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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.

Dog Poems and Umwelt
Celebrating National Poetry Month Canine Style

It’s National Poetry month, and the goal since 1996 of this tradition is for people to see poetry all over the place. That means that people are placing poems in restrooms, on billboards, online and yes, even on dog collars.

The goal is for people to realize that poetry is everywhere, and part of that is understanding that the subjects of poetry are endless and anyone can write a poem. Of course, love is a prominent theme, as is the beauty of nature, but anything that interests a poet is a fair topic.

Naturally, many poets write about dogs, because they fall into the category of love, the beauty of nature and anything of interest to a poet. I particularly like one dog poem I discovered this month because it explores variation in perception.

It’s natural to assume that what we can sense is what’s out there, but each species has a very different view of “what’s out there.” Another way to say that is that every species has its own perceptual world, which is called the species’ Umwelt. That’s a German word that is most commonly translated as “subjective universe.” Jakob von Uexküll came up with this term in 1907 to describe the phenomenon of organisms having different sensory experiences (even if they live in the same environment) because of varying capabilities of perception.

The poem is by Lisel Mueller and is called What The Dog Perhaps Hears.

If an inaudible whistle

blown between our lips

can send him home to us,

then silence is perhaps

the sound of spiders breathing

and roots mining the earth;

it may be asparagus heaving,

headfirst, into the light

and the long brown sound

of cracked cups, when it happens.

We would like to ask the dog

if there is a continuous whir

because the child in the house

keeps growing, if the snake

really stretches full length

without a click and the sun

breaks through clouds without

a decibel of effort,

whether in autumn, when the trees

dry up their wells, there isn't a shudder

too high for us to hear.

 

What is it like up there

above the shut-off level

of our simple ears?

For us there was no birth cry,

the newborn bird is suddenly here,

the egg broken, the nest alive,

and we heard nothing when the world changed.

Do you have a favorite dog poem? Have you written canine poetry?

The Most Crucial Item
The one type of dog gear you can't leave the house without

As a young teenager, I read an article in a beauty magazine that asked the question, “What’s the one type of make-up you can’t walk out of the house without?” I considered this carefully for some time. Was it eyeliner? Mascara? Lip gloss? This was the 80s, when a lot of make-up was common, but I wouldn’t struggle with the question today. As long as I have sunscreen on, my beauty routine is complete and I’m ready to go.

But a similar question about dog gear would leave me just as befuddled as the make-up question from decades ago. What one type of dog gear do I absolutely have to have when I walk out of the house? It makes sense to narrow this down to non-essential dog gear. That means I’m not even counting the leash and collar. The law requires that I have poop bags so I’m not going to count those either.

When I walk out of the house with a dog, the item I can’t be without is treats. I use them as reinforcements for training, and I do a lot of training. They are useful for counter conditioning, as distractions and even to prevent an off-leash dog from charging up to my dog.

I could imagine other people answering that the most essential item for their dogs is a tennis ball. Plenty of people have dogs who would look at them with disdain if they went to the park without a ball for playing fetch. If your dog prefers other toys for this game, perhaps your one essential item would be a flying disc. Squeaky toys or something else to play with in another way may be a top pick for many. Other people might say that they would never go anywhere without a clicker and treats (two items, really) or without a Kong. For anxious dogs, perhaps a thunder cap or thunder shirt, or the dog’s special blanket might be the one thing you would never leave behind.

What’s the one dog-related item you wouldn’t walk out of the house without?

Uptown Funk Parody Encourages Adoption
East Bay SPCA gets creative

The purpose of this video, according to the East Bay SPCA in Oakland, Calif., is to get the word out that adopting pets is the cool thing to do, but it’s also just plain entertaining. It shows beautifully behaved, well-groomed dogs of all shapes and sizes. I’m impressed with how relaxed the dogs are. Sure, there are a few tongue flicks and yawns, so there was a little stress, but considering all the people and cameras around, it’s pretty minimal. These look to me like delightful, happy dogs.

In addition to the footage of the dogs hanging out with people (and the occasional cat) I love the lyrics. For days, the following lines are sure to be running through my head:

“I’m adopted, Hallelujah!”

“Spay or neuter your pup!”

“When I show up, gonna show you how awesome shelter dogs are!”

“Going to my forever home, break it down!”

My personal favorite is, “If you’re sexy, then flaunt it, if you’re drooly then own it.”

