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.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
One simple tip to try
September 23 2015
Trouble when visitors arrive is a common concern of many guardians. I get calls every week because people want help with dogs who react badly to anyone who comes to the house. More often than not, these dogs are afraid, but people rarely call to say that they have a fearful dog. They call to tell me that their dogs are barking and lunging, growling, or even biting visitors.
Comprehensive programs for improving a dog’s emotional state and behavior when visitors arrive must be individually designed for each dog and each situation. Often, the use of treats or favorite toys is involved so that the dog learns that all visitors have something fun and wonderful to offer. When a dog has grasped the strong connection between visitors and good things, happiness can replace fear as the dog’s response to people coming to the house. That’s a very brief and simplified description of what can often be a long and detailed process. Sometimes a little trick can help make visits easier for dogs so that they are in a better state for learning to like having company.
The little trick is to make sure that the dog does not see the visitors enter but only first notices them when they are already settled in the house. It’s a lot easier for a dog to see people already seated in the living room or around the table than it is for the dog to see people arrive and enter. Having visitors show up at the door is a very intense situation for a fearful dog. The sight, smell and sound of someone other than a family member appearing at the door and entering the home is a big deal to a dog who is not comfortable with new people. It sets off all of their alarm bells (“Intruder! Code red, code red!”) I’m all for avoiding this challenging situation whenever possible.<
To avoid that situation takes some planning ahead. Hopefully, you can tell your visitors to call or text right before coming in so that you can make sure you have the situation set up to maximize your chances of success. Before opening the door for your visitors, temporarily put your dog in a place out of sight of the entry such as in a crate in another room, in the back yard or in the laundry room. I’ve even had clients briefly put their dog in the car in the garage if that is where the dog is most comfortable when not with his guardians.
Once the dog is where you want him, let your visitors in, have them sit down and give them whatever treats or toys your dog loves best. Then, bring your dog into the room where the visitors are and have them give the dog those goodies. Depending on the details of the dog’s issues, you may need to have the dog on a leash or behind a gate during this interaction.
Some dogs will be fine with people once they have met them in this way, and if that’s the case, then this may be all you have to do during this particular visit. Other dogs may react as usual if anyone stands up or makes any sudden movements, and may be better off kept separate from the visitors after the initial exposure. Such dogs can benefit from additional work, but this technique can still be a good first step. No single method suits every dog, and extra caution is always advisable with dogs who have bitten. Still, it is easier for almost all fearful dogs to meet visitors who are already in the house sitting down than it is to meet people as they enter the house.
Have you tried this technique with any dogs who react to visitors because they are afraid of them?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Included as cherished family members
September 18 2015
It’s been a long time since the majority of people with dogs considered them property, but the inclusion of them in the celebrations and events of life associated with family continues to grow. Birthday parties and gifts for dogs have become increasingly common in recent years, and the number of dogs included in family photos or in signatures on greeting cards is bigger than ever. It’s really old news to say that many people consider dogs to be family members, but interesting studies of the ways in which that’s true continue to be published.
Earlier this year, a study called Companion Animals in Obituaries: An Exploratory Study was published in the journal Anthrozoös. The study illuminated the importance of companion animals, including dogs, based on the frequency and manner in which they were mentioned in obituaries.
Authors of the above study read nearly 12,000 obituaries in their local papers for three months, recording how often companion animals were mentioned and also how often donations to animal-related charities were requested in lieu of flowers. The newspapers studied were the Washington Post in Washington, D.C., the Richmond Times Dispatch in Richmond, Virginia and the TagesAnzeiger in Zurich, Switzerland.
They found that 148 obituaries mentioned a pet survivor (over 70 percent of them dogs!), and 130 requested that donations go to an animal-related charity. Many of the pets were described as faithful, loving or loyal, a lot were mentioned by name, and it was often written that they missed the deceased. Sometimes even the pets who predeceased the person were mentioned as in, “Wayne was an avid fisherman and enjoyed time with his beloved dogs, the late Bubba and Boomer, as well as Bear.”
In the United States newspapers, the likelihood of mentioning a surviving pet and requesting donations to animal-related charities were roughly equal. However, in Switzerland, only one pet survivor (a cat) was mentioned, but fifteen obituaries requested donations to animal-related charities. Though it is unusual to mention pets in obituaries, long-term studies may be able to determine if it is a growing trend.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Have you experienced the fear?
September 15 2015
We were pet sitting a distinctive-looking mixed breed dog named Peanut when my husband (riding his bike home from work) called and left a message. He said that he had just seen a dog he thought was Peanut running down the street and he wanted to check on the situation.
