Picking Your Performance Puppy

Way back in December, I got my hands on a copy of Helen King’s ebook, Picking Your Performance Puppy.  It immediately caught my attention – at the time, I was halfway through the second session of my Online Classes, and Kristin Rosenbach, a student of mine and a Certified Athletic Trainer, was also halfway through her first session of teaching in the classroom with me.  Helen’s book caught my attention as a topic that would be perfect for the Online Classroom.  Of course, there’s no 100% substitute for putting your hands on a dog, but in this day and age, when many people are perusing the internet, looking at pictures and videos of puppies and parents of puppies, I thought that this topic would have value as an Online Class. I contacted Helen to get a copy of the book.  Then, I got more involved in the project, and helped do some editing of the book, contributing to it’s current format and content.  Of course, I’m not skilled at structure or anything like that, but I am good at proofreading. In any case, I feel the need to preface my review by stating my involvement in the project – I *did* help edit and proofread the document, and Helen is getting ready to start teaching her first Online Class, titled What’s Your Angle, in the Online Classroom.  That should give you an idea of my opinion on the book – I felt it was good enough to get Helen added to my small but growing collection of ‘co-instructors’ in the Online Classroom, contributing to my vision of turning it more in to an AgilityU sort of venture 🙂

I attended a structure seminar Helen taught in the area last year, and it was interesting, so I figured I’d give the book a whirl.  One of the things that hooked me was that Helen seemed pretty comfortable stating that good structure for conformation was NOT necessarily good “real world” structure.  She also wasn’t shy about using her own dogs as bad examples of structure 🙂

The download was at the time 50MB, and you need to enter an activation key to access more than the first 5 pages. Easy enough, the email came with the activation key.  No problem there.

By page 3, Helen has said that there are “no absolutes in structure”.  Well, this appeals to me, there aren’t many absolutes in agility training or handling either, so I can resonate with that statement.  Shoot, there aren’t many absolutes in LIFE. OK, well, let’s see – this should be interesting, then! If there aren’t absolutes, I’ll be interested to see where we go from here 🙂

I’ll be honest, I know nothing  about structure, at least not in technical terms.  I think I’m not alone though in that when you see a nice balanced dog, the ease of movement attracts attention.  I feel pretty blessed that my dogs have all avoided major injury – but I’m suspicious that my style of handling and training may have just as much to do with that as anything else.

Helen goes through some comparisons of her four poodles vs. her border collie, and also compares dogs of other breeds, in pictures and in videos.  The videos are nice to see 🙂 She uses the term ewe neck several times, which I’ve heard before, but frankly I have no idea just what a ewe neck is. FINALLY, on page 20, in big green letters….EWE NECK.  OK, we’re going to get a definition here!

Helen goes through fronts, backs, necks, hocks, all the major parts of the dog, and she does stick to her initial statement that there are no absolutes.  If you’re looking for a book that says “this is bad, that is good”, this probably isn’t for you. There is information presented, but with the clear (and common sense) approach that there’s no perfect dog, and that one less than desirable angle here or there doesn’t necessarily detract from the whole package…but it might.  It’s not really wishy washy, that’s just the way life is…

On the one hand, Helen seems to have a pretty strong opinion about conformation and what it has done with respect to the functional conformation of many breeds, but on the other hand, she suggests that if you want to win in the conformation ring, you’d better get a dog that looks like the winners, even if it’s conformation doesn’t suit it for sport. Makes sense, although it’s too bad (in my opinion) that the two are diverging more and more.

After the description and terminology, came the “What DO we want” section. You’ll have to buy the book to find out what that was. The topic touched a bit on drive and temperament, which I suppose is not outside the scope of the title of the book, but I’m a “just the facts ma’am” type of gal, and I already know what I like in a dog with respect to temperament. Your mileage may vary.

Hopefully we’ll see this book in print someday, but for now, I think you’ll find it a useful introduction to structure, as well as a concise instruction manual for how to ‘see the angles’ on your own dogs, or potential future canine partners.

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