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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fun With a Dog on Live TV
An unexpected entrance

Live TV and dogs are a volatile mix, and one meteorologist in South Florida recently experienced the full fun of that combination. Right in the middle of Ryan Phillips’ segment, King unexpectedly showed up and hopped on the desk. The entrance may have taken Phillips off guard, but he was able to roll with it. He greeted King warmly, kept on talking, and shifted to another part of the studio for the rest of the weather report. He commented that King (who is the pet of the week and available for adoption) has to wait one more segment because it is not his turn yet.

Presumably, there were attempts to control King, and my best guess is that it was a pretty entertaining scene even if the station chose to air the weather map and their meteorologist instead of showing King’s antics. I would give anything to see footage of the amateur dog wranglers’ efforts, because I imagine that people whose skills make them experts at putting on a TV show do not necessarily mean that they have dog handling experience. In support of that claim, notice that even though King rushed his on-screen debut, he was still on leash, which means that he probably just pulled it out of someone’s hand. (Moments later, it looks as though someone off camera had gotten hold of it again.)

Has your dog ever made an unexpected entrance at an event?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Musical Instruments and Dog Breeds
They go together in my mind

At a cello recital a few weeks ago, I just couldn’t get Weimaraners out of my mind. Trying to keep my attention on the music, it occurred to me that it was the music that was conjuring up this breed. For whatever reason, the cello makes me think of these dogs. I’m not even sure whether it is the visual aspect of the instrument matching the dog or something about the sound itself. All I know is that I spent much of the rest of the recital contemplating which breeds are the best matches for various instruments. Some were easy to call to mind, while others took considerable thought.

The upright base was an obvious match for large breeds such as the Great Dane or the Irish Wolfhound. Similarly, the tuba goes easily enough with the English Mastiff and the French Mastiff. On the other extreme, the flute made me think of Pomeranians and Yorkshire Terriers.

At this point, I got stuck. My brain was swirling with dogs and musical instruments without much luck pairing them up in a way that made me feel confident. To proceed, I asked my Facebook friends what dog breeds they associate with various musical instruments. I got the following responses:

Cymbals are adolescent Labrador Retrievers.

Xylophones are Chihuahuas.

Trumpets and French Horns are baying hounds of some sort.

The clarinet is a Jack Russell Terrier.

The bongos are bulldogs.

A piano is a Dalmatian.

I also received some great comments about which instrument went with certain dog breeds. It was then that I realized that I probably should have framed the question that way in the first place. (Dogs first in all things, that’s what I say!) Here are the comments that started with dogs and identified an instrument to go along with them:

Afghan Hounds are harps.

Xolos (Mexican Hairless Dogs) are xylophones.

Chihuahuas are piccolos.

Clumber Spaniels are oboes.

One Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a drummer because of the way his hard tail whacks everything.

Papillons are piccolos.

Miniature Schnauzers are vuvuzelas.

Italian Greyhounds are flutes or piccolos.

Mutts are banjos.

What instrument is a match for your dog? Please identify breed, breeds, or suspected general type of dog. By all means offer your insights if you have my favorite type of dog—the glorious unidentifiable mix!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mornings With Puppies
Advice for navigating this stage of life

I was woken up this morning at 4:45 a.m. by a puppy who needed to go out. The high-pitched sounds indicating her distress were impossible to ignore, and both my husband and I shot awake with uncharacteristic haste. The puppy took care of business immediately when I took her outside, and then came back in to finish the night.

I’m convinced she was ready to start the day, but we are having no part of teaching her that she can wake us up to play or to feed her breakfast whenever the mood strikes her. (I’m concerned enough about teaching her that whining and yelping will make us get out of bed, but since she really had to go and we are still working on house training, I’m choosing to let that go for now.)

It’s a tricky balance with puppies to take them out in the morning when they need to eliminate without teaching them that they control when the fun begins each day. Here are some guidelines for navigating this challenging stage.

1. DO take them out when they need to go, no matter how early it is. Housetraining should definitely be the top priority, which means that your sleep, regrettably, is a distant second.

>2. If possible, DO take your puppy out before she is frantic. The sooner you respond to her cues that she is ready to eliminate, the less you risk teaching her that screeching is the way to get you out of bed. (This morning, we failed to do this, but we had success on other days.)

