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Karen B. London

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What Kind Of Dog Were You?
This quiz sees me differently than I see myself

While wasting time on Facebook yesterday—I’m not proud, but it’s been known to happen—I came across a link to a quiz that an unusually high number of my friends had shared, which piqued my interest. The question this quiz asks is, “What kind of dog were you in a past life?”

I’ve taken a lot of quizzes over the years about what type of dog would best suit me as a pet, but I have yet to look into this mechanism for finding out about my inner self. In a way, that’s surprising, as I have previously described my own children by considering the dog breeds that share their traits. (My oldest is a Greyhound and my youngest is a Vizsla/Irish Setter Mix.) I often try to understand other people by thinking of characteristics that they have in common with various dog breeds, but I had yet to do this with myself.

Therefore, I was eager to see what insights were in store for me. I took the quiz twice because I didn’t feel confident about my answers to all of the questions. It is my opinion that the quiz was not spot on for me in declaring that I was either a Dachshund or an English Bulldog in a past life. On the other hand, what would be the point of such an exercise if it simply churned out an answer I was expecting, such as a Bearded Collie or perhaps some kind of retriever?

What sort of dog do you identify with, and does this quiz view you the same way?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Different Than Your Other Dogs
Adopting dogs that are unlike what we’re used to

“We’ve always had little lap dogs, but this one is probably part mastiff and part Great Dane. I never thought I’d have a dog bigger than I am!” My neighbor was so enthusiastic about their new dog Thor that she came over specifically to introduce him to me. He is delightful, and the family is so happy. Part of the fun is that this dog is so completely different than every other dog they have ever had. In fact, this dog’s head is about the size of their other dogs.

I’ve met many people who have always had big dogs and then at some point adopted a small one. The reverse situation of my neighbor—a departure from little dogs to acquire a large one—is a little less common, but still not unusual. And many people adopt dogs that are completely different from all their other dogs in ways that go beyond size.

A friend of mine grew up with terriers and continued with them into adulthood. Then, she had a dream about a doing herding trials with a dog. She adopted a Border Collie not long after. I’m not advocating acting on every dog-related dream to guide important life decisions, but in this case, it worked out beautifully. She now has a variety of terriers and herders in her house and it’s a happy home.

Perhaps one of the biggest transitions is to go from quiet dogs who occasionally let out a single half-hearted “woof” to a dog who is a champion barker.  If your dogs have previously been of the former variety it can be a shock when you welcome a dog with the vocalization tendencies of breeds like the American Eskimo or the Great Pyrenees. As with so many variations among dogs, personal preferences are all over the place. Some people love to have a dog who alerts then to everything, while other people prefer more peace and quiet.

The energy level of different dogs is another area where transitions can be a shock. If you’ve always had high-energy dogs and now you find yourself living with a couch potato, you may struggle to adjust. However, that is unlikely to be anywhere near as big an issue as the one facing people who have always had dogs who are content to lie around much of the day and now have one who wants to run 20 miles before breakfast.

If your dogs have usually been of the wash-and-go type, with the washing happening no more than a couple of times a year, a dog with high grooming demands will be a big change. Many years ago I met a family who had only had short-haired dogs until they adopted a Bearded Collie who they paid to have groomed about once a month. It can be hard to transition from a no-brushing-required dog to a send-your-groomer-to-Europe dog, but it’s nice that you can hire a professional if you know in your heart that you’re not up to the constant care needed.

Have you ever adopted a dog who was completely different than your usual canine companions?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Quite a Catch!
Beagle looks ready for the big leagues

Seeing a dog catch balls is common, but seeing one do it with her paws is not. Purin is a Beagle who has the ability to trap a ball like she’s wearing a baseball glove. Her dexterity and balance are both impressive, and it’s fun to watch what she can do.

Interestingly, though her body seems relaxed, and she seems happy most of the time, she follows roughly half of the 13 catches in this video with a tongue flick, which can be a sign of low level stress.

I’m not sure why Purin is tongue-flicking, because she does seem to be generally enjoying the game of catch, and does not show any signs of serious distress. She leaps up joyfully towards the trainer after most catches and generally seems at ease while waiting for the ball to be thrown to her.

Do you think she is having a good time or not?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Home Away From Home
Creating a familiar kennel environment

The goal of having dogs be in a home away from home when we travel without them is a common goal. In the case of this Norwegian family, the man surprised his wife and kids as well as his Bulldog Igor, by literally building a home away from home.

It’s hard to say how big a difference this replica of their home made for Igor. There’s no doubt he can tell the difference between his home and his kennel. One of the best aspects of home is that his human family is there, and they were absent from the kennel. On the other hand, the familiarity of the objects and furniture in the new place were certainly likely to make him feel more at home, at ease and less stressed by the change.