The situation was that Peanut was safely at home enjoying a snooze and I was on the phone with a client. Even though I was actually looking at Peanut when I listened to my husband’s voice mail, I felt vaguely panicky in response to his words.
We are fortunate that we have never had a dog truly run away, but like most guardians, we have had a couple of whoopsie moments. House guests opening the door without paying attention to the dog, a broken leash, a slipped collar, and a screen door blowing open in the wind are just a few of the “life happens” events that could have meant a dog at risk from traffic and other dangers of the open road. Our dogs have always had good responses to “Wait” and solid recalls, so those little oops moments have never had tragic consequences. They’ve usually just been an opportunity to give our dog a cue and reinforce them for responding in a real-life situation. They were stressful but not terrifying.
If a dog bolts out the door and takes off, it can be a daunting task to get that dog safely back home. It’s a heart-dropping feeling to see a dog head out if you know that he may not come back if called. Even dogs who are very well trained can be in this situation if they bolt out of fear, such as during a thunderstorm that has made them panic or when fireworks are filling the sky.
Have you had a dog take off on you? Were you able to get the dog back and if so, how?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How to avoid them, how to handle them
September 11 2015
I often judge trends in the experiences of dogs by what people call to ask me or what my friends casually mention. (Very scientific, I know.) In recent weeks, I have heard about a number of run-ins with coyotes and received just as many phone calls from people who are concerned about the risk of encountering one. The prevalence of coyotes in urban and suburban areas is on the rise and has been for years.
Most coyotes are fearful of people, and generally make an effort to avoid us. They react very differently to dogs, however, taking quite an interest in them. A huge number of interactions between people and coyotes happen when a person is accompanied by a dog. Coyotes may view dogs as a threat, or as potential prey, depending mainly on the size of the dog.
The best way to avoid trouble with a coyote is to avoid coyotes, though that is far from a simple matter. As much as you can, stay away from areas known to have a lot of coyotes. Stick to open trails and paths and stay away from areas with thick vegetation. Walk your dog on a leash (retractable leashes not recommended!), preferably not around sunrise or sunset.
If you do see a coyote, do not run away. Be assertive and attempt to scare the coyote away. If it is possible that pups are around, walk away rather than try to scare the coyote. (It’s hard to know if pups are around, but this is most likely during spring and early summer.) Do not turn your back on the coyote, but rather back up to get away. For more advice on how to handle coyote situations, check out this piece on the subject.
I’ve run into coyotes in Wisconsin and in Arizona. In Arizona, I was out on a trail and saw a coyote in the distance. It moved away from us without my having to do anything. In Wisconsin, I saw one walking right down the middle of the street in my suburban neighborhood while I was walking a dog with aggression issues towards other dogs. The dog stiffened and barked and I knew that no good would come of getting any closer. Not knowing it was the wrong thing to do, I cued the dog to do a U-turn and we scampered out of there. Luckily the coyote did not follow.<
Have you and your dog come across a coyote?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Accept and respect who your dog is
September 9 2015
Today a client asked me what the best advice is for a friend who is about to adopt a dog from a rescue organization. So often, such general questions give me great pause. I’m often inclined to hedge and say, “It depends” or “There’s no single response to such a question.” Normally, if I do choose to give a specific answer to a sweeping question, I regret my choice and change my mind later. In this case, though, I do have an answer, thanks to a woman with a rescue dog who posted a comment on Patricia McConnell’s blog The Other End of the Leash.
The blog was a query to readers when we were in the early stages of writing Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog Into Your Home. We already had strong ideas about what we wanted to include in the book, and had even written an outline. Still, we wanted input from other people with experience adopting from shelters and rescue groups or adopting dogs with difficult pasts. In the blog, Trisha asked readers what they wanted to know when they adopted an adult dog and what they thought were the most important things for adopters to know. We were thrilled with the responses to the blog.
Among the many wonderful comments, one reply stood out. Judi, herself a guardian of rescue dogs, said something that we loved so much that we knew immediately that we had to include it in our book. Here’s what she said:
“See the dog, not the story.”
