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Karen B. London

Bark Columnist and Blogger

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Pet Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 12 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs. Karen writes the training column for The Bark and blogs at Dogbehaviorblog.com. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, teaching a tropical field biology course in Nicaragua. Karen writes an animal column, “The London Zoo,” and is coordinating editor for the “High Country Running” column, both of which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming An Adopted Dog Into Your Home.

Movies and Breed Popularity
The effects can last a decade

For years after the release of 101 Dalmatians, I saw representatives of this breed a lot in group classes and in private consultations for serious behavioral problems. Then, after the popularity of Eddie in the TV show Frasier, I saw more Jack Russell Terriers than before, even though that dog was a mix. When the movie Mozart came out, there was a bit of an upswing in the number of Saint Bernards I saw. I never thought I could see MORE Labrador Retrievers, but when Marley and Me was all the rage, there were even more than ever. I’m always conscious of what types of dogs are becoming stars, because it’s been my impression that it will affect my work.

Now, a new study in PLOS ONE titled “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice” has confirmed what anyone working with dogs professionally has long suspected: Canine movie stars influence the dog breeds that people choose. The reason that can be a problem is that it means that people are choosing dog breeds based on fads and fashion rather than on compatibility of the breed with lifestyle or the health of the dogs.

To study the degree of media influence on the choices people make about the type of dog to welcome into their family, researchers collected data from the American Kennel Club (AKC) about registered dogs of each breed. They analyzed the changes in popularity of dogs that were featured as main characters in movies from 1927 through 2004. In order to make sure that specific dogs were not in movies BECAUSE the breed was popular, they looked at trends in the relevant breeds both before and after the release of the movies

Movies in the early period of the study had a greater impact on breed choices by the public than movies in later years. The researchers suggest that this might be because of competition from other movies. Early on (before 1940), movies featuring dogs came out less than once a year, but later on (by 2005), it was not unusual for seven dog movies to be released in a single year.

In many cases, an increase in registrations of a particular breed that was seen in a popular movie was strongest 10 years after the movie was released. This may mean that preferences for a certain breed seen in a movie may be long-lasting and influence decisions about what dog to acquire many years after seeing a movie.

Did you ever fall in love with a dog in the movies and acquire one of the same breed later on?

Matching Names
Famous pairs and the reasons behind them

When I met Halley and Comet in a consultation, I was not surprised to learn that both guardians were astronomers. Over the years, I have met many dogs with matching names, and many such pairs relate to people’s professions. I’ve met a Shakespearean scholar whose dogs were named Puck and Desdemona (Mona for short), a jeweler who lived with Diamond and Pearl, and an attorney who named his dogs Alibi and Jury. A favorite bakery was owned by a woman whose dogs Ginger and Cinnamon were the greeting committee for customers.

Often, hobbies are the source of matching names. One client of mine was a golfer who spent his time with Birdie and Bogey, and another was a pilot whose dogs were named Wilbur and Orville. A couple who competed in ballroom dancing named their dogs Tango and Salsa. A man who considered fishing the only worthwhile way to spend his recreational time had dogs named Walleye and Muskie, and a fellow who played bridge called his dogs Diamond and Spade.

Many paired names come from the world of entertainment. Among the dogs named after characters in the movies or on television are Beauty and Beast, Batman and Robin, and Bert and Ernie. Famous couples in history are the source of names such as Fred and Ginger, Lancelot and Guinevere, and Laurel and Hardy. I once met a dog named Jiminy and didn’t consider the origin of her name until the guardian mentioned how much her behavior changed when Cricket died.

The bible accounts for names such as Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve, along with David and Goliath, while Zeus and Athena reflect a different source. An ice cream afficionado was the guardian of Ben and Jerry, and a Green Bay Packers fan was always out walking Lambeau and Lombardi.

Some paired names arise because they describe the dogs themselves. It’s easy to guess that my neighbor’s white dog was named Salt but their black dog was Pepper. On the other hand, the brown dogs named Moose and Bear were not so easy to connect with their names.

