We discuss Patricia McConnell's new book, The Education of Will.
March 31 2017
In her new book, The Education of Will, animal behavior pro Patricia McConnell goes somewhat off script, or at least, off the script that her readers have been enthusiastically following over the course of more than a dozen books and booklets she’s authored/ coauthored over the years. In it, she explores the ways early trauma can affect a dog’s behavior, and most certainly affected her own.
Bark: Do you think you would have recognized your need for therapy if Willie hadn’t been such a troubled dog?
Patricia McConnell: There is no question that my reaction to Willie’s behavior forced me to recognize that, although I had worked hard in therapy years before, I still had a long way to go to resolve the baggage from my past. I am eternally grateful to him for that. Willie’s fears and reactivity brought out many of my own, and at one point, I realized that I either had to find him another home or dig deeper to resolve the fear and shame I had buried for decades. As a form of therapy and self-awareness, one of the things I did to recover was to write about things that had happened to me. It was only after reading the works of others—including After Silence by Nancy Venable Raine, Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman, and Daring Greatly by Brené Brown —that I began to think about turning my writing into a memoir. I felt that if my story could help one person as much as those books helped me, it would be worth the five years it took me to complete it.
Bk: You write about the “chilling” anger that Willie expressed, but there are some who would dispute that a dog can feel true anger. What makes you certain that’s what Willie was displaying?
PM: Anger is an extremely primitive emotion, and is regulated in the brain and body of all mammals by the same anatomy and physiology found in humans. As I say in For the Love of a Dog, neurobiologist Dr. John Ratey calls anger “the second universal emotion.” Scientists who work with a vast range of mammalian species, from primates to mice, rarely hesitate to describe individual mammals as being angry. In addition, facial expressions of fear and anger are similar in people and dogs. Fearful faces have widened eyes, often with dilated pupils, and the corners of the mouth are retracted. Angry faces have narrowed, “cold” eyes, and the corners of the mouth are pushed inward. That’s the face that Willie displayed on occasion, looking exactly like the human faces of anger studied by psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman.
Of course, we can’t know that dogs experience the emotions of fear and anger as we do. We have a more connections between the pre-frontal cortex and our amygdala and hippocampus, which no doubt allow us to mediate emotion with reason. But in people and dogs, the feeling of being afraid or angry is probably more similar than different, because it has the same inherent function—to protect us from danger.
But, it is indeed possible for a dog to be angry, even though I would argue that centuries of domestication have made that a relatively rare event. What’s important is to not confound what people call “aggression” with anger. Aggression is an action, not an emotion, and most behavior that is labeled as aggressive is indeed based on fear. My dog Willie was both a bundle of fear and one of those uncommon dogs who appeared to be overcome with rage in certain situations. That was part of why it took so long and so much work to turn him around.
Bk: You note that excessive sniffing might indicate future aggressive tendencies. Have any studies been done on this?
PM: I know of no study that has investigated a relationship between vigorous sniffing behavior and intraspecific aggression, but that would be a fantastic topic for a dissertation. I’ve seen correlations between obsessive sniffing and dog-dog aggression cases in my office for more than 15 years, and have also heard other trainers and behaviorists refer to it. Maybe this will inspire someone to do the research.
Bk: You also mention the enteric nervous system, what some have called the “brain in the gut.” Could there have been a connection between Willie’s digestion troubles and his behavioral problems?
PM: Absolutely! This is another issue that begs for more research. Many trainers and behaviorists have seen correlations between behavioral problems related to fear or reactivity and an unsettled gut.
Bk: Do you think we burden dogs with our own expectations?
PM: I do worry about our current expectations of dogs. Not just as individuals who we want to fill so many varied social roles, but also as individuals whose behavior is supposed to be, well, almost perfect. I remember the day when a parent’s response to child being bitten was, “What did you do to that dog? Didn’t I tell you not to bother her when she’s eating?” I’m not saying we should go back to the “good old days,” because they weren’t always so good—not for us or for dogs. And I love so much of the current focus on both science and soul in training, exemplified by what we read in Bark magazine. But I do worry that we are imposing expectations on dogs that are as much a burden as an opportunity.
