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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
Guardians Reunited With Stolen Dog
Yes, they’re pressing charges

The woman showing them the pit bull told Kenny Erickson and Ashley Preston that the dog took to them well. There’s a reason for that: Lexi belonged to them but had been stolen from their yard a couple of months earlier.

They had been searching for Lexi for months, and many people supported their efforts and helped them. Someone who knew that their dog had been stolen learned that a woman was giving away a dog who matched the description of Lexi, and told the couple. They rushed right over.

The woman trying to find the dog a new home admitted that the dog had been stolen. Now that her nephew, who had been caring for the dog, was in jail, she needed to find her a new home.

Kenny and Ashley didn’t let on that the dog was theirs because they wanted to make sure that legal channels were properly followed so that the thieves wouldn’t get away with the crime. Of course, the most important thing was being reunited with their dog, but they also wanted to make sure that people who steal dogs are punished. It took a lot of self-control not to just grab their dog and run, but they managed it.

After alerting police to the situation, they were happily able to reclaim their dog. The woman who was trying to find a home for her has been cited for possession of stolen property and faces charges of theft as well. Kenny and Ashley want people to understand that if they steal dogs, they could be caught and dislike that many people think that stealing a dog is no big deal. (I have no idea which people think it’s not a big deal, but then, I move in dog-loving social circles.)

After the pain of having their dog go missing, I’m so glad that this family’s story ended well.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Lifespans by State
Where are dogs living longest?

It is hard to decide which of the many wonderful qualities of dogs is the best one, but it’s easy for me to say what is the worst thing about dogs: They don’t live long enough. We all wish dogs lived longer and most of us are hungry for information about which factors may give us more time with our dogs. It’s possible that where our dogs live is one such factor.

A state-by-state analysis of dog lifespan shows Montana and South Dakota at the top with dogs living an average of 12.4 years. Other states with long-lived dogs include Oregon, Colorado and Florida where the dogs are typically living over 11 years. In contrast, Mississippi and Alabama have an average lifespan of just over 10 years.

These data come from Banfield Pet Hospital and only include those states in which they have facilities, which means that Wyoming, North Dakota, Maine, Vermont and West Virginia are not included. It also means that the data may only reflect the specific dogs seen in their practices rather than fully representing each state’s dogs.

However, there are a number of reasons that lifespans may vary from state to state. These include nutrition, exercise opportunities, rates of spaying and neutering and the types of disease prevalent in the area. The breeds and sizes of dogs that are most popular in those states may matter, too.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Perfect Older Sibling
Struggles of a new dog

Among the themes I hear from clients repeatedly is that their new dog just isn’t like their old dog. Maybe this dog is just lukewarm on retrieving but their previous dog would happily fetch at any time. Perhaps the new puppy still isn’t housetrained, but their old dog was perfect at it by the age of three months. It could be that the new dog just isn’t that willing to cuddle on the couch for hours, but the other dog did, and it was so nice. Whatever the specifics are, the commonality is that the new dog is facing expectations based on a dog the family had before, and it’s all but impossible to measure up.

I’m a younger sister myself, and I well remember the expectations of teachers that I would be just like my older sister who was an extraordinary student and never got into any trouble at all. It was a lot of pressure. It makes me very empathetic to dogs who are dealing with excessive expectations because of another, older dog. In fact, I often say to clients who are making such comparisons that I myself know what it’s like to have a perfect older sibling, and I urge them to find what they love about their new dog and focus on that.

It’s natural to compare a new dog with a previous dog, but exercising caution is wise. Thinking, “Wow! This dog is more energetic than our other dog,” can have great value if it makes you realize that you really need to find a way to give more exercise to the new dog, who is clearly an extra peppy individual. On the other hand, if the previous dog was 14 years old and arthritic, it’s important to remember that your new dog is an adolescent who obviously isn’t going to be anything like a geriatric dog, and thank goodness for that.

While comparisons are inevitable, it’s so important to remind yourself to treat each dog as an individual, without assuming that there will be similarities with your previous dog. That’s true even if they are the same breed or happen to look just alike right down to the black eye patch or you trained them the same way. Not only is this fair to your new dog, but it may help you recognize what is really special about the dog who may be the new love of your life. The new dog may be great at learning tricks, or may not be interested in chewing on your only ridiculously expensive pair of shoes. The new dog may be easier to hike with than your previous dog or may sleep through thunderstorms at night. If you pay attention, it’s likely that you’ll notice traits that compare favorably with all the dogs who you’ve had before.

Have you ever struggled with a new dog because you couldn’t help but make comparisons with the “perfect” dog you used to have?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
If You Couldn’t Have A Dog
What pet would you choose?

