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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.

The Frozen Kong
It’s solid goodness
Straight from the freezer or straight from heaven?

There are a few kernels of wisdom related to dog training and behavior that I feel compelled to share with others as often as possible. One of these is the value of a frozen Kong. Of the many tools at our disposal for making life better for ourselves, and for our dogs, the frozen Kong is one of the most universal.

Kongs offer a wonderful option for feeding our dogs in a way that keeps them occupied. When the food inside the Kong is frozen, it takes longer for the dog to get it all out, which provides them a greater opportunity for problem solving, mental exercise, and using their mouths in the physical way that so many dogs need.

This is valuable because many dogs require more mental stimulation than we provide them each day. Working to get food out of a toy is much more satisfying to the majority of dogs than eating it straight from the bowl. It involves the chewing and licking so many dogs enjoy. It keeps dogs occupied for a long time. It provides them the opportunity to problem solve and to stick to one task for a long time.

Having a dog work on a Kong is useful to us as well as to them. It allows us to be pro-active about preventing trouble that is predictable at certain times of day. Many dogs seem a bit bored and restless in the mid-morning and again in the late afternoon, and this is when much misbehavior happens. Giving them a frozen Kong just ahead of those times that they are predictably not able to be at their best can be a sanity saver for everyone.

Similarly, if you know your dog gets overly excited when visitors come over, have a frozen Kong ready to give to your dog just before they enter. If your dog is already happily engaged with this treasure, he is less likely to be overly exuberant in his greeting, and that’s good for everyone. (If your dog tends to guard special objects or food, it’s wise to have him in a crate or in another room with his Kong when visitors come over, just to be on the safe side.)

Stuffing Kongs is like any other kitchen endeavor—there are plenty of strategies and techniques that make it easier and better, but no one way to do it right. Here are a few of my general guidelines for stuffing a Kong.

For dogs without a lot of positive experiences with a Kong, it’s important to make it easy so they have success early on. The big solid chunk formed from a full Kong that is frozen stiff might be too hard for beginners to extract, and that can be a problem unless you work up to it. You don’t want a novice dog to get frustrated and give up on Kongs before they’ve learned how wonderful they are. Start with Kongs that are not frozen so that they can easily get what’s inside. Once they love them and will not likely give up, make it just a little harder. With the first few frozen Kongs, one option is to line just the surface of a Kong with peanut butter, cream cheese, canned food or some other soft treat. You can also fill the Kong ¾ full and freeze it, then add unfrozen easy-to-get soft stuff in the last ¼ just before you give it to your dog.

To keep it upright and easier to stuff, put the Kong in a cup or glass with the large opening facing up. Squeeze the Kong to make the opening oblong when you are putting in large items or using a spoon to scoop in goopy ones. The tighter you pack the Kong, the more challenging it will be for the dog to get it, so start with loose packing and work up to the greater (and longer lasting!) challenge for your dog.

I like to stuff Kongs in layers before I freeze them. To keep things from spilling out the bottom smaller hole, first put in something that acts as a stopper and is also so delicious that your dog will stay interested in the Kong until it is empty. You can use a piece of chicken or steak, cheese, peanut butter or anything your dog really loves. Next, I put in a little canned dog food, as I always do between each layer, to keep everything together when frozen. The next layer is small pieces of dog treats, again followed by canned food. Depending on the size of the Kong and how generous I am being with the other layers, I may put in some dog kibble, and this is especially true if the dog tends to take meals with a Kong. After the next bit of canned food to almost fill the Kong, I add a long, hard treat sticking out so that the dog is sure to be interested in the Kong and get something from it right away.

Frozen Kongs have made my life better by making life better for dogs. What about you?

Canine Timeline
Remembering events based on dogs

A friend of mine was trying to remember what year her husband had run the Chicago Marathon. Naturally, she thought (and said out loud), “Let’s see, what dogs did I have then? Hmm, Izzie was a puppy, but she had already started obedience training, and Piper was competing in Utility, so it was probably around 1995.

I keep track of my life with the help of a canine timeline, too. As my brain searches for a memory to place an event at a specific time, dogs run through my mind.