We considered this sentiment so beautiful and profound that we expanded on what it means to us with this paragraph in the book:
See the Dog, Not the Story. This is excellent advice from someone with a rescue dog. What your new dog needs most of all is the same thing a person needs—to be accepted and respected for who they are, to be “heard” and understood, rather than to be labeled. You may have been told a number of stories about your dog’s history, but although it can be valuable to gather information, it’s important not to label your dog for the rest of his life as, for example, “abused” or “neglected.” Your goal, beyond providing your new dog a safe and stable environment, is to honor him by letting him tell you who he is right now, accepting that, and acting accordingly. Just as you are no longer that little girl or boy who got bullied on the playground (or who did the bullying), your dog will grow and change as time goes on. Do all you can to see him for who he is NOW, not who he was years ago or who you think he should be.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Meeting the dog at home is not enough
September 4 2015
One of the obstacles to proper socialization is a misunderstanding of the details of the process. Specifically, many of my clients have told me that they didn’t worry too much about socializing their new puppy because they have another dog at home, and the puppy and that dog get along great. There is an assumption that if a dog can interact properly with one dog, they can interact with all dogs. Regrettably, this is not true.
Exposure to many dogs in the early months of a puppy’s life teaches the puppy to be comfortable with unfamiliar dogs in addition to teaching him to be comfortable with the particular dogs he has met. While meeting the other dog at home is a great place to start socializing a puppy, it is unwise to stop there. Many dogs grow up behaving beautifully around the other dog in the family but are totally unable to cope with any other dogs. That’s because such dogs only had the opportunity to learn that the dog at home is a friend, but never learned that any other dog can be a friend, too. Judging the dog based only on the behavior around that one dog paints a very incomplete picture of his social skills.
An analogy is to consider a girl who is very relaxed and comfortable around her brother and to assume that she’s comfortable around boys. In reality, she may be shy, tongue-tied or completely awkward around boys. Her behavior around her brother is an exception that is out of step with the real pattern
Many well-meaning dog guardians forego the usual suggestions to socialize a puppy, and they do so because they erroneously believe that one dog at home (or even several) will provide adequate socialization. Not so. Puppies need to meet a lot of dogs in order to be able to interact in a socially appropriate way with unfamiliar dogs throughout their lives and to feel comfortable doing so. If a puppy meets lots of dogs early on, the lesson that all other dogs are potential social partners is more likely to be learned and to be applied to all dogs.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Coat color influences choice of name
September 1 2015
The color of a dog is often the inspiration when choosing a name, and I enjoy that these names fit the dog. It shows that people made the effort to pick a name specifically for that dog. It’s a rare occurrence when I meet a dog named Shadow (or the Spanish equivalent so common where I live—Sombra) who is not black. I’ve also met my share of black dogs named Raven, Cinder, Midnight, Smoky and Stormy.
Similarly, there are lots of brown dogs, especially Chocolate Labs, named Hershey or Cocoa. Other common names for brown dogs include Mahogany, Mocha, Kahlua, Hickory and Snickers.
A fair number of “redheaded” canines go by Ginger or Rusty. I’ve also met dogs with a red or orange coat color with the names Ruby, Amber, Cinnamon, Penny, Brandy, Chili and Merlot.
Even before meeting a dog, I’m inclined to expect a white dog with a name like Snowball, Coconut, Casper, Beluga, Pearl or Sugar. I recently came upon a Great Dane named Glacier, which I thought was just fantastic! I’ve met plenty of dogs with similarly inspired names like Jack Frost and Iceberg, but Glacier was a new one for me. I especially love that it can refer to both the dog’s white coat and his fantastic size.
Does your dog’s name give a nod to his coat color?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How does it measure up to his looks?
August 28 2015
“Your dog has a great look!” I called out to a woman at the park.
She looked at me suspiciously and actually asked, “Are you talking to me?”
I assured her that I was, though understanding immediately why she questioned me on that point. Her dog was not what most people would consider an attractive dog. He was a bit odd-looking to be honest, with a head that was small in proportion to his body, some very random color patterns in his slightly straggly coat and an ear that had been torn at some point in his life and healed imperfectly.
When I had commented on his “look,” I was referring to an aspect of his behavior—his expression—rather than his overall appearance. The look on his face as she took a flying squirrel toy out of her bag was one that combined pure joy, complete attention and enthusiasm without the slightest sign of over arousal. That combination is hardly common in my professional work with dogs with serious behavior problems, so I enjoyed it and appreciated its significance. This was a great dog—attentive, not excessively revved up, playful and happy. I was impressed with his expression, prompting me to comment on his “great look.”
Thanks to the ambiguity of the English language, my comment was misunderstood, and I suspect that the woman thought I was overcompensating and pretending that the dog was gorgeous or mocking her. It’s a fair assumption that nobody had ever told her that her dog was a handsome fellow. He is beautiful on the inside, but most people aren’t going to argue that he is gorgeous on the outside, and that’s a shame.
