Home
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.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Culture of Dog Parks
A change is in order

Dog parks have always been controversial, but they’ve also always provided opportunities for dogs to run and play off leash in wide-open spaces. It’s hard to deny the cliché that dog parks create both the best of times and the worst of times. To me, the overall issue is that the culture of dog parks is a work in progress and I have strong feelings about the direction I’d like that progress to take.

If I had my choice, there would be big changes in the overall behavioral norms for people at dog parks. Specifically, I would love to see a world of dog parks in which:

1. People would always be attentive to their dogs, watching them and monitoring them.

2. People would know when and how to intervene in dog-dog interactions and they would do so. This would require that people understand dog body language and behavior in general, and know their own dog’s limits and comfort zones specifically.

3. Only people and dogs who are social, friendly, and capable of handling a huge range of interactions would attend. In other words, it would not be considered reasonable to bring dogs with aggression issues to the park in order to “socialize” them.

4. People would set their dogs up for success at the dog park. For example, if a dog is fine around other dogs with a ball but acts possessive around the disc, then people would only bring a ball and save the disc play for places with no other dogs.

5. It would be standard practice to train dogs to respond to cues that are useful at the dog park. That is, dogs would reliably sit, stay, come, and leave it in response to cues from their guardians.

6. People would interact with their dogs, playing with them and enjoying time together along with allowing their dogs to play with other dogs. I’d like it to become taboo to come to the dog park to hang out with human friends while ignoring the dogs.

At your local dog park, are people behaving in ways that are conducive to positive experiences for both people and dogs or are some changes in order?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Eight New Dog Training Trends
What’s new with the dog pros

Dog training is a dynamic field (although probably not as dynamic as dogs themselves), and at the annual national conference of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) in Louisville, Ky., in mid-October ’08, it was fascinating to witness the ways in which the field continues to evolve. Following are, in my opinion, some of the most notable trends in dog training, all of which figured prominently in conference talks, workshops and dinner conversations.

1. An emphasis on people. Historically, dog trainers have paid more attention to canine ethology than to the behavior of their clients, but now, these instructors are also looking at how people learn, how to encourage them to practice at home, and how to most effectively communicate what they need to do to accomplish their dog-training goals.

2. An intense interest in play behavior. For years, play has been considered a fun topic and very enjoyable for dogs, but with the exception of its relevance to socializing puppies, it has not been widely considered to be worthy of serious attention. Now, canine play is a hot topic in dog training on several levels: establishing and maintaining the relationship between people and dogs, maintaining a high quality of life, and even solving serious behavioral problems. This year’s conference devoted an entire day to a play symposium, during which all of these topics were explored.

3. Fewer crossover trainers. The change from coercion training to positive reinforcement is not new, but what is new is that now, most positive trainers have always trained that way. Fewer people are learning coercive techniques in the first place and therefore, there are fewer trainers to cross over.

4. An emphasis on science. For years, scientifically based training principles have been gaining ground in the dog-training world. This trend continues, with more trainers than ever coming from a scientific background or pursuing continuing education with a scientific basis and an emphasis on the critical thinking skills that allow trainers to distinguish anecdotes and opinions from facts based on scientific evidence.

5. Training as a profession. Many trainers have left careers in business or other professional fields and brought that professionalism to dog training. As a result, more people are training full time rather than doing it part time as a second job or as a hobby.

6. A broader range of information to offer. Instead of focusing narrowly on dogs’ responses to cues such as sit, heel and come, dog trainers now consider what is necessary for dogs’ overall well-being and to improve their quality of life. As a result, most trainers are able to help clients directly (or indirectly, through referrals) in the areas of canine massage, nutrition, exercise and enrichment activities.

7. A focus on family dogs. Dog training used to be directed toward competitive events, primarily obedience and dog shows. Now,many dog-training schools are focusing on teaching pet dogs the skills necessary to be mannerly members of society—walking nicely on leash, greeting others politely and coming when called. These skills are different from competition skills such as a perfect heel, a formal recall and a long sit-stay.

8. Relationships as a top priority. Training is universally considered to be more effective and more quickly accomplished when a strong relationship exists between the person and the dog. As a result, that relationship has become a bigger part of the equation. This recognition means dog trainers are emphasizing ways to develop and strengthen those relationships in connection with the way people train, play and interact with their dogs. Along with that understanding comes the idea that dogs are members of our families. This view, which used to be expressed timidly, almost apologetically, is not only widely accepted now, but unquestionably mainstream.

So, what’s the take-away message? Here it is: It has never been easier for you and your dog to get quality training from a highly skilled, educated professional who focuses on your needs as well as those of your canine companion. And what a great combination that is.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Grieving Guardians Can’t Sue
Emotional damages not allowed

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that guardians cannot sue for emotional damages when a pet’s death is the fault of someone else. The case concerned a challenge to the law by a family whose dog Avery had been euthanized in error by a shelter. A worker had tagged the dog with instructions not to euthanize her because the family was coming back with the money necessary to release her, but somehow those instructions were not followed.