3. Do NOT make the outing fun. If it is exciting in any way, you will increase her motivation to act like a rooster and crow at first light. That is not good for you or your relationship with your best-friend-in-training. Be dull and matter-of-fact. Leave your personality in bed where it belongs at this early hour. Keep your dog on leash so she can’t frolic joyfully all over the yard and have fun while you try to collect her again. Use treats to reinforce her for urinating or defecating outside to keep housetraining moving along, but don’t have a party over it. If your puppy really wants to go outside to potty, the relief of emptying her bladder along with a good treat is enough. (If you are having serious trouble with housetraining and your puppy rarely eliminates outside, then you should make a really big deal of her success. For the typical puppy who does get this right most mornings, you can be low key about it).

4. Do NOT do anything but take your puppy outside for a bathroom break. The day has not begun yet, so don’t be tempted to feed the puppy or play with her. That just makes the puppy more eager for you to haul yourself out of bed at an ungodly hour. Once she goes, wait a minute or two before you bring her back to her bed or crate. The brief wait prevents you from accidentally teaching her that urinating or defecating results in you bringing her back inside immediately. Dogs who learn this tend to hold it as long as they can until they are ready to return to the house. That may not be such a big deal with a puppy-sized bladder, but once she’s older, you may end up staying outside far too long in freezing weather or when you’re going to be late to work.

One of the biggest challenges in raising a young puppy is dealing with those early wake ups. It’s an important training period because you are working on both housetraining and morning etiquette. In other words, you are teaching your puppy that you only get up for a potty break, and that nothing really fun happens until you (not the puppy!) are ready to face the day.

If you are currently in the stage of puppy raising that involves early mornings, I wish you longer nights in the not-too-distant future and a well-behaved dog for years to come!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Emotional Contagion
Dogs affected by state of their guardians

Emotional contagion is the trigger of an emotional response due to perceiving a similar emotional state in another individual. Emotional contagion has been studied extensively in birds, primates and dogs, among other animals. It is generally more pronounced between individuals who know each other than between strangers.

Emotional contagion occur between dogs and people. There is evidence that dogs are sensitive to their guardians’ emotions and that dogs’ behavior is influenced by the emotional expression of those guardians. It has been suggested that dogs have “affective empathy” towards people. That is, dogs can actually feel the emotional experiences of humans, including stress.

Stress has an interesting influence on memory in both humans and non-humans. The effect of stress on memory follows an inverted U-shaped curve. This means that as stress goes up to moderate levels, tasks that rely on memory improve, but as stress increases further, memory tasks are impaired.

In the recent study Emotional contagion in dogs as measured by change in cognitive task performance published in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, researchers investigated the role of stress and emotional contagion between dogs and people on performance in memory-related tasks.

Each dog was randomly assigned to one of three groups—stressed guardian, non-stressed guardian or stressed dog. The direct manipulation of canine stress levels allowed researchers to compare whether stress by emotional contagion had a similar affect as direct stress on the dogs’ performances. Dogs’ stress levels were increased by briefly separating them from their guardians.

Researchers experimentally manipulated the anxiety levels of people and then recorded their responses to a word list memory task. Stress levels were manipulated by giving the person mainly positive or mostly negative feedback during the experiment. Researchers recorded changes in dogs’ responses to memory tasks after guardians were stressed or not stressed as well as after directly manipulating dogs’ stress levels.

Stressed guardians performed better in the memory task than non-stressed guardians. Dogs improved their performance on memory tasks after they were stressed and after their guardians were stressed. Dogs in the non-stressed guardian group showed no such improvement. This study shows that guardian anxiety affects by and has a positive affect on dogs’ ability to perform well on a memory-related task.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Woman’s Dogs Kill Beagle
Now she’s suing the dead dog’s guardians

Emerald White’s four dogs entered her neighbor’s yard and killed a 10-year old Beagle named Bailey, and now she’s suing Bailey’s guardians for a million dollars in damages. Though my legal knowledge is minimal and my information about this case is limited to what appeared in a newspaper article about it, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this doesn’t seem right.

Apparently, the owner of the four dogs who attacked Bailey is claiming that she was injured when she went into the yard to collect her dogs. She says that she was bitten as well as scratched and requires ongoing medical care for her injuries. She also asserts that her pain and suffering are an issue because she is dealing with anxiety and fear as a result of being “unexpectedly and viciously attacked.” Her legal documents refer to an “unprovoked attack” but I don’t know which dog or dogs she says attacked her. Part of her claim is that Bailey’s family did not have their dog in a secure enclosure. There is some suggestion that the families talked about repairing the fence prior to this incident, with Bailey’s family pointing out that White had not responded to requests to fix her part of it.

The Beagle’s family chose not to sue the woman whose dogs killed their dog, because it would not bring Bailey back. They also felt that the legal response of declaring the other dogs dangerous was appropriate, and were comfortable with the obligations placed on White because of that designation.

