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
March 16 2016
Recently, scientist Claudia Fugazza got out of the bathtub, drained it and then watched her newest dog, Velvet, jump in and spend several minutes lying in the tub as though she were relaxing. Despite the potential mess, Fugazza had no objection to Velvet’s activity. In fact, she had decided not to inhibit Velvet from performing behaviors inspired by her own actions.
Many dogs are inhibited, however. We reach into our bag, and when the dog sniffs its interior, we say, “No!” When we sit on the couch and then they sit on the couch, we tell them to get off, and we react the same way if they start to dig in the yard after we do.
Velvet is not the only one of Fugazza’s dogs to mimic some of her actions. One night several years ago, Fugazza was surprised to hear water running in the bathroom; she thought she had turned it off. When it happened again the next night, she began to suspect that her dog Siria, who loved to drink directly from the tap, was responsible. On a subsequent night, Fugazza made sure the water was off, then kept an eye on Siria. As she watched, Siria went into the bathroom, opened the faucet with her nose and drank from the stream.
This experience inspired Fugazza to begin reading about animals’ capacity to learn new behavior by watching others —a specific form of social learning called imitation. Years ago, it was thought that dogs were not capable of social learning of this kind—that only humans could do this. As it turns out, this hypothesis about human-only aptitudes failed to stand up to solid research, as have many others.
For example, the idea that only humans used tools was disproven by Jane Goodall’s research on chimpanzees. As pioneering anthropologist Louis Leakey famously remarked in a telegram to Goodall, “Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as human.” Similarly, it was long thought that only humans used language or experienced emotions, but these capacities have been found to exist in many species.
Now, imitation as a uniquely human trait is on the chopping block. Research into social learning (including imitation) in dogs and many other species is extremely well documented.
A paper titled Reproducing human actions and action sequences: “Do as I do!” in a dog (Topál et al. 2006) was among the earliest to demonstrate the canine ability to copy human actions. It also detailed a dog-training protocol—Do as I Do—that makes use of this natural inclination. Fugazza started using the protocol with her dog India, and loved it. From this spark of interest, she began a new chapter in her own life, changing careers to pursue research in animal cognition rather than continuing to work as a lawyer.
During my interview with Fugazza via Skype, it was easy to see her affection for dogs as well as her scientific curiosity about them. Her walls are decorated with dog paintings created by an artist friend. She got up during our conversation to let in her very old Border Collie, Snoopy, lovingly explaining that he’s not always sure what he wants to do these days. When she talks about her research and the questions she wants to address in future studies, she is animated and enthusiastic.
Fugazza’s main area of interest is social learning, and she’s one of the researchers studying this phenomenon in our best friends. The principle underlying her work is that animals who live in groups are capable of acquiring new skills through social learning. For example, there are advantages to avoiding trial and error when learning what’s edible. For dogs, it can be particularly beneficial to acquire information from humans. After all, people are the experts on many things that interest dogs, such as where to find food or other treasures and how to open various contraptions such as drawers, doors and containers.
With the knowledge that dogs are capable of social learning, and that it can be used to train them, Fugazza began to explore ways to put this aptitude to use. Her book, Do as I Do: Using Social Learning to Train Dogs (Dogwise), explains the method in detail as well as the history of its development.
The Do as I Do (DAID) method teaches dogs to copy human actions. Once a dog understands the system, the person can perform a behavior, say “Do it!” and the dog will imitate it. Fugazza’s research has demonstrated that this method is highly successful, especially when the behavior involves an interaction with an object.
In a recent study, Fugazza and her collaborators found that—when compared to dogs taught via shaping/clicker-training methods—DAID-trained dogs learned faster, were better able to generalize the performance of a new task to a new context, and were more successful at performing the task in response to a verbal cue 24 hours after the training session (Fugazza, Miklósi 2015).
Like any training method, DAID has both advantages and limitations. Though some see it as a challenge to their own longtime training methods, Fugazza considers it a supplement rather than a replacement. In order to learn what “Do it!” means, dogs must be able to perform a number of behaviors learned via other methods, shaping/clicker among them. She also emphasizes that while DAID can reduce the time it takes to train a dog to perform certain tasks, it’s not useful for teaching dogs to walk on a leash or to come when called.
