Using ZSpheres for fleshing out the base mesh turned out to be a good way to start. I still don't know why I can only get results when I use the "Classic Skinning" options in the Adaptive Skin palette. The Unified Skin gobbled up the tail and turned the toes into silly string.
Long hours of researching and drawing muscles for various vertibrates made the sculpting process a bit easier. We learned the basics of feline, bovine, canine, avian, dinosaur, and primate anatomy, but I still found myself winging a bit on the back and shoulder muscles.