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
Most of us feel it, at least sometimes
September 23 2014
“I feel so guilty.” I hear this from clients, friends, relatives and neighbors. There’s a general feeling that we are not ever doing quite enough to make our dogs’ lives happy, fun and fulfilling. Interestingly, I hear this more often from people who are doing right by their dogs than by people who, in my opinion, could really step it up. In my experience, the person who walks the dog once in a week and has no chew toys around for the dog is far less likely to feel bad than the person who walks their dog every morning and evening, and adds in daily training and play sessions.
Great dog guardians are all too aware that what they could do for their dog is endless. Walks could always be longer, play times could be more energetic, massages could be more frequent, training sessions could be more innovative. There could be more outings to new and exciting places, more regular introductions of new dogs toys and we could make more of an effort to vacuum when the dog is outside and won’t be bothered by it. Generally speaking, there are no limits on the ways that we could make our dogs lives even more magical.
I am certainly in the camp that believes in taking excellent care of our dogs. Regular veterinary care, high levels of training, lots of exercise, proper grooming, and time to both play and socialize are all important parts of the good life that we should all strive to give our dogs. It’s not enough to feed them and occasionally interact with them. They need mental and physical activity as well as specific care to maintain their long-term well-being. Yet, we do not have to be at their beck and call attending to their every whim to the exclusion of the rest of the concerns of our daily life. It’s hard to find that balance of what’s enough to do for them compared to all that we could do for them.
When they look at us with their sad eyes, or sigh wearily, it’s natural to feel a twinge of remorse for not immediately playing with them, even if we have something else very pressing to do? Do you ever feel guilty when you think about your dog?
News: Karen B. London
Not fun for you or your dog
September 19 2014
As my sister says, “’Move’ is a four-letter word.” She also says, “’Pack’ is a four-letter word,” which I consider equally accurate. Anyone in the middle of relocating is likely to agree with both sentiments, and not just because they are technically true. Moving, with all the hassles and associated packing, is usually a horrible experience with a bit of the dreadful and stressful thrown in just to make sure that you really hate it. It’s generally no better for dogs than it is for people, so when you do have to move, I suggest that you make it even harder on yourself by putting the time and effort into making it easier for your dog. It will be better for both of you in the long run.
Have the boxes and other gear like packing tape, newsprint, and bubble wrap in your house way ahead of packing and moving so your dog can get used to them. Associate them with play and treats so that your dog develops positive rather than negative feelings towards them. Also, keep them away from your dog when you are not there to supervise. Boxes can easily be damaged by dogs, and dogs can easily be damaged by bubble wrap, so don’t let them be together unattended.
Carve out a little time for your dog despite the mayhem in your life. If you can make a lot of time to take your dog out for walks, classes, or for playtime, so much the better, but even a little goes a long way. If you are swamped by all the packing and other torturous parts of moving and your schedule is disrupted, that’s understandable. Still, it’s important not to make the mistake of thinking that since you don’t have time for a 45-minute walk, no walk is possible. Even 10 minutes of getting out of the house to walk or 5 minutes of fetch in the yard is a way to be kind to your dog, and to yourself. Everybody needs breaks for a little fun! Hopefully, this rough patch will be brief, and after the move you can return to a routine that involves the usual amount of time devoted to your dog.
Keep your pet away from the actual packing as much as possible. Watching everything in the house be shuffled and packed is inherently unsettling for most dogs. The less they see this going on, the better. If your dog is comfortable in another room or in a crate out of sight, give him something to chew on or a stuffed Kong while you work. Sometimes being out for a walk with another family member may be an option that allows you to pack without stressing out your dog. If it’s possible, have your dog at a friend’s house so he’s away from the packing nightmare entirely. People often say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,” and that’s a great time to ask, “Can you watch my dog tomorrow evening?” or “Are you able to walk my dog some morning?” Many people will be so relieved that they can be of service without having to lift a heavy sleeper sofa that you are likely to get the assistance you need with a smile.
If you and your dog are facing a packing and moving phase of life, you have my sympathy. Please know that my paws are crossed for you, hoping that it all goes as well as possible.
News: Karen B. London
The effects can last a decade
September 16 2014
For years after the release of 101 Dalmatians, I saw representatives of this breed a lot in group classes and in private consultations for serious behavioral problems. Then, after the popularity of Eddie in the TV show Frasier, I saw more Jack Russell Terriers than before, even though that dog was a mix. When the movie Mozart came out, there was a bit of an upswing in the number of Saint Bernards I saw. I never thought I could see MORE Labrador Retrievers, but when Marley and Me was all the rage, there were even more than ever. I’m always conscious of what types of dogs are becoming stars, because it’s been my impression that it will affect my work.
