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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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Saddest Part of Having an Aggressive Dog
People don’t see the dog you love

There are so many drawbacks to living with and loving an aggressive dog. You have to manage or prevent any situations that cause your dog to behave aggressively. That may include feeding time, the arrival of visitors, or seeing other dogs. There’s the constant concern of an incident happening despite your best efforts at prevention. It may be impossible, or at least challenging, to join others for group walks, journeys to the park or to visit family over the holidays. But sometimes the worst part about having an aggressive dog is that other people don’t see the dog you love.

They only see the dog going crazy, barking at the delivery guy or lunging at every dog in the neighborhood. The creature they see is a snarling, growling, snapping dog who exhibits little behavior that makes getting to know him seem remotely appealing. They don’t see the sweet dog who cuddles with you at night and makes you smile when he tosses his toy in the air himself and tries to catch it with amusing, but largely unsuccessful, acrobatic moves. They don’t have the opportunity to see the dog who does a down stay all through dinner, who comes when called perfectly at home and performs any number of charming tricks on cue.

After years of working with them, I can assure you that most dogs with aggression issues are lovely to be around in most situations, however badly they may behave in others. Almost every client whose dog is aggressive makes some comment to me along the lines of “Other than when he’s biting (or lunging, barking, growling) he’s such an angel!” and I believe them. Many aggressive dogs are not at their best when out in public around strangers or other dogs, but are kind and lovable around the family, including small kids and even the cat. When you have a dog like that, it hurts when other people don’t see the good side of your dog, even though that’s what you see most of the time.

If you have an angel who is all too often an angel in disguise, what do you wish other people could see in your dog that you see every day?

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
7 Activities for a Bad-Weather Day
Rainy day play by the numbers.

Have wet conditions gotten in the way of your normal walk, run or play time at the park? Are you in search of some ideas for entertaining your dog when the weather outside is “frightful”? There are lots of stimulating activities that will keep you and your dog happily enjoying one another’s company, no matter how gloomy it is outdoors. It’s all about spending time together in interesting ways.

1. Take your dog to visit a friend, relative or neighbor who would be cheered by some dog-petting therapy.

2. Teach your dog a new trick, such as lying down and resting her head sadly on her paws when you say, “It’s raining.”

3. Go outside and play in the snow or splash in the puddles. (If your dog had her way, this would probably be her first choice.)

4. Have a canine spa day at home—give her a bath, clean her ears, cut her nails and brush her coat.

5. Play a few rounds of indoor hide-andseek. Have your dog stay, and then hide. Release her and call her to you. When she finds you, greet her with something that will make her happy, like treats, a game of tug, a chew toy or a belly rub.

6. Buy a new toy for each of you and hang out together while you enjoy them; better yet, buy a toy you can share.

7. Practice the art of canine massage. To learn, start with a great video, Bodywork for Dogs: Connecting through Massage, Acupressure, and Intuitive Touch by Lynn Vaughan and Deborah Jones.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Kids Brushing Dogs
A relationship-building activity

For dogs who love it, being brushed is such an enjoyable experience that it has the power to create good feelings towards whoever is doing the brushing. That’s one of the reasons I love to have kids brush dogs. It’s pretty sweet to watch a dog surrender to the loving care of children.

Because so many dogs find being brushed so pleasurable, it can be a great component of building a strong relationship between kids and dogs. It’s great for kids to play with dogs, but some quiet time together has value, too.

Kids and dogs can have a strong bond, but promoting it means avoiding troublesome interactions of all kinds between them. Obviously, if a dog dislikes being brushed, kids should not ever brush the dog. Equally obviously, kids need to be heavily supervised during this activity.

Of course, it’s critical that the kids are mature enough to be gentle and that they have the ability to be careful. They need to be capable of noticing if a dog flinches even the tiniest amount in response to a tender spot or perhaps a knot. It’s essential that they react by easing up or moving to a new area.

I love that brushing dogs, especially with proper supervision, teaches kids to treat dogs with tenderness. Learning how to take care of dogs and be kind to them involves playing with them, taking them out for walks, and taking care of their bodies, too. If kids love to brush, and the dog loves to be brushed, it’s a win-win that helps build and maintain one of life’s most beautiful relationships.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Hunting Wolves in Wisconsin?
It will put dogs at risk

Wolf-hunting season is in progress in Wisconsin, which may soon become the only state that allows the use of dogs to hunt wolves. As of January 2012, wolves are no longer considered endangered in Wisconsin. The wolf population there has recovered naturally without any reintroductions and is now a healthy size, which is why wolves can be hunted.

At the beginning of December 2013, dogs may be legally permitted to be a part of those hunts. Right now, there is a temporary injunction that has the matter on hold. That is a result of a lawsuit against the Department of Natural Resources that was brought by humane societies in the state, groups that support animal welfare and individuals who oppose the use of dogs in wolf hunting. The basis of the lawsuit is that the state did not have sufficient rules to protect the safety of the dogs.

