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For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend

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The critically acclaimed author of The Other End of the Leash offers fascinating insights into the canine mind--critical tools for a healthy relationship with a well-trained dog.

382 pages, Hardcover

First published July 21, 2005

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About the author

Patricia B. McConnell

28 books344 followers
Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, (CAAB) has made a lifelong commitment to improving the relationship between people and animals. She is known worldwide as an expert on canine and feline behavior and dog training, and for her engaging and knowledgeable dog training books, DVDs and seminars. Patricia has seen clients for serious behavioral problems since 1988, and is an Adjunct Associate Professor in Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, teaching "The Biology and Philosophy of Human/Animal Relationships." For fourteen years she dispensed advice about behavior problems, and information about animal behavior research, on Wisconsin Public Radio's Calling All Pets, which was heard in over 90 cities around the country.

Patricia received her Ph.D. in Zoology in 1988 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison researching dog behavior and communication between professional trainers and working domestic animals.

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5 stars
1,521 (52%)
4 stars
935 (32%)
3 stars
353 (12%)
2 stars
60 (2%)
1 star
19 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 180 reviews
Profile Image for Michelle.
49 reviews11 followers
March 9, 2009
The last book I read by her was all about communicating with your dog, with much emphasis on how humans act around dogs and why some of what we do is just plain wrong. The subject of this book was dogs and emotion.

There has been a lot of debate over the years as to whether or not dogs (and other non-human animals) can have emotions. I recall a philosophy class I once took. The teacher asked us what differentiated humans from animals. Someone said "emotions." He agreed. I dropped the class. I think dog lovers have always known that animals have emotions and it's from that point that McConnell's book takes off. The entire basis of the book is that of course animals have emotions. She makes a compelling argument as to why it's ridiculous to assume they have none, the major part of that argument being how similar those parts of the brain are in our brains and our dogs (and indeed in other animals).

She divides the book up by the four basic emotions: fear, anger, happiness, and love. Within each section she discusses the biology of those emotions and how they manifest themselves in human and dog brains, coupling this with some good case studies of dogs she's seen over the years and a bit of humor. One thing I've enjoyed about both of her books is the bit of humor she shows from time to time.

It's a very compelling book and if you've always been one of those folks who gets irritated when someone claims your dog (or cat or bird, etc.) has no emotions, this is an excellent book to read.
Profile Image for E..
277 reviews39 followers
February 7, 2017
I really enjoyed the information in this book. Both scientific and anecdotal, it gave me much insight into the relationship between my dog and me, and the world around him.
It was funny in parts, and a little sad in others. Most of the scientific/physiological information was illustrated with stories of her own dogs. She's a very good story teller. Even the complicated info was explained very well, and with vivid examples from the dogs on her farm, and various clients' dogs that she has trained over the years.

I learned to read my dog's body language better, and I can see that there are some things I do that my dog merely tolerates in order to stay close to me. I learned to read other dogs we come in contact with, and how to handle potential problems before they arise. How fights from fear, jealousy, or dominance can be avoided by paying attention to the the tell-tale signs that previously I might have mis-read differently.
I will definitely read this again, because I know I didn't soak it all up the first time.
Profile Image for Joseph Soltero.
14 reviews10 followers
November 7, 2007
Warmly informative - should be on every dog owner’s shelf

My partner and I have a beautiful and loving Shetland Sheepdog as part of our family. I purchased this book in an attempt to better understand him, why he does the things that he does, how to know if he’s happy, and what I can do if he’s not.

Patricia McConnell writes with such warm concern and intimate tone that you feel as though you’re sharing a cup of coffee or tea with her somewhere. Her writing is lucid and witty, her anecdotes personal and insightful, and her level of detail and explanation show a deep, genuine passion for what she does.

McConnell addresses the question of whether dogs (and indeed animals in general) feel emotions, and if they are aware of them. While she presents both sides of the argument down to the scientific explanations either way, she is quick to share her belief and experience that dogs do feel, express, and may be aware of their emotions - though not in the same way as humans - and she devotes entire chapters to emotions such as fear, anger, happiness, and love to show exactly how that is.

She details examples of a dog’s facial expressions and posture (with pictures) and then compares them to those of humans to illustrate their physical similarities and how they surface on similar occasions. From this we can argue that just as we show happiness by pulling up the corners of our mouths, crinkling our eyes, and rounding our face, so too must a dog showing these same facial features (plus the added wagging tail) be interpreted as a happy dog. The fact that a dog never exhibits all of these features together and then, say, bites a human can be submitted as proof that the dog is feeling happy. While this may seem obvious to many of us, McConnell is quick to discuss scientists of both today and centuries ago who discredited this explanation as hopelessly anthropomorphic, believing these to be simply automatic and emotionless responses to external stimuli.

