A Selection of Dog Books
The final “Question of the Week” of 2022 was “What is your favorite canine book and why?” I’m afraid I cheated slightly by choosing two.
My interest in dog books goes back to my distant teens, and much of what I know about dogs has been learned from studying books. The question got me thinking about the countless breed-specific books I have known, and I have made a list of eight that I think have made a significant contribution to the genre.
Breed books range from those that ooze knowledge and passion on virtually every page to ones that masquerade as breed books but in reality have just a few pages pertinent to that breed, the remainder being of a general nature.
Although a few breeds may suffer from a lack of anything authoritative, in most cases the dog world is lucky inasmuch as there is a great catalog of works written by those whose dedication and knowledge cannot be questioned.
Max von Stephanitz’s “The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture,” English Edition revised from the original German work by J. Schwabacher, was printed in Jena, Germany, in 1925. It was described by the late great canine bibliophile Gerald Massey as “probably the most comprehensive dog book on a single breed ever written.”
It is a large work of more than 700 pages with hundreds of photographs. The bulk of the book is about the German Shepherd Dog, breeding dogs that are correct in type and conformation, and are mentally and physically capable of work. In addition there is a wealth of historical information on many related varieties and other herding breeds from around the world.
“The Saluki in History, Art and Sport” by Hope and David Waters (no relation to me) was published by Taplinger Publishing Company, New York, in 1969. Researching any ancient breed cannot be easy, and in this case, it was painstakingly done by the authors, starting with Egyptian tomb drawings, through to the writings and art of early Islam, on through the Renaissance period, right up to the arrival in any numbers of the breed in the west. They managed to locate 30 paintings by Paolo Veronese done in the 16th Century in which the breed appears — no mean feat.
There are chapters that chart the development of the Saluki as a coursing dog from the deserts of Arabia to the open fields of England, the breed’s emergence as a show dog worldwide and its appeal to artists. Its literary content and wealth of illustrations of beautiful art ensure that the book will be enjoyed by many who will never own a Saluki.
The Dog Lover’s Library was a series of breed books published by Nicholson & Watson in the middle years of the 20th Century, each being gems in their own right. My choice, which is the first book on the breed by an English publisher, is “The Borzoi Handbook” by Winifred E. Chadwick, together with a translation of “The Perchino Hun” by His Excellency Dmitri Walzoff.
The author thoroughly details the history of the breed from the 17th Century and the differences in type kept by the large Russian hunts. She outlines the English royal connection with the breed, and discusses the early breeders and the breed’s emergence as a show dog in the West. The Walzoff contribution details the breeding of dogs in pre-revolution Russia and gives an insight into the great hunts in that country.
Held until 2005 — when coursing was banned in the United Kingdom — the Waterloo Cup for coursing Greyhounds was the oldest sporting event in the world. “The Waterloo Cup” by Charles Banning and Sir Mark Prescott was published by Heath House Press in 1987. It chronicles the first 150 years. The amount of research that has gone into the book is staggering, and not just the historical data but finding the countless dozens of illustrations, makes this an extraordinary work.
It truly records in words and pictures the great and the good, the winners, the characters and memorable meetings, but it is above all a great social document, chronicling a chunk of British heritage now no more.
The advantage of publishing privately is that one is not working to the dictate of a publishing house whose interests are as much through necessity commercial as they are educational. My next four books are all private publications.
“A Research on the Iceland Dog” by Mark Watson was published from his kennels in California in 1956. He draws extensively on the observation and writing of others from John Caius in 1570 and William Shakespeare circa 1600. In his quest for knowledge on the breed he spent two summers with Icelanders in his search for the pure Iceland Dog. There are numerous illustrations, not just of dogs but in the environment in which they lived. The result is a complete tour de force of a breed that obviously meant so much to him.
“The Rhodesian Ridgeback: The Origin, History and Standard of the Breed” was written by arguably the first authority on the breed, Major T.C. Hawley, and published by him in Johannesburg in 1957. In common with other devotes of their breed, he gives us a thoroughly researched history and illustrates the early show dogs that established the breed in Africa. What makes the book so special is the section on related and regional breeds and types of dogs in Africa, details of which are not available elsewhere.
James Darley published his “Rebirth of the Royal Spaniel: The Clumber in the Field” in 2021. By modern standards it is a sumptuous publication. It is the culmination of years of dedication to restoring the original type, preserving the working qualities of the breed and cataloguing its artwork. The reproduction of so many paintings, some for the first time, makes the book in part an art reference work. The royal connections are Kings Edward VII, George V and George’s great-granddaughter Princess Anne, herself a working Clumber owner, who has written an introduction to the book.
Darley charts his journey in the breed; with the highs, lows and successes and along the way, it becomes the ultimate guide to training a Clumber for the shooting field. Sadly, the Clumber is one of many working breeds divided into the more original working type and the modern show dog; therefore, the book offers much food for thought.
My final book is technically not a breed book but one covering a small group, the Setters. Gilbert Leighton-Boyce published his “A Survey of Early Setters” in 1985. It is a study of the development of the Setters in Britain and Ireland before dog shows began, as evidenced in art, literature and many other sources.
This too was the culmination of years of dedication, trawling through countless reference works and spending hours studying archive material, and the result is the ultimate reference work on the evolution of the Setters from the 16th Century to the early 19th Century, complimented throughout with many illustrations.