Karen B. London
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.
News: Karen B. London
Carrying dogs no easy task
June 18 2016
I saw Lucy at the running store that her guardians own, bandaged up and limping a bit. She was also enjoying the sympathy of customers and friends, especially if that sympathy came with a side of treats. While chasing a squirrel, Lucy had run into a piece of old barbed wire that had sliced her leg pretty badly.
Following a visit to the emergency veterinarian, treatment involving stitches, bandages, antibiotics and painkillers, and a substantial transfer of funds from the guardians to the vet, Lucy is on the mend. She won’t be running for the next little while, but will instead be on a strict regimen of rest and sleep. She certainly will not be left home alone with the other two dogs in the household to play and damage her bandages or healing leg, which is why she was at work.
Luckily, Lucy will be fine, but there is one piece of the story that really stresses me out, and that’s how far Lucy’s guardian had to carry her from the spot where she was injured to get back to the car. I had asked about this specifically because so many people here in Flagstaff, Ariz. love running on remote trails, especially with their dogs. It was alarming to learn that Lucy had to be carried a mile and a half. This was quite a physical endeavor with a dog weighing over 60 pounds—even for her guardian, who is strong and fit. Some adrenaline from concern about her injury probably gave him a little boost, but it was still a challenge.
Even with internal chemical changes that help us out in emergencies, I shudder to think how hard it would be for most people to carry their injured dogs. Depending on the size of the dog, and the strength of the person, it could range from no big deal to actually impossible. If anyone is ever out stranded with a full grown English Mastiff or a Saint Bernard, the situation could become serious quite quickly, but many of us could run close to full speed with a small terrier.
How far have you had to carry your dog because of an injury? How far could you do that if you had to?
News: Karen B. London
Adjustments because of the heat
June 15 2016
A client just called me to request that we change our appointment this week to early in the morning to beat the record heat expected over the next few days. We have to be mindful of preventing this dog from overheating because one piece of our behavior modification work each week involves having him play fetch with strangers. The goal is to teach him to feel happy when he sees a stranger by associating strangers with the opportunity to play his favorite game. Right now, he still finds unfamiliar people scary, but thanks to many fetch games, his circle of familiar people has grown. There are now quite a few of us who he greets with happy anticipation, knowing that our presence means that a fetch game is in his immediate future.
Every summer, people make adjustments based on the heat, and this is especially true for those who live in hot climates. Sometimes the schedule changes are as simple as walking the dog a little earlier in the morning or a bit later in the evening. In other cases, physical activities are shortened by running or playing fetch for 20 minutes instead of for 45 minutes. There are dogs who have a seasonal rotation of activities based on the weather, so they may swim or walk in the hottest months, even though they go running alongside a bicycle for exercise during the rest of the year.
The most basic ways to modify activities to accommodate the stress of hot weather are to do less vigorous activity, to exercise for shorter periods of time and to be active during the coolest parts of the day. What changes are you making in your schedule so your dog is not exposed to the excessive heat?
News: Karen B. London
Natural detection task is very revealing
June 10 2016
We all know that Beagles have better noses than Whippets, right? This almost seems too obvious to point out, especially to anyone who has ever had a dog of either breed. However, the authors of a recent study claim to be the first to scientifically document a difference in olfactory abilities across groups of dogs.
The researchers compared scenting ability across four groups of canines: dog breeds that have been selected for scenting abilities, dog breeds that have not been selected for scenting abilities, short-nosed dogs and hand-reared wolves. The task asked of these animals was simple—find the raw meat in a container that is hidden underneath one of five pots. There were multiple tests that varied in difficulty based on the number of holes in the container’s lid.
The results of the study were that dogs bred for scenting ability performed better than both short-nosed dogs and dogs who were not bred for their olfactory capabilities. The short-nosed dogs performed worse than any other group, suggesting that breeding for this head and face shape has adversely affected olfaction. In the most difficult of the tests, only wolves and the dogs bred for scenting abilities performed better than what would be expected if the animals were just guessing. Wolves improved their performance when they were re-tested, but the dogs in all three groups were no better the second time around.
Since dogs did not improve with repeated testing, this test may be a useful one-and-done way to assess a dog’s scenting capabilities. That is important because there is currently no standard method for testing the olfactory ability of dogs, but the method in this study could be used for quick assessments of dogs’ abilities. Most ways of testing dogs involve a match-to-sample design, which means that the dogs are taught a scent and they then have to find the same scent from among a group of scents. That requires extensive training, so it is impossible to determine to what degree those tests are assessing trainability and to what extent they measure scenting ability. Both trainability and olfactory ability are important for success as a working detection dog, but there’s great value in evaluating each trait independently.