Now, a new study in PLOS ONE titled “Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study in Media Influence on Choice” has confirmed what anyone working with dogs professionally has long suspected: Canine movie stars influence the dog breeds that people choose. The reason that can be a problem is that it means that people are choosing dog breeds based on fads and fashion rather than on compatibility of the breed with lifestyle or the health of the dogs.
To study the degree of media influence on the choices people make about the type of dog to welcome into their family, researchers collected data from the American Kennel Club (AKC) about registered dogs of each breed. They analyzed the changes in popularity of dogs that were featured as main characters in movies from 1927 through 2004. In order to make sure that specific dogs were not in movies BECAUSE the breed was popular, they looked at trends in the relevant breeds both before and after the release of the movies
Movies in the early period of the study had a greater impact on breed choices by the public than movies in later years. The researchers suggest that this might be because of competition from other movies. Early on (before 1940), movies featuring dogs came out less than once a year, but later on (by 2005), it was not unusual for seven dog movies to be released in a single year.
In many cases, an increase in registrations of a particular breed that was seen in a popular movie was strongest 10 years after the movie was released. This may mean that preferences for a certain breed seen in a movie may be long-lasting and influence decisions about what dog to acquire many years after seeing a movie.
Did you ever fall in love with a dog in the movies and acquire one of the same breed later on?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Stay Loose: Dogs’ impressive ability to cope with novelty
September 16 2014
Dakota had previously struggled with behavioral issues, but this time, he really went bananas. When the cell phone began to vibrate on the table, he panicked, which is why he jumped through the window, shattering it and scaring a couple of kids riding by on their bikes. Luckily, his guardian was able to calm him down, and his injuries were minor. Is he a bad dog? No, the situation was just more than he could handle. It would be unfair to call his response “bad,” though it was certainly undesirable. Oh, and Dakota isn’t a dog, technically speaking. He’s a wolf hybrid, and like most such animals, reacts strongly to anything new—a sound, a person, an object or a situation. The difficulty that a majority of wolf hybrids have with novelty is one of the reasons I caution people against having them as pets.
Dogs are different; their tendency to respond more easily to new things is one of the many reasons they make great pets. Their ability to take “new” in stride is part of what makes dogs who they are. Perhaps best of all, they easily form new social bonds throughout their lives, which is why many of us are able to have loving, close relationships with dogs whose first home was not with us.
Most dogs are able—even expected— to face new situations without blinking (and, for that matter, without barking). Think of what we typically ask dogs to contend with. Many are placed with new people in a new home at the age of seven to 10 weeks. Some stay in that home, but others are rehomed, in some cases multiple times. Even dogs who stay with the same family will face much that is new.
They might be taken out in a canoe, or spend the night in a kennel while the floors are being refinished; eat a different kind of food; endure a loud party; welcome a new dog or a new baby or a cat to their household; move to a new home, a new town, from the city to a rural area, or vice versa. They may have to stay with a dog sitter, greet a new dog walker, accept regular rearranging of the furniture or a change in routine when their guardians start working in an office instead of from home. Even if the household remains steady, dogs generally meet new dogs as well as new people, and go many new places throughout their lives.
When facing unexpected craziness in my own life, I tend to say, “No worries! I’m a mom. I’m nothing if not flexible,” but dogs have a far stronger claim to that characteristic. The range of situations, objects and social partners that most dogs take in stride is enormous. Though we tend to take it for granted, their ability to roll with whatever situation they find themselves in is really amazing, and far from typical in the animal world.
Of course, things don’t always go smoothly. Some dogs freak out when they walk on snow for the first time, or when the baby cries in the middle of the night. Many dogs struggle to deal with “newness” of one sort or another, or perhaps anything new. Even dogs who appear to accommodate it may find it stressful. Though dogs tend to handle novelty better than most other species, there is still considerable variation in individual reactions.
