Home
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.

Serious About Sniffing
Having fun through the nose

“Tucker is serious about sniffing,” my husband said about 10 minutes after we met him, and I agreed. Tucker is an 8-month old puppy who is mostly German Shepherd, but has something else in him, too. We were watching him for a few days while his guardian attended a wedding on the east coast, and we had never met him before.

My first priority when new dogs come to our house is to make them happy here, and that involves several stages. The first step is making sure that their initial introduction at the house is a positive experience. We make sure that water is available, that they get to explore the back yard to find toys, and that every member of the family generously provides treats. If the dog is not overwhelmed and is used to leash walks, we head out for a short one as soon as the initial meet-and-greet is over.

The second step is all about finding out what makes the dog happy so we can provide it. That means figuring out what the dog does for fun and how we can help him have a good time while he is here with us. For many dogs, the fun and happiness is all about treats, and lots of exercise outside. For others, it’s a tennis ball or nothing. Most love the opportunity to chew on bones and other dog-safe items intended for this purpose. A few simply want lots of loving—petting, massage and the opportunity to be up on the bed at nap time and at night.

Tucker is all about sniffing, so the first thing I decided to do was teach him to play “Find your treat.” This is a game in which you hide treats and then instruct your dog to find them. To begin, put some treats on the floor or furniture near you without your dog seeing you do it. Say the cue “Find your treat” and tap or point to the treats. Repeat this many times until the dog starts to search for the treats as soon as you say the cue. Then, you can drop the tap or point from the process.

Once the dog is doing well at this, you can spread the treats out further, progressing to a 5-foot spread, then a 10-foot spread, and even over a broader range and in harder-to-find spots. As your dog continues to succeed at this game, you can advance to putting treats all over a whole room and then to putting treats all over several rooms before giving the cue. At first, most dogs find the treats visually, but then progress to using their nose for the task, especially if you begin to hide them.

In addition to playing “Find your treat” with Tucker, we also went on walks to new places as often as possible so that he could sniff to his heart’s content. We allowed him to choose the pace on walks so that he could take time to smell the fire hydrants. Tucker would be a great candidate for nose work, but even with no formal work, it was easy enough to satisfy his need to sniff by taking him to places full of great smells and playing search games in the house.

Cadet Protects Canine Mascot
Quick reflexes prevent collision

Cadet Ryan Krieder used his football skills to make sure that Reveille, the dog who is the Texas A&M mascot, was not injured. A receiver for the opposing football team came flying off the sidelines after being pushed and was on a collision course for Reveille. That’s when Krieder, in his cadet uniform, threw a block to change the receiver’s direction and keep him from running into the dog.

As the commentator of the football game said when pointing out that Reveille has her own security, “I think that young cadet should think about the secret service.” (By the way, he refers to the dog as a boy, but Reveille is actually female.) He also points out that Reveille has a comfortable bed and plenty of water. I was glad to hear about the water, because the poor dog looked really hot. Attending games early in the season in Texas may not be the ideal conditions for this dog.

I was impressed by the cadet’s behavior for several reasons:

1. He used just enough force to keep the dog safe and no more. His block was controlled and skilled, showing good form and no signs of excess. It was clear that his goal was simply to protect Reveille rather than harm the receiver.

2. He managed to hang onto the leash without yanking it. I’ve never thrown a block in football, much less while holding onto a dog’s leash. I suspect it takes considerable body awareness and control to do it without accidentally pulling on the leash and hurting the dog.

3. Krieder did not hesitate. He took immediate action to protect his canine mascot when he sensed a threat to her.

In addition to praise for Krieder’s action, I must mention that the receiver seemed to be making an attempt to leap over the dog and avoid her, so it’s not as though he was the bad guy in this incident. His speed made stopping in time unlikely, but I applaud his attempt to avoid a collision.

I was pleased to learn that Krieder will receive a special gift from the Commandant of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, Brigadier General Joe E. Ramirez. Ramirez has said that he is proud of Krieder’s actions. Ramirez will be buying Krieder’s senior boots, which are an Aggie tradition that can cost seniors around $1000. It always makes the dog trainer in me happy to see good behavior noticed and reinforced!

Budweiser Anti-Drinking-and-Driving Ad
What about the dog?

I have long been a fan of the Budweiser commercials featuring horses, and I love the ads with dogs even more. Without embarrassment, I tell you that I have watched the one that shows a puppy and horse becoming the best of friends a dozen of times at least and gotten misty-eyed with every viewing.

Now, Budweiser has a new commercial emphasizing the importance of the relationship between a man and his dog. The message of the ad is “Don’t Drink and Drive.” It points out that if you don’t make it home alive, your friends will be left waiting forever, and those friends include your dog.

