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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
Fur Kid, Pet, Family Member, Best Friend, Dog
How do you refer to your canine companion?

The way that we refer to our associates says a lot about the relationship. Several decades ago, there was a very awkward period when many couples began to live together without being married, and boyfriend/girlfriend seemed inadequate. Partner and life partner became more common. The very cumbersome term coined by the United States Census Bureau “POSSLQ” (Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters) never achieved widespread use. The change in relationships—serious and not married—gave rise to a number of new ways to refer to each other.

Now, I think we are in the middle of a similar period of trying out terms with our dogs as our view of human-canine relationship changes. We already switched the way we refer to ourselves in relation to our dogs. The antiquated term “master” is (thankfully) hardly ever seen, and owner is also less common. The terms guardian and pet parent seem to be on the rise.

The special canines in our lives have long been called “my dog” or “my best friend” but these are hardly the only options any more. I hear people refer to dogs as their fur kids, their four-legged kids, or just as their family members.

Personally, I lean towards saying “my dog” because I like the benefit of the simple description without the opportunity for unwanted connotation. To me, it seems that there is great love and respect in the term “dog,” as it is one of my very favorite species. I understand why many people prefer terms that more directly take note of the familial relationship, and I think there is great value in that. I also realize that many people consider the possessive “my” problematic with dogs as it suggests ownership, but I also say, “my sons” and “my husband” without suggesting that I own them.

How do you refer to the dogs in your life, and why? Has your terminology changed over time?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Do You Need Some More Personal Space?
No, thanks, I have a dog so I’m used to being crowded

I don’t have a large personal space, which works out great given the amount of time I spend with dogs. Many dogs choose to be right next to or on top of others in their social circles. Some only act this way with their best friends, but for others, anybody nearby will do.

Personal preferences vary among the canine set, just as they do within our own species. There are certainly dogs who really need space and don’t care for a lot of physical contact. Such dogs never try to sit on your head. However, there are lots of dogs who consider any space between themselves and others to be too much distance.

It may not always be pleasant to live with dogs who violate your personal space, but the photographs of them doing it can be pretty hilarious. Here are some excellent examples of such pictures.

Do you have a dog who would rather be on top of (or right next to) you, another dog or even the family cat?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
CleverPet Game Console For Dogs
The electronics world loves it, but will the dog world embrace it, too?

At the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) start up competition last week in Las Vegas, a game console for dogs called CleverPet took first place, beating out accessories for virtual reality experiences and a number of smart home products. The prize was a free booth at the evening’s ShowStopper Event, guaranteeing more press for this product.

There are already plenty of digital products for dog guardians, such as pet trackers and health monitors, but this product aims to serve the needs of the dog directly, not the needs of the people. CleverPet is a digital entertainment device that can help dogs who are bored and lack mental stimulation. There are several games available, and they update automatically by Wi-fi. In one game, dogs must remember and correctly respond to patterns of lights and sounds. Puzzles start out simple and progressively get harder. In another game, they must respond to words such as “left” and “right” to hit the correct touch pad. In the squirrel game, the dog must properly respond to catch the squirrel as the light (the squirrel) darts from pad to pad at increasing speeds. In all games, correct responses lead to food rewards. Videos of dogs engaged with the device look promising.

Many people may be put off by the thought of their dogs learning how to respond to this device, but as the inventors point out, it’s not really a new concept. Mice and rats have been asked to perform similar tasks in the interests of scientific research for years. CleverPet is simply bringing this concept directly to consumers for the benefit of our dogs.

The benefits of mental stimulation and the relief of boredom are obvious. Additionally, I think dogs benefit by being successful which makes them feel good. I’m not one to underestimate the advantage of earning food by making choices and being right to dogs’ self esteem and happiness. On the other hand, there could be drawbacks to this product.

It can become a digital pet sitter, meaning that people could use it to keep their dogs busy instead of engaging with them directly. If people find that their dogs are entertained by CleverPet, they could use it as an excuse not to walk them or to play with them. Lack of exercise and a decrease in social interactions can make for less social dogs who are more prone to weight gain. As long as people limit the amount of time that their dogs spend having fun with it, there’s not a problem.

I’m curious about the physiological affects on dogs of this product. Will the lights influence their sleep as screen time does to us? Will they become frustrated if they do not succeed often enough or if the device is turned off? Can dogs become addicted to digital play as so many human gamers have?

