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
Behavior: Unhealthy Obsessions in Dogs
Light Chasing

Question: My 1 1/2-year-old neutered male English Shepherd developed a fascination with light and shadows about nine months ago. He chases any reflections he sees, and on cloudy days even does the chasing behavior in places where shadows usually appear. He will stand outside under a tree and watch shadows of leaves blowing for 20 minutes at a stretch. He is an inside/outside dog and gets at least an hour walk each day. The behavior is not destructive, but I worry about the total attention he gives to it and I certainly don’t want it to become worse.  What should I do?

Answer: Fascination with lights and shadows is most common in high-energy, high-drive dogs, and most of the cases I’ve seen have been in herding or hunting breeds who have come from working lines. As in your dog’s case, it often shows up in adolescence. It is wise to be concerned, because this problem seems to escalate if left to its own devices, and I worry that it may already be affecting your dog’s quality of life. Many dogs who start with a little chasing of shadows can degenerate into cases of full-blown obsessive-compulsive disorder. If that happens, additional compulsive behaviors may develop. Because of the potentially serious nature of this problem, it is worth having your dog evaluated by a veterinary behaviorist in your area who understands anxiety disorders. Also, a change in diet sometimes helps dramatically and is worth a try.

Prevention is a critical part of helping to extinguish the behavior, so whenever possible, keep your dog out of situations that elicit it. Obviously, you cannot eliminate lights and shadows from your dog’s life, but even simple steps such as hanging dark curtains, spending time with your dog in the rooms with the fewest lights and shadows and temporarily storing particularly reflective items can help.

Your response when he begins to chase or fixate on shadows and light will have a big impact on his behavior. Let your motto be “Interrupt and redirect, but never punish.” Interrupt the behavior and try to redirect him to some other sort of behavior. Try to distract him with a favorite toy or use a new squeaky toy to get his attention. Consider rattling his leash and heading out for a walk if that works to distracts him. (Don’t do this last one too often or he may learn to chase shadows in order to get you to take him out.) The interruption should distract your dog, but should never scare him. Good options for redirection include tug, fetch, the ever-popular Kong®, a chew toy, outdoor exercise or a training session. It can be tempting to respond in a negative way to this behavior, but any punishment carries the risk of making the behavior worse.

An hour walk each day is enough for many dogs, but additional exercise for a young, active dog so interested in light and shadows is really important. Off-leash running for an hour or more a day (or better yet, twice a day) can really make a big difference, as can tiring activities such as fetch and swimming. I realize that finding safe places to do this is often the biggest challenge. Physical exercise can greatly help this problem, but so can additional mental exercise. Giving your dog’s mind more to do may help as much as the physical exercise. Give him toys that tax his brain, teach him tricks daily, or attend classes.

If you feel that his obsession is worsening or is more noticeably affecting the quality of his life (or yours!), consider talking to a qualified veterinarian about medicine for obsessive-compulsive behavior and working with adjunctive medical therapy such as Chinese medicine or homeopathy.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Unusual Reward for Finding Lost Dog
Author offers a character in next book

When author Dennis Lehane’s dog disappeared late last month in Massachusetts, he offered a highly unusual reward for her safe return: He will name a character in his next book after the person who finds Tessa, a rescue beagle. Lehane writes mystery novels, and his works include “Gone, Baby Gone”, “A Drink Before the War”, “Mystic River”, and “Shutter Island.” Ironically, his current project is a script for a movie, which is based on his short story “Animal Rescue.”

Tessa apparently wandered out of the yard when a gate was not latched properly. She was not wearing tags at the time, but has a microchip.

Lehane has been busy searching for Tessa and publicizing her disappearance via Twitter, Facebook, and with fliers near his home. Her return can be a no-questions-asked situation. Lehane is interested in getting Tessa back and cares only about her safety. Lehane has also offered a monetary reward.

What kind of reward, beyond money, would you be willing to offer for the safe return of your dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Best Play Buddies
Is the pairing obvious or unexpected?

Sometimes a dog finds another dog who is the best play buddy ever, and no other dog will ever measure up. When it’s love at first sight—when the two dogs meet and hit it off immediately—it’s sometimes a challenge to understand what makes them the best of friends so quickly. I’ve seen it happen with dogs who seem like a good match and with dogs who nobody in a million years would ever think to pair up.