Restrictions about the use of dogs in the hunts do little to protect them. Dogs cannot be used at night in hunts and the maximum number of dogs that can be used at once is six. There are no other limitations.

There are obvious dangers to dogs who are in the territories of wolves. So far this year, more than 20 dogs have been killed by wolves in this state. All of them were dogs who were participating in bear hunts. Veterinarians typically treat many dogs each year who have been seriously or even fatally wounded by wolves while hunting bear.

More dogs in Wisconsin die while bear hunting than in Michigan, which may be because Wisconsin law allows people to be financially compensated to the tune of up to $2500 if their dogs are killed while engaged in this activity. The financial compensation provides an incentive for hunters to put their dogs at risk, or at least a disincentive to protect them from harm. Guardians of dogs killed by wolves while wolf hunting will not be eligible for compensation.

Proponents of the use of dogs to hunt wolves say that dogs will be kept safe by being trained to stop on command when they spot a wolf and that they will only go after single wolves. Scientists who are knowledgeable about wolves and wolf behavior have said unambiguously that the presence of dogs in wolf territories is dangerous for the dogs and puts them at great risk of injury and death.

The wolf hunt in Wisconsin this year has resulted in many kills so far, which means the hunt may not run through the end of February as planned. Five of the six zones in the state have been closed to wolf hunting for the season because quotas have been met. The state’s goal is 251 wolves, and as of November 26, 2013, hunters have come within 38 wolves of reaching it. If the total is reached before December 2, the season will close before dogs are permitted to be part of the hunt no matter what happens in court, although that does not prevent their use in future years.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sleeping With a Tennis Ball
Dog is clear about what she loves

Fetch is Super Bee’s absolute joy and she never seems to get tired of it. She does, however, eventually get tired, and when that happens she takes the ball with her for her afternoon nap. That’s right, this dog loves balls so much she sleeps with one.

Her favorite cozy situation is to be on the coach on a fluffy towel, sound asleep on her back with the ball nestled by her neck. I like to think of the ball as her security ball, similar to the security blankets that make many children feel confident and comfortable in any situation.

Of course, I’m projecting when I suggest that her desire to have the ball with her has anything to do with security or feelings of well-being. Perhaps she’s just possessive of the ball and wants to make sure nobody takes it while she is asleep. Or maybe she likes to know where it is when she wakes from her nap, so she doesn’t want to leave it lying around where someone may move it.

Does your dog have a toy or other item that is so precious that it is part of naptime or bedtime, and if so, why do you think your dog wants it close while sleeping?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fearful Dogs in Crowded Places
It’s terrifying, not socializing

“Does he bite?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered.

“Does he bite children?” was my next question.

“Well,” she said, “We don’t want him to. That’s why we brought him here—to get socialized.”

I had approached this little dog to distract him when I noticed him in a staring contest with two big dogs. He was acting tough but was clearly terrified. My concern was that someone would run between them and be frightened or injured if the tension between the dogs escalated. The owner of the little dog immediately came over to tell me to stay away from the dog, which is when we had our conversation.

The mom in me was furious that she had brought a dog who bites to the park during a children’s soccer tournament and tied him to the back of a goal, putting so many kids at risk. However, the canine behaviorist in me looked at the situation differently. I know from over a dozen years of working with dogs with serious behavior problems (and specializing in aggression) that people often think they are doing the right thing with an aggressive dog even when they’re not.

Most dogs who are behaving aggressively towards people are acting out of fear. The aggressive behavior diminishes only when the fear does.

Taking a fearful dog to a place full of people will not help him conquer his fear. It will actually make the fear, and thus his behavior, even worse because he is having yet another experience of being terrified. This is not intuitive because it’s natural to think that if a dog is misbehaving around people that he should go to classes, to the park, or any other place with lots of people for socialization. Though this seems sensible, it’s not actually true.

Socialization refers specifically to the process that occurs during the sensitive period— between three and twelve weeks of age—when puppies are becoming aware of the social world and learning how to behave within it. Anything or anyone that a puppy experiences in a positive way during this critical period of development is unlikely to produce fear in the dog later in life. Proper socialization includes providing puppies many good experiences with new people during this brief and specific period of development so that they accept new people throughout their lives without being afraid. Only puppies can be socialized—not adult dogs.

Taking a fearful dog out and about to be with or near people is unlikely to help a fearful dog become less afraid. The exposure elicits fear in the dog, giving him additional experiences that confirm how scary it is to be around people. This usually makes the fear worse, along with any undesirable behavior that is a result of the fear.

Most people dealing with an aggressive dog desperately want to improve their dog’s behavior, and knowing what NOT to do is an essential part of success. Though it may seem like a good idea, it’s counterproductive to take fearful dogs who are behaving aggressively to crowded places.

Many dogs can overcome their fears with desensitization and counter classical conditioning, both of which involve exposing them to low levels of whatever frightens them and preventing them from becoming overwhelmed. Two great resources are Patricia McConnell’s book The Cautious Canine and Debbie Jacobs’ website fearfuldogs.com.

