By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 21, 2007 at 5:16 AM

You don’t have to be from Wisconsin anymore to know about Patricia McConnell. The Madison animal behaviorist’s Wisconsin Public Radio show is syndicated nation-wide and her once locally published books are now in shops thanks to Random House.

But, McConnell is still Wisconsin-based -- she lives in Black Earth -- doing her show “Calling All Pets” in Madison, where she is an adjunct professor of zoology at the University of Wisconsin and where she continues to work as a certified behaviorist.

McConnell loves dogs, as you’d imagine, but she also knows dogs intimately. With her latest book, “For The Love of a Dog,” in paperback (via Random House’s Ballantine Books), we asked her about our four-legged friends and especially about how they live in cities like Milwaukee.

OMC: After so many books and so many radio shows, how do you keep finding subjects to write about?

PM: That's easy!  Animals of all descriptions never fail to fascinate me, including the most complicated one of all ... us.

OMC: On the radio you still sound so enthusiastic, are there days when your dogs just drive you batty?

PM: Oh yeah! All I can say is "thank heavens for crates."  I have a young border collie right now, and although I adore him, every once in awhile I can feel my temperature start to rise when he's herding the cat in the house, getting mud all over the clean carpet or has dropped his toy on my feet one time too many. When that happens, I just say, as casually as possible, "let's go in your crate."  He doesn’t have to know that the end of the sentence is "... before I return you to the breeder."

OMC: I recently read an article in which the author admitted to falling out of love with her dog once her baby arrived. We always talk about keeping the magic alive in human relationships, but how do we make sure we don't fall out of love with our dogs ... and vice versa?

PM: Ah, that's a good question, but it sounds like a relationship counselor might be a better expert to ask! I know that one great way to keep things fresh with your dog is to find some new, silly tricks to teach your dog.  The oldest dog in the world can still learn a new trick, and there's something about tricks that seems to bring joy to both species.

OMC: What do our dogs need and want most from us?

PM: The want us to pay attention to them and to do things with them; they want us to be consistent and to make sense; and they want us to understand that they aren't refusing to do what we ask because they're challenging our status as 'pack leader,' they are either confused about what we want, and or can't understand why on earth it is worth it to them to do it. We need to put ourselves in our dog's place more often and try to imagine what it would be like to have some tall, two-legged thing expect us to leave something really, really special and fly through the air like Lassie in an old movie just to have them make some irrelevant, meaningless noise, like “good boy.”

OMC: Let's talk a little about dogs in the city. Do you have suggestions for pet owners who use dog parks?

PM: Sure ... don't take your dog to a dog park unless you have good off-leash control of him.  That will keep him, you and other dogs safe and happy.

OMC: What about dogs at outdoor cafes? The recently came up in Chicago and is being discussed in Milwaukee. Do you like the idea or is it putting dogs in a position to make mistakes?

PM: I love the idea of well-socialized dogs being allowed to hang out with their owners in outdoor cafes. There are places all over the country that allow it, not to mention all of the countries in Europe. What's important is to be sure that your dog really is enjoying it and isn't stressed by being in a crowded environment. We need to be better than we are at reading signs of nervousness and fear on the faces of our dogs. I see dogs all the time whose owners say their dogs are 'fine' when the dog is clearly communicating anxiety. That's part of why I wrote “For the Love of a Dog” and included photographs that help people learn to 'read' their dogs.

OMC: Of course, we always hear about pit bulls and rottweilers. Do you think they are dangerous breeds? Is there such a thing?

PM: How long do you have?  In brief, what's dangerous is people who breed irresponsibly and raise dogs in such a way that encourages aggression.  I am completely and totally opposed to any bans on any specific breed of dog.

OMC: How can city dwellers make sure their dogs are good neighbors?

PM: Train them!

OMC: What suggestions do you make to people considering getting a dog?

PM: Get a breed that fits your life now, not the life you think you should have. Meet the dog's parents or adopt from a shelter or rescue group. Only get a dog from a place that you are willing to return the dog to if it's not the right dog for you.

OMC: How do they avoid puppy mills? How can they recognize one?

PM: I wouldn't get a dog from a place that didn't guarantee their dogs, that wouldn't take any dog back no questions asked, that can't prove to you how happy and healthy the parents are. Avoid, at all costs, getting a puppy from a place you haven't seen yourself, unless it's a shelter or rescue. Don't believe the people who say they are "doing their sister a favor and driving the dogs over from the next state and will deliver."

OMC: What are the plusses and minuses of dogs adopted from rescues?

PM: Good rescue groups will take the dog back if it doesn't work out and have done a good evaluation of the dog and should be able to help place a dog in the right home. There aren't a lot of minuses, except to say that it's impossible to predict how a dog will behave in one environment if it is evaluated in a different one. Always adopt a dog on “trial,” and try not to lose your heart until you've had the dog for at least three weeks.

OMC: Finally, do you really trust people who say they don't like dogs? Except, of course, in cases of those who've been bitten, etc.

PM: Well, sure. There aren't actually many people I don't like -- Michael Vick isn't exactly high on my list right now, admittedly -- and if they don't like dogs, well then, maybe if they hang out with me or people like me they will change.
 

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.