By Heather Leszczewicz Special to Published Sep 25, 2006 at 5:17 AM

In the world of pets and pet lovers, you’re either a cat person or a dog person. However, there’s a reason why dogs have been considered man’s best friend. University of Wisconsin-Madison professor and certified animal behaviorist Dr. Patricia McConnell’s newest book, “For the Love of a Dog” looks at the relationships between dogs and their owners, particularly at the emotions the two share.

“It’s a book about people and their dogs and emotions,” she says. “It’s a combination of science and a little practical advice, but it was written primarily because it was clear to me that our connection with our dogs is an emotional one.”

McConnell, who is touring in support of “For the Love of a Dog,” has worked with dogs for over 18 years and she has four dogs of her own. Day to day interactions between owners and dogs inspired McConnell to start teaching and researching, but her love for animals really spawned her career.

She says that “For the Love of Dog” is a timely because of current advances in neurobiology which help people understand emotions better than before.

“Emotions are primitive things, we (humans and dogs) share emotional lives,” McConnell says. “It’s no question that many of us love our dogs. Many have risked their lives for their dogs. I don’t think it’s anthropomorphic; it’s the same hormones that mediate our love. Highly social species share those emotional connections.”

McConnell says look at a dog, behavior and emotion can be read from their faces.

“Dogs are one of the few species that have faces as flexible as ours. Dogs are the Jim Carey of the animal world with flexible movable faces,” she says. “There’s no need to express emotion if no one is there to see it.”

Of those emotions, she says that social bonding -- “the academic word for love” -- is the most important. But humans and dogs share plenty of other emotions from anger to happiness and fear.

“We’re also connected with some of the primal emotion like fear. Fear keeps you alive. No question that we share that with dogs,” she says. “Dogs might feel fear more intensely than humans do.”

McConnell believes that many people mistake fear for aggression and behavioral problems. She says that this is a miscommunication between owner and pet. “Fear, happiness and anger are very, very similar.”

“We affect how dogs are feeling all the time. We can inadvertently scare them, like hugging them. They don’t see it as a sign as affection,” she says. “Emotions are contagious so, just as we feel joyous and happiness, we convey that emotion to our dogs. We elicit fear when we’re angry. We elicit the same primal emotions.”

“For the Love of Dog,” she says was written to be informative, yet readable to give people a sense of the emotions connecting humans and dogs.

“I hope it can be a bridge between people who love animals and the knowledge we’ve gained from science,” she says. “I wrote to especially to be readable and enjoyable; not to oversimplify but not bog down.”

Overall, McConnell hopes “For the Love of Dog” will help people to understand the biology of feelings and that, of course, dogs have feelings.

“I hope people also are better able to understand how their emotions are similar but are also different than dogs,” she says. “I also hope people use the book to be able to read a dog.”

McConnell says that miscommunication between the two species can cause results that don’t benefit the relationship. She has seen a resurgence in an old model involving behavior problems that are said to be because the dog does not accept the dominance of their owner. She believes this is a model “we are way past.”

“That belief has had a bit of resurgence lately result in a lot of miscommunication and regret,” she says. “Dogs become defensive; they don’t know what’s going on. I hope people are inspired to use more positive reinforcements.”

She will be discussing this topic as well as her book during her Milwaukee tour date.

Heather Leszczewicz Special to

Originally from Des Plaines, Ill., Heather moved to Milwaukee to earn a B.A. in journalism from Marquette University. With a tongue-twisting last name like Leszczewicz, it's best to go into a career where people don't need to say your name often.

However, she's still sticking to some of her Illinoisan ways (she won't reform when it comes to things like pop, water fountain or ATM), though she's grown to enjoy her time in the Brew City.

Although her journalism career is still budding, Heather has had the chance for some once-in-a-lifetime interviews with celebrities like actor Vince Vaughn and actress Charlize Theron, director Cameron Crowe and singers Ben Kweller and Isaac Hanson of '90s brother boy band Hanson. 

Heather's a self-proclaimed workaholic but loves her entertainment. She's a real television and movie fanatic, book nerd, music junkie, coffee addict and pop culture aficionado.