In the category of an obvious match, I remember two dogs of the same rare breed who met at dog camp and became inseparable. Both sets of guardians were really excited. (“You have a Pharoah Hound? I have a Pharoah Hound!”) Watching the two dogs play was really fascinating because they played so differently than most other dogs with a lot of intense running and chasing. They did some tug, but their play was predominantly high speed running and chasing. They were so fast they were blurry, and none of the other dogs at camp had even the slightest chance of keeping up. Neither of the Pharoah Hounds had previously experienced chase games with another dog who could keep up, which of course is part of what makes it so fun. It was amazing to see these dogs together because they were just so perfect for each other. It was beautiful to watch them play and to see the happiness of having such a well-matched play partner.

Another pair of dogs I know who became inseparable play buddies was definitely an odd couple. One was some kind of very large shepherd mix and the other was probably mostly Beagle and barely bigger than the other dog’s head. They were both playful dogs with large social circles, but if they were together, they paid no attention to any other dogs. Most of their play involved holding onto opposite ends of the same toy or stick and trotting around with it. They also followed each other, leaping around and sometimes sniffing at the same spots while they wagged their tails furiously, and then trotting off to a new place to sniff some more. They remained great friends throughout their lives, and our whole neighborhood was amused by what appeared to be an unlikely friendship.

Watching play buddies who adore each other, whether it’s dogs who are similar or those who are compatible for some other reason, is an incredible joy. If you’ve had a dog who found the perfect playmate, were they an obvious match or was their compatibility unexpected?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Puppy Heaven
Oh, how I love them!

Whatever part of the brain is supposed to make you see a baby and long to have another one of your own seems to have died when I turned 40. Yes, my heart melted at the sight of my own babies, and continues to do so when I see pictures of them back when they were small. I still like babies and enjoy holding them or making faces to make them smile, but I do not long for another anymore.

Puppies, on the other hand, must trigger a slightly different, still living part of my brain, because I recently held a puppy during a local adoption event, and I felt that deep love that the very young can inspire in us.

No picture of Feather could possibly convey how dear she looked to me, and how much I longed to hold her forever. She was warm and soft, friendly, sleepy and snuggly. In other words, she was an idealized, imaginary puppy who would never chew, pee on the floor, bark or be any trouble—ever.

Feather was there with two littermates, and they were all spoken for already, which is probably a good thing. (When you tell your husband you are headed out to buy milk, yogurt, and pears, it’s bad form to come home with a puppy, too.) I really wanted this dog, but I reluctantly handed her back to the woman in charge. Once I began to drive home, the spell was broken. Yes, I still adored her and fondly remember our brief time together, but I was able to think clearly enough to remind myself that my to do list for the day did not include a spontaneous puppy adoption.

I’m amused that babies no longer make me lose my mind but that puppies still do. I guess that just makes me a dog person! Have you had a “puppy moment” like this?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Loving Dogs is for Life
Then, now, always

As a child, I loved dogs. I wanted to play with any dogs I encountered—those in the neighborhood, the ones at the park, dogs of friends. They always had my attention, even when perhaps I should have been focusing on something or someone else. If I could pet a dog, happiness was assured.

I wrote about dogs for school assignments during the day and dreamed about them at night. I thought about the kinds of dogs I loved best and what I would name my dogs when I was a grown-up. I drew pictures of dogs and fretted over my attempts to make their faces look “dog enough”.

Hearing stories of dogs who were mistreated or suffered in any way was unbearable to me. (Still is, in fact.) My world of compassion and caring extended to many species when I said “them” but when I spoke of “us”, I was including dogs.

I have loved dogs for as long as I can remember. I literally have no memories before knowing that these creatures mattered to me and that they touched my heart.

When did your love affair with dogs begin? Was it before you can even remember, triggered by a specific event, or did it come upon you gradually?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Singleton Puppies
Tips for healthy social development

For dogs, like many other species, early experiences are critical for normal social development, and it is pretty well known that puppies have the best chance for normal social development if they are allowed to be with their littermates for 7-8weeks at least.

It is really the exception for puppies not to have littermates or not to get to be with them for at least these few weeks. However, singleton puppies do happen, and they do tend to have issues. If you ever meet a dog named Solo, Uno, or Only, the first question to ask is whether the dog was the only puppy in its litter, because if so, there is a suite of problems that may exist. Of course, you can be wrong about these names. I once wrote about a dog named Solo who had some serious behavior issues, and I thought at first he must have been a singleton. However, in researching the story, I learned that the dog came from a litter of several puppies and was named after the Solo River in Indonesia where fossils of Homo erectus were first found.

