What Others Say
Shelf Awareness Review
Conventional widsom says that a pet's affection has healing powers. Professional dog behaviorist Patricia B. McConnell (The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs) knew and loved many canines before she met Will. While helping him overcome his anxieties, she identified and subdued her own. In the style of H Is for Hawk and Dog Medicine, The Education of Will: A Mutual Memoir of a Woman and Her Dog is an eloquent story of how the bond between human and animal uncovered the connection between McConnell and her deepest self.
Her zoology degree led to her studies of animal behavior, specifically how shepherds communicate with their working dogs. Eventually she co-founded a business helping dogs with behavior issues, relishing "acting as a translator between members of two different species." As her memoir opens, McConnell recalls choosing Will, the black-and-white fluff ball who would join three other dogs on her Wisconsin farm. He looked at her with "soft, radiant eyes," as if asking a question. "Somehow it seemed imperartive that I find the answer," she writes. Will was sweet and responsive, yet excessively fearful of other dogs and sudden noises. "Willie desperately needed to feel safe and secure. The thing was, so did I."
Human and border collie lead each other to peace. Through eloquent parallel stories, McConnell reveals her history of severe trauma and her patient and professional handling of Will's behaviors. The Eduction of Will is part testimony to the pair's healing process and part instruction guide to animal communication, with advice on how to listen and soothe your best friend.
—Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
“Patricia McConnell may be the finest popularizer of the science of animal behavior we have today, and for many dog owners, myself included, she’s long been a wise and witty guiding light. With The Education of Will, her intensely personal and frankly brave memoir, she examines her own traumatic history with characteristic insight, honesty, and intellectual tenacity. The result is a fascinating portrait of the deepest of connections being forged between one woman and one dog — and just how high the stakes are for both. Patricia McConnell is a treasure, and we're very lucky indeed that she wrote this story.”
—David Wroblewski, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
How training an incorrigible puppy helped an internationally renowned animal behaviorist recover from "multiple traumas." During her 25-year career, McConnell (For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, 2006, etc.) has trained both aggressive dogs "voicelessly telling me how frightened they were" and their owners, many of whom were unable to understand their pets' signals without her direction. As the author notes, throughout her career, she has "used science, art, and empathy to help ‘problem dogs' have a voice; to listen to what they are trying to tell us and help them and their families be happy together." She has always felt tremendous empathy for these "fearful, frightened dogs," whose self-expressions were often misunderstood. McConnell explains how she could never let her guard down because she was scarred by painful events in her past, including sexual exploitation and witnessing a man fall to his death in front of her. She carried these scars into adulthood, resulting in a constant sense of hypervigilance; her "startle response," she writes, was set to "PANIC." Though she had her hands full living with three older dogs in varying states of frailty, she decided to adopt Will, a border collie puppy who was alternately a snuggler and a terror. She had no way of knowing for sure, but she believed that Will shared similar prior experiences of shock and trauma. Will gave the author firsthand knowledge that aggressive dogs are often fearful and misunderstood, and they don't have a reliable method for expressing it. McConnell's constant struggles to soothe Will finally gave her the courage to speak about her suffering and begin talk therapy and other methods of healing and relaxation. In addition to information sure to appeal to dog lovers, the author provides a compassionate account of the reclamation of her life from abuse and shame. An uplifting story of hope about how both dogs and humans need "a sense that they are not helpless victims."
“An unflinching look at trauma and how one woman grows beyond it—beside a wondrous, troubled spark of a dog who needs her help and helps her know herself. Wisdom earned in the hardest places, dog and human, brings with it a carrying message of hope. The Education of Will is riveting from the first page to the last.”
—Susannah Charleson, author of Scent of the Missing and The Possibility Dogs
Shortly after McConnell (The Other End of the Leash, 2002) brought her eight-week-old puppy, Will, home, her heart sank. She realized that the young dog was exhibiting behaviors that are usually associated with abused or problem animals. When Will turned aggressive with other dogs, she knew that her goal of raising a top-notch sheepdog woud be nearly impossible to achieve. Yet, McConnell, a longtime animal behaviorist, persisted in her training. Over time, she came to realize that the dog was, in some respects, both feeding off her own anxieties and mirroring them. With help, she began to contront traumas that she thought had been dealt with, only to realize that her troubled relationships, deep fears, and irrational behaviors were evidence that some things are not easily gotten over. This book is more than a story of a bad dog turned better, and it is more than a recitation of how dogs can help people. McConnell achieves something simple, honest, and beautiful in a book about a troubled woman and her troubled dog.
“This powerful memoir twines the lives of an extraordinary dog and an extraordinary woman. Their courageous, compelling story will profoundly deepen your understanding of people and animals, fear and shame, love and listening.”
—Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus
“Patricia B. McConnell’s inspirational memoir, The Education of Will, is, above all, a book about redemption. McConnell faces her own history of trauma as she tries to understand and heal her fearful and reactive border collie, Willie. This book is filled with McConnell’s fascinating and often humorous insights about working with wonderful and sometimes wounded dogs. But this isn’t a book about training dogs. It’s much more. The Education of Will engages in an intimate and challenging conversation with the reader: about saving yourself, saving others, and allowing others to save you. It is original, powerful, heartwrenching in its honesty — and filled with a comforting, gentle grace.”
—Cat Warren, author of What the Dog Knows
“Patricia B. McConnell has written an inspiring and courageous book about the mysteries of the love between humans and dogs and how that love can bring healing and forgiveness after trauma. Anyone who has ever loved a pet — especially a dog — will discover new and powerful insights into how that bond can lead to liberation, even from even our most hidden and crippling shames. The Education of Will brought me to tears and laughter, amazement and admiration. Patricia B. McConnell has dramatically advanced the growing body of literature that explores post-traumatic stress syndrome and how our life force — and that of our beloved dogs — leads us to truth-telling and and a reconnection with ourselves and society.”
—Nancy Venable Raine, author of After Silence
“In The Education of Will, Patricia McConnell writes with unflinching honesty, vulnerability, and warmth. She wraps her reader in the highs and lows of a life lived beautifully, through gut-wrenching traumas, hard-won victories, unexpected romances, and tear-jerking setbacks. Through it all, McConnell depicts the natural world (and of course, dogs) with masterful reverence and passion. A tremendously winning memoir.”
—Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs
“The Education of Will delves deep into the minds of people and dogs, and into the effects of trauma, showing that healing is possible. McConnell gives a voice to those who can’t speak in words and provides hope for fearful animals everywhere.”
—Temple Grandin, author of Animals Make Us Human and Animals in Translation