The benefit to the human family members was also huge. Often the stress of leaving a dog at a kennel is more pronounced in the human family members than in the dog. When this man’s wife and kids saw that Igor was going to be in a place so much like home, they probably felt better about the whole situation.

The love of this man for his dog and the rest of the family is striking. I’m happy for Igor that he is in this family. The fact that such an effort was made on his behalf when they took a vacation suggests that this dog is never wanting for love, affection and thoughtfulness.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Emergency Shelter Doesn’t Accept Dogs
Local humane association offers free pet care
We're headed to the same place, right?

People in Arizona who have to evacuate on short notice because of the Slide Fire in Oak Creek Canyon between Sedona and Flagstaff are not able to bring their pets to the Red Cross shelter at Sinagua Middle School. Luckily, the Coconino Humane Association about a block away will care for pets whose guardians have evacuated. Dogs will be housed in kennel runs, be provided a blanket, food and water and have time in the yard. (Cats are also being accepted and provided with the care that they need.) The service is completely free.

When shelters do not accept pets, people may resist evacuation. Luckily, in this case, there is a contingency plan for families with four-legged members. Obviously, being able to remain together would be preferable, but at least families have an option other than refusing to evacuate or sleeping in their car.

Ideally, shelters would be equipped to care for people AND their pets in emergency situations. As a society, we have a long way to go in this area, but things are better than they were even a decade ago. Aid organizations have learned that failure to provide for pets prevents people from leaving a potential hazardous situation. (Let us never forget Hurricane Katrina!)

Have you ever been faced with an evacuation situation that required you to choose between doing what was safest for yourself and doing what you needed to do for your dog?

Culture: Reviews
Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers
Very Fetching, 2012, 180 pp; $16.99

I’d like to see Barbara Shumannfang’s book Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers in the hands of more people with new puppies. It’s upbeat and full of practical wisdom conveyed in an easy-to-read conversational style.

Shumannfang understands normal puppy behavior and offers smart advice for helping puppies behave appropriately in human houses. She focuses on setting puppies up to succeed by considering what we DO want them to do, making that happen and rewarding the puppy for doing it. Her training advice is positive, humane and modern. 

Refreshingly, Shumannfang acknowledges that puppies can be emotionally and physically exhausting. She lets readers know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes, while offering information and ideas to prevent that feeling from overriding all others as you raise a puppy. 

This book covers the issues typically facing puppy guardians—house training, puppy biting, jumping up, chewing, grooming concerns, crate training, exercise, play, training basics, interactions with kids, whining and barking, and when to seek additional help. It can be read straight through, but it’s also easy to use as a reference.

Shumannfang uses a lot of humor, so you can look forward to laughing as you read Puppy Savvy, knowing that what you learn will mean you will be laughing more as you raise your puppy than you would without this book.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Behavioral Predictors of Adoption
What dogs do influences potential adopters

We know that millions of shelter pets are available for adoption each year, but that many are never selected. Most previous research into the choices that people make about which dog to adopt has focused on what the dog looks like and the dog’s behavior in the kennel.

The recent study “Adopter-dog interactions at the shelter: Behavioral and contextual predictors of adoption” investigated whether dogs’ behavior during an interaction outside of the kennel had any impact on the likelihood of adoption. (Potential adopters chose which dog or dogs they wanted to spend time with in a session out of the kennel.)

There were only two behaviors that influenced adoption: 1) Dogs who ignored people’s attempts to initiate play were far less likely to be adopted than those dogs who played when people attempted to initiate play with them, and 2) Dogs who spent more time lying down close to potential adopters were fourteen times more likely to be adopted than those who spent less time lying down near the people. Dogs who were adopted spent half as much time ignoring people’s attempts to play and twice as much time lying down near potential adopters than dogs who were not selected for adoption.

This research suggests that even in a short interaction—the average in this study was 8 minutes and did not differ between people who chose to adopt the dog and those who did not adopt the dog—people were making choices based on dogs’ behavior. Specifically, they chose dogs who played with them and who spent time lying down near them. This study suggests that people are selecting dogs who act in certain ways and that training dogs to behave in these ways has the potential to increase their chances of being adopted.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Attention Changes With Age
Dogs and humans follow similar path

If you think that your dog has changed in his tendency to pay attention to you over time, you are probably right. A new study is the first to describe the developmental changes in dogs’ attention over their entire life.

In the study “Lifespan development of attentiveness in domestic dogs: drawing parallels with humans”, scientists studied 145 Border Collies from the ages of 6 months to almost 14 years old. Dogs were placed in 7 groups, reflecting these developmental periods: late puppyhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle age, late adulthood, senior, and geriatric.