In a typical litter of three to twelve puppies, there is constant physical contact. The puppies crawl all over each other, and they are used to the warmth, the contact, the interruptions, and the movement that result from being in a pile of dogs.

The problems that singleton puppies are prone to having are the result of not being raised in this standard puppy environment. Typical problems in singletons are lack of bite inhibition, being unable to get out of trouble calmly and graciously, an inability to diffuse social tension, inability to handle frustration, lack of social skills, lack of impulse control, and touch sensitivity.

If you find out about a singleton puppy early—anytime before the puppy heads to its new home particularly, there are things that can be done. Be sure to work on teaching bite inhibition early and often, and handle the puppy a lot to avoid issues with touch sensitivity. Any gentle, regular handling is likely to help. Push the puppy off the nipple once or twice a feeding to get the puppy used to interruptions and handling the resulting frustration. Have the puppy spend time with puppies of the same age a lot and as early as possible. If at all possible, consider raising the puppy with another litter.

Getting to spend a lot of time with another litter lets a singleton puppy have a more typical or normal experience as a young puppy. The play time that puppies spend with each other goes a long way towards teaching puppies many of their social skills, including bite inhibition, frustration tolerance, impulse control, self control, and the ability to be flexible in all sorts of social interactions. The adorable play between puppies, which is so enjoyable to watch, is anything but light-hearted frivolous behavior—it provides puppies the foundation for normal, healthy social behavior as adults in many contexts and is a critical part of a puppy’s development and education.

I knew a singleton Irish Water Spaniel that I met at age two. He was full of himself, had no frustration tolerance, little self control and almost no impulse control. He did, by the way, show beautifully in the ring! His issues with frustration and control led to leash aggression with other dogs. His amazing owner, who had actually bred him, was able to turn him around, but it was a huge project. The next litter from the same female was also a solo puppy who turned out fine and totally normal, except for being a bit large for the breed, which is not unusual for singleton puppies. The owner did everything right with her second solo puppy. She raised this puppy with a Lab litter that was only a few days different in age than her puppy, and did everything else I advised. She did end up spaying the breeding female, figuring that once could be a fluke, but that since it happened a second time, there was too high a risk of it happening again. This second singleton puppy, benefiting from all the owner did to help her, was in no way behaviorally like most singletons. She turned out completely normal from a behavioral perspective, despite an unusual beginning and this is an amazing accomplishment.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Play-Training Helps with Aggression in Dogs
A powerful tool to handle aggression

A Corgi who barks, spins, leaps and sometimes bites when anyone in her house stands up or moves around. A German Shepherd-Husky cross who barks, lunges and charges at dogs walking by her house. A Poodle who growls at other dogs when on leash. A mixed breed who is terrified of visitors and barks at them nonstop. A Papillon puppy who bites his elderly Labrador Retriever housemate when the older dog doesn’t want to play with him. What do these aggressive dogs have in common? All of them had their behavior improved through the use of play.

About a decade ago, I began to regularly incorporate play into programs for aggressive dogs. Play is a powerful tool when working with such dogs, including those who are behaving badly because of frustration, arousal, lack of impulse control, boredom or fear. It has a positive effect on emotions, which is why play-motivated fearful dogs often respond better to play than to treats, even if they are also highly treat-motivated — fear decreases faster and more thoroughly in response to the former than to the latter. There are many different ways that play can help aggressive dogs to behave better.

Theoretically, you can stop a behavior by teaching an action incompatible with that behavior — for example, counteracting a dog’s habit of jumping on people by teaching him to sit in their presence. But when a dog struggles with high arousal (which many aggressive dogs do), you’re more likely to have success by teaching the dog to perform an active behavior. Trying to teach a dog to lie down, stay or another static, controlled behavior is more challenging and generally less effective.

In the case of the Corgi who was aggressive when people moved around, the more aroused she was, the more reactive and out of control she became. My goal was to transfer that energy; for her, I chose fetch, her favorite game. Now, when people are active, she brings a ball to her guardians, who then play fetch with her. By itself, the act of getting a toy can have an inhibitory effect, but it’s even better to teach the dog to get a toy in order to initiate a game. The anticipation gave the Corgi a happy feeling: “Oh boy! Somebody moved! That means playtime.”