I’ve found that people who name their dogs in matching ways often have a strong interest that leads them to do so, but there are also people who simply like for their dogs names to go together. If your dogs’ form a pair (or a triplet or more), how did you come up with their names?

Circadian Rhythms
Dog activity throughout the day

It’s such rotten luck than just as many of us are coming home from work hoping to chill out, our dogs are ramping up for high activity. When dogs go nuts at that time of day, their happy reunion with us not the only reason. Most dogs naturally exhibit high energy and elevated activity levels in the early evening. That’s why it’s so important to spend some time with our dogs then. It pays to get them outside and exercising, even though that may not always be our first inclination.

Dogs are also ready for some action in the mid-morning, and this is also species-typical. They are inclined to be active at certain times of the day just as birds are inclined to sing at sunrise and coyotes tend to howl during the night. The tendency to behave in certain ways over the course of the day is part of the daily cycle called a circadian rhythm. Many living organisms have circadian rhythms, including animals, plants, fungi and even bacteria.

The light/dark cycle of our rotating planet is responsible for the circadian rhythms that lead to the predictable timing of behaviors throughout the day. Light leads to changes in the hypothalamus, which regulates these daily rhythms. The pattern of light affects sleep cycles, hormone levels, brain wave activity and body temperature, all of which have an impact on behavior.

Dogs certainly have a natural circadian rhythm with activity peaks in the mid morning and early evening. Although dogs may vary in how closely they follow this typical pattern, few adult dogs are completely at odds with this normal schedule.  Puppies, on the other hand, are not born with a circadian rhythm, and it takes months for them to develop the pattern typical of their species. Their active times are not as predictable as those of adult dogs.

Is your dog predictably active at certain times of the day?

Amazing X-Rays
Animals swallow the weirdest things

A shish kabob skewer, almost 4 dozen socks, a light bulb, 5 rubber ducks, 9 needles, 104 pennies along with a quarter, a hacky sack and a pocket knife all showed up—literally!—as winners in Veterinary Practice News’ annual contest called “They Ate WHAT?”

It’s frightening what dogs can swallow, but it’s also reassuring how often dogs are either able to pass or vomit up a dangerous item without injuring themselves further, especially when they receive proper medical care. It’s also comforting to realize how well dogs can recover from surgeries to remove objects from their insides that should have stayed on the outside.

In this ninth annual radiograph contest, the winning X-rays really are impressive. Not all of them are from dogs, but our canine friends are certainly well represented. This is no surprise—dog and stories of ingesting strange objects are a natural pairing.

Has your dog’s X-ray ever revealed something really special inside?

Back to School
It’s a big change for dogs, too

Though summer is not officially over for a couple more weeks, it feels like the end of the season when the kids go back to school. That’s certainly true for the many dogs who say good-bye to endless fun with playmates when their best buddies return to the classroom. This can be sad and stressful for dogs, but there are ways to help our dogs cope with these big changes in their daily routine.

Make departures a happy time. Watching their buddies take off for the day is no fun for most dogs, so it’s important to teach dogs to associate these good-byes with feeling good. As the kids leave, give your dog something to chew on or a stuffed Kong to keep him occupied. The goal is to help your dog to feel happy when he sees that they are about to go because he has learned that their departures equals something good for him.

Hide something fun for your dog to find while the kids are gone. In addition to giving your dog something to occupy him as he sees the kids leaving, teach him to search for an additional treasure, too. This can be another toy stuffed with food and treats, or it can be any toy or chew item that he can safely enjoy.

Emphasize quality time in the morning. Most dogs will benefit from having the opportunity to exercise and to interact with the children before they take off. Try to incorporate exercise, training, play or some time for petting into the morning routine. That way, your dog will already have had some good times to start the day and be better able to cope with some down time.

Make after school playtime a priority. Few dogs in families with kids will have as much time to play during the school year as they did during the summer. That can’t be helped, but it’s important to maintain a routine that does include play once school is over for the day. Homework, band, soccer practice, dance class and all the other demands on our time are important, but so is playing with our dogs and spending time with them. Putting this on our “to do” list not only helps us provide for our dogs’ needs, it also helps us teach our kids that dogs matter every day—not just when we have time on our hands.