Bk: As part of our 20th anniversary celebration, we will be asking dog-world luminaries to comment on what they consider to be the biggest advancements/changes they’ve witnessed in dogdom during the past two decades. What’s your take?
PM: First, let me say what a joy and an honor it’s been to contribute to The Bark magazine throughout the years! I think the success of the magazine is the perfect reflection of how our relationship with dogs has become richer and more nuanced than it was in the past. It’s also a symbol of what I think is perhaps the most important difference in dogdom: the acknowledgment that canine behavior and our relationship with dogs are important and legitimate research topics.
When I defended my dissertation in 1988, one of my committee members said, “Well done. I didn’t know anyone could actually do any decent science that involved dogs.” And look at where we are now! Our relationship with dogs is one of the world’s most miraculous and also one of the most interesting, and we can learn from it for decades and decades to come. Thank you, Bark, for helping make dogs, and dog behavior, the focus of both art and science.
Well done indeed!
March 28 2017
All of us have had that sinking feeling when we are out walking our leashless dogs—they go around a bend, up a hill and in a blink of an eye, they are gone! Even an adventure-loving dog with “spot on” recall can quickly become a lost dog. Now wearable technology can bring a huge dose of peace of mind with the new LINK AKC collar.
Not only can this collar track your dog’s location with its fast and reliable, built-in GPS but you can even set up a virtual fence that you define so if your dog wanders off (or digs under a fence or jumps one) the system will alert you with a notification.
Like the popular wearable technology for humans, this collar can also be used as an activity tracker (a good way to check up on how much activity your stay-at-home dog gets from your dog walker). It will even send you a personalized recommendation for scaling up (or down) the activity level based on your dog’s age, weight, breed type. Plus, it has a temperature sensor to alert you if the environment your dog is in gets too hot or cold.
This collar can also provide you with a handy positive reinforcement tool, similar to a clicker, just by a tap on the phone; and it even has a light to help you and your dog navigate in the dark (or to help locate your dog).
You can then use the “Adventure” feature to turn your backwoods jaunt into a virtual scrapbook, that will generate maps and timestamps for your photos so you can share it on social media.
Plus, not only does this LINK AKC collar pack a load of high tech features—tracking, health stats, sensors, training aid—it’s smart looking too with a sleek, stylish and comfy look. The LINK AKC collar isn’t the first in the market but it is the first in the number of smart features it offers and its ease of use and good design.
News: Guest Posts
March 24 2017
Dog's name and age: David, 9 years Adoption Story: David's pregnant mother was abandoned when her humans moved away from their home in Talking Rock, GA. Thankfully, the nextdoor neighbor noticed and was able to foster mother and all her pups (including David) until ready for adoption. After a successful foster, David was put up for adoption and found his forever home. David's Interests: He loves to bask in the sun at Altoon Pass after a good hike and swim. He enjoys being outside with his humans on hikes and visiting grandma at a nearby retirement community.
News: Guest Posts
March 17 2017
What’s your dog’s name and age? Chester, 2 years
Nicknames: Chessy, Bud, Booger Butt and Smiley
After starting a search for the perfect pup pal Chester's person headed over to her local shelter. She spotted little Chester in an restricted area and inquired about his history. Turns out he was recently picked up as a stray along with another dog, found alone in a secluded wooded area. Fortunately, Chester became available for adoption that day and his partner had already found a home. After meeting Chester she knew he was the one and they instantly connected!
Chester loves to go hiking, head to the dog park, and play chase with anyone who will follow. Once he's found a ball there's no getting that ball out of his mouth unless you have a treat to swap! His mom says Chester is always smiling and always so happy and can brighten anyone's day.
News: Guest Posts
March 10 2017
What’s your dog’s name and age? Steve, 7 years
Found walking along the street with another dog in Ft. Worth, Texas he was picked up by a good Samaritan. After effort to locate an owner failed, Steve's fate seemed doomed to the animal shelter. The rescuer called up his friend thinking he and Steve might be a good fit and upon meeting they were instantly best friends.