Among its advantages is its focus on the human/canine relationship, and many dogs seem to benefit from this way of learning. Another interesting aspect of the DAID paradigm is the view it provides of dogs’ cognitive processes. What Fugazza finds most interesting is that it allows an investigation of the way the observer (the dog) represents the action of the demonstrator (the person). In other words, it allows her to see what is in the dog’s head when he observes the action of the demonstrator. Studying how dogs learn through imitation has implications for our understanding of dogs’ minds as well as their behavior.
One study involved the action of opening a drawer. The people performed the action with their hands, but dogs’ use of either paw or nose was considered successful. (Researchers were looking for what they call “functional imitation,” which takes into account the differences between dog and human anatomy.) One of the dogs did not imitate the behavior, which was surprising because this dog had previously had a lot of success with DAID training. The guardian said she thought her dog would do it if she herself demonstrated by opening the drawer with her mouth, which she did. The dog then immediately copied her action, and did it correctly. Since most dogs opened the drawer by mouth after observing a human do it by hand, this exception provides insight into individual differences in dogs’ mental representations of actions.
Currently, Fugazza is researching the length of time that dogs can remember behavior shown by a human demonstrator, and this is the area in which she has been most surprised by dogs’ abilities. Specifically, she was amazed to find that dogs can remember actions they observed after a 24-hour delay but did not ever perform during the learning session. Her research into time delays suggests that dogs’ mental representations of the actions demonstrated are long-lasting (Fugazza et al. 2015).
It’s exciting when science meets practical experience, and when love and understanding of dogs connect with a desire to improve our interactions and relationships with them. Claudia Fugazza, who has experience in both the world of science and dog training, has seen firsthand how different these fields can be.
In the scientific arena, there has been (and continues to be) extreme skepticism about work with canines in the area of imitation. Fugazza welcomes the criticism, which she says forces her and her colleagues to do even better, more conclusive research. The intense scrutiny has improved their work and allowed them to design and carry out the very cleanest and best studies possible.
She has had the opposite reaction from the dog-training world—hardly any skepticism at all—probably because dog lovers believe that dogs are amazing and have incredible untapped potential. Additionally, dog trainers, who typically are open to new styles of training and always looking for novel ways to work with dogs, are finding the DAID approach to be quite useful.
That’s no surprise, because the method takes advantage of social learning, which comes naturally to dogs. What is thrilling is that it opens up a world that millions of dog trainers and dog guardians have fantasized about for years. We can show dogs—literally show them—what we want them to do!
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
They prevent hassles, too
March 16 2016
Equipment can and does fail from time to time. Collars break, leashes slip out of hands and gates fly open. I’m a very responsible person prone to excessive checking and re-checking, yet I have had every one of these things happen to me at some point. It’s part of my general nature to have back-up plans, and these little misfortunes have only made me more aware of their importance.
A good recall, a solid stay and a reliable wait are helpful cues that I use as back-ups in case of an error or simple bad luck. It takes a lot of training for them to work in emergencies, which is when they are needed most. A back-up strategy that works even with no training is a welcome addition to any safety plan, which is the reason I’m a fan of the carabiner.
A carabiner is a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate that can be used to connect components together quickly and easily in a reversible way. Carabiners are used by rock climbers and by other adventure-sport enthusiasts. Sometimes, like it or not, working with dogs, especially the aggressive ones that are my specialty, is an adventure. Paying attention to safety in the way so inherent to successful rock-climbing just makes good sense. With dogs, we often need to attach things, but not in a permanent way, which is why I regularly use carabiners in two ways.
I use them on gates. Even when latched, gates can blow open in high winds. Where I live, we regularly get wind gusts over 50 miles per hour in the spring, and many dogs are accidentally released from their yards during that season. Not only do carabiners prevent latched gates from failing in this way, they also provide an extra safety against a gate being left unlatched. It’s easy for a latch not to fully catch, even if you think you’ve closed it, but if you’re taking the extra step of securing it with a carabiner, you know your gate is closed.
I also use them with leashes, harnesses and collars. By attaching any equipment such as a harness or head collar to your dog’s flat collar, you protect yourself from the failure of any one piece of equipment. Even if your dog slips out of one, it is still attached by the carabiner to something else on your dog’s body. It may not be functioning as it does when it is properly in place, but at least your dog is not free in a situation in which that would be dangerous. The leash can be attached to you with a carabiner by wrapping it around your waist for a hands-free walking experience (only if your dog won’t be trying to pull you over!) or to your backpack or other sturdy accessory.