“Let’s see, we were fostering Who the year it stayed below zero for over a week, so that was probably 2002.”

“Her husband died while we had Tyson, so I think it was in 2008.”

“We moved to New Hampshire weeks before we got Bugsy, so that would have been 1998.”

“Their baby girl was a newborn when Bear came to visit, so she is just turning two this year.”

Do you keep track of life events by remembering which dogs were present and what they were doing?

Don’t Visit Without Them
Must-have travel items for guests

If you’re traveling with your dog this holiday season to stay with friends or family, you probably have more stuff jammed into your car than if your dog were staying home. I hope you’ve still have some space left, though, because you’ll want to make sure you have those extra items that can help make the trip with your dog a success.

I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like food, food bowls, crate, leash, collar, and a brush for daily groomers. I assume those are already packed and ready to go. No, I’m talking about the things that make visits easier for social reasons—the ones that are useful because they help prevent or ease the tensions that so often arise when dogs are guests.

Let’s not kid ourselves—even friends and relatives who love our dogs may not love the extra mud, hair and slobber that they bring or those little behavior gaffes such as counter surfing, barking, crotch-sniffing, trash parties and jumping up. With a little planning ahead and thoughtfulness, you can minimize any feelings of regret they may have about inviting your dog to come with you. Here are some must-have items to bring.

Extra-nice hostess gift. Bring something really special for your hosts and write in the card how much you appreciate that your dog is welcome, too. Consider adding a second gift that is from your dog.

Lint rollers. The hair that you consider a standard accessory to your outfits may not match everyone else’s style. Sharing these clean-up tools helps everyone get ready for family photos and also lets them know you realize that your dog sheds and that you care about how this affects others.

Washcloths and towels. At my house, we have a huge bin of old towels and washcloths that we use for anything slightly gross. At some houses, all linens are fancy and new, which means their owners may not appreciate them being used to wipe muddy paws and bellies, to put on furniture or rugs under a wet dog or to clean up everything from dog vomit to water bowl spills.

The phone number and location of a nearby hotel that accepts pets. It’s wise to be prepared in case it becomes prudent for you and your dog to relocate. Hopefully, tensions will not escalate to the point where you feel compelled to leave, but being prepared for that (just in case!) is always wise.

Thank-you gift. When you leave, let your hosts know that you appreciate them with something like flowers or a bottle of wine. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it shows that you are grateful and includes a gracious note praising your hosts’ hospitality to you and your dog.

I hope you and your dog have a wonderful visit and that you are both invited back again!

Oh No You Didn’t
Photos of dogs dressed for Christmas

Some dogs enjoy sporting costumes, but they are in the minority. I see many dogs who look absolutely adorable dressed up for various holidays, but only a small subset of those look happy. I recently saw a photo on a restaurant wall of a dog done up as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, complete with a red clown nose and large antlers. One way to describe his mood is “less than thrilled.” It’s far more accurate to say, as the person next to me DID say, “That is one pissed off dog.”

It’s become a game in my family to imagine captions for photos of dogs subjected to being adorned with excessive Christmas cheer. Whether they are wearing antlers, a Santa suit or a string of lights, it’s usually hard to imagine that the dogs are thinking, “Thanks, I do love to look festive!” Here are some of the sentiments that I think more likely match their opinions on the matter.

Really?

Oh, no you didn’t.

Do we have to do this EVERY year?

You take this off me this instant!

One more things gets put on me, and your fingers are history.

How come the cat never has to wear this stuff?

Someone’s gonna be sorry!

Why does this always happen to me?

This is so embarrassing.

Is this the way best friends are supposed to treat each other?

Now, I’m not saying the dogs look anything but great in their holiday attire, and I certainly understand how much the right canine outfit can add to the annual family photo. But if you look at your dog and see an expression that is anything but joyful, it makes sense to consider skipping the costume, or putting it on just long enough to take a photo.

A Star is Born
Singing along to “Let It Go”

This dog sleeps right through Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” featured in “The Fault in Our Stars,” but watch how he reacts when Frozen’s “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel comes on. The way his ears respond first followed by a slight movement of the head, then a head raise and a look directly at the camera makes the sequence look choreographed. The dog acts very much like an actor in a musical at the start of a big number.

