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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
Well-Trained Dogs Inspire
Jumpy is a joy to watch

This video of Jumpy responding to a series of cues given by his trainer, Omar von Muller, is one of my top picks for showing, in an entertaining way, what dogs are capable of doing if people invest a lot of time and effort into training them.

When I watch this video, I mainly just enjoy it, but I delight in knowing that Jumpy has a wonderful life full of freedom, mental exercise and lots of time with his guardian. This dog has a lot of training experience and lives with a professional trainer whose work involves training animals for appearances in the film industry.  (Von Muller is the trainer responsible for Uggie’s performance in The Artist and Water for Elephants.) I would never expect all dogs to be able to perform at this level, nor would I expect that most people would be interested in putting in the effort to achieve such a level of performance even if it were possible.

On the other hand, I would love it if, as a society, we acknowledged that reliable responsiveness to multiple cues is not an impossibility for most dogs. Sure, it takes some commitment to learn the training skills and to train the dog, but it’s not magic. It’s not an option for only one in a million dogs, either.

Videos like this always inspire me to teach new tricks, and I am eager to teach “Don’t you look at it,” which is a cue to look away from something. I have never taught that particular action, and I’m excited to give it a try.

Did this video inspire you to teach your dog something in particular?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs' Responses to Familiar Human Scents
Their brains reveal a positive response

You may not feel happy when you smell your husband’s underarm when he has not showered or used deodorant for 24 hours, but your dog probably does. So concluded scientists who conducted an fMRI study to investigate the response of dogs’ brains to both familiar and unfamiliar canine and human odors. Since the canine sense of smell is so well-developed, studies that investigate it are especially useful for learning more about dogs, including their behavior and emotions.

The 12 dogs in the study “Scent of the familiar: an fMRI study of canine brain responses to familiar and unfamiliar human and dog odors” (in press in the journal Behavioural Processes) have been trained to remain still during the entire procedure. Because the dogs don’t move during the process because of training rather than being medicated or restrained to achieve stillness, the way various areas of the brain respond to various stimuli can be studied. All of the dogs are family pets and were raised by people from puppyhood on.

In this experiment, researchers focused on the caudate, which is an area of the brain that is associated with positive feelings and rewards. The level of activity in this part of the brain in response to various odors informs us about the emotional reaction of dogs to various stimuli. The odors used were the dog’s own odor, a familiar dog, an unfamiliar dog, a familiar person and an unfamiliar person. The familiar person was never the guardian handling the dog at the experiment because the scent of that person was present throughout the experiment.

The scientists found that dogs had the strongest, most positive reactions to the smell of a familiar person. Because most of the handlers with the dog during the experiment were female guardians, the familiar person was usually the male guardian or their child, although it was sometimes a close friend. The familiar dog was also a member of the household. The scents from dogs came from the perineal-genital area.

The dogs responded to all of the scents, but activation of the caudate portion of the brain in response to the familiar human scent showed that dogs distinguished it from all the other scents and that they had a particularly positive association with that smell. Dogs had a more positive response to familiar humans than to either unfamiliar humans or to members of their own species, whether familiar or unfamiliar.

Interestingly, the four dogs in this study who are service dogs had the strongest responses to human scents, which may be due to genetics, their intense exposure to humans during training or even simply a fluke related to small sample size. It is possible that dogs whose caudate is highly responsive to human scent may be best suited for service work. Because not all dogs selected to be service dogs end up successfully completing the time-consuming and expensive training, choosing those dogs who are most likely to succeed could save time and money as well as lessen the extensive waiting times for people in need of such dogs.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Social Roles and Relationships in Dogs
CAAB Chat about friendship, jealousy, grief, and bullying

CAAB Chats are a new program featuring monthly discussions among CAABs (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists) about topics that matter to people who love animals. This month’s CAAB Chat is about Social Roles and Relationships in Dogs, and will involve a conversation about friendship, grief, jealousy, status, bullying, gratitude, and more. Anyone can register to listen in to the live chat (which is this Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 2 p.m. Mountain Standard Time) free of charge, and replays are available for a fee.