Steve loves scratches behind the ear, eating chicken and the song "Free Bird". When Steve isn't grooving to the music, he can be found hanging out with his best pal Snickers the beagle or snuggling with his people. He is an unparalleled hugger.
Bark's Spring 2017 Cover Dog Winner
March 9 2017
Clementine, the first winner of our 2017 cover dog contest, was adopted by Sachino Abe and Joshua Haskins from Posh Pets Rescue (PPR) in New York City in October 2015 at a pop-up event organized by Best Friends. She was in the U.S. after being rescued from the dog-meat trade by Soi Dog Foundation; PPR is one of the many groups working with the foundation to rehome dogs saved from the dog meat trade. Like many of us, Sachino and Joshua weren’t aware that a thriving dog meat trade existed in Thailand, where people still consume dogs locally as well as sell them on to neighboring countries like China and Vietnam. Many of the dogs swept up in this trade were pets. No one knows Clem’s history, but it’s their guess that she was a family dog because she is so trusting and loving toward people. She was a natural in front of the camera, and her sweet, winning personality charms everyone she meets. The photo was taken by our pal, New York photographer K C Bailey, and marks her second Bark cover session. We first worked with her during our visit to the “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” back in 2012. For Cover Dog contest entry info visit thebark.com/cover.
Twenty Years and Counting
March 9 2017
Welcome to our 20th anniversary year kick-off issue. We are showcasing reader’s dogs on all four of this year’s covers—so we lead off Clementine, who not only has what it takes to be the perfect studio model—calm, charm and an endearing smile—but also, a compelling and inspiring backstory. Don’t forget to enter your dog in our cover dog contest, thebark.com/coverdog.
Patricia McConnell set a high bar for writing about the behavior of dogs and their people with The Other End of the Leash; she followed up with numerous self-published training books and an almost 10-year stint as Bark’s behavior columnist. We talk with her about her new memoir, The Education of Will, and provide you with a preview.
Amy Sutherland, also has a new book, Rescuing Penny Jane, in which she looks at shelter dogs and the people who care for them. She offers perceptive profiles and interviews with leading experts about best practices to increase adoption rates and decrease the number of unnecessary deaths in shelters. We talk with her as well, and have an excerpt from her engrossing book.
As we’ve been doing for the past 20 years, we dive deep into topics that we believe have special significance or long-lasting importance to dog lovers. Vet care tops that list, which is why we arranged to reprint a (very) long form journalism piece from Bloomberg Businessweek about increasing corporate control in the vet healthcare sector.
Rebecca Wallick, our legal expert, looks at the thorny issue of how the law handles what happens to pets when people divorce. Then we learn what a coalition of off-leash recreation groups discovered when they used the Freedom of Information Act to force the National Park Service to provide documents used to determine a change in dog rules at a national recreational area. See the results on woofieleaks.com. Kama Brown fills us in on the top 10 talking points in the training world, and Cynthia Howle looks at what great exercise partners our dogs can be, with tips that go well beyond walks. Globetrotting Jen Sotolongo shares her tips on finding dog-friendly inns on the go. In this issue we are showcasing a gem from our archives, with Ann Patchett’s lovely “On Responsibility,” that originally appeared in our 2003.
We also scope out how to cope with flea allergies; how better diets might support longer and healthier lives, and why simple names might not really define what is going on with your dogs. Dig in!