I find it especially amusing that the dog yawns and looks ready to sleep again when the music switches from “Let It Go” and returns to “Boom Clap.” This guy knows what he likes. I’m curious about why this dog prefers one song over the other. Personal preference could obviously account for his reaction, but prior experience may play a role, too.

The people who posted the video call “Let It Go” their dog’s favorite song. It certainly makes sense that familiarity plays a role in the dog’s enthusiasm at hearing it. Perhaps, like me, this dog lives with kids in the age range of 4-12, in which case he’s probably heard this song hundreds of times by now.

Whatever the reason, he really has his performance down! Somebody needs his own iPod or a karaoke machine!

Christmas Trees are Not Indoor Bathrooms
This may not be obvious to your dog

“Brought home my first Christmas tree about 25 seconds ago. The dog peed on it about 23 seconds ago. So. Joy to the world and season's greetings and all that.” My friend’s Facebook post describes a situation many of us have faced.

Though Christmas trees are decorations to us, their purpose is far from clear to most dogs. Anxiety has always been a part of my experience when I bring a dog to visit people around Christmas. I encourage anyone whose dog is going to be around these evergreen signs of the season to assume that dogs might view the tree differently than people and act accordingly, if you want your tree to be free of dog pee. (And who doesn’t want that?)

Management and prevention are useful tools when trying to prevent this behavior issue, so do what you can to keep your dog from going over to the tree when you’re not looking. Use gates or other equipment to block your dog’s access. If that’s not possible, supervise him when that room is available to him so he can’t sneak up on the tree while you’re baking, wrapping gifts or panicking over a recent credit card statement. This takes discipline and commitment on your part because this time of year is busy for most of us. Keeping your dog on a leash inside can keep him from wandering over to the tree, too.

No matter how well your dog is housetrained or how many years it’s been since he had an accident, assume nothing when a tree is indoors, especially if it is your dog’s first experience with one. A dog who pees on a Christmas tree is confused rather than acting out. Give your dog some help by letting him know that you still want him to eliminate outside. Take him out often on walks and in the yard, and reinforce him with great treats for eliminating in the right places. Know the signs that your dog has to go. Be alert to any indications that he may be about to eliminate such as sniffing or circling. Spend quiet time with him near the tree massaging him or letting him chew on a Kong or other chew treat so he considers the tree part of his living space. Dogs are less likely to eliminate in areas where they hang out or where they sleep.

If your dog knows “leave it,” practice it with many objects in the house that are off limits, including the tree. Reinforce him with treats, play or toys for correct responses to this cue. If he sniffs the tree or goes near it, reinforce him for being near it but not peeing on it. Teaching him to do something specific near the tree such as “sit” or “lie down” gives him a go-to behavior to do in that area other than lifting his leg. If he develops a strong reinforcement history with a behavior other than peeing on the tree, he will be less likely to pee on it.

Remember that if your dog does pee on the tree, he probably didn’t realize it was a faux pas. The tree may even have been peed on in the great outdoors before you brought it home, and that can make it extra confusing for the canine set. Clean it with an enzymatic cleaner to take away the odor so that it won’t smell like a bathroom to him.

Hopefully, your dog will not decorate your tree this year (or your heirloom tree skirt, your favorite ornaments or any of the presents.) That will make it easier to mean it when you say, “Joy to the world and season's greetings and all that.”

Outsmarted by a Puppy
She’s not a Houdini dog after all

Though definitely impressed by the intelligence of dogs, I generally still consider my cognitive skills to be beyond theirs. At the very least, I like to think that I am a match for the power of the canine brain, but lately there has been evidence to the contrary.

We were dog sitting a 5-month old puppy named Peanut. Her house training was far enough along that she never had an accident during the week at our house. Though she likes to chew a bit as do most puppies that age, she generally kept her teeth where they belonged—on puppy toys and chews. Still, there was no way that she and the house were guaranteed to be safe from each other without constant supervision, so we needed to confine her to a part of the house while we were gone.