Make sure that the carabiner you are using is a true weight-bearing and locking carabiner, and not one simply designed to be used as a keychain or to hold something little like a mesh bag to a backpack. Many carabiners are great for casual use with light objects, but are not sufficient for the uses I’ve described here.
Have you used carabiners to help keep your dogs safe?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What puts your dog’s tail in motion?
March 13 2016
When I taught training classes, we often had contests on the last day of a session. Dogs (and their guardians) could win prizes for the most charming trick, the best stay, the slowest heel and other categories. My favorite contest was always the most enthusiastic tail wag. I would tell my students to do whatever they would do to get their dog to wag his tail if someone told them that they could won a million dollars for the best tail wag. (In reality, the prize was a dog toy, a package of dog treats or perhaps a gift certificate to a local pet store.)
Over the years, I saw a range of ways to prompt tail wags. People would praise their dogs, “Who’s my good girl? You’re my good girl!” play with them, show them a ball, or pull out the leash and say, “Do you want to go for a walk?” People told their dogs that dinner was ready or said, “Daddy’s home!” In one memorable instance, a guy left for a minute and then came back so his dog could give him a welcome home greeting. (He won by a wide margin!) Other students fed their dogs handfuls of treats, said, “Do you want to go for a ride?” or headed out the door saying, “You get to go!”
If you were in this contest, what would you do to get your dog to show off his best tail wag?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Make yourself happy and take a look
March 10 2016
Christopher Cline’s photographs of his Goldendoodle Juji are beautiful and funny, and celebrate the emotions of life. These are not amateur photographs that happen to work out. Cline is a trained artist and professional graphic designer. The technical professionalism of his work is obvious, and certainly part of the appeal.
Yet, I think the reason people adore his work goes so much deeper. I love his images because when I see them, I think, “That’s how I feel, too.” He has captured the whimsy, joy and love that dogs bring to our lives. And of course, it’s impossible to ignore the metaphorical point for those of us who love dogs truly, deeply and passionately. Only in Cline’s photos do they appear visually as we experience them viscerally—as larger than life.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Does it reflect something about you?
March 7 2016
Though few dogs wear actual clothes or costumes, a great many of them wear collars, and they are often chosen with great care. The individuality of a dog’s collar is likely to express something about the guardian. It may reflect a particular hobby or interest or may simply be a style choice. The majority of collars mean something to the people who choose them.
What it means may be very simple. For example, my favorite color is red, and I gravitate towards red collars. One of my best friends uses green collars for the same reason. Many people put far more thought into the collars with which they adorn their pets. Practical choices for collars include ones with the dog’s name and guardian’s phone number embroidered on them or ones that are reflective for extra safety at night.
I have a client whose dog’s collar is by Harley Davidson, which means that the dog matches most of the client’s clothes. Other dogs may wear collars that express support for a professional sports team or a college program. I’ve seen collars that express support for political candidates, breast cancer awareness or say, “Happy Birthday!”
If style is the major consideration, there are plenty of options. Collars can be pink with sparkly gemstones, made of black leather with spikes, or anything in between. There are patriotic collars with flags on them, tartan plaid styles, and those that have flowers or ladybugs on them. Some people change their dog’s collars seasonally with Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Spring, Fourth of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving collars making up an extensive wardrobe.
If your dog has a decorative collar, what made you choose the one he wears?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Short and sweet if given the choice
March 4 2016
I recently attended one of my favorite annual events—the Interdisciplinary Forum on Applied Animal Behavior (IFAAB) conference. This is a small gathering of 30 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, Veterinary Behaviorists, Academics and Trainers who get together each year for a discussion of all kinds of topics related to Applied Animal Behavior. Every attendee gives a talk, and we discuss everything with enthusiasm from the first talk to the concluding remarks.
This year, fittingly, the first talk was about greetings. Camille Ward, PhD, CAAB, started things off with a talk called “What’s Up? Dog-to-Dog Greetings.” Greetings are a fascinating area of behavior because so much can happen in such a short time, and there are so many possible functions of greetings. Greeting between members of the same species serve a variety of functions from reducing uncertainty, fear and arousal to gathering information. Greetings can involve the signaling of status, increasing tolerance for being close to one another and may play a role in conflict management and reconciliation, which are important areas of behavior in social species though they have been primarily studied in primates.
Ward videotaped greetings between pairs of dogs at a local dog park in Ann Arbor, Michigan and analyzed the behavior that she observed. When she watched the behavior in the greetings, she collected data on a large number of behavioral details. (Videotaping is a common tool in behavioral research that allows scientists to gather more data than is possible when doing it live, and also takes so much time that it prevents scientists from taking over the world or even having a life because it keeps them too busy for such undertakings.)
