Yes, humans and canines are different species, but current research provides fascinating, irrefutable evidence that what we share with our dogs is greater than how we vary. As behaviorist and zoologist Dr. Patricia McConnell tells us in this remarkable new book about emotions in dogs and in people, more and more scientists accept the premise that dogs have rich emotional lives, exhibiting a wide range of feelings including fear, anger, surprise, sadness, and love.
In For the Love of a Dog, McConnell suggests that one of the reasons we love dogs so much is that they express emotions in ways similar to humans. After all, who can communicate joy better than a puppy? But not all emotional expressions are obvious, and McConnell teaches both beginning dog owners and experienced dog lovers how to read the more subtle expressions hidden behind fuzzy faces and floppy ears.
For those of us who deeply cherish our dogs but are sometimes baffled by their behavior, For the Love of a Dog will come as a revelation-a treasure trove of useful facts, informed speculation, and intriguing accounts of man's best friend at his worst and at his very best. Readers will discover how fear, anger, and happiness underlie the lives of both people and dogs and, most important, how understanding emotion in both species can improve the relationship between them. Thus McConnell introduces us to the possibility of a richer, more rewarding relationship with our dogs.
While we may never be absolutely certain what our dogs are feeling, with the help of this riveting book we can understand more than we ever thought possible. Those who consider their dogs part of the family will find For the Love of a Dog engaging, enlightening, and utterly engrossing.
Animal behaviorist, dog trainer, syndicated radio talk show host and prolific author on all things canine, McConnell (The Other End of the Leash) presents a compelling combination of stories, science and practical advice to show how understanding emotions in both people and dogs can improve owners' relationships with their pets. This is more than a simple dog-training book: much of what McConnell discusses concerns how dog owners can learn "the language" of dog by recognizing important signals and reading them correctly. She provides numerous helpful examples of how owners can observe dog behavior, especially differences in posture and facial expressions, in order to help dogs be better behaved and help dog owners to be better handlers; her discussion of the meaning of a dog's "tongue flicks" is alone worth the price of the book. Her overall goal is to help owners provide their pets with "a sense of calm, peaceful benevolence," and she skewers current dog-training fads that emphasize "dominance" over a dog. "Don't fool yourself: if you yell at your dog for something he did twenty seconds ago, you're not training him; you're merely expressing your own anger." (On sale Aug. 15)
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August 26, 2007
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Excerpt from For the Love of a Dog by Patricia B. McConnell
EMOTIONS An explanation of emotions, and why they are so controversial in animals At first, all I saw was a white blur out of the corner of my eye. It was a long way away, maybe five hundred yards, and initially I wasn’t sure what it was. Most of my focus was on my Border Collie Luke, who was running his fastest about two hundred yards away. I’d sent him on a long out- run toward a flock of sheep during a “fun day,” when herding enthusiasts get together and revel in dogs and sheep and the sloppy kisses of young puppies. Many people there that day were serious competitors in herding dog trials, and were grateful for the opportunity to hone their skills away from home. Luke and I, however, were there just for the pure joy of it. We loved working together, Luke and I, finessing sheep gently and quietly across the countryside. A classic workaholic, Luke loved working sheep so much he had no interest in food, tennis balls, or even bitches in heat when there was a job to do. For me, watching my trustworthy black-and-white dog doing a perfect outrun on an emerald-green hill made my heart get bigger and my soul feel full. That’s how I was feeling that morning as I watched my good old dog run perfectly and reliably toward the woolies on the far hill. But all my feelings changed as I realized that the white blur running toward Luke was a hundred-and-twenty-pound working Great Pyrenees who had escaped temporary confinement and was barreling down on Luke to protect his flock. We were on a large, isolated farm with several dispersed flocks of sheep—a smorgasbord to the coyotes and stray dogs that commonly roam the countryside. Many of us in southern Wisconsin need working guard dogs to keep our flocks safe, and this farm had two of them. Unlike my guard dog, Tulip, who now protects the farm from the living room couch, these dogs lived exclusively with the flock, and were serious to the bone about killing anything that threatened their sheep. As I watched the guard dog run toward Luke, my feelings of joyful fulfillment were transformed into abject terror. The thought that I was about to watch my dog being attacked and possibly killed overwhelmed me. I love Luke so much it almost hurts.In Dog Is My Co-pilot, in an essay about why we love dogs so much, I said about Luke: “And I still love him so deeply and completely that I imagine his death to be as if all the oxygen in the air disappeared, and I was left to try to survive without it.” Horrified at what I thought was about to happen, I screamed, “The guard dog is out, the guard dog is out!” Stating the obvious wasn’t going to solve the problem, but it seemed to be all I could do. For the longest second imaginable, my mind was a black hole, as if my emotions had sucked away the rational part of my brain and left a cavernous skull full of nothing but fear. I can remember that terror now, and can visualize the scene as if in a photograph: emerald-green pasture, black-and-white Luke in full stride just where he ought to be, and a white bullet of doom streaking across the grass toward him. But what of Luke? What went through his mind as he dashed through in the grass with a canine hitman running toward him? Was he as scared as I was? And if he was, how much did his version of being scared resemble mine? Luke and I were best friends, just as many dogs and humans are best friends all over the world. As friends do, we shared long cool walks in shady forests, tasty dinners of roast chicken or lamb, and long sleepy cuddles on the couch in the depth of winter. We shared hard times loading wild-eyed market lambs on to the truck, getting lost on back highways late at night while traveling, and making mistakes while working sheep that cost us valuable time, energy, and on occasio