Best of all is the note at the end saying, “All dogs and cats in the video were adopted from East Bay SPCA.”

The Look of Love
It bonds people and dogs

You gaze into your dog’s eyes. Your dog gazes back at you. It’s true love, right? Yes, absolutely! And it’s not just any kind of love, but perhaps one of the most powerful kinds of love that exists—the love between mother and child.

So says a new study published in the prestigious journal Science called ”Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the co-evolution of human-dog bonds.” This research provides evidence that our feelings of love for dogs are mutual and are in part a result of looking into one another’s eyes, just like mothers and babies do to form their strong attachment.

In humans, it has been shown that mothers who spend more time in mutual gazing with their babies have higher levels of oxytocin. (Oxytocin is a hormone that plays a large role in the formation of social bonds as well as feelings of love.) Additionally, there is a positive feedback loop in humans. Mothers with higher oxytocin levels engage in more mothering behavior, which affects oxytocin levels in their babies. That in turn leads to higher levels of attachment, which increases oxytocin levels in mothers, leading to more maternal behavior, and so on.

The purpose of this new research was to investigate whether humans and dogs also have a positive-feedback loop in which oxytocin plays a role, and if so to learn whether gazing is a part of the process. In one part of the study, researchers measured levels of oxytocin in the urine of people and their dogs both before and after they interacted. They found that in pairs in which the dogs gazed at their guardians for a long time, levels of oxytocin rose in both the people and the dogs.

In the second part of the study, experimenters examined whether giving oxytocin to dogs affected their gazing behavior or the oxytocin levels of their guardians. Researchers gave oxytocin to dogs (intranasally) and observed that female dogs given this chemical gazed at their owners for longer periods of time than female dogs given saline as a control. (It didn’t affect male dogs the same way.) Even though they were not given oxytocin, guardians’ levels of this hormone increased after interacting with female dogs who had received it. Researchers are not sure why the behavior of female, but not male, dogs was affected by the oxytocin.

This research suggests that the bond we feel with our dogs is not only similar to the bond between mothers and children, but that the mechanism behind the connection is the same. This type of attachment between different species is rare and continues to interest scientists and dog lovers alike. It’s possible that the process of domestication of the dog was possible in part because dogs co-opted the social communication and social bonding process of babies.

Do you feel the love when you and your dog gaze into one another’s eyes?

Almost Your Dog’s Name
Which monikers were near misses?

A college friend of mine got his first dog at the age of five, so naturally he wanted to name his new best friend Big Bird. His Dad objected, saying there was no way that he was going to stand on his front porch and call out, “Big Bird, Come!” His Dad was dignified and manly, so this would indeed have seemed incongruous. However, he was also an incredibly kind man who was willing to meet his son halfway. Following some discussion, my friend named his puppy after another Sesame Street character instead. Grover lived a long and happy life, and when he was buried, he was covered with about a foot of dirt and even more tears. Thanks to the change in plans, he never suffered the embarrassment of a silly name.

Many dogs have had similar near misses in nomenclature. We had some friends who were seriously considering the name Lucy for a new puppy that would be arriving soon. However, the husband’s tendency to make up nicknames put the kibosh on that idea. His wife was fine with Luscious, Lucy Lou, Lucille and LuLu, but when he added Lucifer to his growing list, she was not okay with that. She requested that they come up with a name that shared no nicknames with the devil. Maggie came home a week later.

A former co-worker of mine adopted a dog one day before her nephew was born, and named her pup T.J., which didn’t stand for anything in particular. She just wanted to use initials and liked the way T.J. sounded. Luckily, she didn’t have a chance to share this name with her family members before the baby news came. Why is that lucky? Because her new nephew was named Tajinder, for which Teejay is a common nickname. After considering A.J., B.J. and D.J., she eventually just reversed the original initials and named her dog J.T. Family conflict averted!

Have you ever almost settled on a dog name only to change your mind at the last minute for some reason?

Norman Rockwell Moments
The charm of dogs in daily life

I love few things more than seeing a dog lying on a rug in front of the fire. This is due in part, perhaps, to my perspective as a canine behaviorist. While most people simply see a dog relaxing on a rug, I see a dog who is resting on the rug rather than chewing on it.  That automatically puts the scene on my “things of beauty” list.