Even with the possible drawbacks to having dogs play with CleverPet, I’m enthusiastic about the potential it has to be a positive experience. People can track a dog’s progress, game levels and food intake throughout the day on their phones. They can set CleverPet to be on at only a certain time of day, or turn it on and off remotely.

It’s no surprise to me that this product is already making such a splash in the electronics world. After all, in addition to videos of dogs using CleverPet, the inventors had an exceptionally clever pitch to the judges: “Our users literally have nothing better to do with their time.” (You can argue whether or not that statement is true, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not a good sales pitch.)

CleverPet will be available in April 2016, and like game consoles for people, it’s pricey, going for $269. Are you interested?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Pet Restraints Don’t Always Work
Let the buyer beware when it comes to car safety

Advice about restraining dogs in cars is everywhere, and for good reason. In the event of an accident or sudden stop, unrestrained pets can become projectiles. That puts them at great risk for serious injury from hitting the inside of the car or flying out of it, perhaps through a window. Others in the car or on the road can also be hurt because of dogs who are not restrained.

Naturally, one would think that products that claim to protect pets in the event of a car accident would protect pets in the event of a car accident. Sadly, this is not always true. Many pet restraint products do not perform well in crash tests, but these products are unregulated because pet products are not considered consumer products. That means that promises on the packaging and in ads are not to be trusted.

In one report, 25 of 29 pet restraint products failed crash tests at the very modest speed of 30 miles per hour, and that included at least one crate. It’s up to each of us to find out as much information as possible about the products that do actually work and buy accordingly to protect our pets.

If you’ve been in an accident with a dog who was restrained, did the product perform as promised?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Carrie Fisher’s Dog Gary
French Bulldog steals the show

For many people this week marks the end of the holiday season. Others consider the past few weeks the beginning of the season of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which means that we are still in it. People in the latter category may have noticed that Carrie Fisher’s dog Gary is the darling of the Star Wars’ publicity blitz. Fisher has brought her best friend to many interviews, premieres and media events. Like his entertaining guardian, he does not disappoint. This interview with Carrie Fisher is a lot of fun, even if Gary does take a snooze in the middle of it.

Fisher is talented and funny, but what I like most about her is how much she loves her dog. She is clearly charmed by Gary and wants to spend a lot of her time with him. He is definitely relaxed during interviews, although not everything about the Star Wars world is as pleasing to him. For example, Fisher reports that he found the movie a bit too loud. Also, he is a bit unsure about BB-8, as you can see in the following clip, in which he barks and tongue flicks, but also offers what looks like a play bow.

Even if Gary does have to deal with the occasional droid, I think he is living the good life, thanks to Carrie Fisher!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Does Santa Dislike the Smell of Dogs?
A new commercial puts forward this idea

A new commercial implies that being nice instead of naughty is not enough to entice Santa to give us gifts. In addition to being more angels than devils, we have to make sure that our homes smell pleasant so that Santa does not go right back up the chimney without delivering our presents.

This ad suggests that Santa finds the smell of dogs so disturbing that he cannot bear it. He can’t even handle it long enough to put Christmas gifts under the tree. This is nuts because we all know that in order to visit every household that celebrates this holiday in a single night, Santa can only allocate fractions of a second to each home. Surely, he can put up with air that has been infused with a canine scent for such a brief period of time. The alternative is to consider that Old Saint Nick isn’t as jolly and tolerant as his reputation would lead us to believe and that he finds canine odors truly disgusting. That’s really saying something, because this is a man who spends a great deal of time around reindeer, and they don’t exactly smell like roses.

I’m the first to admit that a certain “eau de dog” aroma can be a bit off-putting. I have had homes and cars that, due to the presence of dogs, did not compare favorably to the smell of, say, my family’s feet after a camping trip. Yet, I think that Santa is being unfairly accused of disliking the smell of dogs. I can’t help but believe that such a good and giving man who is used to being around animals loves dogs AND the way they smell. Still, I suppose it’s worth avoiding the risk of turning Santa away this year by cleaning and bathing our dogs—just in case. (And if Santa doesn’t appreciate it, perhaps your other houseguests will.)

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Mastiff on Agility Course
I want to stand up and applaud for him!

An English Mastiff running an agility course is well-received by an enthusiastic crowd. So many dogs competing in agility are a blur of feet and fur, presenting a serious challenge to their human handlers to keep up. This dog is more mellow and a great deal slower than a lot of other dogs, but his efforts are appreciated. His body is not perfectly suited to the sport, but he does it anyway, and that’s what makes it so beautiful.

