

The author does include some practical and useful tidbits. Bouviers are not for neatniks, as they "are big and very hairy, with paws that seem to pick up all the trash of the neighborhood and carry it into the house." The Bulldog "tends to swallow air, which can be most unpleasant in an unventilated room." Etc. She remarks that some breeds have been damaged by careless breeding (e.g., Golden Retriever), are prone to put on excess weight (e.g., American Cocker Spaniel), are intolerant of children (e.g., Chow Chow), and are predisposed to dog-aggression (e.g., Akita). She often cautions that the larger, very assertive breeds need reliable obedience training and have a real potential for becoming dangerous if not fully under control.

In the end, this is a colorful and entertaining picture book, enhanced by conversational commentary of varying quality. I liked the book, even though the selection of breeds is limited for American readers. I would caution the reader to take the content itself with a grain of salt and verify what they read elsewhere. This isn't a bad quickie introduction to the breeds included, although not necessarily the most reliable.

Barron's Illustrated Guide to 140 Dog Breeds, by Katharina von der Leyen.
Published by Barron's Educational Series, 2000 (Eng. ed.). ISBN: 0764113402

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