The researchers concluded that dogs (at least of this breed) show predictable changes in attentiveness, which they define as the ability to choose to process some environmental stimuli over others, as they age. Their major findings were:

  • Dogs of all ages attend more to people with objects than to objects alone.
  • Older dogs are less interested in novel objects in the environment than younger dogs are.
  • Dogs between 3 and 6 years of age were fastest to return their attention to a person after finding food on the floor.
  • Adolescent dogs improve their performance at attention tasks more rapidly than other age groups. So, while these young dogs may not give their attention quickly to a person on the first trial, when rewarded for doing so, they get better after just a few repetitions.
  • The changes in attention over time seen in these dogs are similar to the patterns observed in humans, which means that dogs may provide good models for studying the phenomenon.

Have you noticed changes in your dog’s attention habits over time?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Life With Dogs Is Not Glamorous
We all have stories to prove it

The chain of events that led to the dog peeing on me in the middle of the night began with my children’s homework. It was an interesting and worthwhile assignment, which offers me some consolation. I hate to be peed on for no good reason!

The kids were tasked with investigating leaks in our house and making some calculations about how much water was being wasted. They had to check the water meter, make sure no water would be used during the next few hours, and then check the meter again to see if any water was being lost. We thought that it would be easiest to do this overnight when nobody would accidently wash their hands (an unlikely occurrence that only Murphy’s Law could make happen during the crucial period or anytime) or use water in any other way.

Just before bedtime after everybody had filled a water bottle, brushed their teeth and gone to the bathroom, we deactivated the icemaker in our freezer and the kids checked the meter. All we needed to do was go to bed and wait until morning for them to take a second reading of the meter.

Tragically, I awoke at midnight really needing to use the bathroom. Though I could of course have just gone but not flushed, I lacked confidence in myself. I don’t know why, but it is ridiculously hard for me to do this, and the risk that I would go, then flush automatically was too high in my mind.

“I’m up anyway, so I might as well take the dog out to relieve himself, and I can go out there,” was my thought.

Marley and I went outside and he wandered over to his favorite potty spot, and I picked a place for myself by some bushes. Still occupied with my own mission, I failed to notice the dog come around behind me until it was too late. I only became aware of his presence when he had already lifted his leg and I felt the warm stream of dog urine hit me in the lower back.

Unable to shower because of the water leak investigation assignment, I dried my back with paper towels and then used about a pint of hand sanitizer on the area before going back to bed. Though I was a little disgusted, it’s really not that big a deal considering the amount of vomit, pee and poop all of us who spend time with dogs have probably cleaned up over the years.

Besides, I found it interesting that Marley seemed to be over marking my urine with his own. Many dogs pee over other dogs’ pee, and even over the urine of men, but some dogs ignore urine from women and from kids. Unfortunately for me, Marley is not one of them.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What They Might Think During Departures
Putting words into the minds of dogs

As we drove away and saw Marley’s face in the window, watching us drive away, my son said, “I’ll bet he’s thinking, “Please come back! Why are you leaving me?” His woebegone expression did match the words my son had chosen for him.

We began to discuss how different individuals react to the same situations in different ways and express themselves in unique ways, too, and why shouldn’t that apply to dogs as much as to people? From there, we had a lot of fun imagining what some of the other dogs we know would say in the same circumstances.

Watson is super smart, always worried and typically a couple of steps ahead of everyone else, mentally speaking. He’d probably be thinking, “Let’s see, if they are in the car going east at 40 miles per hour for 20 minutes, and spend the usual 35 minutes at their desired location plus or minus 5 minutes, and return by the scenic route to avoid the traffic at rush hour, and travel at 30 miles per hour, they should return by 4 pm, so I will not commence with any serious worrying until that time.

We next discussed our old dog Bugsy, who nobody would ever describe as an intellectual. (A trainer friend of mine once actually described him as a couple of ants short of a picnic.) We decided that even in our imaginations, he never would have mastered standard English grammar and would simply think, “You go. I still here.”

Schultzie is so well-adjusted that she would probably think, “The timing of their departure is very sensible. It’s time for my nap, but I’ll be ready for playtime and a good walk by they time they get home.”

Kiwi might very well have thought something along the lines of, “Sure, I’ll miss them, but they always come back, so this provides a perfect opportunity for me to check to see if the latch on the cabinet holding the garbage can is as loose as it looks. Today could be a trash party day—here’s hoping!”

Super Bee is as fit as she is fast, and her brain is as speedy as her body. If we left her behind, I could imagine her thinking, “If they head out Fremont Avenue going the speed limit and turn right at the light and then go 45 miles per hour on Route 180, and take a right at the light at Humphreys, and drive with traffic until they are downtown, I could leap out this window, head to the urban trail and through the park and still beat them by at least 17 seconds to the coffee shop on San Francisco Street, which I’m sure is where they are going.

Of course, the idea of dogs thinking these things is pure fantasy, but it’s fun to imagine, based on a dog’s personality and behavior, their response to a situation and to put it into words. What can you imagine your dog thinking as you leave the house?

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