Apart from my own issues with, well, canine issues, most dog lovers find the scene appealing as well. It ranks right up there with a dog physically preventing a toddler from going in the street, playing happily with a group of children or comforting a grieving person of any age by gently resting the head in that person’s lap. Any time people and dogs are spending time together as companions, I’m likely to observe the scene and find it endearing.

There is no end to the situations in which I find charm as well as joy in the actions or poses of dogs. I suppose I have been influenced by the work of Norman Rockwell, whose art captures the appeal of American life, including dogs, better than anyone ever has. Rockwell was well known for including dogs in his paintings and understanding the happiness people felt when seeing images of all kinds of dogs portrayed as a part of daily life.

His work is so well known that to describe something as a “Norman Rockwell moment” is instantly understandable to most people as a situation (often in a small town) that provides suitable material for one of his paintings. What’s your favorite “Norman Rockwell moment” with your own dog?

Breed Identification By Coat
Dog fur brings back grooming memories

Having dog fur on the brain is common for me. In fact, it’s my normal state, like dog fur on my clothes, and highly preferable to dog fur on my tongue. (I love dogs, but I hate it when they shed and it ends up in my mouth. Ugh! Not only does it feel weird, but it interferes with my ability to enjoy chocolate and that is simply not okay.)

Because I worked as a dog groomer for a year, I feel nearly as familiar with dog coats as I do with dog behavior, which is my real specialty. So, when I saw an online quiz titled “Can You Tell The Dog By Its Fur,” I had to take it. There are countless quizzes out there and I usually avoid them because of the time sink that they are, but this one was irresistible. There was self-imposed pressure not to miss any, and I’m happy to report that my grooming time was not in vain—I knew all 12 coats well enough to answer correctly.  I suspect many dog people will have similar success.

Of course, not everyone will think of the coats the same way I do, but I hope my fellow groomers will.

  • Where others may see a smooth coat, I see an easy-to-groom coat that does not need to be bathed often and will easily air dry in a reasonable amount of time. Low maintenance coats have their advantages!
  • What’s a wire coat to many people is a please-don’t-make-me-strip-it coat to me. I know that stripping can prevent mats, but so can regular grooming and the use of conditioner if you get behind. I know this is controversial—many people prefer the look and feel of these coats when they are stripped—but I worry about how hard it is on dogs.
  • Whenever a curly-coated dog came into the shop where I worked, my response was honestly, “I hope another groomer has time for this dog today!” Clipping these dogs is for the highly skilled, and the other women in the shop were better artists than I was with more practice. I could do a passable job, but I would have needed more experience to guarantee that I could make them look their very best every time. With curly fur, I see a beautiful coat as much as the next person, but I also see a serious challenge.
  • It’s impossible for me to see a long-haired coat and not think of all the tools needed to prevent or work out mats. A pin brush and a smooth bristle brush along with a lot of conditioner, a good detangler and a dryer with several different settings are usually involved in grooming these dogs. Long-haired dog who are brushed daily often have gorgeous coats in beautiful shape. However, many people who brought their dogs to us only brushed infrequently or brushed just the top layer, leaving many hidden mats.
  • What looks like a lush double coat to most people looks like an oh-boy-that-will-take-a-lot-of-time-with-the-dryer coat to me. Double coats can be long or short, and both can stay damp a long time without a lot of time with a high-quality dryer—though of course this is usually a far bigger issue with the longer double coats. As a groomer, one of my first lessons was to allow plenty of time to dry these dogs.

When I see dogs, I am often impressed with the beauty of their coats. That may simply reflect my personal experience with how much work it can take to keep them looking that way. Or, it may just be that I know fur and I love it.

Yoga and a Fearful Dog
Fittingly, it helped her relax

We all know that many people see the great value of yoga for relaxing, reducing stress, lowering blood pressure and developing a more positive outlook. Many people are also fully on board with the idea that Doga (the practice of yoga with pet dogs) has similar benefits for dogs and guardians alike. Still, I was caught off guard with the amazing effects of my own yoga practice on a fearful dog who is spending the week at our house.

Peanut is a brindle terrier mix who is spooked by many things, Though she adores dogs and loves to play with them, she is on the nervous side with people. Additionally, loud sounds or unfamiliar objects give her pause. She is sweet, gentle and smart, so we enjoy having her in our lives. However, we have concerns about her well being when she visits. She is not at her most comfortable here when compared to how she is at her own home with her own guardians.