Though the written opinion of the court acknowledged the human-animal bond, it stated that it is not worthy of financial compensation. Justice Don Willet wrote that although figuring out what a pet means to a family is an emotional consideration, that’s a separate issue from the legal determination of the financial value of a pet. That is why people can receive financial compensation for dogs who have value in the strict economic sense, such as a dog who appears in commercials or one who has been successful in the show ring, but not for a dog whose value comes from the family’s love alone.

Since dogs are legally considered property, the family’s attorney argued that financial compensation for their loss is legally comparable to the loss of family heirlooms due to negligence. The attorney called the decision a huge defeat for pets, and asserted that the family never cared about the money, but cared deeply about changing the law.

What do you think about the court’s unanimous decision not to allow people to sue for emotional damage resulting from a pet's death?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Kevin Ware’s New Dog
“Scar” will help him heal

Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware adopted a dog to help him as he heals. The dog, who is named Scar, will be his constant companion during his long recovery. Sometimes I worry when I meet a dog named Scar that it refers to a fighting history or a desire to scare others, but in this case, the name Scar is a reminder of the work ahead of Ware and the scar that his leg will have.

When Kevin Ware went down with a horrific injury last Sunday in the NCAA basketball tournament, the world reached out to comfort him. He has been fielding calls and messages from the likes of LeBron James, Lil Wayne, Matt Lauer, Kobe Bryant and Joe Theisman, not to mention coaches, players, and others throughout the NCAA. His teammates have also showed how much they care from the moment of the injury and every day since. All the support means a lot to Ware, and being a class act, he has acknowledged all of it repeatedly with tremendous gratitude.

Perhaps this simply reflects my own dog lover’s perspective, but it’s hard to imagine anything helping him more during the rough months ahead than the good company of Scar. The college sophomore will not be playing basketball for the better part of a year, and he will be able to spend a lot of that extra time with his new dog. Other family members will need to help with his daily care at first since Ware’s mobility is limited in these post-surgery days. Hopefully Scar will benefit, as many dogs do, from being an important part of his guardian’s life and spending heaps of time together.

How has your dog helped you through a health crisis?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Pets and Domestic Violence
Australian programs acknowledge links

There are many links between domestic violence and animal cruelty. There is the tendency of individuals who hurt animals to hurt people, too. Many abusers threaten their victims by telling them that they will hurt or kill their pets if the victim tries to leave. Many people who have been harmed by domestic violence stay in the situation because they don’t want to leave their pets behind, and many shelters do not allow pets.

The Patricia Guiles Centre in Australia acknowledges these links between violence towards people and cruelty to animals. The organization provides housing and counseling for women and children affected by domestic violence. They also offer a fostering program called Safe Families, Safe Pets (SFSP) for dogs so that when a woman leaves an abuser, her dog can be taken care of for three months by a volunteer while she focuses on building a new life for herself and her children. Australia and the UK are ahead of the US in providing such fostering services, although they are becoming more common here, too.

One of the programs offered by the Patricia Guiles Centre is for kids. Building Animal Relationships With Kids (BARK) is a therapeutic program for children who have either lost a pet when they left their home or who have begun to hurt animals as a result of the violence in their home.

BARK is aimed at elementary school kids with the goal of increasing children’s empathy, trust and self-esteem. It also helps them heal by handling the grief, loss and confusion that results from exposure to domestic violence. The kids learn to care for animals, and are taught to be respectful of them. One of the goals of the program is to break the pattern of kids who are cruel to animals as children and grow up to commit acts of violence towards people.

By considering the importance of animals, these programs support people who want to escape from abusive situations. They also educate children about how to be kind to animals and to people.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Visit Hospitalized Guardians
New policy benefits patients

Dog lovers have long known that being able to spend time with their dogs when they are ill makes them feel better, no matter what health issues they are facing. Yet, it’s only been in recent years that pets have been able to visit them officially in hospitals. Many hospitals have rejected such healing opportunities because of concerns related to liability or infection risk, although a few forward thinking facilities have allowed pet visitation for over a decade.

After three years of a process that involved discussion about logistical issues, cleanliness and potential costs, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago became one of the few hospitals that allows pet visitation. Their policy that lets dogs or cats visit patients’ rooms began last December. Other facilities in the area had previously allowed pet visitation in other areas such as the lobby.

Because many people understood the value of pet visits, there had been many cases of staff feigning ignorance while friends or relatives smuggled pets in at odd hours to see patients. Now there’s a policy in place that allows dogs and cats to visit as long as certain criteria are met. These include approval of the attending physician, proof of rabies vaccination and a bath and brushing for the pet prior to the visit. The pet is not allowed any contact with other patients.

Have you ever been visited by a pet at a hospital or helped facilitate such a visit?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
NCIS Episode Inspired by Hawkeye
Loyal Navy Seal’s Dog Remembered

Last week’s episode of NCIS was inspired by Hawkeye, the dog who led the family into the funeral of his guardian, Navy SEAL Jon Tumlinson, and remained by his coffin throughout the ceremony. The photograph of Hawkeye lying on the floor by the coffin, taken by Tumlinson’s cousin Lisa Pembleton, has been admired by millions of people.