Consider other options for your dog. Some dogs do fine when the kids go back to school as long as they still have the opportunity to be with them before and after school. Other dogs, especially those who will be home alone, may benefit from going to doggy day care, or having a dog walker or pet sitter help out. It depends on the dog, though, because not all dogs enjoy spending time with strangers or a lot of dogs. For many dogs, being at home on their own is a better option.

How is your dog coping with the changes in routine that go along with the kids returning to school?

A Dog in Front and a Dog Behind
Different speeds affect multiple-dog walks

When our friends Ian and Emily told us that walking their two dogs together would mean that we would have one arm in front and one behind and demonstrated the posture, I did not take it literally, but I should have. I thought they were just cleverly saying that Super Bee would want to go faster and that Zoroaster would be a bit slower. I didn’t realize that we would, in fact, have our arms open wide to accommodate the dogs’ different speeds on walks.

Both of these dogs are quite biddable, so it was not difficult to ask Super Bee to wait up sometimes or to encourage Zoroaster to pick it up at other times. Neither puts much pressure on the leash, so it was easy enough to hold the leashes in one hand so our arms were not spread out. Overall, the difference in their walking tendencies was more amusing to us than it was problematic. Still, it made me consider the options for walking dogs together when they tend to go at different speeds because of age, breed, size or personality.

An obvious option that is not always available is to have one person walk each dog. If my husband and I walked the dogs together, whoever had Super Bee could go out ahead and then loop back for the person with Zoroaster. Being separated for a short time made them both more likely to adjust their speed and stay together for a brief period afterwards.

Similarly, it’s always possible to walk each dog separately. While I am hugely in favor of quality one-on-one time with each dog, walking one dog at a time has its drawbacks. With active athletic dogs like Super Bee and Zoroaster, we were already working pretty hard to give them enough exercise, so walking them separately would have meant cutting the length of each of their walks.

Sometimes the time of day can make a difference. Super Bee is more affected by the heat than Zoroaster, so if we walked them when it was hotter, she slowed down a bit and the difference in the dogs’ speeds diminished. That helped keep the dogs at the same speed, but the drawback is that because of the heat, the walk was shorter for both dogs.

If you have dogs who walk at different paces, how do you handle it?

Resembling Our Dogs
It’s all in the eyes

If you are among the many people who have always thought that people looked like their dogs, you have probably enjoyed hearing recent research supporting the claim. Now there’s new information to allow you to bask in being officially correct. Research by Sadahiko Nakajima (Dogs and Owners Resemble Each Other in the Eye Region) not only provides additional evidence for the resemblance between dogs and their people, but narrows it down to one specific facial area—the eye region.

In this study, over 500 undergraduate students were shown photographs of people and dogs. One set of 20 photos was of people and their own dogs, but the other set contained photos of a person with a dog belonging to someone else in the study. There were a variety of breeds represented, and the people were all Japanese men and women.

Over two-thirds of the participants in the study said that the set of photographs of fake pairs of dogs and people showed individuals with less resemblance to each other than the set of photographs that contained the actual dog-person pairs. This level of proper identification was possible even when the mouths of the people were covered by black bars. The students were just as accurate when the only part of the dogs and people they could see was the eye region.

However, if the eye areas of dogs and people were masked by black bars, there was a decline in their ability to determine which set of photographs contained real dog-person pairs, and which were made up of dogs and people who did not go together. In fact, with the eyes obscured, participants in the study did no better at identifying dogs and people who belonged together than if they were just guessing. That is, their success rate dropped to about 50 percent—exactly what would be predicted by chance. This study suggests that dogs and their people resemble each other in the region of their eyes.

An interesting question related to this study is how dogs and people come to resemble each other in this way. Do people tend to choose dogs whose eyes resemble their own, or is there a similarity in expressions such as the type or intensity of emotion that can be seen in them?

I once had a dog whose eyes looked so much like mine that many people who saw us together commented on it, but I never thought about it as a regular pattern. Do you and your dog’s eyes look the same?

Favorite Facial Expressions
Which do you love most?

