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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
Facial Recognition of Dogs
Tagging on Facebook

I was super amused when Facebook asked me to tag “Colita” in a recent post. I did not know that dogs were fair game for tagging or that facial recognition software could be used with them on Facebook. I’m amazed how well the technology works for dogs, because show most people a litter puppies and they struggle to tell them apart.

Okay, they’re fine when it comes to breeds with distinct markings like border collies, Jack Russell terriers, or beagles. Show them 10-12 golden retrievers or bichon frises, though, and most people will rely on alternative methods rather than facial recognition to tell some of the more similar littermates apart. Perhaps I should get used to expecting more from technology. After all, I’m always impressed that Facebook can correctly distinguish between my husband and his identical twin brother when many people, even those who know them well, can’t.

In recent years, rescue groups have started to use facial recognition software to help find lost dogs. The app Finding Rover uses facial recognition software to help reunite guardians with lost dogs. And the Auckland SPCA in New Zealand is using facial recognition software to help match people with their doggleganger—the dog that looks the most like them.

Facial recognition software is being used in new ways for important purposes, but all I really want to know is whether you tag your dogs on Facebook. Do you?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs and Traffic
Terrifying and dangerous

Living temporarily in the urban area of San Ramón, Costa Rica, I have seen far too many near misses between cars and dogs. (There are a ton of strays as well as many dogs who wander all day even though they have a home.) A fatal accident can happen so fast, and I have felt very fearful watching dogs in the roads. It’s especially frightening here, where cars have the right of way, and pedestrians of both the human and canine variety are taking a risk every time they step off the curb to cross a street.

There are people who hurry across in front of zooming cars, taxis and trucks in situations in which I wouldn’t dare try to make it in time, and some dogs do the same. Just yesterday, I watched the same dog twice disappear from view alarmingly close to cars and felt enormous relief both times when I saw him reappear on the other side. I really thought that he hadn’t made it. A man walking near me said, “No va a llegar al edad,” which means, roughly translated, “He’s not going to reach old age,” and I worry that he spoke the truth. Presumably, dogs who lack the skills to safely navigate the city streets don’t last very long.

Perhaps that’s why most of the dogs I see wandering freely, whether they have a family to return to at night or not, seem to understand that cars are to be avoided. Either they learn that early on, or they don’t survive. Many watch and cross when people do, taking a followers approach to street safety. Others cross after watching for a break between cars. The majority of the dogs are playing it safe.

Still, I have a bad feeling that before the end of our four months here, I may see an accident with a bad ending. Have you ever had the misfortune to see a dog hit by a vehicle?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Theater and Humane Society Collaboration
Raising money searching for a dog star

Bark! The Musical has been a success any way you measure it. It has been nominated for many awards, its critical reception has been favorable and it has been a financial victory for those associated with it. The show tells the story of six dogs spending a typical day at Deena’s Doggie Day Care. The dogs are all unique personalities ranging from a puppy who wants to bark like a big dog and a rapping mutt who loves to dress as a chihuahua.

At a typical show, there is information about animals available for adoption outside the theater. Rescue groups and humane societies set up booths in the lobby with photographs of local dogs who need homes. Many happy adoptions have resulted from these efforts.

Since its Los Angeles premiere in 2004, the show has helped raised over a quarter or a million dollars for animal charities of various kinds. Everywhere the show has been staged, the tradition of fundraising for animals has continued. The show will be appearing in South Dakota this fall and their work to raise money for dogs began long before opening night.

Their fundraiser is in the form of a photo contest for local dogs. For a fee, people can have their dogs professionally photographed. One of the dogs who is photographed will be chosen to appear on the promotional poster for the production. All of the money raised in the “auditions” to be the face of the show will be donated to the Siouxland Humane Society.

If you’ve seen Bark! The Musical, please share your thoughts about it.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog’s Blood Saves Cat’s Life
Procedure necessary after ingesting rat poison

Rory the cat can claim that dogs are his best friend, too, or at least that one particular dog is. When Rory was in dire need of a blood transfusion, Macy the Labrador retriever was rushed to the vet to donate and that saved Rory’s life.

Rory the cat had consumed rat poison and his life was at risk. Due to bad luck, Rory had eaten the poison too late in the day on Friday for the lab to be able to determine the type of blood needed to ensure a match. The wrong type of blood could cause Rory to die, but the veterinarian treating Rory found out that there was a chance of saving Rory if he was given a transfusion of canine blood.

Rory’s guardian contacted Macy’s guardian, who is a good friend, and that’s how Macy came to be the life-saving blood donor. The procedure was not without risk. The canine blood could have killed Rory, but he certainly would have died without it. Cat’s antibodies don’t react to canine blood at first exposure, which is why the blood transfusion worked. The transfusion gave Rory enough time to replace the red blood cells he needed to recover. He’s doing well and Macy is just fine, too.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Obama Opposes Breed-Specific Legislation
White House releases official statement

“We don’t support breed-specific legislation.” So begins an official statement from the White House. Breed-specific legislation includes any law or regulation that restricts which dogs people can have based on their breed. The most common breed to be banned is the pit bull. The statement goes on to mention research showing that breed-specific legislation is essentially ineffective at preventing dog bites and injuries, and that it is a waste of the public’s resources. The official statement is presumably a response to an online petition that requests a ban at the federal level on laws that target dogs based on their breed.