It’s a bit like watching a weight lifter compete in figure skating or a shot putter attempting to run a marathon. It’s clearly not the perfect match between body type and event, but just participating is admirable. In this case, the English Mastiff is not breaking any speed records, but he completes the course.

I love how the handler works to build the dog’s enthusiasm with patience and an upbeat energy. The dog continues at his pace, not looking overly exuberant, but showing no signs of reluctance either. My favorite part is the slow, methodical approach he takes with the weave poles. I imagine that for many handlers whose dogs tend to miss a pole or two, this surefire approach has its appeal.

I love seeing a dog from a rarely-represented breed competing in agility. As long as a veterinarian approves a dog for the activity, I’m all for it. (I mention this because not all large, big-boned dogs can safely handle the jumping and other demands of agility.) A good quality of life is about participating and having fun, NOT about being the fastest or most skilled out there.

I’ve seen tons of Border Collies and other herding dogs compete in agility, along with a variety of other breeds. I have fond memories of teaching a beginning agility class years ago with both a Newfoundland and an Italian Greyhound attending. It was fun for all the humans to see different breeds negotiate the obstacles and show clear preferences. The Newfie loved the table most of all, while the IG was a huge fan of the tunnel.

Agility is for every breed, including mixed breed dogs, but it’s certainly the case that not all types of dogs excel in the same way at the sport. It’s a joy to watch any dog take part if they have a willingness to do so.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs Give Their Friends Food
Familiarity affects their generosity

Do dogs act in a way that offers no benefit to themselves, but helps out other dogs? A new study called Familiarity affects other-regarding preferences in pet dogs addresses this question. The term “other-regarding” comes from the field of economics. Actions based only on the material benefit to oneself are called “self-regarding.” Actions that take into account the effects on other individuals are called other-regarding, and are often based on kindness or a sense of fairness.

In the experiment, researchers investigated dogs’ willingness to give food to other dogs. Donor dogs had the opportunity to move a tray that put food within the reach of a receiver dog or to move an empty tray instead. The donors did not receive food or any other tangible reward for giving food to the receiver. The major finding of the study was that dogs were more likely to give food to dogs that they know—their friends—than unfamiliar dogs.

The reason this is so interesting is that most research into this sort of social behavior has been conducted on primates. Little is known about cooperation and other prosocial behavior in other groups. Dogs are an obvious choice for such a study because they are social. Social animals often behave in altruistic ways, perhaps because of the possibility of a potential future benefit. In other words, evolution may have led to kindness towards others because of the benefits to individuals of trading acts of giving over the long term. That could explain why donating food to friends was more common. Those are the individuals who are most likely to be in a position to return the favor another time, making it a good investment for the donor dogs.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Fates of Black Dogs in Shelters
Recent research contradicts prevailing wisdom

It’s hard to make sense of the great number of contradictory studies about the effect of black coat color on the time it takes for shelter dogs to be adopted and the likelihood of them being euthanized. There have been many studies suggesting that having a black coat is bad news for shelter dogs, and some suggesting that black fur is not important in these ways.

It continues to be reported in the media that it is hard to adopt out black dogs, and many spokespeople for shelters and rescues discuss this at length. Yet, the data are not consistent across studies. One study called Investigating the role of coat colour, age, sex, and breed on outcomes for dogs at two animal shelters in the United States that came out recently in the journal Animal Welfare is one of the studies I take the most seriously. The researchers conclude that while age, sex and breed affect adoptability and likelihood of euthanasia, having a black coat color does not.

There are a number of reasons why I think highly of this research. It includes data from over 16,000 dogs from two shelters during a four-year period, which is longer and larger than most studies of its kind. One shelter chooses which dogs it admits and one has an open admission policy, meaning that it takes in any dog that arrives at its doors with no selection based on age, appearance, medical issues or behavior. The data include how long each dog was available for adoption, and whether or not the dog was eventually adopted, was euthanized or died in the shelter. Some studies have included the time that dogs were held for various reasons but not available for adoption, which could introduce biases against black dogs. It looked at euthanasia rates as well as the number of dogs of different colors that entered each shelter. It considered breed, age and size as well as coat color.

It may sound like an obvious way to conduct research, but this study looked at actual data from shelters instead of considering opinions on black dogs in interviews. The difficulty of adopting black dogs that is commonly reported in the media is often based on a study that interviewed people working in shelters and rescues. A majority of the people in that study reported that large black dogs were more difficult to place than other dogs. This is problematic because of the opinion aspect of the study and because of the lumping of size and coat color.