In this study, 52 dogs were recorded, in 26 greetings. Each dog was only observed in a single greeting. Ward recorded whatever greetings happened to occur at the dog park, although she specifically avoided greetings when a dog first entered the park. She was interested in pairs of dogs greeting and when a dog first arrives, he is often mobbed by other dogs. Pairs of interacting animals are called “dyads” in the animal behavior literature, and the dyad was the unit of study in this project.
For each dyad, Ward noted which dog initiated the greeting or if it was a mutual approach. She noted the relative sizes of the dogs and whether play or aggression followed the greeting. Other data included whether each dog’s overall body posture was high, neutral or low both at the beginning and the end of the greeting, and if both dogs participated in the greeting by sniffing the other dog.
One of the most interesting and practical results from this study was how short the greetings were. When dogs are off leash and free to choose, they don’t hang around interacting for a long time. The greetings Ward observed were typically in the six to eight second range, which is very brief. It’s certainly a lot less time than we spend talking with our human friends when we run into them on dog walks. When that happens and our dogs also greet, they are forced to be in close proximity to the other dog when that is not what would happen if they were doing things their own way. Greetings are naturally short—far shorter than just about all of us experts at this conference would have predicted! We should keep this in mind if we have dogs greet on leash and not allow the interaction to extend beyond that time frame unless the dogs progress into play.
Based on Ward’s study, play is not a highly likely outcome of many greetings. Only six of the 52 greetings (twelve percent) she recorded resulted in play. Perhaps we should consider that many dogs want to meet and greet one another, but don’t want to engage in play as often as many of us expect. None resulted in aggression, which is encouraging, but that rate might be higher in a population of dogs that are not at the dog park as some people wisely choose not to take dogs prone to aggression to the dog park.
Greeting were either reciprocated or unreciprocated. In a reciprocated greeting, both dogs were involved in the interaction and showed similar behavior—e.g., both dogs sniffed each other. With an unreciprocated greeting, only one of the dogs sniffed or investigated. The other dog ignored or showed little attention to the greeter.
Large weight differences usually involved the heavier dog initiating the greeting. When weights were closer between the two dogs, involvement by both dogs was more common. Over 80 percent of the greetings were initiated by only one of the dogs. This pattern suggests that dogs are using greetings as a way to assess other dogs.
If you have observed your own dog greeting other dogs, does his behavior match up with what Camille Ward documented in her study?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
How does the idea of leaving your dog behind matter?
March 1 2016
Traveling with dogs has become much more common in recent years, but there is no doubt that it’s a challenge to include our best friends on all excursions. Whether there are restrictions at hotels, restaurants or spas, or if the transportation on trains, buses or planes is the deal breaker, there are issues related to traveling with our dogs. Sometimes it’s as simple as them not being welcome at the friend or family member’s house where you will stay. Perhaps there’s a wedding that is a human only event or another person is bringing a dog who is not compatible with yours. There are countless reasons that can prevent us from bringing a dog along on our travel adventures.
Sometimes, the issues that come up if you must leave your dog behind are compelling enough reasons NOT to make the trip at all:
Many people take their dogs on most of their vacations, perhaps limiting themselves to trips that involve driving instead of flying. Other people don’t travel much or at all because that would require them to leave their dogs back home. Does having to leave your dog behind inhibit your travel or prevent you from taking certain types of trips?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
This animated short features a dog
February 25 2016
The animated short film “The Present” by Jacob Frey tells the story of a boy who doesn’t want to play outside. He stays inside by himself and plays video games, but he is hardly content. That looks to improve when his mom brings him a dog as a present. The dog has to be persistent to engage with the boy, but eventually the dog’s enthusiasm wins out and the two do head outside to play.
The animated short is based on Fabio Coala’s comic, which contains such lines as, “Wait, what kind of a puppy doesn’t have a leg?!” “You can’t play. You’re only there for people to feel sorry for you. Don’t pretend you’re happy.” and “ You don’t care about your leg. You’re happy anyway.” The film has experienced a remarkable amount of success for a thesis project, winning over 50 awards.