News: Karen B. London
Sikh man uses his turban to save him
June 6 2016
Breaking a religious taboo may upset many people, but occasionally, it results in near universal respect and praise. That’s true in the case of Sarwan Singh, a 28-year old Sikh man in Punjab, India. His heroic action and willingness to briefly violate an important rule of his religion allowed him to save a life. He removed his turban in public in order to use it as a rope to save a drowning dog from a canal.
Singh, who himself cannot swim, was driving when he saw a group of people pointing at the canal. He stopped his car and quickly took in the situation. A dog was in danger of drowning, but nobody was helping. He says that when he started to remove his turban, people around him were shocked, thinking he was showing great disrespect to his faith. Wearing a turban is an important article of faith in the Sikh religion and the doctrine states that it can only be removed at home or while bathing. He says, “But what was most important at that point was to save the animal’s life.” And that’s exactly what he did.
Singh says that the dog was very frightened, and did not want to come towards him. They moved about 200 meters along the canal before Singh was able to capture the dog with one part of his turban and use the other piece as a rope to keep himself from falling into the canal along with the dog. I cannot understand the language they are speaking, but I can certainly notice the change in tone of the speakers. Before the rescue, everyone is frantic, but afterwards, the great relief and joy is obvious in all the voices.
I appreciate the value placed on religion and the rules that come with each faith. Still, I feel comfortable saying that it’s a beautiful thing to put kindness, humanity and saving a life over guidelines of any sort—even sacred religious ones.
News: Karen B. London
Do you have a runner, a sniffer or a greeter?
June 4 2016
Being overjoyed about going for a walk is almost universal among the canine set. If you reach for that leash, lace up your shoes or do anything that suggests even the remote possibility that you are going for a walk, your dog is probably thrilled.
However, dogs are making use of the sacred walk time for different purposes. Though many dogs like everything about a walk, there are at least three categories of dogs, based on what they most love about their outings.
Some dogs are runners. What they want out of the walk is exercise, so they want to be moving, preferably as fast as possible. These are the dogs who need their daily (or twice daily or all day) activity. They often pull on the leash at first, but once they get into a rhythm, burned off some energy and released some endorphins, they settle down a bit. They still want to run or trot, but they are more flexible about whatever pace you choose.
It’s rare to find a dog who has no interest in sniffing on their walks, but for many of them, it is their top priority from start to finish. They have their nose to the ground much of the walk, suddenly getting incredibly interested in stretches of grass that look to us, the olfactory challenged humans, exactly like every other stretch of grass. These dogs seek mental stimulation on walks, and their minds are stimulated by the smells that are here! And there! And everywhere!
Even the most social of dogs are often distracted by their own desire to be active or to sniff all over the place. However, there are some dogs whose main purpose on walks is to meet-and-greet. These are the social butterfly, table-hopper types who simply want to say hello to other dogs, to people or even to the occasional cat. These greeters love to connect with others, and may even be slightly disappointed if there are few others out and about during walks. Related to the social dogs are the dogs whose purpose is marking their territory and patrolling the area. These dogs, like other social dogs, are highly interested in who is (and has been)out and about.
Many dogs are a combination of these traits. The love to run, sniff and say hello, but as a guardian, you probably know your dog well enough to understand which activity is most important.
Do you have a runner, a sniffer, a greeter or a dog with an entirely different priority?
News: Karen B. London
What non-essential dog items do you love?
June 1 2016
As I get older I value my comfort just a little more. I appreciate cup holders, soft cozy blankets, and chairs whose designers were inspired by the human body rather than thoughts of fitting 100 chairs in a storage closet. When it comes to dogs, little luxuries mean more to me, too. Just today I walked dogs with leashes that have soft padding in the handle, and I realized that these are the leashes for me. It’s a little thing, that extra padding, but I just love the feel of it my hand. Even with dogs who have lovely leash manners (but especially if they are still working on them) that extra cushion protects my hands from any harshness, and I love it!
I felt the same way years ago when I first discovered the Chuck It. Okay, a little dog slobber never hurt anybody, but a quart of it on a tennis ball is not what I’m looking for in hand moisturizer, either. I’m also a big fan of the folding dog water bowl. To be able to hike with dogs and easily help them hydrate without having a big, clunky water bowl digging into my back through a backpack adds much joy to the outing.
While I am a huge fan of the stuffed Kong, sometimes it feels like a lot of work to stuff one. (I’m not proud of that, but it’s the truth.) When such an every day task seems hard, I’m grateful for Kong’s Marathon toys. They can keep a dog occupied for a long time but just take a moment for me to lock the compatible treat into the fitted slot.
