January 20, 2007

For the Love of a Dog

For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend
Patricia B. McConnell Ph.D

McConnell 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 behaviour, especially differences in posture and facial expressions, in order to help dogs be better behaved and help dog owners to be better handlers.

Dusty greets people she knows with bared teeth. Given that she is an Australian Cattle Dog, a breed given to biting first and asking questions later, this can be a bit disconcerting. My visitors anxiously asked “Is she going to bite me?” and all I could say in reassurance is “I don’t think so.”

McConnell describes her expression exactly in the section Smile for the Camera. Smiling dogs raise their upper lip vertically, wrinkling the skin of the muzzle and exposing the teeth. But the shiny, sharp teeth are accompanied by a relaxed body, a lowered head, friendly squinty eyes and a tail wag that starts at the shoulders.

She says that this is most likely the expression of a nervous dog anxious to please, and compares it to the grin of a teenager picking up his date for the first time.

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