We chose our back room, which has a wood floor and old furniture. Though the doorway to that room is a wide arch with no actual door, we used a puppy pen to block her access to the rest of the house. The puppy pen is quite high and she’s not an elite jumper, so we thought she would remain in the room.

Over the course of the week, her location when we returned was variable, and we were beginning to think of her as a real Houdini dog. Sometimes she was sleeping on the couch or lying on the floor enjoying an appropriate chew toy in the back room. Those were the good moments. Other times, she was at various other places in the house—in the upstairs hallway, in the kitchen, in the living room or dining room. She was never in the bedrooms or bathrooms because we closed the doors to those areas, but with an open plan house, our close-the-door strategy had its limits.

The first time she got out of the back room, there was clear evidence that she had pushed the gate in various ways to spring herself free, but after that, we used chairs, stools and various other means to prevent that from happening again. Yet, we kept coming home to find Peanut unconstrained by our techniques, and the gate intact. We considered the possibility that she was jumping or climbing the gate, but she just isn’t one of those dogs with a remarkable vertical leap, and we’d not seen any signs of her climbing tendencies, either.

The reason we couldn’t figure out how she was escaping was because of our own constrained thinking. We were only considering the one doorway out of that room because that is the only way we ever enter or leave the room. There is, however, another way out, and though we didn’t think about it, it did not escape Peanut’s notice. That room is next to our kitchen, and there is a faux window that leads from the back room to the kitchen. By jumping up on a set of stacking tables in the back room, Peanut was easily able to reach this passageway into the kitchen. Then, it was easy enough for her to jump through that open space into the kitchen sink, and from there, the house was hers to enjoy.

Once we moved those tables away, it was easy to keep her confined to the back room, as she was unable to escape, and we faced no more surprises upon returning home. Despite her escapes into the rest of the house, she did very little damage. A flip flop has a few bite marks in it, and the first chapter of one paperback book is no longer in mint condition. Such chewing activity is pretty mild stuff for a young puppy, and we are grateful. Considering our idiocy in not realizing what an easy escape route we had provided to Peanut, we are lucky.

Has your dog found ways to escape confinement that seemed obvious to you only after the fact?

Fun With a Dog on Live TV
An unexpected entrance

Live TV and dogs are a volatile mix, and one meteorologist in South Florida recently experienced the full fun of that combination. Right in the middle of Ryan Phillips’ segment, King unexpectedly showed up and hopped on the desk. The entrance may have taken Phillips off guard, but he was able to roll with it. He greeted King warmly, kept on talking, and shifted to another part of the studio for the rest of the weather report. He commented that King (who is the pet of the week and available for adoption) has to wait one more segment because it is not his turn yet.

Presumably, there were attempts to control King, and my best guess is that it was a pretty entertaining scene even if the station chose to air the weather map and their meteorologist instead of showing King’s antics. I would give anything to see footage of the amateur dog wranglers’ efforts, because I imagine that people whose skills make them experts at putting on a TV show do not necessarily mean that they have dog handling experience. In support of that claim, notice that even though King rushed his on-screen debut, he was still on leash, which means that he probably just pulled it out of someone’s hand. (Moments later, it looks as though someone off camera had gotten hold of it again.)

Has your dog ever made an unexpected entrance at an event?

Musical Instruments and Dog Breeds
They go together in my mind

At a cello recital a few weeks ago, I just couldn’t get Weimaraners out of my mind. Trying to keep my attention on the music, it occurred to me that it was the music that was conjuring up this breed. For whatever reason, the cello makes me think of these dogs. I’m not even sure whether it is the visual aspect of the instrument matching the dog or something about the sound itself. All I know is that I spent much of the rest of the recital contemplating which breeds are the best matches for various instruments. Some were easy to call to mind, while others took considerable thought.

The upright base was an obvious match for large breeds such as the Great Dane or the Irish Wolfhound. Similarly, the tuba goes easily enough with the English Mastiff and the French Mastiff. On the other extreme, the flute made me think of Pomeranians and Yorkshire Terriers.

