The Education Of Will - A Mutual Memoir Of A Woman and Her Dog

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Patricia McConnell
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Atria Books

In this powerful, soul-searching memoir, beautifully written in the vein of A Pack of Two and Wild, animal behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell recounts for the first time the compelling story of her dark past, memories of which are triggered by a troubled dog named Will.

World-renowned as a source of science and soul, Patricia McConnell combines brilliant insights into canine behavior—gained from her work with aggressive and fearful dogs—with heartwarming stories of her own dogs and their life on the farm. Now, she reveals that it wasn’t just the dogs who had serious problems. For decades Dr. McConnell secretly grappled with her own guilt and fear, which were rooted in the harrowing traumas of her youth.

Patricia is forced to face her past by her love for a young Border Collie named Will, whose frequent, unpredictable outbreaks of fear and fury shake Patricia to her core. In order to save Will from this dangerous behavior, she must find her own will to heal, and along the way learn that will power by itself is not enough.

Interweaving enlightening stories of her clients’ dogs with tales of her deepening bond with Will, Patricia recounts her fight to reclaim her life. Hopeful and inspiring, the redemptive message of her journey is that, while trauma changes our brains and the past casts a long shadow, healing, for both people and dogs, is possible through hard work, compassion, and mutual devotion.

Patricia McConnell, PhD, is an internationally known Zoologist and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who has treated serious behavior problems in dogs for over twenty-five years. She speaks around the world about canine behavior and training, and is the author of fourteen books, including the critically acclaimed The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do around Dogs. Dr. McConnell lives with her dogs and husband on a small farm near Madison, Wisconsin.


That night I sat on the couch and worried about this bundle of behavioral problems that I had brought into the house. I turned to see Willie watching me, his face baby-soft and expectant, his body wagging from the shoulders back. I moved off the couch and lay down beside him. He nuzzled into me, the side of his head pressing against my neck. I inhaled the scent from the top of his head, as a girlfriend had told me she’d breathe in the smell of her son’s hair, savor it, and yearn for it when they were apart.

Even as a tiny puppy, Willie wanted nothing more than to be with me, to cuddle against me with his face pressed against my neck or chest. Willie’s love of people was as extreme as his fear of dogs outside of his own pack. He loved everyone on two legs and appeared to be overjoyed that the world contained an infinite number of us. When friends came over to meet Willie, he’d stop for a second as he watched them get out of their cars, seemingly stunned by the appearance of yet another person. He’d quickly glance at me as if in amazement—“Look! There’s another one! I’ve found ANOTHER ONE!”—and then he’d charge forward, tail thumping, body soft and loose as he transported us into puppy rapture. . .

Something had sent Willie out into the world set on HIGH, like a blender with its last button pushed. Raising him was both wonderful and horrible. Underneath his craziness—his extreme reactions to unfamiliar dogs, his phobias about noises, his disastrous digestive system—I was sure there lived the dog we all want, brimming with love and loyalty, with a face that sparkles when you come home. But Willie desperately needed to feel safe and secure.

The thing was, so did I.