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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.

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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Explaining a Glitch in Fetch
It makes sense after all

We were playing fetch with Super Bee, a friend’s dog, and her unpredictable behavior was making the game less fun for us. All was smooth when we threw the ball and she went to retrieve it. One hundred percent of the time, she gleefully ran it down, picked it up, and brought it back. The difficulty occurred in the transfer of the ball back to us so that we could throw it again.

Though she reliably dropped the ball and let it fall to the ground, she sometimes darted at the ball and snatched it up again, only to drop it once more. She didn’t do it every time, but she did it enough that it was a problem. Besides interrupting the flow of the game and being a little annoying, this glitch in the game created a risk that she would hurt my sons if either of them reached for the ball at the same time that she went for it.

I adjusted the game so that I was always the one to pick up the ball, and then I handed it to my sons alternately to throw it. I only reached for the ball after a pause of a few seconds, which seemed to be after she had made her choice about whether to go for the ball again or let me pick it up so it could be thrown for her. It didn’t guarantee my safety, but I managed to avoid trouble. I also noticed a pattern.

Whenever the ball stayed in place on the ground or rolled toward her, Super Bee let me pick it up without making an attempt to take it again. However, if it rolled away from her, she charged at it and grabbed it in her mouth. My best guess is that when the ball rolled away from her, she acted as she did when the ball had been thrown—she retrieved it. The ball was moving away from her, which seemed to be the stimulus for that behavior. It was as though she was on autopilot and couldn’t stop herself from retrieving a ball moving away from her.

Super Bee is an enthusiastic and possibly obsessive fetcher who can’t help but chase after a ball when it is thrown. Even when she is hot and tired enough that she might rather rest in a cool spot, if someone throws a ball, she will go after it. When we play with her, we make sure to stop fetch games long before she becomes fatigued or overheated.

Now that we understand her tendency to “retrieve” balls that roll away from her after she drops them, we only reach for balls that don’t do that. If a ball is moving towards her or is not moving, it’s safe to pick it up. (Another option would be to cue her to drop the ball directly into our hands, which would eliminate the possibility of it rolling.) Taking the unpredictability out of the game makes it more fun and safer, too. Because we understand what is happening, my sons and Super Bee can play fetch without my intervention (though I still supervise!) When it seemed like she was grabbing the ball again instead of letting us throw it, her behavior seemed irksome. Knowing that she is simply retrieving a moving ball because she can’t help it, it’s easy to find the behavior interesting and to wait patiently until she drops it again.

Does your dog ever do this?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Do You Play Bow to Your Dog?
Starting play the canine way

If you want to extend a special kindness to your dogs, consider communicating in ways that naturally make sense to them. Play signals are one opportunity to do this. When dogs want to play, they let others know with play signals, which they use to get play started and to keep it going. These signals can mean different things, but the message is always aimed at keeping play safe by telling other dogs that intentions are playful. A play signal tells another dog “I want to play."

It also communicates that even if the behavior to follow is borrowed from other contexts such as fighting or predation and involves biting, chasing, shaking, or slamming into one another, it is playful in nature. There is no intent to cause harm. Using play signals to communicate makes it less likely that a dog’s actions will be misinterpreted, which can cause play to escalate into aggression.

By far the most common play signal is the play bow, which consists of a dog getting down on her elbows with her back end higher than her front end. This posture is often assumed abruptly, as though the suddenness of the movement is part of the signal as well.

Though the play bow is a universal invitation to play among dogs, people can do it, too. A human can imitate this action by getting down on all fours, putting both elbows on the ground and leaving the bottom up in the air. Dogs usually perform play bows in a springy, fast motion with a bounciness to it, so if you want your play bow to be as well-received as possible, try to mimic that rather than calmly moving into the posture like you are doing flow yoga.

A modified play bow for people is possible, too, and it’s a little easier because you can remain standing. All you have to do is lean over from the hips, bend both legs, and spread your arms out at a 45-degree angle. To appear most playful to the dog receiving this signal, go into the pose quickly, perhaps even doing a little jump to go into the pose. Then, do something playful, like run away from your dog to start a chase game.

Many dogs love it when people do play bows, modified or not. I’ve seen dogs whose faces light up when their guardians first play bow to them. I’ve often wondered if seeing their humans perform a play bow makes them happy because there is no confusion—they already know what it means. In any relationship, it’s beautiful to understand and to be understood.

Do you play bow to your dog? If so, how does your dog respond?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Car Restraints
Center for Pet Safety tests products

Lindsey Wolko knew that dogs are safer in cars if restrained, which is why her cocker spaniel Maggie was in a safety harness the day Wolko braked hard to avoid an accident. Despite that, Maggie was seriously injured and very scared when she slammed into the driver’s seat and her legs became tangled in the harness. She has since fully recovered from the damage to her spine and hips, but many dogs sustain even more serious injuries and not all of them recover.