I have listened to the previous CAAB Chats on Canine Communication and Response Prevention and really enjoyed them. This month I’m excited to be one of the CAABs doing the chatting, along with my friend and colleague Camille Ward, PhD. CAABs Suzanne Hetts, PhD and Dan Estep, PhD will be moderating the discussion, and we are all excited about the topic and discussing it with one another. We hope that everyone who signs up to be a part of it will feel like they are listening in as we candidly discuss topics that matter to us, just as we would at a conference or even over a cup of coffee (or other beverage of choice.)

There are so many questions about social roles and relationships in dogs, and this list is just a few of the ones we find particularly interesting and hope to hit on.

How do friendships develop among dogs?

Do dogs have preferences for their play partners? What contributes to those preferences?

How do relationships among dogs, and between dogs and people go wrong?

Why do we seem to have so many dogs who assume a “bullying” role with other dogs?

How are the relationships dogs form with each other similar to those they form with people?  How are they different?

Can dogs feel gratitude?

What do dogs experience when another dog they’ve lived with dies?  Do they feel grief?

Since the discussion is informal by design, there’s no telling exactly where it will lead, and that’s part of the fun. Additionally, those listening in are asked to submit questions they’d like to see addressed, and those will surely lead to interesting parts of the conversation.

CAABs all have a scientific and research background and many of us have worked with animals with serious behavior problems. We spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, reading and talking about animal behavior (not to mention a lot of time with animals themselves!) We love chatting about our work, which is a labor of love for all of us, and this week’s CAAB Chat is just one more opportunity to do so. We hope you will join us!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog Survived Washington Mudslide
Buddy the Chocolate Lab is safe

This weekend’s devastating mudslide northeast of Seattle, Wash. has claimed the lives of at least 8 people, and left over 100 people unaccounted for. Many are feared dead. Treacherous mud has made rescue work dangerous at times and impossible at others. People around the world following the story celebrated the report that a 6-month old baby was found alive.

A later development greeted with celebration was the rescue of Buddy the Chocolate Lab, seen in this video at about 1:20. To dog lovers everywhere this is welcome news in a story that is mostly bad news. Buddy’s rescue has brought joy to family members waiting to hear the fate of their sister, who is his guardian. Hopefully his presence will help them as they face what will likely be a time of grieving. It seems improbable, unfortunately, that Buddy’s guardian was as lucky as he was. She remains missing and rescuers are not optimistic about finding more survivors.

The man who pulled Buddy from the mud caused a rare moment of laughter when he called out, “He needs a bath pretty bad.” Besides a bath, the dog will need to recover from the harrowing experience, which left him shaken up and suffering mild injuries. And yet, there’s no denying he was extremely blessed to have survived the ordeal, which many people, as well as other dogs, did not.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Adam Miklósi is a New Advisor
Joins National Canine Research Council

Adam Miklósi just became the newest advisor to the National Canine Research Council. Their mission involves understanding and preserving the human-canine bond and they both conduct and fund research in support of this goal. Miklósi is an expert on the cognitive and social abilities of dogs that make their bond with humans possible and he has played a pivotal role in the way dogs are now viewed by scientists and lay people alike.

Although scientists as brilliant and prestigious as Konrad Lorenz, who won the Nobel Prize, and even Charles Darwin, were fascinated by dogs and studied them extensively, many others found them unworthy of attention. The viewpoint for generations was that because dogs were domesticated, they were not scientifically interesting the way that wild animals are. Many people in the field of ethology, which is the study of animals in their natural habitat rather than in the laboratory, failed to recognize that the natural environment of dogs is with people. Attempts to study them were met with scorn, and almost no funding.

In the last decade, the tide has turned, and now excellent research on dogs is being done in many areas of the world. As founder and head of the Family Dog Project and head of the Ethology Department at Eötvös University in Budapest, Miklósi is a worldwide leader in the study of the domestic dog. The goal of his research is to investigate the ethological and evolutionary foundations of the human-dog relationship.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Every Dog Has a Story
A lifetime of adventures worth telling

The broken jaw was suffered over a decade ago, courtesy of a kicking horse, and the broken leg was a result of an unplanned exit from the back of a pick-up truck a couple of years after that. Being attacked by a raccoon left him with a cut so bad his jawbone was showing through the cuts in his gums.