McConnell also explains the important differences between human and dog behavior. I had no idea that dogs prefer not to be hugged. I never would’ve questioned it until seeing her pictures and reading the discomfort in her dogs’ faces, and then even trying it out on my own dog and feeling him remain motionless and looking away. Indeed she argues that many adult dogs have learned that hugging is a human expression, which they’ll tolerate, but caution must be had with puppies who may feel threatened by this behavior.

These kinds of differences sometimes are the cause of negative relations between a human and his pet dog. McConnell’s job as an Animal Behaviorist is meant to bring both human and pet to a kind of understanding when possible, to enable the human to read his dog’s signals, and, more often than not, to train the human to be conscious of his actions and movements in order not to mistakenly give off the wrong signal.

This book provides a wealth of information about these topics and more, such as how our brain differs from that of our dogs, how to train or condition your dog to be loyal and obedient, and what to do when you need help, for she reassures owners that they can’t always do everything. I greatly enjoyed and recommend reading this book, and am eagerly reading her other book, The Other End of the Leash.
Profile Image for Christine.
717 reviews27 followers
October 9, 2020
This is such a well written and personal look at the subject by a real expert (and the sister of a dear friend of mine). It was fascinating, and took quite a while to read because it was so densely packed with important information. Makes me want to read her other books!
Profile Image for Ann.
246 reviews5 followers
June 23, 2017
As a dog lover and one who wants to understand more about what dogs think and feel, I learned a lot from this book. I also enjoyed the illustration section and the several case histories / stories. I also learned that my dog is kind of nervous / anxious around me sometimes. I think it's because she's hoping for a fun outing like a hike or trip to the dog part, but most of the time it's work or something else I'm preparing to do. I can also now recognize the times when my dog is showing fear of another dog or person, and I'm better able to help her adjust to an unknown situation.
Profile Image for Syd Dickson.
289 reviews5 followers
January 27, 2011
My favorite dog book of all time, I cried at different points in almost every chapter. For the dog lover, this is a must read. It combines anecdotes with scientific data perfectly, and addresses the love that we all feel for our dogs with a frankness that is refreshing.
51 reviews
July 22, 2019
Really fun and insightful book to read. I learned a lot about how my dog perceives the world!
Profile Image for Susan.
Author 8 books16 followers
February 3, 2022
For the Love of a Dog is a very engaging book that is as warm and friendly as a good puppy. The animal psychology information strikes me as sound, though I am no expert. The animal training approach is a consistently positive one that minimizes punishment and maximizes reward. Based on my own experience with dogs, I find the approach just right. Some of her very specific suggestions also seem valuable as do her ideas about evaluation of puppies that are being considered as pets or working dogs. Anecdotes about particular dogs she has encountered or trained are entertaining and helpful. All in all, a very nice book.
Profile Image for Stef.
119 reviews6 followers
March 2, 2009
Josh and I listened to half of this on our road trip to DC. I had already read the book a few months ago. With Charlie in tow in the back of the car, it made for a lovely conversation piece. Josh hasn't read an entire book on dogs (just puppy training), and this was my way of sneaking in some information. We got through the chapter on facial expressions and we are now paranoid that Charlie rarely smiles.
Still, it was a great book to listen to since Charlie was going to be with my two year old niece. It is obvious that he is gleefully joyful around her. He was so gentle. We even filmed some of it so we could further study the interaction. There was one facial expression that i never noticed on my dog out of the four basic ones of anger, joy, disgust and fear and it was disgust. That was the perfect way to describe the look in his face when I told him to stay for a picture with my niece Ella, and she kept pulling on his ear. He leaned as far away as possible without breaking the stay command. What a trooper!
Profile Image for Keith Lytton.
173 reviews1 follower
April 13, 2018
ok...so this book took me a long time ..not because it was bad ..just the opposite ..it was so full of good things...it taught me a lot ...not just about my dogs ...but about others...I learned what to look for in other dogs when walking my own ...after Akira was bitten ..or attempted to be ...I was able to discern what other dogs were looking at and how they were responding to Akira which allowed me to keep him close before the growl or lunge happened...it opened up thoughts that I hadn't had but put others into ..what I feel was...more proper perspective.. it is an excellent book...very deep in the science of the mind and if that isn't your thing then it may not be a book for you ...it is one reason it took me so long ...it isnt my thing ...but I felt it was.important and persevered ..and so glad I did ...I give it the best rating ...and anyone want to borrow it ...feel free to ask!
Profile Image for Shelley.
483 reviews19 followers
July 4, 2019
If you're not a huge fan of dogs, you may not think as highly of this book as I did.