In Conversation with Patricia McConnell, PhD, who tells us what inspired her memoir, The Education of Will (with an excerpt from the book)
Who’s Adoptable?: Shelter stress takes can take its toll on dogs. By Amy Sutherland
Talking with Amy Sutherland about shelter dogs and her book, Rescuing Penny Jane
Field Notes: Wildlife researcher recalls his backcounty co-pilot. By L. Jack Lyon
Vet Care, Incorporated: Does a one-size-fits-all-approach work for our dogs? By Jason Clenfield
Citizens Fight Back: Agency stacks the deck against dog walkers. By Sally Stephens
Best of Bark: On Responsibility—Caring for two loves. By Ann Patchett
Illuminating Medieval Hunting Dogs: On the nature and care of 14th-century dogs. By Linda S. Slusser
IT’S A DOG’S LIFE
TRAVEL: Finding Dog-friendly Accommodations on the Go By Jen Sotolongo
ACTIVITIES: Dogs Make Great Exercise Partners By Cynthia Howle
WELLNESS: Scratch! Flea allergy dermatitis and what to do about it. By Sara Greenslit, DVM, CVA
HEALTH: Optimal Nutrition Do better diets support longer lives? By Donna Raditic, DVM, DACVN, CVA
BEHAVIOR: Beware of Labels: Simple names can create complex problems. By Karen B. London, PhD
LAW: Dogs and Divorce: What happens to pets when couples untie the knot? By Rebecca Wallick
TRAINING: Talking Points : Professional dog trainers are asking new questions. By Kama Brown, CPDT-KA
MASTERWORKS: Dogs at the Met Venerable NYC museum open its archives—look what we found!
ENDPIECE: Lucky the Dog By Rob Johnsen
ORGANIZATIONS THAT MATTER: Animal Care Sanctuary Celebrates 50 Years!
REVIEWS Rescuing Penny Jane, The Education of Will, The Domestic Dog
Guest Editorial: Soi Dog Foundation
How to Draw Dogs and Puppies
Smiling Dogs: Always Irresistible
Finding Shelter: Jesse Freidin’s Portraits
Cover Dog: Clementine
News: Guest Posts
March 3 2017
What’s your dog’s name and age? Buffy, 2 years
Adoption Story:Buffy was a picked up as a stray by a small shelter in Texas. Unfortunately, her chances of finding a forever home there were not good. Thankfully, a volunteer pulled Buffy from the shelter be be shipped up north for a better chance at adoption through the group Black Dog Second Chance rescue in New York. But, Buffy had a suprise in store for them! Upon arriving to her foster home, it was discovered that she was pregnant! Her new foster home did not feel up to the task of taking on puppies so she was transfered to one with more experience. Buffy ultimately delivered five puppies but two didn't survive. But this story has a good ending, Buffy and her three healthy pups (Bingo, Bruno, and Brandy) were all adopted into loving homes. Buffy's foster mom fosters through Black Dog Second Chance Rescue where she has fostered 32 dogs, including four pregnant mammas. She loves that dogs are just so happy to be with people and that they love you for how you are. If you're interested in reading more about the benefits of foster homes or are interested in becoming a foster parent to a pup in need read on.
News: Guest Posts
February 24 2017
What’s your dog’s name and age? Spooky Boo, 6 years
Six-year-old Spooky Boo was adopted from a local shelter. She's incredibly gentle and trusting but completely deaf with severe separation anxiety so she had finding a home. Luckily for this sweet girl she found a family who was happy to have her. Three years after being adopted, a freak accident during a walk lead to Boo's paralysis.
Spooky Boo's Determination:Her dad says seeing her wag her tail again following her accident is one thing he will never forget. She showed sheer determination and refusal to stay down during her first faltering steps when walking unaided. She is a real inspiration. Spooky Boo loves to run and now with her wheels she has her freedom back (though she has a knack for running over people's toes)! She has a wonderful spirit and zest for life.
News: Guest Posts
February 17 2017
What’s your dog’s name and age? Harley, 16 years Adoption Story: Harley's person saw an ad on the internet offering a four-year-old dog who could no longer be cared for. The previous owners had divorced, while one was always traveling for work, the other divorcee moved into a apartment too small for Harley. Harley had so much joy and couldn't wait to share it with his new person! He licked his new person's face and didn't stop for weeks. Harley's Interests: He loved daily walks and absolutely loved people. He would work a room like a politician, greeting each person while smiling, and making friends. Harley was a beautiful dog with a beautiful heart, he had charisma and was a joy to be around. Harley touched all the people in his life in a way that no animal had ever done before. Harley passed away last November, leaving a legacy of love behind. His family visits him often at a spot overlooking a pond, sharing stories of their walks in the woods and wonderful life.
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