Gus is a 14-year old Heeler/Pit Bull cross and about as sweet a dog as I have ever met. He visited us this weekend when his guardian, David, was doing some electrical work in our kitchen, and his elderly comportment gives no signs of all the living this dog has done. Despite his rambunctious youth, Gus now moves slowly, reliably remains calm and is gentle with kids and adults alike. He’s changed a bit a from his barking, chasing, heel-nipping days, though his basic personality remains the same.

Born in Montanta on a 400-acre alfalfa ranch, Gus later lived in California in a triplex apartment after David was badly injured, then moved to Arizona where he once again had room to run around. That was when his guardian worked as the lookout at Lemmon Rock lookout on Mount Lemmon, and where Gus acquired the nickname “Smoke Detector”. Gus was so popular there that David’s boss joked with him, “We didn’t hire you because of you. It’s because of Gus. You don’t have to come back, but we’d sure like to see Gus again.”

Last summer, Gus lived in his fourth state when David worked as a firefighter in Washington. (Friends watched him when David was working.) Gus was used to living with lots of people since he spent his first year living in the bunkhouse of the ranger station in Montana, and he no doubt raised morale in the place just by being himself.

It’s good news that he is such a lovely dog given all that has happened to him and his beginnings. The mom was the family’s gentle Pit Bull, but his litter was the result of an unplanned breeding between that dog and the neighbor’s aggressive male Heeler. The eight puppies all went to firefighters and EMTs that worked with David, and I can only hope that the other seven had lives so filled with friendship and adventure.

The life of every dog is made up of stories, and I love it when people share them with me. I especially love hearing the tales of elderly dogs. Not only have they usually had a greater number of interesting escapades since they have been on the planet so long, but they have almost always had adventures that don’t seem to match with their gentle older selves. They make me think of old men sitting on a porch starting every other phrase with, ”Did I ever tell you about the time I. . .”

Have you ever had an old dog whose life story was just begging to be told?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
First Sniff and First Lick
“First Kiss” parodies were inevitable

What will happen when strangers kiss on film? We still don’t know because this past week’s viral video that claimed it was “magic” turned out to be a clever advertisement for a clothing company. Since the “First Kiss” video had over 10 million views in a matter of days and is now approaching 50 million, it’s no surprise that parodies of it have begin to surface. Obviously, one that involved dogs was bound to make the rounds, and here is an example.

Just like the original that inspired it, “First Sniff” is in black-and-white, it shows some diversity of characters though all are attractive, it is set to moving music, has close-ups of faces and shows positive emotional interactions between the pairs.

There are so many parodies, and another of my favorites is First Lick: A Film by Jimmy Fallon, which includes both dogs and cats.

I think that the puppy who gets distracted by his own tail is the breakout star of the film, although the facial expressions of the Basset Hound are priceless.

Do you have a favorite part of any of the parodies of the First Kiss video?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs Don’t Live Long Enough
But we share their whole life

Though I could go on endlessly about the fine qualities of dogs, I could also babble for a little while about some of the drawbacks. I could do without cleaning up vomit, excessive shedding, and the tendency of the heaviest dogs to stand on my foot without even realizing they are doing it, but only the shortness of their lives really, truly bothers me. I have often said that not a single dog has ever lived long enough, and I stand by that statement.

So, at the risk of sounding a little over the top in a rose-colored glasses, accentuate-the-positive, glass-half-full kind of way, I thought about dogs’ short lives in a new way when I saw a set of paired pictures of animals recently. Every animal (mostly dogs with some cats and one turtle) is shown twice—then and now. Some of the pictures show the dogs with just a few months of separation while other photos were taken 16 or 17 years apart.

