I admit that I've always liked this handbook. Now 23 years old, Simon & Schuster's Guide to Dogs is a birdwatcher-sized reference, featuring over 300 breeds of dog from across the world.
Two half-pages are generally devoted to each breed, with the left side offering brief comments on the breed's origin, physical features, function, and character. These notes are further highlighted by colorful symbols that represent such things as a tendency to bite, a need to be protected from cold weather, or an ability to adapt to urban life. On the matching right side is a photographic illustration of the breed.
The book's strength is its breadth. Organized by function (working, terrier, hunting, companion, toy, and greyhound), the array of breeds included is impressive, especially in light of the book's age. This is probably the first place I'd ever heard of a Sloughi, Kromfohrlander, or Wetterhoun.
Long before I ever saw a Cesky Terrier in any other book, I'd seen it in this one. Admittedly, the accompanying description of the breed is generic and essentially meaningless, but that's more the rule than the exception for guidebooks of this nature. The Cesky's personality if described as, "Good, obedient, loyal, patient, courageous," a characterization that could apply to most breeds.
Certainly there are omissions. No Azawakh, for example. No Kooikerhondje, Boerboel, nor Cane Corso. No American Bulldog. In fairness, most breeds that the reader has heard of are included. That being said, some of the breeds are referenced in peculiar ways. The Boxer, for example, is listed not only under the heading Boxer, but additionally as Brindle Boxer and Tawny Boxer, suggesting that they are three separate breeds. The Great Dane similarly has multiple entries for color variations, and yet other breeds that vary in color like Labradors and American Cockers do not have multiple listings. The Poodle, with its size variations, is listed only once.
The photos themselves run the gamut from good to poor quality. Some are snapshot-quality with marginal focus or poor composition. Some just don't illustrate the breed well. The photo of the feathery, red and white dog representing the American Foxhound is clearly not a foxhound, for example. The Golden Retriever appears to be a yellow Labrador. For some breeds, a color illustration replaces the photograph. This is a disappointment for those who want to see actual representatives of the breeds.
The 57-page introductory chapter is reasonably engaging, although the accuracy is dubious in places. For example, the author comments on ear cropping being illegal in England and asserts, "In the United States the AKC rules that 'any dog whose ears have been cropped or cut in any way shall be ineligible to compete at any show in any state where the laws prohibit...'" But the state laws don't prohibit this, so it is misleading. Cropping is quite widespread and accepted throughout the country. The author then insists that where cropping is performed, it "refers only to the tips of the ears." Certainly a Neopolitan Mastiff doesn't have only the "tips" removed, and neither does a Doberman Pinscher. I can't really think of a breed that does have just the ear "tips" removed when cropped.
The breed information itself probably ranges from the superficial but okay (e.g., the Bearded Collie's personality is described as, "Joyous and affectionate") to puzzling (e.g., Afghan Hounds listed as "scenting" hounds, 20-pound Cesky Terriers indicated as suitable for attack training). Most of the breed personality descriptions are pretty useless in helping a reader get a feel for a breed or differentiate among breeds.
The Rough-Coated Bohemian Pointer (which shows a dog in the accompanying photo that does not match the physical description of the breed as indicated in the text) is characterized as "aristocratic, impetuous, affectionate." What does that mean? Neither the contradictory physical description/image nor the description of personality really tells me anything about this kind of dog.
On the one hand, this book is sort of fun to flip through. On the other, the content is questionable both in terms of the text and the illustrations. I'd recommend it if the pictures were just plain dazzling, but the overall quality of the photos is not especially outstanding. It has the potential to be a handy reference, yet it fails to meet its potential.
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