Naturally, I support the message not to drive while intoxicated and agree that it’s wise to spend the night at a friend’s house rather than drive home drunk. However, this ad seems to gloss over the issue of leaving a dog at home alone all evening and all night. It’s great when drinkers act responsibly by staying off the roads, but they need a plan for their dogs when they can’t drive home. There are so many options—have a friend or roommate take care of the dog or take a taxi home—but this commercial doesn’t present any, or even allude to the need for them. (To be fair, when the man comes home, he does say, “I’m sorry,” to his dog.)

Yes, I’m being awfully particular, and yes, the dog and the relationship are charming, as we’ve come to expect from these ads, but I can’t help but be bothered by the dog being such an afterthought. What do you think of the messages in this ad?

Guilt Over Our Dogs
Most of us feel it, at least sometimes

“I feel so guilty.” I hear this from clients, friends, relatives and neighbors. There’s a general feeling that we are not ever doing quite enough to make our dogs’ lives happy, fun and fulfilling.  Interestingly, I hear this more often from people who are doing right by their dogs than by people who, in my opinion, could really step it up. In my experience, the person who walks the dog once in a week and has no chew toys around for the dog is far less likely to feel bad than the person who walks their dog every morning and evening, and adds in daily training and play sessions.

Great dog guardians are all too aware that what they could do for their dog is endless. Walks could always be longer, play times could be more energetic, massages could be more frequent, training sessions could be more innovative. There could be more outings to new and exciting places, more regular introductions of new dogs toys and we could make more of an effort to vacuum when the dog is outside and won’t be bothered by it. Generally speaking, there are no limits on the ways that we could make our dogs lives even more magical.

I am certainly in the camp that believes in taking excellent care of our dogs. Regular veterinary care, high levels of training, lots of exercise, proper grooming, and time to both play and socialize are all important parts of the good life that we should all strive to give our dogs. It’s not enough to feed them and occasionally interact with them. They need mental and physical activity as well as specific care to maintain their long-term well-being. Yet, we do not have to be at their beck and call attending to their every whim to the exclusion of the rest of the concerns of our daily life. It’s hard to find that balance of what’s enough to do for them compared to all that we could do for them.

When they look at us with their sad eyes, or sigh wearily, it’s natural to feel a twinge of remorse for not immediately playing with them, even if we have something else very pressing to do? Do you ever feel guilty when you think about your dog?

Packing to Move
Not fun for you or your dog

As my sister says, “’Move’ is a four-letter word.” She also says, “’Pack’ is a four-letter word,” which I consider equally accurate. Anyone in the middle of relocating is likely to agree with both sentiments, and not just because they are technically true. Moving, with all the hassles and associated packing, is usually a horrible experience with a bit of the dreadful and stressful thrown in just to make sure that you really hate it. It’s generally no better for dogs than it is for people, so when you do have to move, I suggest that you make it even harder on yourself by putting the time and effort into making it easier for your dog. It will be better for both of you in the long run.

Have the boxes and other gear like packing tape, newsprint, and bubble wrap in your house way ahead of packing and moving so your dog can get used to them. Associate them with play and treats so that your dog develops positive rather than negative feelings towards them. Also, keep them away from your dog when you are not there to supervise. Boxes can easily be damaged by dogs, and dogs can easily be damaged by bubble wrap, so don’t let them be together unattended.

Carve out a little time for your dog despite the mayhem in your life. If you can make a lot of time to take your dog out for walks, classes, or for playtime, so much the better, but even a little goes a long way. If you are swamped by all the packing and other torturous parts of moving and your schedule is disrupted, that’s understandable. Still, it’s important not to make the mistake of thinking that since you don’t have time for a 45-minute walk, no walk is possible. Even 10 minutes of getting out of the house to walk or 5 minutes of fetch in the yard is a way to be kind to your dog, and to yourself. Everybody needs breaks for a little fun! Hopefully, this rough patch will be brief, and after the move you can return to a routine that involves the usual amount of time devoted to your dog.

Keep your pet away from the actual packing as much as possible. Watching everything in the house be shuffled and packed is inherently unsettling for most dogs. The less they see this going on, the better. If your dog is comfortable in another room or in a crate out of sight, give him something to chew on or a stuffed Kong while you work. Sometimes being out for a walk with another family member may be an option that allows you to pack without stressing out your dog. If it’s possible, have your dog at a friend’s house so he’s away from the packing nightmare entirely. People often say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,” and that’s a great time to ask, “Can you watch my dog tomorrow evening?” or “Are you able to walk my dog some morning?” Many people will be so relieved that they can be of service without having to lift a heavy sleeper sofa that you are likely to get the assistance you need with a smile.

If you and your dog are facing a packing and moving phase of life, you have my sympathy. Please know that my paws are crossed for you, hoping that it all goes as well as possible.

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?