Despite the mixed findings across studies about the adoptability of black dogs, it is no surprise that there is a perception of bias. A number of studies have shown that people have a negative view of black dogs, considering them less agreeable, less conscientious and less emotionally stable than dogs of other colors. Perhaps more alarming, another study found that people selected large black dogs as representative examples of dangerous and aggressive animals. In support of negative views of black dogs, another study found that people were more likely to change their path in response to a black dog than in response to a pale dog, regardless of size. Not surprisingly, there are contradictory studies in this area, too. For example, one study found that people considered black poodles friendlier than white poodles.

Overall, this recent study concluded that the dogs who were more likely to be euthanized than expected if such decisions were random were dogs that were 10-12 years old, male dogs, members of bully breeds, and brindle dogs. The length of time a dog had to wait to be adopted was also affected by many factors. The dogs who were adopted most quickly were females, young dogs, yellow, grey or black dogs, and terriers or toy breeds.

There are so many factors that can influence intake and euthanasia decisions by shelter staff and adoption choices by guardians. The idea that black dogs are difficult to adopt, though the data have been so variable on this point, may actually influence people into adopting a black dog. Many adopters prioritize choosing a dog who may not otherwise find a home, and this may mean that such people are gravitating towards black dogs.

I’m certain that there will be more research about the dogs that adopters choose, so we are sure to learn more about the effect of various factors on both adoption and euthanasia.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Holiday Accessories
Dogs can sure get into them!

Though I could never match a veterinarian for tales of seasonal paraphernalia that has been ingested, when it comes to other aspects of dogs interacting with December’s décor, I have heard more stories of trouble than most people ever will. In other words, if you name something that people have in their homes to help celebrate the holidays, I’m likely to remember a story in which a dog messed with that item.

I hear tales of Christmas trees that have been knocked over and peed on. I have a vivid image of a black dog running through the neighborhood streaming tinsel all over the place. His guardian is convinced that this shiny decoration saved his life by reflecting the headlights of the car whose driver swerved just in time to miss him.

A friend told me that one year they had a white Christmas despite living in Southern California. Her dog had toppled a 10-pound bag of flour off the counter and played in it until the whole downstairs would have made Bing Crosby proud.

I know of a dog who decorated almost the entire set of holiday cards with muddy footprints. The family sent them out anyway, with a note that this year the dog had signed them. Another dog messed with the holiday mailing by somehow getting a large number of postage stamps stuck in his fur and on his face. Festive!

Dogs eating holiday meals is nothing new, so the stories of dogs sampling the potluck dish meant for a party or helping themselves to an entire turkey or ham are almost cliché. Perhaps dogs consider themselves the head of quality control and feel the need to perform a taste test. More worrisome are the many dogs who have needed medical attention after consuming fudge or other foods that can be dangerous for them.

Many families have been saved the hassle of unwrapping packages by dogs who took it upon themselves to dive into the gifts under the tree. Some dogs get into the wrapping paper before it even meets up with the gifts, apparently considering rolls of paper great toys, or maybe just really stiff toilet paper. (We all know how many dogs adore unrolling toilet paper!)

Just last year, I saw a Facebook post about a dog running down the block with a wreath around his neck. The guardian who wrote about it said she always had dogs who enjoyed decorations. A previous dog of hers had been lucky to escape injury after trying to play tug of war with a strand of lights that sparked when they were yanked from the outlet.

A client once had to reschedule an appointment because her dog was too busy dealing with digestive issues after swallowing a sequined top and part of one shoe that went with a favorite party outfit. Luckily, surgery was not required, but it was still a rough (and messy) day or two for everyone involved.

Chanukah candles knocked over may not be as common as upended Christmas trees, but I assume this is because only a small percentage of us are celebrating in this way.  I use my Grandma’s Menorah, which is nowhere near stable enough to be anywhere that a dog can reach it. I know that because one year we had a little accident with the candles on a low table and a large dog with a wagging tail giving us a small heart attack. (They were not lit yet, thankfully.)

>Clients have shared stories of dogs terrified by the inflatable Santa and reindeer in the yard, and of the occasional fight between the canine residents and these giant, air-filled seasonal visitors. Just as scary for quite a few dogs is the experience of having a Santa hat slip over the eyes. A dog who can’t see because of a wardrobe malfunction and is running around in a panic is a threat to himself and others.

Along with the difficulties already mentioned, there are more dogs than you can shake a stick at who have eaten the cookies intended for Santa.

How has your dog interacted with the holiday accoutrements in a way that you wish had never happened?

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