As I looked through these photos, it struck me as beautiful that we are able to share a dog’s whole life. That’s quite rare in people’s relationships, which is why those friendships that began in early childhood and last forever are so cherished. In contrast, many dogs come into our lives as puppies or adolescents and remain with us until the end of their lives. Granted, that end comes too soon as I am always saying, but there’s something special about sharing all the stages of their life with them from youth through middle age and into the golden years.

In the set of photos that inspired these thoughts about dogs’ lifespans, I especially love the second set of photos which shows a young man holding first a black puppy and later a 10-year old black dog. Even though the dog is large, he looks content to be held by this guy, and that’s not common. The brindle boxer puppy lying on top of the fawn boxer also charmed me. Even though just 3 months passed between the photos, the puppy has grown so much, and the older dog seems to have accepted the new addition to the household.

In all the photos, I love seeing the joy in most people’s faces as they pose with their pets months or even years apart. There are big changes in the dogs and sometimes, depending on the time difference and whether the first photo showed a child or an adult, big changes in the people, too. I adore how the behavior and expressions are often consistent over time, even taking into account the purposeful reposing that obviously happened and the inability of many dogs to fit into spaces that used to accommodate them easily.

Do you have photos that span your dog’s lifetime?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Divorce and Dogs
Great support or more pain?
Dogs influence the emotions in a divorce

“My best support came from my dog,” is a common sentiment among people who have been through a divorce. That’s no surprise given the well-known benefits of dogs. They ease feelings of loneliness, make us feel loved, encourage exercise, promote playfulness and facilitate social interactions. They don’t put pressure on us to cheer up, to get back out there or to stop dressing like a slob. They always seem glad to see us. There are countless ways that they make life better for people in any kind of emotional pain, including those whose marriages have ended.

On the other hand, if your ex gets custody of the dog, the agony of the split may be compounded. Not only is your spouse gone, but so is your dog. When I’ve talked to people who have not gotten custody and miss the dog, sometimes that pain seems more raw and intense than the loss of the human relationship. In some cases, that may be because the relationship with the dog is better and healthier than the marriage ever was, and sometimes the loss of the dog is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Either way, losing one’s dog adds to the pain of divorce.

It takes commitment to help a dog through the changes divorce brings. For some people, the focus on the dog is a helpful distraction, but for others, it’s just one more exhausting challenge. One friend of mine knew that her ex would be the best guardian for the dog because he works from home and runs with the dog every day. In contrast, she works long hours and travels a lot, and exercised the dog only on the weekends. To her credit, she did not fight for custody, although she does have visitation rights. She loves the dog, so in his interest, she agreed to a situation that she knew would be more painful to her, and it has been.

If you’ve gone through a divorce, how did your dog play into the pain and the process of healing?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Weight Reduction in Dogs
Recognizing the problem is the first step

The dog’s left legs were aimed a little bit skyward as he was lying on his right side. Excessive weight prevented them from being in the usual position—resting on the body with the feet on the ground. His guardian said that their veterinarian wants them to work on shedding some of that weight for health reasons, but that he thinks the dog’s size is just fine.

The problem of overweight dogs is certainly not new, but the trend towards lack of concern about dogs who are way too heavy continues to grow. Lately, many of the people I meet whose dogs seem far heavier than they need to be don’t seem to think that their dogs are overweight and need to lose weight. As a society, we seem to have become accustomed to dogs with a rounder shape, and overweight dogs no longer stand out because there are so many of them. Dogs at healthy weights may even look too skinny to people who are used to heftier dogs.

Recently, one woman proudly introduced me to her dogs, both of whom were significantly bigger than dogs who are at their perfect weight. As I began to pet them, she said to me, “Can you believe my vet thinks they are overweight?” Both of these dogs could probably have lost a quarter of their weight and still not been svelte, so yes, I could believe it.

It’s common for people to be advised to put their dogs on a weight reduction program, but many people decline to participate. Some of that may be because of the effort it takes to help out pets lose weight. The careful consideration of food type and amount as well as the attention to extra exercise make weight loss a big project. Another reason may be that people are just not convinced that their dogs needs to be any lighter.

Does your veterinarian’s view of your dog’s weight match with your own view of it?

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