It has not been possible to determine accurately bite rates by breeds, and in the absence of reliable data, perceptions are often skewed towards whatever is reported in the media rather than the actual number of bites. At various times, certain breeds have had serious PR problems, and it changes over the years. Decades ago it was rottweilers and doberman pinschers who seemed to face the most discrimination. Now it’s pit bulls who are most often assumed by many to be dangerous just because of what they look like, and not based on any information about specific individuals and their behavior.

The statement from the White House supports the Center for Disease Control’s recommendation that in order to improve public safety, we are better off with a community-based approach to dog bite prevention. The laws about dangerous dogs that deal with individuals who have a history of aggressive behavior are far more sensible than bans on entire breeds of dogs. Dogs vary greatly in their behavior and that variation is substantial within all breeds.

Our society has come a long way in stopping discrimination against people based on appearance, origin and who they are related to. It’s encouraging that we are moving in that direction when it comes to dogs, too. I’m so pleased about this big step towards eliminating discriminatory legislation. What’s your take on it?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A New Dog at The White House
The Obamas welcome Sunny

If you’re famous, it’s news if you eat out, if you change your hairstyle and when you actually do something important. So, for the likes of Carrie Underwood, Tim Tebow, Hilary Swank and Mark Zuckerberg, acquiring new dogs has meant that stories and photos of their new dogs show up in the news. Barack Obama and his family are in the news all the time, of course, but there’s been a burst of activity about their dog since they welcomed Sunny into their family a few days ago.

Michelle Obama tweeted the news with a simple, “So excited to introduce the newest member of the Obama family—our puppy, Sunny!” Unlike Bo who truly was a puppy when he joined the Obama family, Sunny is technically an adolescent at 14-months of age, but I understand the general use of the term “puppy” for dogs of all ages. Both dogs are Portuguese Water Dogs.

Like Bo, Sunny was purchased from a breeder, which is a disappointment to many, including people at The Bark. The Obamas missed an opportunity to rescue or adopt a dog, which would likely have had a huge ripple affect and done so much to help many dogs find their way into the hearts and homes of loving families. As they did with Bo, they donated to a local Humane Society in honor of Sunny.

She’s a beautiful dog and I hope Sunny and Bo continue to entertain us with their joyful play sessions and tender moments with the Obama family. Personally, I am thrilled that they have each other for canine company, which I think is so valuable whether you’re living at The White House or not.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Interested in My Expertise
Boy, did I misread the situation!

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be really wrong about something. I’m not someone who always needs to be right, which is lucky, because I was amusingly off the mark this time.

We have several different mail carriers for the route on which I live, including some regular substitutes. I recognize them all, though our interactions are limited to the hello, how-are-you, and thank you sort of exchanges. Then, a little while back, I noticed that one of the mailmen was acting a bit odd around me. He hesitated when he saw me, sometimes looked down avoiding eye contact, and generally seemed a bit uncomfortable. He sometimes seemed embarrassed, but he also seemed to be staring at me in his mirror if I came out to get the mail after he passed.

I tried to convince myself that I was imagining it, but that didn’t work. I’m a trained behaviorist as well as a very social member of society, and something just wasn’t quite right. He seemed more interested in me than was appropriate, and he certainly knew where I lived. It was making me feel very uncomfortable.

Finally, one day when I was outside cooling down after a run, he pulled the mail truck over by where I was, looked right at me, and said, “Karen, I have a question for you.” I waited, feeling sure that this would not be good.

Then, he said, “Do you work with dogs?” When I said that I was a behaviorist and trainer, he asked if I would mind if he asked me a question, to which I agreed. The question was about a dog in his family who was very friendly, but who jumped up a lot during greetings, especially when anybody came through the front door. We talked for a bit about what he could do to change the dog’s behavior, and in the next week or two, we checked in about the dog’s progress, which was rapid.

From the day he asked me about the dog, our interactions returned to being normal—friendly and relaxed. Here I thought something sinister was going on, when he simply wanted to ask me about his dog, but clearly felt unsure about whether he should. (It’s surely the case that because they see the sort of mail we receive, all of our mail carriers know way more about us than we know about them!)

He knew he needed help, but seemed unsure about asking for it from someone on his route. I love that he wanted to improve his dog’s behavior and I love that his dog is doing so well. Most of all, I love that I was so spectacularly wrong.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Understanding Dogs
Unexpected help with cultural adjustment

I am so grateful for the help a couple of dogs recently gave me in the middle of a period of cultural adjustment. This week, my family traveled to Costa Rica, where we will spend the next four months. I love this country, having spent close to a year here over the course of five previous trips. I speak Spanish, but it does not feel at all like using my native language of English, which is effortless and easy. (Hopefully no editors who have ever worked with me will be surprised to read that I consider myself so proficient in English, but that’s a whole different issue.) After 36 hours of speaking Spanish and translating for my husband and kids who are learning Spanish but remain less comfortable with the language, I was exhausted.