In the episode, a dog named Dexter, who is trained to detect landmines, and his Marine handler save a young boy from being killed. The boy is chasing after his soccer ball, which sets off a landmine. The dog and the Marine guide the boy back to safety, avoiding an additional landmine. Immediately after the boy is safely hugging his mom, the Marine is shot and killed by a sniper. Dexter lies down next to the fallen Marine and stays there, just as Hawkeye remained by Tumlinson’s coffin.

The episode reminds us all of the sacrifices made by members of the military and their families. It is dedicated to working military dogs and their handlers.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Circus Has Serious Message
It may also have a problem

The Wow Wow Dog Circus in Tachikawa City, Japan tours schools, with dogs performing such tricks as jumping rope in a group of dogs or with a person, walking across objects raised off the ground and balancing as they walk on a rolling ball.

Many dogs in Japan are abandoned or killed each year, and this program is part of an effort to make that less common. The goal is an admirable one, and reaching out to children is an excellent strategy.

It concerns me, though, that with one exception, the dogs in this video do not seem happy. Twice in this 53-second video, dogs are seen yawning, which is a sign of stress. Almost all of the dogs have tension in their faces. Only one dog has that relaxed open-mouth expression that indicates a level of comfort with the situation. (The dog I’m referring to is the one who looks like a sesame-colored Shiba Inu and is wearing blue.)

It’s unfortunate that the very organization that is supposed to teach kids how to do right by dogs seems to be stressing its dogs. It’s hard to say whether they are objecting to the training, the activities, the presence of the kids, or perhaps the film crew, but sadly, these dogs don’t look happy to me. On the bright side, the kids seem to be enjoying the dogs a lot, which means that there is a strong likelihood that they are hearing the message that it’s important to take good care of dogs.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Staying With You In Emergency
Some dogs do, but some don’t

A man had broken his back after a fall and was found on the side of his road with a dog who was unwilling to leave his side. That’s the sort of loyalty dogs are famous for, and many dogs live up to this high standard. There are countless examples of dogs who stayed with a person in a crisis situation, providing protection, warmth or simply company.

On the other hand, there are dogs who aren’t as likely to stick around in an emergency. Some panic and bolt. Others consider the unusual situation to be a great opportunity for some freedom and take advantage of it. There are dogs who become distracted by a squirrel or by a smell just begging to be investigated. From time to time, there are dogs who actively go to seek help.

I am convinced that most of the dogs in my life would stay with me if I fell or was injured in some way. I’ve also loved a dog who was fearful enough that I deep down felt it was 50-50 whether he would come through for me in a real disaster. Of course, developing a strong relationship with any dogs makes them more likely to act admirably in an unexpected situation, but some dogs are just more naturally inclined to do so.

Do you have dogs who have stayed with you in a crisis or dogs who have not? Of the dogs who have never (thankfully) been tested by such a situation, what’s your best guess about how they would behave?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Worst Mess Ever
Coming home to destruction

Leaving a dog alone and unconfined at home works out beautifully for millions of families. People leave to go to work, and return to find a dog who is pleased to see them and a house that is exactly as it was in the morning. However, the experience of coming home to a dog who is pleased to see them AND mass destruction is hardly unusual either.

Often this has happened unexpectedly since steps were taken to prevent such trouble. There are many dogs who struggle to handle the responsibility of freedom in the house and are usually confined, but that’s not always foolproof. Sometimes a dog figures out how to open the door to the laundry room. Other dogs jump a gate that was thought to be too tall. In other cases, there is confusion within the family, with each thinking someone else had put the dog in the proper place for the day. True Houdini dogs seem to be able to break out of crates or other means of confinement, no matter how secure they may seem.

Sometimes the mess that dogs make is a result of thinking that a puppy or adolescent dog has put destructive chewing behind them. Though they do quite well for several days or weeks, one day, they are back to their old habits. For some dogs, a thunderstorm or other anxiety-causing event can trigger bouts of chewing and mayhem. Dogs who are unable to tolerate time alone may cause destruction because they are literally in a panic about being separated from the family, and they are just not themselves in that emotional state. (Such dogs need help to overcome this issue and it’s best not to leave them alone until they are emotionally capable of handling being left alone.)

Sometimes the destruction occurs because something way too tempting has been left within reach. Even dogs who normally allow the house and everything in it to remain undisturbed will chew something amazing just because it’s there. I know of dogs who, understandably, have been unable to resist appetizing steak bones in the garbage, a leather belt and pair of shoes that are usually in the closet, wooden salad tongs that were left to dry by the sink but slipped off onto the floor, and a new couch cushion just begging to have the stuffing ripped out of it.

Over the years, most dog owners have come home to destruction of clothes, food, and furniture, or even a good old-fashioned trash party. What’s the worst mess you’ve ever come home to courtesy of your dog?

Pages