Their responses depend on personality and experience, both of which contribute to how they react to stress and how they solve problems, and also to how distressing they find the new thing. A dog may bark, cower or hide. A few will growl or lunge; the occasional dog will bite. Some seek comfort from their guardians; whine, freeze up or approach tentatively; head for their crate; or retrieve a comforting toy. Similarly, responses to a positive novelty can run the gamut from leaping and spinning, sniffing, grabbing, jumping, whining, or barking to offering a behavior that has been reinforced in the past, or a tail wagging that’s vigorous enough to cause a mini tornado of fur. Behavior has a genetic component; dogs are genetically predisposed to be flexible and adaptable. Yet, genetics do more than account for differences among species. They also explain various behavioral differences among breeds and individuals, including disparities in dogs’ ability to cope with changes in their environment. As in other aspects of canine behavior, this ability also varies. That’s why certain traits such as gregariousness, shyness, curiosity and fearfulness can actually run in lines of dogs.
So, some dogs come into this world with greater potential for enjoying newness, or at least successfully coping with it. Still, full development of this potential requires the right kind of experiences at the right age.
In order for dogs to maximize their ability to respond well to the unfamiliar, frequent and positive exposure to a variety of people, places and situations early on is essential. Without those opportunities, they may not be able to manage the unexpected as adults.
Puppies who encounter grass, cats, concrete, elevators, paper airplanes, toys, kids, blankets, music, oven timers, men and women, stairs, other dogs, people with canes, rugs, bells, hair dryers, fish tanks, mirrors, and a wide variety of other elements of their world are far more likely to develop into adult dogs able to handle them, as well as other novel things, later in life.
Socialization, or exposure to potential social partners, has received particular emphasis from behaviorists and trainers. Socialization is the process of becoming aware of the social world and learning how to behave within it. For dogs, it involves making sure that puppies have positive experiences with other dogs and people at the age during which they are most receptive to being influenced by those exposures.
Even brief encounters in the first few months of dogs’ lives can have a large impact on their future behavior. Absent these opportunities, no amount of contact later in life can make up for the deficiency. Dogs whose worlds were limited during puppyhood are rarely as comfortable around new things, including potential social partners, as those whose early months were rich in experiences.
That is why dogs raised in severely impoverished environments—tied up outside or used as breeding dogs in a puppy mill, for example—struggle to adjust to what most would consider a “normal” environment once they are liberated. In many cases, the problems they face are less a result of the bad things that happened to them and more about the good things that did not happen. For such dogs, anything new poses a serious challenge, and it can take them months, if not years, to improve. And in the end, it is unlikely that they will ever be able to deal with novelty as easily as dogs with more generous upbringings.
However, even well-adjusted, flexible, happy dogs can be shaken by traumatic incidents. Such events will affect some more than others, but no dog is immune to the effects of something extremely scary or upsetting.
A study of pet dogs who survived the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear disaster that followed them showed that these dogs had issues and behavior consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Compared with a control group of dogs who were not involved in the disaster, these traumatized dogs had a harder time learning new skills in training sessions, as well as greater difficulty connecting with new people (caregivers in their rehabilitation program).
Dogs can also be negatively affected by less harrowing, but still aversive, experiences. They may struggle when meeting new dogs who resemble one who attacked them when they were young, develop a reluctance to go to the park after being caught in a thunderstorm there or become uncharacteristically terrified of strangers as a result of being home alone during a burglary. On the other hand, many dogs do more than just accept new things in their lives; they sometimes actually prefer them. In a recent study, dogs were offered three toys—two familiar and one novel—and chose the new toy first in nearly 80 percent of the trials, indicating a preference for the new item over the well known.
Dogs’ ability to handle a great majority of what we present them with impresses me both in an intellectual, scientific way and in a “Wow! Gee whiz!” way. One of the great joys of working with dogs is that they regularly amaze me, making my own life seem ever new—in a good way.
News: Karen B. London
Famous pairs and the reasons behind them
September 12 2014
When I met Halley and Comet in a consultation, I was not surprised to learn that both guardians were astronomers. Over the years, I have met many dogs with matching names, and many such pairs relate to people’s professions. I’ve met a Shakespearean scholar whose dogs were named Puck and Desdemona (Mona for short), a jeweler who lived with Diamond and Pearl, and an attorney who named his dogs Alibi and Jury. A favorite bakery was owned by a woman whose dogs Ginger and Cinnamon were the greeting committee for customers.
Often, hobbies are the source of matching names. One client of mine was a golfer who spent his time with Birdie and Bogey, and another was a pilot whose dogs were named Wilbur and Orville. A couple who competed in ballroom dancing named their dogs Tango and Salsa. A man who considered fishing the only worthwhile way to spend his recreational time had dogs named Walleye and Muskie, and a fellow who played bridge called his dogs Diamond and Spade.