Have you run into people trying to help their dogs in this way?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fences For Fido
Oregon’s new law will mean more requests

Oregon’s new anti-tethering law specifies that it will be considered second degree animal neglect if tethering a dog results in an injury to the animal, and first degree animal neglect if it causes the dog to be seriously injured or killed. The purpose of the law is to improve dogs’ quality of life and to enhance community safety. (Tethered dogs are more likely to bite than dogs who are not tied up.)

The law will likely create an increase in requests for help from the group Fences For Fido, which builds fences for dogs who would otherwise be tied up. Since 2009, they have given more freedom to over 230 dogs in Oregon and Washington by building them fences to free them from their chains.

Their work goes far beyond building fences. This volunteer organization also improves living conditions for dogs by providing shelter and veterinary care, including spay and neuter procedures when needed. They work hard to provide information to guardians about caring for dogs and the value of allowing them to participate in more family activities. Twice a year, they visit all the dogs they have helped in order to confirm that they remain unchained, healthy and safe. They report that many people with new fences spend more time with their dogs and that their connections to one another are stronger as a result.

Oregon’s new law, which takes effect in January 2014, will increase many people’s interest in fences for their dogs. Fences For Fido will have a lot of work to do, which means happier dogs, a safer community, and better relationships between people and their dogs.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Photographing Shelter Dogs on Walks
Weekly journey is uplifting

The dogs that Shannon Johnstone takes on walks are experiencing a freedom that they haven’t known in a long time, if ever. Each week, she brings one dog with her to a park that was built on top of an old landfill and observes the dog enjoying a rare moment of happiness. She photographs them on their walk and once they reach the top, which is about 500 feet up and one of the highest places in the area.

Johnstone is an art professor and professional photographer who has been photographing dogs, many of them Pit Bulls, from the Wake County Animal Center for over a year. These dogs have been living in the shelter, and some have been there over a year. A lot of the dogs she has photographed have been adopted. Some are still waiting for a family to choose them. A few have been euthanized.

The old trash pile turned landfill where they walk reminds Johnstone that people have treated these dogs as disposable and tossed them away just like we pitch trash. She emphasizes that these are good dogs, but that they’re just unlucky. Her experience, perspective and photographs reveal that well-known truth: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Beyond Friendly
Dogs with extreme social enthusiasm

It’s almost a cliché—Golden Retrievers who are so friendly, so eager to greet people that they seem in danger of wagging their entire back ends off. Such behavior is by no means confined to this breed, and it’s not exhibited by all Goldens, though it is undeniable that some of them do typify it.

I recently met a Golden Retriever who was as lovable and friendly as any I’ve known. It was fascinating to watch him control himself because although he could do it well, it was obvious that it took a lot of effort. He is a well-trained dog who behaved beautifully, but without that high level of training and lots of practice with self-control, it probably would have been a very different social experience for the both of us.

I suspect that if he had not received the training to back away, to sit and lie down on cue, and to settle and stay, he would have looked like a cartoon dog—leaping high in the air with all four paws extended and a cartoon bubble over his head with the word “Wheeeeeeeee!” in it. As it was, he was wagging his whole body so hard I really did wonder if he had ever hurt himself doing so, and he was looking at his guardian repeatedly as though asking permission to launch himself at me. Despite the restraint he showed, there was something in his expression that made me feel as though he was bursting with desire to leap into my arms or on my lap. It’s to his credit and that of his guardian that he did not do so.

Dogs with extreme social exuberance and their guardians have been criticized. Of course, that’s only when the enthusiasm leads to behavior such as knocking over small children (or even adults) and it is excused with the remark, “He’s just so friendly!”

I love a friendly dog and I don’t consider any dogs TOO friendly. However, I have met dogs with an excess of enthusiasm who would benefit from some training in basic manners. If dogs are prone to boundless social fervor, they need to be taught self-control and to perform acceptable behaviors during greetings rather than being allowed to plow into or over people.

Do you have a dog who is socially enthusiastic?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Importance of Context
He was talking about a dog

It’s a good thing his kindergarten teacher knew that Carson was talking about a dog when he burst into the room Monday morning and shared his news:

“We got a sh*tter!”

His teacher had been hearing for weeks that they were going to add a new dog to the family. This allowed her to probe into the situation to find out what he meant rather than send him to the principal’s office because of what he said.

So, she was prepared to ask him things like, “Is your new puppy a setter?” “Does the puppy shed a lot?” and “Did you get a Shih-tzu?” That last one was the right question because it prompted Carson to say, “Oh, yeah, that’s it. We got a Shih-tzu. Her name’s Coconut.”

Coconut is now over three years old, and every time I see her, it makes me happy. Mostly, I feel cheerful around her because she is sweet and sociable as well as soft and adorably fluffy. (Really, I defy anyone to visit with her and NOT be happy!) But part of the reason, she makes me smile is that it always makes me remember Carson’s gleeful and well-intentioned—if not totally appropriate—announcement in kindergarten.

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