The dogs in my life always look adorable to me, whether they are soaking wet from rain, slobbering on a toy that is past its prime or even eating something earthy in the great outdoors. When I love a dog, that dog’s face is always perfect, even if the term “classic beauty” may not be an apt description.

Even though I always love dogs’ faces, there is one facial expression that is always my favorite, for any dog, at any age, in any circumstance. That expression is the one of happy anticipation. No dog ever looks better to me than when she is eagerly expecting something that she really wants. For a lot of dogs, that “something” is food, which may involve drooling that some people find unappealing. Not me! If the dog is excited about what’s to come, I’m going to love the look.

For many dogs, the happiest anticipation occurs when it’s clear that a walk is about to happen. Get out that leash or reach for your running shoes and dogs’ faces become animated with a special kind of bliss. It’s beautiful to me, and I make a point of observing it every time.

For Super Bee and Zoroaster, the moment before I toss a tennis ball is the moment that their faces look the very most dear to me. This is especially true before the first throw of a play session. When they even suspect a fetch game is about to happen, their faces show expressions of delight that make me want to freeze the moment forever.

What does it take for your dog to display your favorite facial expression?

Handler Stress Improves Dog Performance
Detection dogs find explosives faster

Scent detection dogs and their handlers work as a team and the behavior of both of them influences the outcome. It has long been known that dogs take cues from their human handlers and may mistakenly identify a target scent (a false positive) based on the person’s behavior. They may also search in patterns based on instructions from the handler rather than according to their own inclinations.

A recent study (Human-animal interface: The effects of handler’s stress on the performance of canines in an explosive detection task) in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science shows that the handler’s stress level has an impact on the search. Specifically, researchers found that when the people were stressed, the dogs performed better, detecting the explosives more quickly.

In the study, handlers in the Israeli army were presented with two different types of stressors in a random experimental design in which every handler faced the same stressors. One stressor was related to the handling task. Observers, including commanders, were present during a detection session, and as part of the experimental design, they pointed at the handler from a distance and pretended to write down comments during the session. The other stressor was not related to the task. Before those sessions, a handler was told by the commander that the handler would be transferred to another military unit and need to face a military police investigation. Each team also had a control session with no stressors.

Handlers were monitored during their sessions to determine physiological measures of stress. Stressors decreased the handlers’ attention and increased their anxiety levels compared to control sessions.

Dogs found the explosives more quickly when their handlers were stressed, especially by factors unrelated to the task. The dogs also showed more activity in general under this experimental condition. These results support the hypothesis that handlers’ emotional states have an impact on the performance of working dogs.

The researchers propose one possibility for the dogs’ improved performance when their handlers were stressed: Perhaps they were less attentive to the task at hand, allowing the dogs to behave in a less “handler-dependent manner.” They propose that there may be benefits to allowing dogs more control over their own behavior during detection work.

Greeting Old Friends
Sometimes dogs are extra excited

When my family visited relatives and friends in Portland, Ore. recently, everyone was glad to see us. However, nobody expressed their exuberance more than Nick and Margaret’s dogs Zuma, Keeper and Radar.

These dogs have always liked us and been happy to see us. During this visit, though, they really outdid themselves with their wags, wiggles, spins and general enthusiasm. It’s certainly possible that this was simply because it had been a long time—several months—since we had seen them. (We felt pretty excited to see them, too, after such a long absence.)

Ever since our happy reunion, though, I’ve been contemplating another reason for their especially upbeat greeting. Because they moved from Arizona to Oregon several months ago, these dogs have not seen many familiar people lately. Most of their interactions have been with strangers or with people they don’t know that well yet. So, it’s possible that seeing old friends for the first time in a long while was especially exciting for them.

After our initial hellos, all three dogs solicited attention and petting more than usual. They went onto their backs and gratefully accepted belly rubs. They put their heads in our laps and looked up at us longingly until the petting commenced. They wanted to be near us and oozed happiness in response to any physical contact. They’ve always been friendly with us, but this exceeded their usual signs of love and friendship considerably.

Has anyone else had a similar experience?