Many paired names come from the world of entertainment. Among the dogs named after characters in the movies or on television are Beauty and Beast, Batman and Robin, and Bert and Ernie. Famous couples in history are the source of names such as Fred and Ginger, Lancelot and Guinevere, and Laurel and Hardy. I once met a dog named Jiminy and didn’t consider the origin of her name until the guardian mentioned how much her behavior changed when Cricket died.
The bible accounts for names such as Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve, along with David and Goliath, while Zeus and Athena reflect a different source. An ice cream afficionado was the guardian of Ben and Jerry, and a Green Bay Packers fan was always out walking Lambeau and Lombardi.
Some paired names arise because they describe the dogs themselves. It’s easy to guess that my neighbor’s white dog was named Salt but their black dog was Pepper. On the other hand, the brown dogs named Moose and Bear were not so easy to connect with their names.
I’ve found that people who name their dogs in matching ways often have a strong interest that leads them to do so, but there are also people who simply like for their dogs names to go together. If your dogs’ form a pair (or a triplet or more), how did you come up with their names?
News: Karen B. London
Dog activity throughout the day
September 10 2014
It’s such rotten luck than just as many of us are coming home from work hoping to chill out, our dogs are ramping up for high activity. When dogs go nuts at that time of day, their happy reunion with us not the only reason. Most dogs naturally exhibit high energy and elevated activity levels in the early evening. That’s why it’s so important to spend some time with our dogs then. It pays to get them outside and exercising, even though that may not always be our first inclination.
Dogs are also ready for some action in the mid-morning, and this is also species-typical. They are inclined to be active at certain times of the day just as birds are inclined to sing at sunrise and coyotes tend to howl during the night. The tendency to behave in certain ways over the course of the day is part of the daily cycle called a circadian rhythm. Many living organisms have circadian rhythms, including animals, plants, fungi and even bacteria.
The light/dark cycle of our rotating planet is responsible for the circadian rhythms that lead to the predictable timing of behaviors throughout the day. Light leads to changes in the hypothalamus, which regulates these daily rhythms. The pattern of light affects sleep cycles, hormone levels, brain wave activity and body temperature, all of which have an impact on behavior.
Dogs certainly have a natural circadian rhythm with activity peaks in the mid morning and early evening. Although dogs may vary in how closely they follow this typical pattern, few adult dogs are completely at odds with this normal schedule. Puppies, on the other hand, are not born with a circadian rhythm, and it takes months for them to develop the pattern typical of their species. Their active times are not as predictable as those of adult dogs.
Is your dog predictably active at certain times of the day?
News: Karen B. London
Animals swallow the weirdest things
September 5 2014
A shish kabob skewer, almost 4 dozen socks, a light bulb, 5 rubber ducks, 9 needles, 104 pennies along with a quarter, a hacky sack and a pocket knife all showed up—literally!—as winners in Veterinary Practice News’ annual contest called “They Ate WHAT?”
It’s frightening what dogs can swallow, but it’s also reassuring how often dogs are either able to pass or vomit up a dangerous item without injuring themselves further, especially when they receive proper medical care. It’s also comforting to realize how well dogs can recover from surgeries to remove objects from their insides that should have stayed on the outside.
In this ninth annual radiograph contest, the winning X-rays really are impressive. Not all of them are from dogs, but our canine friends are certainly well represented. This is no surprise—dog and stories of ingesting strange objects are a natural pairing.
Has your dog’s X-ray ever revealed something really special inside?
News: Karen B. London
It’s a big change for dogs, too
September 2 2014
Though summer is not officially over for a couple more weeks, it feels like the end of the season when the kids go back to school. That’s certainly true for the many dogs who say good-bye to endless fun with playmates when their best buddies return to the classroom. This can be sad and stressful for dogs, but there are ways to help our dogs cope with these big changes in their daily routine.
Make departures a happy time. Watching their buddies take off for the day is no fun for most dogs, so it’s important to teach dogs to associate these good-byes with feeling good. As the kids leave, give your dog something to chew on or a stuffed Kong to keep him occupied. The goal is to help your dog to feel happy when he sees that they are about to go because he has learned that their departures equals something good for him.
Hide something fun for your dog to find while the kids are gone. In addition to giving your dog something to occupy him as he sees the kids leaving, teach him to search for an additional treasure, too. This can be another toy stuffed with food and treats, or it can be any toy or chew item that he can safely enjoy.
Emphasize quality time in the morning. Most dogs will benefit from having the opportunity to exercise and to interact with the children before they take off. Try to incorporate exercise, training, play or some time for petting into the morning routine. That way, your dog will already have had some good times to start the day and be better able to cope with some down time.
