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Book Review
The Simple Guide to Choosing a Dog
by Diane Morgan

Review by: Kate Connick, Feb. 2006

Like many people, I enjoy paging through colorful, multiple-breed anthologies intended to assist the novice with selecting a suitable pet dog. Diane Morgan's The Simple Guide to Choosing a Dog is one of many books in that genre.

Creative, attractive graphic design makes this book especially appealing. Full of color photos "attached" to the pages by clipart pushpins and paperclips, as well as inset boxes resembling yellow sticky notes or ruled notebook paper, the overall effect is that of a festive scrapbook. The friendly eye-appeal makes this book inviting, as well as very suitable for gift giving to either an adult or a child.

Divided into two parts, the book first addresses considerations prior to getting a dog and then profiles approximately 150 AKC breeds. The writing style is light and humorous.

Morgan's decision to write the first chapter from a dog's perspective might not work for all readers, but others will chuckle at the dog's insights and observations, among them, "Let's face it, some humans, because of poor socialization, inadequate training, or current life circumstances, shouldn't have a dog at all." Where the author herself might be perceived as tedious in conveying the same, simple, fundamental messages, the dog's voice may be received as endearingly cute and palatable.

As she shifts to her own voice in discussing breed selection, Morgan's emphasis is on understanding the function for which the breed has been created and grasping the ramifications for the pet home. She points out, "training... can't countermand biology... it is always best to play it safe and select a dog whose breeding makes it likely he will be what you want him to be."

One could argue that the author places too much value on AKC titles as barometers of quality and on puppy temperament testing as a predictive tool. Nonetheless, her overall discussion is well presented and would undoubtedly be helpful to the reader. Ultimately, her sensible priorities relate to health and temperament as she concludes, "The well-bred dog has a breed-appropriate temperament; a temperament suitable for a pet... this is the most important criterion of all."

Breed profiles tend to be notoriously superficial in books of this nature, and that's probably inescapable, given the broad scope. Morgan attempts to include some candid, practical information, e.g. Basset Hounds "can develop a hound smell, and people who don't like it should bathe their Bassets regularly," the Shetland Sheepdog "barks a lot," Siberian Huskies "suffer separation anxiety if left alone for long periods." She notes that several breeds are hard to housebreak, don't like children, tend to be one-personish, or require experienced owners. These are the kinds of tidbits that a reader might find most useful.

In addition to basic physical qualities, including size, color, and coat care required, one will find brief information on origin, historical and current function, lifespan, and health concerns. Of greatest interest are remarks on character, trainability, exercise needs, appropriate housing, and sociability. Characterizations are often accurate, although brief and uneven.

The book would be vastly more user-friendly if a few important traits were easily cross-referenced. Many people only want to consider dogs that are highly social with children, appropriate for inexperienced pet owners, or relatively undemanding in terms of exercise or grooming needs, for example. There's no quick way to narrow one's search, as the book is currently formatted.

Further, some traits are hard to compare, as presented. A Cardigan Welsh Corgi's exercise needs are "high," an Akita's "moderate," a Bernese Mountain Dog's "low to moderate," but a Scottish Terrier's "considerable." How does "considerable" rank against low, moderate, and high?

Similarly, her estimations of trainability are sometimes puzzling. She appears to equate trainability with obedience, listing Basenjis as having high trainability, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels as average, and Bearded Collies as moderate. No elaboration is offered for those breeds. The more helpful entries do elaborate, as with the Basset Hound who is, "Difficult to train; responds best to food rewards... stubborn and slow to housetrain... cannot be trusted off lead." The comments, when rendered, are clearly more useful than the ratings, per se.

As with any all-breed book, this is not the final word but the starting point. Overall, most information appears clear enough to give the reader a sense of differences among breeds. One won't confuse the "pleasant, affectionate... practically odor-free... quiet, well-behaved" Whippet with the "energetic... good watch and guard dog... not good with kids; aloof and wary with strangers" Puli. In that respect, the author does a good job. One may not agree with every detail, but one will get a sense of contrast and reasonably good breed generalizations that can then be enhanced with supplemental reading and investigation.

In the end, this is a well done all-breed anthology with thoughtful content about choosing a dog, as well as helpful breed profiles. The small but numerous, stunning, color photos and outstanding graphic design make it a pleasure to peruse and a good gift option.

The Simple Guide to Choosing a Dog by Diane Morgan.
Published by TFH Publications, 2003. ISBN: 0793821126

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