I’m heartbroken for Bailey’s family and can only imagine how unfair it feels to be sued on top of suffering the loss of their dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
If Only I Could Tell Them
What I want to say to dogs

“We’re just going back in so I can get tissues, and then we will go on the walk.” That’s what I wanted to tell Marley after we went outside and came back inside two seconds later. With a terrible cold, I did not want to head out for an hour with nothing but my sleeve to help me out. Marley came in and out with me agreeably enough, but I so wish I could have told him why his walk was delayed.

If I could talk to dogs—really talk to dogs!—I would want to say so much to them in tremendous detail. Sure, we can communicate in many ways, but I still crave the fuller communication that comes from speaking the same language. Here is what I most find myself wanting to say to dogs:

I love you! Yes, I think they feel my love, and I have many ways to show them that I love them, but it would be glorious to say those simple words and have them simply understood.

I’ll be back in a minute (or 5 minutes or 30 minutes or much later today.) Sure, dogs can recognize patterns and probably have a sense of whether it’s a long absence when I’m dressed for work and head out through the garage to leave by car or a short one when I walk outside with no shoes on because I’m just going to get the mail. Still, it would be so appealing to be able to communicate more specifically and have them understand that. Then, they could be happy about the short absences and ready for a snooze with the long ones.

I know this hurts now, but it’s to make you feel better later. NO matter how gentle we are with our dogs and how carefully we tend to them, sometimes things are uncomfortable for them. Whether it is removing a thorn or a tick, or a serious medical procedure, we don’t have a way to tell our dogs that this is for their own good. Many dogs lovingly accept what we do to them because of their trust in us, but wouldn’t it be nice to able to tell them that we are doing this to relieve their pain, not to cause it?

I agree with you—that dog is a nuisance. I do my best to protect dogs from other dogs, whether I’m talking about serious aggression or simply poor social skills. Yet, occasionally, every dog has an encounter with a dog who is not overly kind. I would love to be able to tell dogs that I agree with them when it’s clear they don’t think much of a particular dog or even think that other dog is rude or obnoxious.

Of course, we do communicate a lot with our dogs through our daily interactions and all of our training, so our dogs often do have an understanding of our plans, intentions and emotions. They often know what the future holds based on previous experiences and patterns. Still, there’s no denying that we lose some detail and subtlety because we are members of different species.

Most of all, it would be wonderful to be able to tell dogs how much better they have made our lives and how much happier we are because of them. We can show them great loving kindness and hope they get the message, but it would be so amazing to express these important sentiments and know our dogs understood them fully.

What do you wish you could tell your dog directly, in simple English (or your native language if it’s not English) if you had that capability.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Statue Won’t Play Fetch
Dog remains ever hopeful

In this video, a dog tries repeatedly to convince a statue to play fetch with him. He places his stick at the statue’s feet over and over, but never gets the response that he wants.

Of course my response to watching this was laughter, but it really made me think. Why is this dog undaunted by the statue’s unresponsiveness? I’m guessing that most people do engage in play with this endearing and persistent dog, but some may not respond right away. Perhaps this dog is accustomed to trying multiple times before people toss the stick for him.

On the other hand, we need to explain why it has escaped the dog’s notice that he’s approaching a statue, not a live person. Perhaps he just sees a human shape and immediately equates it with the prospect of playing fetch without the need to assess other details of the situation. Maybe this dog has paid little attention to many aspects of human behavior. “They throw sticks for me,” might be all he has taken in. Or, maybe the statue is just too realistic for him to discriminate it from live people, especially if he has no prior experience with statues.

Here’s a dog who apparently views people as stick throwers, and has probably had great success with that view of the world. To him, any human form is a potential stick thrower, and he has not had the opportunity to learn to distinguish humans who can throw sticks from statues of humans that cannot.

Interestingly, the statue the dog wanted to engage with is of Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and code breaker who is generally considered the father of theoretical computer science. As a genius and a completely original free-thinker, Turing was clearly too preoccupied considering some deep mathematical problem to pay attention to the dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Adoption Without Whole Family Involvement
Have you done this?

I just saw a friend’s Facebook post with a photo of her two children and an adorable puppy. The post read, “Can I use this photo to break the news to my husband?” They had been to a shelter and found themselves unable to resist getting a puppy.  Her husband is out of town and she hasn’t told him yet. She is apparently waiting for the right moment, but she has some time because he’s not on Facebook.

I have no idea whether the idea of adopting a puppy had come up and it was a part of the family plan or whether this was a true impulse decision. Either way, I’m fascinated by the idea of such a big decision (a new family member!) happening without everyone’s participation, especially one of the adults.