Microfiber towels that absorb water and mud from a dog’s underbelly and paws are indispensable to me now. Sure, any basic towel works, but they don’t necessarily work as well as the microfiber ones. Even easier to use (and therefore better) are the microfiber mitts that dry dogs without slipping, which means that your hands don’t get wet and muddy.
There are so many items that I appreciate just because they make life a tiny bit easier and more convenient. Non-stick mats that go under food and water bowl keep bowls from sliding all over the floor are a huge plus—no scratches in the floor, easy clean-up of spills, and no racket from clanking bowls. Travel food bags that only take up as much room as the food you have left are a huge improvement over bulky plastic containers. Poop bag holders that attach to a belt loop or the leash free up my hands and pockets, and therefore belong on my list of non-essential dog items that make me happy.
What little luxuries in dog gear make your life just a little better?
News: Karen B. London
May 26 2016
An adrenaline rush at the movies or on a roller coaster is fun, but not when the cause is seeing a dog dodging traffic. Yesterday, a dog raced across a busy road, right in front of our car, and then perilously close to oncoming traffic. He was running in a zigzag pattern and was clearly not experienced at crossing the street. I honked a few times, hoping to put all other drivers on alert so they could take evasive action to avoid this dog.
Fortunately, the dog made it safely across many lanes of traffic to the other side, but unfortunately, he immediately headed back across the road. There was more honking and braking, some skilled swerving and another blast of adrenaline all around. The dog survived his second crossing with help from a lot of drivers and a bit of luck thrown in. He was then in the grocery store parking that was the scene of his escape, where a woman grabbed his collar and held onto him.
I pulled into this parking lot just in case a spare leash would be helpful.(I usually have one in my car.) I arrived just as the dog’s guardian did, looking incredibly relieved and full of gratitude for the woman who had caught her dog. Thanks to a modern convenience, the dog had been released from the guardian’s car when she accidentally hit the release button for the back hatch instead of the one to unlock the doors. She was just exiting the store when it happened, so she was close enough to the car to activate it, but too far away to stop her dog from leaping out and going on his brief, but dangerous, escapade.
With this technology so commonplace, precautions against the dangers it presents to our dogs are in order. Securing our dogs with crates or barriers is an obvious option for avoiding this kind of trouble. There are so many arguments in favor of having our dogs in crates when they are in the car, and this is just another one.
The guardian of this dog was horrified about his near disaster, and will certainly have nightmares. (I probably will, too!) Even though her dog rides in the crate, she had let him out for a little more freedom while shopping, not considering the potential risk her new car posed.
Has an accidental hatch opening ever given your dog an unplanned adventure?
News: Karen B. London
A stressful situation for dogs
May 23 2016
A canine whodunit is the set-up for this video. It’s not a murder mystery and there’s no butler, but still the crime must be solved. When two dogs are asked who took the cookie off the counter, one dog reaches out and puts his paw on the other dog. The gesture clearly says, “She did it.” I do like the use of a single behavior as the basis for an elaborate joke, and the idea is unquestionably adorable. Though it’s easy to have a little chuckle about it, it’s also easy to feel concern because both of these dogs show signs of stress.
The dogs appear to have quite a bit of training, and are probably on stays. The dog on our left is presumably responding to a visual cue to bop the other dog with his paw, though it is supposed to look like he is answering the speaker’s question about who is the cookie-taking culprit.
Neither of the dogs looks comfortable as both exhibit signs of anxiety. There are a lot of tongue flicks, constant worried expressions, multiple stress yawns, slightly cowering postures, and the closed-mouth look of dogs who are not relaxed. It may be that the dogs are stressed by the anticipation of the bop by one dog to the other. Neither dog seems too happy about it. The dog who paws at the other dog tongue flicks before or during every repetition of this action, and the dog on the receiving end often does the same afterwards.
Another possibility is that the camera is stressing them out, which is really common in dogs. Either way, although both dogs are obedient and the basic idea behind the skit is amusing, the emotional state of the dogs ruins it a bit for me.
News: Karen B. London
Technology facilitates communication
May 20 2016
What if dogs could talk? Specifically, what if service dogs and bomb-sniffing dogs could talk? Associate Professor Melody Moore Jackson at Georgia Tech, and a team that includes Professor Thad Starner, Research Scientist Clint Zeagler, and Jackson’s Border Collie Sky, are developing technology that allows dogs to say anything we give them the capability of saying. They’ve called their project FIDO, which is short for “Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations.”