I’ve always maintained that some of the happiest guardians are those who pick dogs based on who they are on the inside and actively choose to love what they look like on the outside instead of doing it the other way around. This woman seemed happy once I had explained that I was impressed with her dog’s expression and went into detail about it. She told me that she loves his look, too, but that not everybody sees beyond his looks.
I’ve loved dogs who were visually stunning and dogs who were not, except perhaps to me. Do you have a dog whose “look” is a better representation of who he is than his “looks” are? Or a dog whose “look” and “looks” are both lovely?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Just like a baby (and maybe cuter)
August 25 2015
Years ago, my husband brought our seven-month old son to an all-day seminar I was giving on dog aggression so that I could feed him during the breaks. In many situations, a man carrying a baby would attract a lot of attention from women, but not in this case. There were about 200 people at the seminar, and approximately 180 of them were women. During the course of the day, only a handful of them approached my husband, and all but two of them came over to share puppy photos with him. (“Look! You have a young animal in your life. I have a young animal in my life, too!”)
I’ve noticed over the years that in the world of dogs, there are many people who are just not that into kids. It’s especially true for people whose professional lives revolve around dogs. I’m fond of saying that as a group, we dog people are not very “breedy.” Of course there are tons of exceptions (I myself have two human children), but many dog people are not as child-oriented as the rest of the population.
Any couple who does not have children has probably faced questions and criticisms about that, which is obviously rude. It’s thoughtless, narrow-minded, and potentially hurtful (not to sound judgmental or anything) to ask people personal questions about when they are going to have kids or why they don’t have kids. It’s nobody’s business, and it’s impossible to know if a couple has decided not to have children or if perhaps they have been unable to have children even though they want them very much. Either situation may involve a couple who is very focused on their canine companions, and that is a beautiful thing.
One couple took an unusual approach to letting their families know that they should not expect a human grandchild. They had a photo shoot with their puppy that mimicked the popular “new baby” photo sessions. The result was a gorgeous set of photos by Elisha Minnette Photography. It looks like they enjoyed themselves and judging by the response, many people share their sense of humor.
>Are you tempted to do a “new dog” photo shoot with your best friend?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Overwhelming a dog is not good socialization
August 21 2015
There were easily 300 people in the school building that Saturday morning, all milling around and signing their kids up for various after school activities. There was also one very young puppy being carried through the crowd becoming more and more exhausted and increasingly overwhelmed.
When I say “very young,” I mean that I suspected that they had just picked up their new Lab puppy within the last few days even before they told me. (In fact, they had just brought her home the night before.) The dog was so small that she was outsized by over half the purses there. In addition, she had that loose skin look of brand new puppies. You know what I mean—it looked as though if you blew up that skin like a beach ball, there would be room for at least one and maybe two additional puppies in there with her.
Her new guardians were carrying her in their arms and everyone was touching, petting and leaning in at the puppy, whose eyes were wide until she was so tuckered out that they closed for an involuntary nap. She seemed like a stable enough puppy and never looked downright fearful, but she did look overwhelmed. That’s no surprise really—she was in a big crowd with too many people getting too close to her, and many people were hugging her guardian so that she got wrapped up awkwardly in the squeeze.
It breaks my heart to see a puppies dealing with such situations during the first few days or weeks in a new home because I know the guardians think they are doing right by their dogs. Everybody knows you have to socialize your puppy and get her to meet new people, but many people think that having a puppy around large numbers of people is the right way to do it. That’s perhaps a reflection of how misunderstood the concept of socialization is.
Socialization is an important part of becoming aware of the social world and learning how to behave within it. Socialization is the exposure to potential social partners during the early part of dogs’ lives, and typically occurs when puppies are three to 16 weeks old. That time is a critical period of development during which dogs learn who their potential social partners are. A critical period is a stage during which an animal is especially receptive to learning something.
For example, a critical period for learning language exists for humans, and if we are only exposed to a language after that critical period, we are unlikely to ever speak it like a native. It will always be a foreign language to us with perhaps an accent or grammatical difficulties, however slight. Similarly, dogs who are not properly specialized during the critical period may always have social skills that are not natural to them, but have an “accent” or various difficulties with social behavior.
For dogs, socialization requires providing puppies positive experiences with people in the first few months of life. Note that I specifically said, “positive experiences.” If a dog has negative experiences with people early on, they learn not to be comfortable and social with people, but to be nervous or afraid around them. That’s why bringing a puppy to a large crowded place the day after being adopted is potentially damaging and not recommended. It’s far better to meet people one or two at a time and have those people provide treats, toys and gentle touching in a calm setting. Exposure to people and other dogs that results in positive experiences for the puppy provides proper socialization. Being in a large crowd and becoming overwhelmed does not.
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