If you've never had that one (or more) heart and soul dog, you may not appreciate this book as much as I did.

But I am and I have. Actually, McConnell does reference lots of books written about other animals besides dogs, and discusses how human and other mammal brains differ and share similarities. I actually added sticky note tabs to go back and re-read and in some cases copy portions before returning the book to the library. I also copied the majority of her bibliography and references in order to continue m research.
Profile Image for Kirsten .
1,584 reviews254 followers
December 30, 2014
This book was very fascinating. Written in an easy, accessible style, it's ideal for the dog owner/breeder/trainer. It was wonderful and taught me a lot about my dog that I didn't really know and explained things I knew intuitively.

I have 3 dogs so I found this very edifying and helpful. It's a little late to train my dogs (as they are all officially seniors), but I think it'll help me be more patient with them.
280 reviews
March 20, 2019
Outstanding audio production.
The book itself is brilliant. I learned so much about my dog, my own brain, and how to build a better relationship with my dogs. Especially with my 2-year-old, who is very different than every other dog I've known.
Profile Image for Hailey.
153 reviews1 follower
July 28, 2022
this was really interesting and I loved that it ventured into psychology and neuroscience, but some of it hasn't aged very well (mainly the weird moment of trying to explain away police brutality with biology). I also wish she had spoken a bit more about shelter dogs, as a lot of this was focused on breeders and their puppies. However, I appreciate her positive, calm approach to training and I'm excited to try out her tips and strategies with my new dog! I'll definitely be reading the other end of the leash next since it seems like people like that one more.
Profile Image for sandra wan.
70 reviews2 followers
May 17, 2021
4.5 stars for this cozy read. My condolences for the author for losing her best pal. I'm grateful, truly grateful to have read this, to have had a glimpse of the personalities of all the dogs in this book.
Amidst the emigration wave in Hong Kong, many dog owners have chosen to abandon their dogs (literally, on the streets). It's just faith-restoring to read about someone who loves dogs as their own kin and would go to great lengths to help them integrate into human society.

Fresh perspectives
1. It's okay to choose dogs. I've always felt guilty about coding dogs as 'good' or 'bad', but to be honest, if the quiet, obedient dog blends in better in your home, it's more likely that you can both bring each other happiness. Adopt loud and disobedient dogs if you want, but really be prepared to give a lot of mental and physical effort.

2. Train your dogs! I've always thought of training dogs as a selfish, human-centric thing solely for the purpose for our egos, but dogs need mental exercise too! Especially old dogs. They can't learn multiple tricks a day, but learning a trick over a week keeps their minds active and helps them learn self-discipline.

3. Take your dog to see an expert if necessary. If you take your kid to a piano teacher, take your dog to a dog trainer!

4. It takes a lot of time and patience to help a dog with separation anxiety.

5. Sometimes it does more good than harm to put down a dog that's scarred deeply by trauma.

6. Many other things: how dogs grief; dogs sense signs of thunder rather than noticing thunder first; sympathy is a complex concept; etc etc

Oooh boi. I always imagined getting a dog once I can live on my own, but now that seems like horrible timing. Maybe get a dog when I retire?
Profile Image for Carolyn.
135 reviews
January 3, 2021
I found this book on my bookshelf. Clearly I’ve had it for years and years and never read it. Im not sure where I got it or why I bought it or what I thought it was about. From the title alone,I can see why I would potentially be interested in reading it. Quite honestly I don’t know exactly what this woman’s goal was in writing this book. She’s an animal behaviorist and has a ton of experience with working with difficult dogs. It was all over the place in my opinion. And it seemed like the target audience were people with problem dogs, but even if that were so, she went way too technical into the dynamics of a dogs brain, etc etc. definitely not what I was interested in reading. And the book could have been half as long as it was. I lost interest very early on, but gave it a chance hoping it would get better. Even at the end when she has an appendix on how to get your dog to learn to stay, it went weirdly too deep. The only reason I gave this 3 stars because I liked some of the anecdotal stories about dogs.
Profile Image for Mandi Scott.
375 reviews5 followers
December 2, 2020

Labor Of Love
Written by Mandi Scott Chestler on January 11th, 2011
Book Rating: 3/5
Listening to the entire book is a labor of love. As a fan of animal books, I kept going. There are some useful tidbits and anecdotes here, but a kind and careful editor could have transformed this from an average book about dog training and psychology, to a home run. Instead, For the Love of a Dog often runs amok with redundancy like an undisciplined sheep dog--something the author would never allow in her animals, but apparently tolerates in her own writing.
Profile Image for Stephen Wallace.
509 reviews69 followers
June 4, 2021
Great book!

