I think Patricia McConnell is my hero. This is only the second book of hers that I have read, but I loved it just as much as The Other End of the Leash and would recommend For the Love of a Dog heartily to all dog owners.
For the Love of a Dog focuses intently on the exchange of emotions between humans and their dogs. It is less of a training book and more of a emotional manual for navigating the feelings of dogs. And I found it to be an indispensable guide to the sentiments and desires of our canine companions.
In my months of reading dog books, one of the big warnings that often comes from trainers is the danger of applying “human” emotions to dogs. While I do think there is a danger in treating our dogs like humans, or believing that they think like humans, the dangers of anthropomorphism are often more subtle than we are cultured to expect. McConnell writes well about this injunction of anthropomorphizing our animals. She points out that we are often quick to assign base emotions to our dogs–feelings like anger, rage, and possessiveness–but we are reluctant to say that dogs can have finer feelings, like devotion, grief, and joy. This is a great loss, McConnell says, and it undermines our emotional intelligence with our dogs.
McConnell demonstrates the fine balance between interpreting canine emotion and falsely applying human feelings. Her expertise as a dog trainer and animal behaviorist is applied to teach her readers how to know the difference. I feel like I have a much deeper appreciation of the emotional complexities of dogs and I am more reluctant to underestimate them after having read this book.
As I’ve mentioned before, McConnell is a great writer and I always enjoy reading her generous stories about the dogs she’s worked with and life with her own dogs on her Wisconsin farm. I think this book should be required reading for anyone who shares their life with a dog and wants to know more about what is going on inside. McConnell’s wisdom and advice have the potential to transform the ways that we interact with our dogs. For the Love of a Dog provides a strong reminder that, when we are interacting with our dogs, rigid training regimens and stubborn mindsets are far less valuable than humility and insight.