Review: The Puppy Report

The Puppy Report, by Larry Shook

I picked up this somewhat unknown little book at our local library because it sounded interesting and it was very short. It is now out of print and you can buy it on Amazon for a penny, but I think it was worth reading, even if its information is now somewhat out of date.

Shook opens with a tragic story about his misguided attempt to buy a purebred Irish terrier for his family. Those in the dog world would have seen red flags going up on all sides when he picked this puppy out (it was the most dominant in the litter; the breeder wouldn’t let him meet the mother because she was “unfriendly;” this particular breed is known for its tenacity and for not being excellent with young children). His puppy turned out to be no small terror. Despite Shook’s repeated attempts to train his dog–including an unfortunate and cringe-inducing visit to a dominance-oriented trainer who tackles the aggressive terrier to the ground and puts him in a choke hold–nothing could be done for this ill-fated puppy. The dog was eventually euthanized for its overwhelming aggression toward people.

Shook set out to write this book in an attempt to figure out what had gone wrong with his Irish terrier. His conclusion is that the purebred dog industry in America is deeply flawed. Citing examples of the rampant spread of puppy mills and the misguided rules of the American Kennel Club, Shook prevents shocking and disturbing evidence of careless breeders and the thousands of structurally and behaviorally unsound dogs they produce.

Australian Shepherds are my favorite breed, and so I was particularly interested in his brief account of the fight between Australian Shepherd breeders and the AKC. At the time Shook was writing, in 1991, the Australian Shepherd was not an AKC recognized breed and the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) wanted it to remain that way. As Shook puts it, the ASCA knew that the purity of the breed would deteriorate as soon as Aussies became a part of the AKC. Breeders would start breeding for looks only and the working and temperament characteristics would start to fall by the wayside. The AKC pulled some very shady political moves to lay claim to the Australian Shepherd and, to Shook’s and the ASCA’s apparent dismay, the breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1992.

Overall, the book is worth reading for anyone who is considering a purebred puppy. The Puppy Report will convince you never to buy a puppy from a pet store or a puppy mill and will arm you with a series of helpful questions for any prospective breeder. A good rule of thumb is that a reputable, respected breeder will ask you just as many questions as you will ask him or her. A good breeder will also be up front about the breed’s known health and temperament issues and provide you with any necessary health documentation.

I’d recommend this book, even though it is hard to find, to anyone who is interested in a brief but important history of the decline of the purebred dog in the United States. The Puppy Report is a succinct warning for overeager people who just want that cute, glossy puppy they’ve seen in the magazines. Take it from Shook: You might be getting a whole lot more than you bargained for.