They developed a vest with sensors on it that dogs can activate to communicate. The vest can play a message or send a text to a smart phone. From a training perspective, it’s a basic system—dogs are trained to hit specific sensors in response to certain cues. So, if asked which toy a person is holding, the dog can hit a sensor that plays a message that says, “That is the Frisbee®” or “That is the ball.” That is a cool trick, but the real genius of this vest is the variety of messages dogs can send.
For example, a service dog for a hearing-impaired person might hit a sensor in response to an alarm that sends a text saying, “I heard the alarm,” and a different sensor in response to the doorbell so that the message reads, “I heard the doorbell.” Many hearing impaired dogs lead their person to the source of a sound, such as a crying baby. This vest adds to the benefits of a service dog because it would also allow a person to be notified of a sound that is not reachable, such as a tornado siren. Just like distinguishing between the ball and the Frisbee®, telling these sounds apart is a type of discrimination task, and is the basis for many of the ways that this vest can be used.
For example, detection dogs are usually trained to bark if they find what they are looking for, perhaps a drug or an explosive. Although dogs are often trained to search for multiple types of drugs or explosives, they are limited in their ability to communicate the details of their finds to their handlers. It can make a big difference to everyone’s safety if the dog can let a handler know that the bomb is a stable type or an unstable one that needs careful handling. This vest can allow a dog to share more specific information.
This group developed a vest that allows a dog who has found anyone trapped after a natural disaster to activate a sensor with a message for that person to hear. The message lets the trapped individual know that help is on the way. Work is underway to develop a vest that allows a dog to activate a sensor that sends GPS coordinates to a handler. This allows the handler to join the dog, who does not have to leave the person who has been found. That could be lifesaving for a child who is hiding or for a person who is unable to move for whatever reason.
Similar technology could benefit people with any number of health problems. Imagine that a person with epilepsy has a seizure and the service dog has been trained to activate a sensor in response to that situation. The activation of the sensor would result in a call to 911 and also send a message to a family member. The message would include GPS coordinates and say, “My person had a seizure and 911 has been contacted.”
The possibilities of this technology are limitless. A dog could be trained to hit a sensor in response to someone saying, “Get help.” When that sensor is hit, a recording plays so anyone nearby hears, “My owner needs your attention. Please follow me.” This technology is very exciting because it allows dogs to communicate specific helpful information to people. The beauty of the design is that it is relatively easy to teach dogs with a solid base of training to activate sensors in response to specific cues. These vests represent a wonderful blending of solid dog training with new technology to increase the ability of dogs and people to accomplish a variety of tasks together.
News: Karen B. London
Skateboarding must be taught step-by-step
May 17 2016
Nobody has entered my house this week without being told, “Hey, come take a look at this!” I have then showed them this video of Bamboo the skateboarding dog.
Most of the viewers asked, “How do you train your dog to ride a skateboard?” Doing it step-by-step is the key to success, as it is with all training tasks. Here are the steps I would suggest for teaching a dog to ride a skateboard.
1. Help your dog to be comfortable on the board. This step is critical and I recommend doing it slowly. Rushing it will slow down your eventual success. Start by reinforcing the dog for putting one paw and then two on the board while it is secured with a piece of wood or with your foot acting as a brake. If the board is adjustable, start with the board tightened so it can’t rock back and forth.
2. Get your dog used to being on the board while it is moving, starting with just a few inches and then a little bit more at a time. Only allow the board to move slowly. Ideally, you should take advantage of opportunities to reinforce the dog for having all four paws on the skateboard and for letting it move with one paw hopping along behind.
3. Reinforce your dog for pushing the board with one or both back paws. These pushes are a critical piece of having a dog propel the skateboard for any distance rather than just passively riding a board you have set in motion.
4. Gradually increase the speed and the distance that the dog covers before reinforcing him. Some dogs may not enjoy the increased speed or riding it for a longer period of time. Stay within your dog’s comfort zone.
5. Loosen the skateboard in stages so that it rocks back and forth (necessary for steering) and go through the entire process with the board at each one of these settings. You can then reinforce the dog for steering, which is accomplished by shifting his weight to one side or the other as he rides.
The dog in this video is very experienced and highly skilled, but few dogs will attain that level of success at skateboarding. Always keep in mind what your dog can comfortably do so that you don’t put him in a situation that is over his head. Stick to smooth surfaces, keep him away from roads and other dangers, and don’t send him down a hill of any kind, no matter how mild, until he is ready.
Just as in people, some dogs are athletic, fearless and adventurous enough that skateboarding comes fairly naturally to them. Other dogs may never reach true proficiency at it, but might enjoy doing it very slowly for brief periods. There are also dogs who are clearly not suited to this activity, and if that’s the case for your dog, there’s no need to even consider attempting to teach him to ride.
Do you have any interest in teaching your dog to ride a skateboard?
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