Since then, Wolko has learned that all too few of the products that are sold to insure dog’s safety actually do what they are supposed to do, in part because they are not properly tested. She is determined to change that in order to keep dogs safer and prevent injuries to them. That’s why she founded the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety.

Preparing to test products involving designing canine crash test dummies in three different sizes. There are model dogs of 25 pounds, 45 pounds, and 75 pounds. All of the crash test dummies have a steel frame and accurately recreate the true center of mass and weight distributions of dogs.

In a recent series of tests that made up the 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study, most of the canine restraints experienced catastrophic failure. That means that either the restraint allowed the dog to become a projectile or it released the test dog from the restraint. Only one product, the Sleepypod’s Clickit Utility Harness, consistently performed successfully, offering protection to the dog and to other passengers in the car by keeping the dog from leaving the seat.

Has your dog been injured in a car accident despite being restrained with a product that was supposed to offer protection?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Therapy Dogs Make Flying Better
“Pups and Planes” program launched

Therapy dogs have long been helping people who are staying in hospitals, students taking finals, those individuals who have recently experienced trauma and those who suffer from generalized anxiety. All of these people feel better after their contact with a friendly canine, and now that same benefit is available for people about to fly or who have just landed.

The San Antonio International Airport has teamed up with Therapy Dogs, Inc, and Delta Pet Partners of San Antonio to create another facet of their ambassador program. “Pups and Planes” launched last Monday and now offers travelers the services of volunteer handlers and their dogs. This program has five dogs participating right now, though more are expected to join. All of the dogs are trained therapy dogs.

Passengers are given the opportunity to interact with the dogs, petting them and spending time with them before they board their planes or just after they land. The goal is to reduce tension and anxiety in passengers and create a calm environment in the airport. The dogs cheer people up, giving them a break from the most common negative emotions of travelers—boredom and stress.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cats Steal Dog Beds
A familiar scene in many homes

In any household, there is bound to be conflict, whether it is between human brothers and sisters who can’t agree on what game to play, dogs who want the same chew toy, or spouses who can’t find a movie to watch that looks good to both of them. When you add in conflicts across species, there are even more opportunities for discord.

People and pets may not feel the same way about a variety of subjects. Is it a colored pencil for a child’s art class or a stick to be gnawed on by the dog? Should the hamster be quiet all night so the humans can sleep, or is midnight to 6 a.m. the perfect time to run a squeaky wheel?

And as for cats and dogs, the big question might be, “Just whose bed is that anyway?” It seems that cats are notorious for making themselves right at home on the dog’s bed, no matter how big the bed is or how small the cat. In this video, a number of dogs of various breeds, ages and sizes must contend with cats who have taken over their bed.

Do you have dog and cat conflicts over beds in your house? Who usually emerges victorious?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Matchmaking by Dogs
Succeeding where people have failed

Some friends of ours owe their marriage to their dogs. Their four-legged friends didn’t have anything to do with their original meeting, but without them, they never would have gotten together.

Before the dogs took matters into their own paws, Margaret had asked Nick out at least four times at the coffee shop where he worked. Nick claims Margaret was too subtle and he didn’t realize that comments like, “Oh, we should take the dogs out for a walk sometime,” were actual invitations. Margaret says what little she knew about Nick included that he had a new puppy. She also says, “Keeper has always been my comfort blanket, so I figured that if Keeper could come on the first date, that was enough encouragement to put myself out there and ask him.”

That’s all there would have been to the story if it had not been for Keeper and Zuma. Luckily, they had the power to bring these two people together, though it was a year or so after Margaret’s first attempt.

After their interactions at the coffee shop, Nick and Margaret next ran into each other while out walking their dogs. She was hiking with her dog Keeper, who ran way ahead on the trail. When Keeper returned, she had Zuma with her. Though Margaret had no idea whose dog it was, it was clear that Keeper was enthusiastic about her new canine friend.

Hoping to return this new unknown dog to her rightful guardian, Margaret continued hiking, now with two dogs. The three of them went on together for a little while until they joined up with Nick, who was searching for his dog Zuma. Naturally, Zuma has long been forgiven for running out of sight since her actions led Nick to his wife.

It was immediately obvious to the dogs and to Margaret that they were meant to be together. Nick didn’t realize it until after the dog walking encounter, but then he quickly got with the program. They started dating and about two weeks later they moved in together. Almost two years to the day after their dogs connected them, they were married. That was three years ago and their dogs remain best friends, too.

Margaret and Nick can thank their dogs for prompting them to date, become engaged, and to marry. What relationships in your life do you owe to your dogs?

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