The German Shepherd-Husky cross who reacted to dogs passing by was easily aroused and struggled with impulse control. Her guardians, who had already tried calling her away and using treats to capture her attention, were convinced that she would never be able to focus on anything with another dog in sight. Compounding the problem, she was not just beyond her guardians’ control, but actually beyond her own control.

However, she loved to play tug, and no matter how high her arousal was or what distractions were present, she was captivated by her tug rope. Therefore, this game was the perfect way to redirect her attention. Once she learned that when a dog came into view, she would be given an opportunity to play tug, she stopped going crazy at the sight of a dog and instead, turned immediately and joyfully to her guardians. Tug helped her control herself.

Tug has many advantages when working with an aggressive dog, as long as tug does not incite the aggression. It not only keeps the dog near you and her mouth occupied, it also allows you to direct the dog’s line of sight, which can be especially useful if the dog is visually stimulated. Dogs who tug usually love to play the game, which makes it a compelling option.

The Poodle who was reactive to other dogs when on leash is one of the most playful dogs I have ever known, and also one of the smartest. His training was excellent, and he could perform many behaviors on cue, even in the presence of another dog. But if he saw the dog first, he would bark, lunge and pull so hard on the leash that he had more than once caused his guardian to fall.

All of that changed when I started reinforcing him with play. If he controlled himself when he saw another dog — performing any behavior other than reacting — he was allowed to play. He was willing to work for play, but the play had to be the “right” kind: running after his guardian. Once this reinforcement system was established, when he saw another dog, he would look at her as if to say, “Well, don’t you have some running to do?” and then happily give chase.

The mixed breed who was terrified of visitors loved fetch, and she warmed up fast to anyone who would play it with her. To take advantage of this, I used classical counterconditioning to change her emotional response to visitors. Specifically, I taught her to associate them with fetch; I wanted her to feel the same joy when someone unfamiliar to her arrived as she felt when playing fetch. Thus, everyone who entered her home threw a ball for her. Eventually, the appearance of a visitor became the cue that a game of fetch was about to happen. Instead of responding with fear because a stranger had entered, she now responds with enthusiasm.

Frustration and boredom were the root causes in the case of the Papillon puppy who was aggressive to the Labrador Retriever. The older dog was interested in playing with the puppy for no more than two to three minutes at a time, but the puppy wanted to frolic morning, noon and night. When the Lab called a halt, the puppy would growl, leap on the Lab and bite him, sometimes causing injuries.

It was essential to find other ways to engage the Papillon in play, ways that would provide him with enough fun, mental and physical exercise, and other stimulation to keep him happy. The first step was to determine which toys, games and activities appealed to him. Never has my job been easier, because this dog loved everything. I imagined him thinking, Plush toys? I love them, they’re my favorite! Tug toys? I love them, they’re my favorite! Balls? I love them, they’re my favorite!

Every single thing I tried was a success — puzzle toys, squeaky toys, bouncy toys, rope toys, balls, disks, Kongs. He liked them all. Discovering a variety of new games and either learning or inventing ways to play with different toys satisfied his intense need for play. He played fetch, tug, chase and hide-and-seek with people. When people weren’t available, he learned to enjoy throwing objects in the air and catching them, puzzles of all sorts, dribbling a ball around like a soccer star, and rolling balls down ramps and then chasing after them. Between the variety of toys and the multiple “play stations” we set up around his house, he learned to entertain himself for long stretches at a time.

Once I showed his guardians new ways to play with their puppy, they interacted with him much more, which took a lot of pressure off the older dog. Now, the Papillon plays appropriately and brief ly with the Lab a few times a day, and when the Lab is done, the puppy chooses a different way to play. Providing additional options was essential in helping this puppy behave in an acceptable manner around the other dog in his family.

There are many ways to change aggressive behavior, and an important part of my work is deciding which one will work best for a particular dog. While play is not part of the solution for every dog, it can help many of them, and increasingly, I find that I can help people and their dogs succeed by incorporating play into their programs. Yes, play is fun, but when working with aggressive dogs, it can be so much more.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Paw Prints in the Snow
Dogs bring joy to winter weather

With almost two feet of snow last weekend, many of us in Flagstaff, Ariz. spent oodles of time shoveling our walks and driveways. Being outside in cold, wintery weather guarantees that you will be visited by a number of dogs who are blessed to have guardians willing to take them out for walks in any condition. The ones who stopped by our house were all incredibly jubilant about the snow.