Make after school playtime a priority. Few dogs in families with kids will have as much time to play during the school year as they did during the summer. That can’t be helped, but it’s important to maintain a routine that does include play once school is over for the day. Homework, band, soccer practice, dance class and all the other demands on our time are important, but so is playing with our dogs and spending time with them. Putting this on our “to do” list not only helps us provide for our dogs’ needs, it also helps us teach our kids that dogs matter every day—not just when we have time on our hands.
Consider other options for your dog. Some dogs do fine when the kids go back to school as long as they still have the opportunity to be with them before and after school. Other dogs, especially those who will be home alone, may benefit from going to doggy day care, or having a dog walker or pet sitter help out. It depends on the dog, though, because not all dogs enjoy spending time with strangers or a lot of dogs. For many dogs, being at home on their own is a better option.
How is your dog coping with the changes in routine that go along with the kids returning to school?
News: Karen B. London
Different speeds affect multiple-dog walks
August 29 2014
When our friends Ian and Emily told us that walking their two dogs together would mean that we would have one arm in front and one behind and demonstrated the posture, I did not take it literally, but I should have. I thought they were just cleverly saying that Super Bee would want to go faster and that Zoroaster would be a bit slower. I didn’t realize that we would, in fact, have our arms open wide to accommodate the dogs’ different speeds on walks.
Both of these dogs are quite biddable, so it was not difficult to ask Super Bee to wait up sometimes or to encourage Zoroaster to pick it up at other times. Neither puts much pressure on the leash, so it was easy enough to hold the leashes in one hand so our arms were not spread out. Overall, the difference in their walking tendencies was more amusing to us than it was problematic. Still, it made me consider the options for walking dogs together when they tend to go at different speeds because of age, breed, size or personality.
An obvious option that is not always available is to have one person walk each dog. If my husband and I walked the dogs together, whoever had Super Bee could go out ahead and then loop back for the person with Zoroaster. Being separated for a short time made them both more likely to adjust their speed and stay together for a brief period afterwards.
Similarly, it’s always possible to walk each dog separately. While I am hugely in favor of quality one-on-one time with each dog, walking one dog at a time has its drawbacks. With active athletic dogs like Super Bee and Zoroaster, we were already working pretty hard to give them enough exercise, so walking them separately would have meant cutting the length of each of their walks.
Sometimes the time of day can make a difference. Super Bee is more affected by the heat than Zoroaster, so if we walked them when it was hotter, she slowed down a bit and the difference in the dogs’ speeds diminished. That helped keep the dogs at the same speed, but the drawback is that because of the heat, the walk was shorter for both dogs.
If you have dogs who walk at different paces, how do you handle it?
News: Karen B. London
It’s all in the eyes
August 26 2014
If you are among the many people who have always thought that people looked like their dogs, you have probably enjoyed hearing recent research supporting the claim. Now there’s new information to allow you to bask in being officially correct. Research by Sadahiko Nakajima (Dogs and Owners Resemble Each Other in the Eye Region) not only provides additional evidence for the resemblance between dogs and their people, but narrows it down to one specific facial area—the eye region.
In this study, over 500 undergraduate students were shown photographs of people and dogs. One set of 20 photos was of people and their own dogs, but the other set contained photos of a person with a dog belonging to someone else in the study. There were a variety of breeds represented, and the people were all Japanese men and women.
Over two-thirds of the participants in the study said that the set of photographs of fake pairs of dogs and people showed individuals with less resemblance to each other than the set of photographs that contained the actual dog-person pairs. This level of proper identification was possible even when the mouths of the people were covered by black bars. The students were just as accurate when the only part of the dogs and people they could see was the eye region.
However, if the eye areas of dogs and people were masked by black bars, there was a decline in their ability to determine which set of photographs contained real dog-person pairs, and which were made up of dogs and people who did not go together. In fact, with the eyes obscured, participants in the study did no better at identifying dogs and people who belonged together than if they were just guessing. That is, their success rate dropped to about 50 percent—exactly what would be predicted by chance. This study suggests that dogs and their people resemble each other in the region of their eyes.
An interesting question related to this study is how dogs and people come to resemble each other in this way. Do people tend to choose dogs whose eyes resemble their own, or is there a similarity in expressions such as the type or intensity of emotion that can be seen in them?
I once had a dog whose eyes looked so much like mine that many people who saw us together commented on it, but I never thought about it as a regular pattern. Do you and your dog’s eyes look the same?
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