In the course of the book it uses examples of human psychology and physiology to discuss dogs. Both dogs and psychology are two of my favorite topics. She uses lots of stories and experiences so I didn't feel bogged down anywhere. And her footnotes on her thoughts often made me laugh.

I will have to go back and read her other book, 'The Other End of the Leash' as it has been a while. I would recommend reading that one first if you can. This book is one of my top favorite dog books and I have over 200 books on dogs.
Profile Image for Sarah Rigg.
1,606 reviews17 followers
December 28, 2021
What a beautiful book! This covers some of the same territory as her earlier book, "The Other End of the Leash," but there's plenty of new stuff about dog and human biology and the the similarities and differences in our emotional lives. I think anybody who wants to better understand their dog and have a better relationship with them would do themselves a favor by reading one or more of McConnell's books. Make sure you have a hanky handy for this one. I cried a lot during the final third of the book. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Melinda.
35 reviews1 follower
September 9, 2018
Does your dog really love you? If you want to know how to really answer that question, this is the book for you. Patricia McConnell aggregates the best science available to answer a range of questions about how dogs think, feel and experience the world. She wraps it in her typical, very readable prose with real life anecdotes and examples that tie it all together and pull at the heart strings of any animal lover. I couldn’t wait to crack open this book, and I was not disappointed!
Profile Image for Laurla2.
2,227 reviews4 followers
January 9, 2021
good book, a bit long in places. talks about the scientific discoveries relating human and dog emotions.

"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 anger. low levels of function in the prefrontal cortex as found in nonhuman animals and autistic people correlate with reduced pain perception but higher levels of fear.
Profile Image for Kristen Dyer.
28 reviews
July 26, 2017
I wish I'd read this book 2 years ago! It helped me understand why, in the aftermath of a dog attack, my young dog, who was not injured, became more afraid about seeing dogs on walks over time (not right away) and why my older dog, who was badly injured, is not afraid of other dogs after the attack.
Profile Image for Gillian.
50 reviews
February 16, 2018
I really loved this book, I started reading it but stopped and got the audio book because I was having a hard time reading, it’s very dense with a lot of information. But after listening to it, I have a new perspective on my relationship with my dog, and picked up a few things on how to bond and connect with my dog. Enjoyed it a lot!
3 reviews
June 13, 2020
An AMAZING read. With various anecdotes and animal behavioural knowledge, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Learned a lot about my dog and I, and am definitely interested in McConnell's other books. What I love the most (other than the stories) is that there is a reference section at the back, directing you to many other thoughtful reads. May you be running your paws off, Cool Hand Luke x
Profile Image for Kimberly Austin.
22 reviews1 follower
December 27, 2021
This is the 2nd book I have read of hers. Love her style and how she breaks done each section. She really gets down to the emotions of a dog and it is so helpful. Since getting my dog and reading these books I see such parallel to humans and dogs and it helps me understand people and relationships better. If you want to understand dogs, read her books.
Profile Image for Mario.
136 reviews
August 20, 2012
I hesitate to give a more substantial rating to this book as I just couldn't get motivated to read further than the preface and about 12 pages more. It really lacked the concise, accessible language I had hoped for and instead delved a bit too deeply into physiology and anatomy of the brain.
Profile Image for Sarah Gonzalez.
22 reviews3 followers
December 20, 2017
So helpful! I read this right as we rescued my dog, and it was so fascinating to learn how dogs process human emotions and why they act/react the way they do. Highly reccommend it to anyone who has a dog or is interested in dog behavior!!
13 reviews
March 29, 2019
Another good book by Patricia B McConnell. If you're a trainer or behaviorist with an interest in the science behind behavior or don't mind a bit of science, this a good book. There is good information about how to read a dog's body language - an must for anyone with dogs.
Profile Image for Tryn.
47 reviews7 followers
May 1, 2020
Patricia is an amazing person, a uniquely enjoyable author, and a fantastic dog trainer. Her insight to the canine psyche is understandable, whimsical, and logical. It's a fun read, and hard to put down. Love her stuff!
Profile Image for Lectus.
1,029 reviews30 followers
August 31, 2017
Garbage. Why can't people just write something simple and straight forward? A lot of blah blah blah to tell you one tiny thing about emotions in a dog.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 180 reviews

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