Perhaps it’s too horrible for many of us to contemplate, but if you couldn’t have a dog for some reason, what pet would you choose instead? There’s no replacing dogs, but other pets do offer some of the same benefits. Whether it’s companionship, exercise, training fun, participating in activities together, the peacefulness that comes from being with animals, or the satisfaction of caring for others, dogs offer so much to our quality of life.

There’s a reason they’re called our best friends—dogs seem to do more for us than so many other pets, but it would be dishonest to suggest that they are the only ones that can provide any of these benefits to us. Rabbits, cats, birds, rats, ferrets, fish, hamsters, snakes and horses all provide some of the same benefits to various degrees. They are all common pets for people who have dogs and for those who don’t.

There are many reasons that people who have always had dogs may decide not to acquire another. It may be too difficult to provide them with enough activity in the face of aging or a health problem. A housing situation such as those designed for the elderly may not allow dogs. A new job with an extensive travel schedule may raise concerns about properly caring for a dog. Allergies in yourself or in a family member may make a dog problematic. A new relationship in which no dogs becomes a key compromise may mean not having a dog. (I realize many readers have expressed their disinterest in developing a relationship in which dogs were a point of contention, but this is an issue for many people and there’s no right answer.)

I know it’s the stuff of nightmares—not being able to have a dog—but if you couldn’t have a dog, what pet would you choose instead?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Coat Type Preferences
Different strokes for different folks

The dog had a lush coat and I couldn’t keep my hands off of it. Touching his fur felt so good and I couldn’t stop petting him and luxuriating in his glorious coat. It is my favorite sort of fur—thick, healthy and soft. He’s a mix that is not possible to identify with certainty, and his coat was all the better for it.

I’m not picky when it comes to petting dogs and loving it—corded, wiry, heavy, double, smooth, wavy, curly, or a combination. I love the feel of canine fur and like to spend a lot of time in contact with it. (My dry cleaner can confirm this.) Yet, certain coats appeal to me most.

I especially like the dogs whose coats are between the double coats of the northern breeds like Huskies or Akitas and the combination coats of Border Collies or Tibetan Spaniels. I like the thickness of the double coat combined with the silkier texture of the combination coat.

There is tremendous variation in coat preference among people. I have friends and colleagues who are drawn to wire-haired dogs or who love any dog with a curly coat or who always choose short-haired dogs. I suppose some of the preference is about what we were exposed to as children. Another piece of it may be about a special dog we met quite by chance, and whose coat type becomes our standard of perfection. Many of the preferences may be random personal choices that are no more explicable than why one person might choose blueberries over raspberries or prefer the color blue to the color green.

Do you have a favorite coat type, and if so, do you have any guesses about the origin of your preference?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Seeing Previous Guardians
Love in the past and present

Many years ago, I acquired a 2½-year old Lab mix from a family who was rehoming him. The conflicts with their other dog had become alarming and had compromised the quality of life for the entire household. My bond with my new dog formed quickly and was strong until he died and beyond.

It’s phenomenal how well dogs can form new attachments and love so many people throughout their lives. Humans can do that, too, though this is far from common in the animal world. I couldn’t help but notice the happiness my dog expressed when we ran into his original family around town, which happened a few times a year.

Whenever he saw them, he went, for lack of a better term, completely bonkers. He jumped straight into the air like he was on a pogo stick, with all four paws nearly five feet off the ground. His face showed pure joy as he greeted them, and they were much the same in their expressions. Though there was so much love on both sides, they chose to place him in a home where he was not at risk of being harmed by fights with their other, older dog. I’m so grateful for that because otherwise he would never have entered my life.

Though my dog was thrilled to see the people he lived with from 8 weeks to 2½ years of age, he never attempted to stay with them. After each reunion, he invariably returned his attention to me and did not hesitate as we walked away. There were no backward glances and he did not seem confused in any way. Though I can’t know exactly what he felt or thought, I can make guesses based on his behavior. I think he was happy to see the people he knew from the past because he loved them. He also loved me and I believe that he naturally felt more connected to me because we were currently spending time together, sharing a home and a life.

I always enjoyed his reaction to his first family because I liked seeing him happy for any reason. I would have been horrified to see him react to them with avoidance, fear or any other negative emotion. A show of indifference would not have been much better as that would have made me wonder if he would be capable of ceasing to care about me, too. It also made me happy because I could see how much it meant to the family to be honored with an over-the-top exuberant greeting from the dog they loved. It had been a heartbreaking decision for them to give him up for the safety of both dogs. They were overjoyed to see that he still loved them, too, and was excited to see them.

How does your dog react to seeing a previous guardian or a foster family? Or, if you were previously the guardian or foster family to a dog you’ve been able to see again, how does the dog act at the reunion?

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.

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