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Book Review
The Dog Encyclopedia
by Esther Verhoef-Verhallen

Review by: Kate Connick, Feb. 2003

Esther Verhoef-Verhallen's The Dog Encyclopedia is probably best described as a miniature-sized, "coffee table" style book. Richly illustrated with high-quality photographs of a large variety of dog breeds (including many unusual ones), this book is eye candy for the dog lover.

On the other hand, that's not exactly what the book intends to be. The author asserts, "This book is designed to concentrate on the practical considerations of buying, owning, and caring for a dog... from these breed descriptions you should be able to judge whether or not a dog you are considering will meet your own personal circumstances." And this is where the book misses, as it fails to offer meaningfully helpful information on breed selection.

Each breed is photographically illustrated and contains comments in the following categories: country of origin, special skills, size, coat, care required, character, training, social behavior, exercise, and special remarks. It's a good attempt, but it doesn't quite work.

Read cover-to-cover, the breed descriptions are monotonous and generic. They often fail to give the reader any real feel for the breeds reviewed. For example, one breed is described as follows, "This lively, attentive, intelligent dog can be willful and stubborn and is vigilant, untiring, loyal to the family, and is not led astray by bribes." What is it? Australian Shepherd? Poodle? Doberman Pinscher? That description could probably fit a number of breeds which makes the description ineffective in differentiating this breed from others. (The author was referring to a Miniature Schnauzer, incidentally).

There are significant and obvious omissions from the breed descriptions, as well. Nowhere does it point out a Shetland Sheepdog's propensity for barking, for example. That is one example of a very practical consideration which might make life with this breed challenging for some owners.

Similarly, other remarks are misleading or inaccurate. The author claims that Greyhounds "are suitable for living in an outdoor kennel because they are reasonably resistant to the cold." She asserts, "the Dalmatian sheds very little," and the Finnish Spitz "only barks when necessary." She contends that Chow Chows "are quite good with children." I would hate to see anyone rely on these observations in selecting a breed, as most people familiar with these breeds would challenge the accuracy of these statements vehemently. Other breed comments are more on-target - sometimes even quite astute - but there are enough questionable statements to undermine the author's authority.

In practical terms, the book has limitations for an American reader, because many of the breeds featured would be difficult or impossible to obtain in this country. Falling in love with a Basset Fauve de Bretagne or a Picardy Shepherd probably won't help the reader much. I don't know if any examples of those breeds can be found within the States.

Other breeds are referenced in ways that may make them difficult for a reader to identify. What is typically known as a Belgian Malinois is called a Mechelen Belgian Shepherd (with no reference to the term "Malinois") by the author, for example. Poodles are categorized not only according to the conventional toy, miniature, and standard varieties, but with a "Giant Poodle" variety, as well. Details like this might confound a reader's attempts to acquire a dog of their chosen type.

The book probably suffers from being translated (from Dutch). Some of the terminology seems quirky to an American eye. We refer to dogs as cropped or docked, not "clipped." We refer to purebred dogs, not "pedigree dogs," and we refer to nails, not "claws." Sentence structure is sometimes awkward, as well. For example, "this breed also requires to be kept occupied."

The way in which coat colors are described can by mystifying. It took me quite some time to decipher that the author (or translator) intended the term "streaked" to mean brindle. Boxers can be brindle. Great Danes, "yellow (which can be streaked)." Cardigan Welsh Corgis may be brindle, but Dutch Shepherds are "silver and gold streaked." Filas, brindle. Akitas and Mastiffs, "streaked."

It's a puzzling inconsistency that becomes even more convoluted when other brindle dogs (Boston Terriers, French Bulldogs, several sighthounds) are termed "roan." Brindle Scottish Terriers are labeled, "broken black with highlights." Although I'm not certain, I believe that the author means brindle when referring to Basenjis "having blends of colors with highlights." The author never does define terms when referring to color, and I could see a reader finding the descriptions curious and confusing.

Some remarks defy comprehension, such as the training recommendation that the "dog will learn best in a pleasant environment which provides scope for its own initiative." Other remarks reflect the author's strong biases. For example, in discussing Salukis, the author comments, "This breed will never be perfectly obedient so do not set your sights too high. With much patience and insight you can get the dog to be fond of you and not an embarrassment to you."

In the end, this is a delightful picture book that should be enjoyed for its photography, especially of some relatively obscure breeds. The author really does take stunning photographs. One is unlikely to find much helpful informational content in the text, however. There are far better references available to assist in breed selection. That being said, I highly recommend the book on the basis of the quality and breadth of its photography. It is a genuine visual treat to look through at the pictures.

The Dog Encyclopedia, by Esther Verhoef-Verhallen.
Published by Firefly Books, 1997. ISBN: 1552091554

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