Their enthusiasm was infectious. Before all these dogs graced us with their presence, I was concentrating on all the shoveling that needed to be done and was very aware of the stiffness that would soon affect my back. Our ski area is not yet open, and I kept thinking that if only I could ski, I would be so happy about the snow.

Enter a parade of dogs, and I was back in the moment, as gloriously thrilled about the snow as they were. I am incapable of remaining grumpy while watching dogs gleefully jump around in snow, tossing it in the air, and shoving their noses into it as they act like small four-legged snow plows.

After one German Shepherd and her guardian visited us for awhile, my older son commented that this dog has left the most perfect footprints in the snow. He walked all around photographing different dog prints and was just delighted by them, especially the ones from the shepherd. It was a new way for dogs to help us be happy in winter weather.

Do dogs help you enjoy the snow?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Some People Have a Lot to Say
Naturally they mention dogs

The sayings of the world’s most often quoted people contain many references to dogs. If people have clever things to say on any manner of subjects, they are likely to share observations and opinions on our canine companions.

Mark Twain (writer, humorist and satirist) penned some of the nation’s best-known phrases, with my favorite being, “It is better to remain silent and thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Among his many comments on society are these two about dogs:

“Heaven goes by favor; if it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”

Benjamin Franklin (politician, inventor, scientist, author, diplomat) wrote so many popular sayings that it’s a wonder he found time for all his other activities. Perhaps he followed his own advice that, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” His observations about dogs remind us that he lived in very different times than those of us alive today:

“There are three faithful friends—an old wife, an old dog, and ready money.”

“He that lieth down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas.”

Franklin P. Jones (reporter, public relations executive, humorist) is well known for saying, “Love doesn’t make the world go ‘round. It makes the ride worthwhile.” He also said:

“Scratch a dog and you’ll find a permanent job.”

“Anybody who doesn’t know what soap tastes like never washed a dog&rdquo

Samuel Butler (novelist) recorded many great truths about the world, such as, “A hen is only an egg's way of making another egg.” His comments about dogs are just as insightful:

“The great pleasure of a dog is that you make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, he will make a fool of himself too.”

“A blind man knows he cannot see, and is glad to be led, though it be by a dog; but he that is blind in his understanding, which is the worst blindness of all, believes he sees as the best, and scorns a guide."

Harry S Truman (33rd US President) spoke with great wisdom, saying, “There is nothing new in the world except the history you do not know,” as well as:

“You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”

“Children and dogs are as necessary to the welfare of the country as Wall Street and the railroads.”

Will Rogers (cowboy, humorist, actor) offered excellent advice with his suggestion to “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.” He shows a sense of humor with his thoughts on dogs:

“If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.”

“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice doggie’ until you can find a rock.”

Charles M. Schulz (cartoonist) has charmed generations with such remarks as, “No problem is so formidable that you can’t walk away from it.” Perhaps nobody has stated universal truths so brilliantly as he has, with these two gems.

“All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For after all, he was only human. He wasn't a dog.”

“Happiness is a warm puppy.”

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Treats For People and Dogs
YaffBars serve both species

Dogs have eaten people’s leftover food for thousands of years, so it should really not be that revolutionary to create food suited to us both. Yet, though many people prepare food for their dogs with ingredients they also plan to eat, commercial products that aim to serve both species are far from common.

There are exceptions, though. Mark Brooks developed YaffBars—energy bars for people and dogs—by combining his two main loves of French cooking and dogs. He wanted to make a bar that tasted good for people and was safe and delicious for dogs, too. His first approach involved making a dog biscuit that people could also eat, but his daughter’s refusal to partake convinced him to change his tactic. He worked on making a good product for humans that they could also share with their dogs.

The goal was to create a product that outdoorsy dog guardians could share with their dogs when out on excursions. He wanted them to be healthy as well as to provide energy for active individuals.

YaffBars are made from ingredients that are not bad for dogs like many ingredients in human treats such as flour, butter, sugar and chocolate. Instead, Brooks used puffed rice, cranberries, brown rice syrup, honey, carob and almonds. There are three flavors of YaffBars: blueberry carob, honey almond cranberry and banana peanut butter.