At this point, I got stuck. My brain was swirling with dogs and musical instruments without much luck pairing them up in a way that made me feel confident. To proceed, I asked my Facebook friends what dog breeds they associate with various musical instruments. I got the following responses:

Cymbals are adolescent Labrador Retrievers.

Xylophones are Chihuahuas.

Trumpets and French Horns are baying hounds of some sort.

The clarinet is a Jack Russell Terrier.

The bongos are bulldogs.

A piano is a Dalmatian.

I also received some great comments about which instrument went with certain dog breeds. It was then that I realized that I probably should have framed the question that way in the first place. (Dogs first in all things, that’s what I say!) Here are the comments that started with dogs and identified an instrument to go along with them:

Afghan Hounds are harps.

Xolos (Mexican Hairless Dogs) are xylophones.

Chihuahuas are piccolos.

Clumber Spaniels are oboes.

One Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a drummer because of the way his hard tail whacks everything.

Papillons are piccolos.

Miniature Schnauzers are vuvuzelas.

Italian Greyhounds are flutes or piccolos.

Mutts are banjos.

What instrument is a match for your dog? Please identify breed, breeds, or suspected general type of dog. By all means offer your insights if you have my favorite type of dog—the glorious unidentifiable mix!

Mornings With Puppies
Advice for navigating this stage of life

I was woken up this morning at 4:45 a.m. by a puppy who needed to go out. The high-pitched sounds indicating her distress were impossible to ignore, and both my husband and I shot awake with uncharacteristic haste. The puppy took care of business immediately when I took her outside, and then came back in to finish the night.

I’m convinced she was ready to start the day, but we are having no part of teaching her that she can wake us up to play or to feed her breakfast whenever the mood strikes her. (I’m concerned enough about teaching her that whining and yelping will make us get out of bed, but since she really had to go and we are still working on house training, I’m choosing to let that go for now.)

It’s a tricky balance with puppies to take them out in the morning when they need to eliminate without teaching them that they control when the fun begins each day. Here are some guidelines for navigating this challenging stage.

1. DO take them out when they need to go, no matter how early it is. Housetraining should definitely be the top priority, which means that your sleep, regrettably, is a distant second.

>2. If possible, DO take your puppy out before she is frantic. The sooner you respond to her cues that she is ready to eliminate, the less you risk teaching her that screeching is the way to get you out of bed. (This morning, we failed to do this, but we had success on other days.)

3. Do NOT make the outing fun. If it is exciting in any way, you will increase her motivation to act like a rooster and crow at first light. That is not good for you or your relationship with your best-friend-in-training. Be dull and matter-of-fact. Leave your personality in bed where it belongs at this early hour. Keep your dog on leash so she can’t frolic joyfully all over the yard and have fun while you try to collect her again. Use treats to reinforce her for urinating or defecating outside to keep housetraining moving along, but don’t have a party over it. If your puppy really wants to go outside to potty, the relief of emptying her bladder along with a good treat is enough. (If you are having serious trouble with housetraining and your puppy rarely eliminates outside, then you should make a really big deal of her success. For the typical puppy who does get this right most mornings, you can be low key about it).

4. Do NOT do anything but take your puppy outside for a bathroom break. The day has not begun yet, so don’t be tempted to feed the puppy or play with her. That just makes the puppy more eager for you to haul yourself out of bed at an ungodly hour. Once she goes, wait a minute or two before you bring her back to her bed or crate. The brief wait prevents you from accidentally teaching her that urinating or defecating results in you bringing her back inside immediately. Dogs who learn this tend to hold it as long as they can until they are ready to return to the house. That may not be such a big deal with a puppy-sized bladder, but once she’s older, you may end up staying outside far too long in freezing weather or when you’re going to be late to work.

One of the biggest challenges in raising a young puppy is dealing with those early wake ups. It’s an important training period because you are working on both housetraining and morning etiquette. In other words, you are teaching your puppy that you only get up for a potty break, and that nothing really fun happens until you (not the puppy!) are ready to face the day.

If you are currently in the stage of puppy raising that involves early mornings, I wish you longer nights in the not-too-distant future and a well-behaved dog for years to come!