We are on day 6 of her visit, and she has become progressively more comfortable. Some of that is probably a function of simply getting used to her new surroundings, but much of it is a result of our purposeful efforts. We are using treats and toys as part of a counter classical conditioning program to help her overcome her fears. We are working hard to avoid surprising her, and we are doing our best to have her out of the house on a walk when anyone is practicing the trumpet, French horn or saxophone. We speak gently to her, let her approach us and make sure she never feels trapped by us in a corner or in a narrow hallway. Using our “Fearful Dog 101” skills has no doubt helped her, but yoga did even more.

On her second day here, I did a short yoga routine, and the instant I began, she trotted over and sat down next to me. (Prior to that moment, she rarely approached, and spent a lot of her time in rooms that were unoccupied.) From my first pose, I could see that she was more relaxed than she had been and more comfortable being close to me. Her guardians regularly practice yoga, so my best guess is that the familiarity of yoga was the key factor.

Now, I am taking advantage of how yoga affects Peanut to make life easier and less stressful for us all. When we’re in the backyard and I need her to come in, I can do a downward dog inside the doorway, and she’ll come right over to me. If I want to leash her up for a walk, a child’s pose is inviting. When a few too many visitors came over to watch a basketball game, and she ran to hide under our bed, I went to our room and did a short routine, which drew her out and improved her emotional state.

Most dogs become less afraid when play and treats are used thoughtfully and carefully in a program to help them overcome their fears. Peanut is unusual in that yoga seems to work better. Have you had a fearful dog who improved in response to something unexpected?

Dog Trainers Love Mops
Especially this one!

As a dog trainer, mopping is a way of life. For years after group classes, the routine was the same—sweep, mop, then hit my clothes with a lint roller. If I’d had a mop this big (Click here to see the video) to clean the training center, my job would have gone so much faster!

It’s impossible to ignore the resemblance of a Komondor or a white Puli (which is less common than black or gray) to a mop, although the video purposely seeks to fool us. Hungarian livestock-guarding breeds, the Komondor and the Puli are officially considered national treasures. I have only met a handful of Komondors and even fewer Pulis in all my years of training, and watching this video reminded me of each one.

Have you ever met or lived with either one?

Dogs in Advertising
Loving this trend!

My keys have two personal items with them: a miniature Kong and a keychain from Run Flagstaff, my local running store. That pretty much sums up my two main interests in life—training dogs and the sport of running. Any time the two of them come together, it makes me very happy, which is why I was so pleased to see their new window display.

In addition to making me happy, it made me think, too. Dogs have become ubiquitous in advertising by businesses both large and small. Of course, the recent Budweiser puppy commercials are extremely popular now, but Bud Light began using Bull Terrier Spuds Mackenzie in their marketing campaign almost 30 years ago. Beer is far from the only industry to call on dogs to promote their products. Perhaps the most famous dog in recent advertising history is the Chihuahua who appeared in so many Taco Bell ads.

Though both these famous dogs were represented as male dogs in their commercials, they were actually females. The real name of “Spuds” was Honey Tree Evil Eye, while the Taco Bell dog’s real name was Gidget.

In recent years, dogs have appeared in about a third of all television commercials, and always figure prominently in the ones appearing during the Super Bowl. The appeal of dogs to consumers is the main motivation for casting them, but it also save companies money because dogs are not paid nearly as much as human actors in most cases.

One of my favorite commercials (at least at this moment—I do change my mind regularly) with dogs is the one for Volkswagon called The Bark Side that had dogs barking the Imperial March from Star Wars and one dog dressed as an Imperial Walker. I particularly love the shout-out to Chewbacca at 36 seconds.

Another truly excellent commercial featuring dogs also includes a host of other species, but the dog moments, especially the ones with a dog and an orangutan, are my favorite.

This commercial, Android: Friends Furever, celebrates diversity and differences with the tag line, “Be together, not the same.” I love it (even if I do have an iPhone.) In addition to dogs, this ad features cats, ducks, a lion, a rhinoceros, elephants, a dolphin, sheep, horses, a baboon, goats, deer, a hyrax, a tortoise, a tiger, a bear, a meerkat, and a cockatoo. However, it is worth noting that no species gets greater air time than the dog, who is in two-thirds of the commercial, probably because it elicits the happy, favorable response that companies want people to associate with their products.

Do you have a favorite commercial that features a dog?