We were outside speaking with our neighbor Eduardo when I realized my bilingual brain needed a break. Just then, a couple of dogs from the neighborhood started to play together, and we all paused to watch them. They are small dogs of about 15 pounds, very peppy and extremely playful. They were leaping on one another, playing chase, taking turns in their roles, pausing frequently, performing plenty of play bows and using other play signals, all while maintaining a low and constant level of arousal. It was the kind of beautifully appropriate play session that anyone who has ever taught a puppy class would be ecstatic to observe.

When the dogs came over to me, I was able to interact with them just as I do with dogs anywhere. They responded to the way my body leaned, the tone of my voice, my posture, my energy level, and the direction I moved. The familiarity and lack of uncertainty were exhilarating. I always enjoy meeting friendly new dogs, but in this case, there was an extra perk. I understood what was going on and it was easy to observe and react appropriately. My brain was not translating, and I was not guessing or using context to fill in gaps. I was simply interacting with some new friends.

I’m fond of saying that I understand dogs, but that “canine” is definitely not my first language, which simply means that I’m aware that only dogs can understand dogs as native speakers. And yet, in that moment, I felt more comfortable with the ease of communication with canines than with people in a language other than English. It was such a joy to be with dogs, with whom I am so comfortable and so familiar. It was a surprising gift that these dogs gave to me as I adjust to life in a foreign country. I often find that when I am tired, I am only truly able to converse with ease in my native language, but dog “language” is apparently an exception. Hallelujah for that!

Sometimes we know when dogs will help us feel better and we even expect it: When we are heartbroken but we know that they still love us. When we have a bad day at work and we get to come home to them. When we head out to walk them because it’s the right thing to do, but being out does us every bit as much good. Yet the unexpected times that dogs give us a little lift are some of the best simply because they blindside us. How have dogs unexpectedly helped make you feel better?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Early to Rise
Many dogs love the morning

It’s typical to suffer some sleep deprivation when living with a puppy, but it’s not only young dogs who encourage people to start the day earlier than we might like. A lot of dogs wake up early, ready to begin the day’s adventures at first light.

Puppies, and some of the older dogs, too, simply need to relieve themselves, but others are peppy and ready to go without any such bathroom urgency. Of course, many of these dogs have ample time in their schedules for daily naps, so there are well rested and refreshed when many people would still prefer some extra Zs.

With training, lots of dogs learn that they will not be going outside at dawn and must amuse themselves or simply wait until the humans have arisen on their own, or at least with the help of their alarm clock. A few pester people by jumping on the bed, licking faces, barking, whining, or otherwise failing to allow the people to sleep in.

I’ve only ever had one dog who was not naturally an early riser. When I woke up to go to work or out for a run, he was dragging. As I got ready to take him out, he would yawn, stretch, and look at me pathetically as he lumbered over to the door. It required encouragement to get him going on the days I was up early, but it was delightful on the days I slept in. It was such a pleasure to sleep late knowing that my dog was not waiting eagerly for the day to begin or crossing his paws in desperation as I snoozed. On weekend mornings, we both happily began the day in a leisurely way. He was rare in that way. I appreciated that trait then, and remember it fondly now.

How early does your dog wake up to greet you and greet the day, and what tactics are used to convince you to haul yourself out of bed prematurely?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Animal Behavior Society Conference
Many presentations featured dogs

Last week, the Animal Behavior Society conference was held in Boulder, Colorado and was attended by hundreds of scientists. Besides being the 50th annual meeting, this conference was notable because of the strong representation by people who study dogs or work with them in other ways.

I first attended an Animal Behavior Society conference in 1994 and I remember no talks or posters about our best friends. Most talks were about insects, fish, and birds, all of which have long been subjects of study in the field of animal behavior. Studying dogs was not respected at that time and many people considered that research on the species was not applicable to science in general because dogs didn’t have a natural habitat other than living with people. I hadn’t started working with dogs professionally yet, and my talk on my graduate research was called “Nest Site Selection by a Member of a Wasp-Wasp Nesting Association.” Oh, how times have changed.

At this conference, dozens of people presented work, whether applied or basic, about dogs, including 21 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, or CAABs. (The certification is available to people with PhDs who work in applied animal behavior and have a number of other qualifications. There are currently about 50 of us CAABs.) This conference had more presentations about dogs than any previous ones. There were a number of interesting talks and posters about dogs including:

Differences in social and cognitive behavior between congenitally deaf and hearing dogs

The black dog syndrome: Factors influencing difficulty of canine adoptions

Social bonds between humans and their “best friends”

Improving enrichment for shelter dogs by changing human behavior

Are dogs exhibiting separation related problems more sensitive to social reinforcement?

Do puzzle toys have long-term benefits on canine cognitive functioning?

Inter-dog aggression in the home environment: A behavior modification case study

A comparison of the cognitive development of adolescent dogs

Successful treatment of canine human-directed resource guarding with multiple triggers

I loved attending talks about a variety of species, but seeing how much change there has been in the scientific community’s views about dogs over the last 20 years made this conference extra special.

 

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