The general response to the post has been “Aww, it will all work out when he meets the puppy. He’ll melt.” Perhaps that’s true, although the alternative is concerning. As one person commented, the adorable photo is a better choice for breaking the news to her husband than a photo of the dog pooping in his shoe. And therein lies the real issue: Puppies are adorable and wonderful and every other superlative adjective that exists, but they are also exhausting and frustrating and a lot of work.

Everyone with a puppy deals with emotional ups and downs, but it’s easier to take the struggles along with the joy if you’ve been part of the decision to adopt the puppy in the first place. If not, it’s all too commonplace to consider the tough jobs (cleaning up accidents, taking the puppy out in the middle of the night, puppy-proofing the house, etc.) the domain of the person who decided to adopt the puppy without your input.<

If someone is not involved in choosing the dog, the relationship between that person and the dog can be affected. We tend to stick by our decisions, loving a dog we have selected through good times and bad, and for some people that’s harder with a dog that comes into their life without their consent. Of course, there are also countless cases where a “surprise” pup turns into somebody’s best friend without speed bumps along the way, but it’s taking a risk to assume that’s how it will work out.

A unilateral decision can also cause strain between human family members. There’s something very powerful about going through the process that leads to agreement: “Yes! This is the dog we should welcome into our family!” It’s an altogether different experience to come home to unexpected news that a new puppy now lives with you.

Have you or another member of your family every adopted a dog without involving everyone in the decision?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Naps
They’re a beautiful thing

I’m not a jealous person by nature, but I felt such envy recently when a client told me that both of her (unrelated) young adolescent dogs take 2 to 3-hour naps each afternoon, and at the same time, no less. One of the dogs sleeps so soundly that you could vacuum right outside her crate and not wake her up, though the other is likely to awaken in response to loud noises.

Many dogs nap on and off during the day, seeming to relish a little extra rest, but I’m not used to dogs who reliably have a session of snoozing in addition to the nighttime one that last for hours and happens at the same time every day. Many dogs will nap on and off much of the day if left alone, but it’s different to have dogs who nap no matter what is going on in the household. Raising dogs like that sounds like heaven to me.

Dogs need a lot more sleep than people, and some napping is typical. It’s not unusual for adult dogs to sleep 14 hours a day. Puppies often sleep closer to 18 hours each day, although sometimes all this sleep happens in a lot of little sessions rather than a few bigger ones.

Some of the signs that a puppy needs a nap are obvious—yawning, lying down, struggling to keep their eyes open—but other signs may be more confusing. Sometimes a puppy is all wound up and acting crazy, and it seems that what they need is activity and stimulation. In fact, what they really need is a nap. Though it’s counterintuitive, those bursts of loopy behavior can be a sign of fatigue. Many puppies become very mouthy when they are tired, and though this looks like a puppy with extra energy, it’s often a puppy in desperate need of rest.

Though dogs sleep more than people, they are often more flexible about how that sleep is allocated through the day, and most don’t sleep as soundly as the average human. Like us, though, changes in sleep patterns or the need for excessive sleep may indicate health issues. Concerns can range from something manageable like requiring higher quality nutrition to as serious as life-threatening cancer.

How much do your dogs sleep each day, and are they good nappers?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Border Collie Fun and Games
Sneaking up on their buddies

The expressions on these dogs’ faces and their movements captivated me while I watched them sneak up on other dogs in the field.

Dogs often move so fast that it’s hard to see all the details of their body language, but these dogs are stalking so slowly that you can see the tiniest changes in expression or posture. It’s cool to see the muscles along the backs of the two dogs move as they creep forward. The lighter dog ever-so-slightly opens and closes his (her?) mouth during the stalking. Both dogs move their heads a little and their eyebrows a lot during their approach, and I love the way they periodically keep one paw elevated as they pause in their forward motion.

It’s interesting to ponder what makes them move at the same pace as each other and in the particular positions that they are relative to one another. There does not seem to be any conflict about how to approach or at what pace, but it’s not clear how they coordinate that. It could be as simple as one dog following the other’s lead, but perhaps more complex feedback and communication are involved.

It’s likely that these dogs entertain themselves with this sort of activity often, because none of them ever truly startle or look surprised. I wish I knew when the three dogs who were lying down became aware that there were two dogs sneaking up on them. I suspect it was long before they turned around to chase them, but it’s hard to say for sure. Two of the dogs are in a position to see the dogs coming, and the one who is not twitches an ear 41 seconds before turning around to give chase, and has his (her?) head turned towards them several seconds before chasing them. It’s impossible to say what the dog was attending to at either point, but I don’t think the presence of the two sneaking dogs or their actions came as a surprise.

Have you seen your dogs sneak up on each other?