We all have traits that we share with certain dogs, and sometimes that makes us perfect for each other. In this story, it’s not so much that the boy and the dog are each missing part of a leg that bonds them together. It’s more that they both have the desire to be social, to play and to be happy.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
It was a happy accident of sorts
February 23 2016
I was in graduate school studying animal behavior in the University of Wisconsin’s Zoology Department. I had already gotten my Master’s degree studying a nesting association between two species of tropical social wasps that live together. My PhD work was on the defensive behavior of tropical social wasps. These topics may seem very different than my work with dogs, but they are actually not as different as it may seem at first glance. The wasp projects I designed came from my interest in social behavior in general and from particularly strong interests in species that live together and in aggressive and defensive behavior.
Dogs and humans are two species that live together and have done so for thousands of years. Despite the generally good relationship between our two species, there certainly exists some aggression. My interest in dogs, besides coming from a tremendous love for them, stems from my broader scientific interests in species living together and in aggression. It is amazing to me that individuals living together rarely, on the whole, physically hurt one another. Sure, it does happen, but considering how many interactions occur, only a tiny percentage of them are aggressive in nature. The inhibition exhibited the vast majority of the time is quite remarkable, and even more so when this inhibition functions in situations involving more than one species.
In graduate school, I was assigned to be the teaching assistant for a class called “Human/Animal Relationships: Biological and Philosophical Issues” taught by the well-known Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell. Of all the fascinating topics in the class, there was one that captivated my scientific curiosity the most. That was the biological miracle of the complex relationships between humans and domestic animals, including the dog. Here was the sort of relationship between species that I was always interested in, and lo and behold it involved my own species!
I began to volunteer at the local dog training classes run by Patricia McConnell with her business, Dog’s Best Friend. I spent one evening each week assisting trainers as they trained people to train their dogs using a combination of ethology, learning theory and great coaching skills. I learned so much about how people and dogs interact and how best to teach both species new skills.
About a year later, I moved to New Hampshire with my fiancé (now husband) because he was starting his PhD at Dartmouth College. I investigated ways to work with dogs to continue to expand my skills in that area, and found that my options were limited. I spent the year learning about dogs in the most unexpected of ways—by grooming them! I am not a natural at grooming in any species, but I learned so very, very much about dogs. I encourage anyone interested in dog behavior to find some way to get hands-on experience with dogs to complement whatever knowledge they are getting from reading or course work. Volunteering at a local shelter or with a veterinarian are other options besides grooming. Toward the end of my first year in New Hampshire, I began to teach my own classes, which were called Play Training and emphasized the use of play when interacting with our dogs, motivating them, and reinforcing them.
After a year in New Hampshire, I accepted a job offer as a behavioral intern back in Wisconsin at Patricia McConnell’s Dog’s Best Friend. It was a tough decision to take this dream job because it meant that I would live 1300 miles away from my husband for four years. I literally flew home from my Alaskan honeymoon to New Hampshire, packed up to move to Wisconsin, and said good-bye to my husband of three weeks. Opportunities to intern in the field of applied animal behavior are so rare that it was worth the sacrifice, hard as it was. I love the work I do and would not have been able to do it without the proper training and education.
Sometimes people assume that I must be thrilled to have gotten out of the world of stinging insects. The fact of the matter is that I love wasps and miss my social insect days. Still, I also love dogs, and I can’t help but enjoy the switch from wasps to dogs because dogs are less aggressive and much easier to work with.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Act like this dog, or at least watch him
February 20 2016
Continuing to play into adulthood is a rare trait across the animal kingdom, but humans share this oddity with dogs. Being playful throughout our lives makes us unusual, but it bonds us together. It’s hard to imagine the relationships with our dogs being as strong without sharing play.
Whether we play together or watch each other play, we can relate to one another’s fun and find that it inspires playfulness in each of us. That might be what happened with this dog who went sledding after taking inspiration from the boy who was originally on the sled.
I like this dog. In 17 seconds, I see evidence of a great many admirable characteristics. He is a problem solver who takes initiative. It’s likely that he knows what the sled is for from prior experience, so he’s pretty smart. He’s obviously physically coordinated since he stays balanced on the sled, leaps on it at high speed, and uses it like a scooter by pushing with his feet. He’s fast enough to chase down a sled, and he is certainly very playful. It’s hard to watch this video without imagining what a glorious time he is having.
All I know about this dog is what I see in this short clip, but his playfulness is endearing enough to serve as a reminder to have more fun in life. If he had a motto, I suspect it would be “Carpe diem—Seize the day” (unless he is very literal in which case he might choose “Seize the sled.”) Either way, message received, little buddy. Message received.
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