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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
Marine and Bomb-Sniffing Dog Reunite
A separation of almost a year ends

Marine Sergeant Ross Gundlach and bomb-sniffing dog Casey served in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012, completing over 150 missions together, but then they were separated. They both came back to the United States eventually, but Gundlach returned to his hometown of Madison, Wisc. to go to college and Casey began working in Iowa as an explosives detection dog.

While they were in Afghanistan, Gundlach promised himself and Casey that if they made it out alive, he would do whatever it took to find her. Once he learned that she was working in the Iowa state fire marshal’s office, he wrote to the director, Ray Reynolds. Gundlach explained that he had a strong connection with Casey and that he loved her. Over a couple of months, he worked on convincing Reynolds to let him have Casey. Gundlach was told that if it worked out, he would have to drive to Iowa to get her, to which he replied, “I would swim to Japan for my dog.”

Reynolds invited Gundlach to Des Moines, Iowa, supposedly to plead his case to a committee at the state capitol, but Reynolds had actually already arranged for Gundlach to take Casey home with him. When Gundlach arrived, he was told that the meeting had been postponed, but invited him to participate in an Armed Services Day celebration. At that event, Reynolds surprised Gundlach by bringing Casey to him and letting him know that the dog was now his.

This happy reunion was made possible because Reynolds and his colleagues understand the importance of the relationship between a Marine and his partner, a detection dog who saved many lives with her flawless work. It was also enabled by a donation of $8500 by the Iowa Elk’s Association to purchase another working dog for the agency. Casey was officially retired from active duty by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad at the ceremony in which Gundlach and Casey were reunited.

Gundlach has a tattoo of Casey with angel wings and a halo sitting by a Marine, and he gives her credit for his survival in Afghanistan. It seems only fitting that the two of them are together again.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs Not Welcome Everywhere
This affects guardians to varying degrees
Pets welcome at bookstore, but not in its café

Dogs are welcome, at least under certain circumstances, in more places with each passing year. A number of parks, schools, hotels and hospitals now allow dogs, and a wide variety of businesses let both employees and customers bring their dogs with them. There are still a lot of places that are off limits to our four-legged family members, and this continues to affect most people with dogs.

I was recently at a local bookstore that allows dogs, but the café inside the store is for people only. There is a very nice sign saying that health codes prohibit them from welcoming dogs to the café, though they are welcome in the rest of the store. The staff works very hard to accommodate people who have brought their dog to the bookstore and would like a cup of coffee by bringing their orders out of the café and into the main part of the bookstore. I’m sure many dog guardians skip the café because they can’t sit down and enjoy a drink if accompanied by a dog. However, many people do request “delivery” to the main part of the store, and seem appreciative of the option.

Years ago I worked with a woman who would hardly go anywhere without her dog. She brought him to work, which was allowed as we worked at a facility that provided dog training, dog grooming and dog day care. This woman never went to the movies because her dog was not allowed to go with her, and never ate in restaurants for the same reason. She made some concessions to practicality such as going to the grocery store or on other errands alone, but she generally only went where her dog was allowed to come, too.

She made decisions that many could consider extreme, but they certainly worked for her and for her dog. Her social life was affected by her unwillingness to go places without her dog, but she has always been very happy with her choices and has a good life.

Are there any places you don’t go because of restrictions that prevent your dog from coming, too?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
For the Love of a Dog
My book club adored it
A pile of the book at the meeting of our book club

This month, my book club read Patricia McConnell’s For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, and it received thumbs up from the whole group. Only about half the members of our group have dogs themselves, but we all have emotions and that’s what the book is about. I first read the book years ago, and I was thrilled to find that I enjoyed it again and that it has stood the test of time.

The book is full of entertaining stories, science, practical advice and a lot of humor. It was a pleasure to read about so many different emotions and their manifestations on both the faces and in the brains of dogs and of people. I also had fun reading about specific dogs I met while working for Trisha, especially her own dogs, who I knew very well and still miss.

Over the eight years since the book was published, it has become increasingly accepted that animals other than humans, including dogs, have a rich emotional life. Fewer people than before reject the idea that dogs have a broad range of emotions. Because of that happy change, the logical arguments in the book about similar expressions of emotion in dogs and humans as well as similar brain structure and activity serve to affirm what readers already know rather than to convince them of what was once considered controversial.

If you’ve read, For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, what do you think of it?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Effects of Diet on Olfaction
Benefits of lower protein and higher fat

It’s not news to anyone that the food that we feed our dogs matters. The right food may translate to better health, proper weight management, longer life, a shinier coat, and better performance in a range of sports and activities. New research suggests that the diet of working detection dogs can even have an impact on their ability to smell.

Joseph Wakshlag at Cornell and his colleagues at Auburn University found that dogs who were fed more fat and less protein than typical diets contain were better able to detect certain scents such as TNT, ammonia nitrate and smokeless powder. Over a year-and-a-half, they rotated dogs through three diets and compared their detection abilities when they were on each diet. The three diets were: 1) a high quality performance diet, 2) regular adult dog food and 3) regular adult dog food combined with corn oil. The ability to detect scents was highest when the dogs ate the diet of regular dog food combined with corn oil. That diet had less protein but the same amount of fat as the high performance diet. The high performance and regular diets had equal amounts of protein, but the high performance diet had more fat.

Digesting protein causes a rise in a dog’s body temperature, as does exertion in the form of physical activity. The panting that is essential for lowering body temperature reduces a dog’s ability to smell well. In order to do their detection work as effectively as possible, dogs must cool down so that they are not panting. A diet higher in fat and lower in protein seems to allow dogs to cool down faster and therefore smell better.

What constitutes a high performance diet may depend on the sort of performance that is desired. Dogs who work by running or pulling hard may need more protein to succeed at their job than dogs who need to be able to maximize the effectiveness of their olfactory abilities.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
New Dogs
They enter our lives in many ways
Best buddies

It’s hard to argue against the idea that the best way to acquire a dog involves 1) planning ahead, 2) preparation that allows you to be completely ready to welcome that dog into your home and into your lives and 3) spending the time to choose a dog whose personality, size, activity levels and grooming demands are a good match for you and your family. Yet, some of the best love stories between people and dogs come out of situations that are generally advised against, including by me.

I recently met someone whose dog was just perfect for her, but she happened to have gotten that dog in what I consider a high risk situation: Her daughter had bought the dog for her as a wedding present. She married and was then presented with a seven-week old Border Collie/Lab puppy. This woman and her husband love him and eight years later, they consider him their once-in-a-lifetime dog. Despite this exceptional case, I stand by my belief that giving a dog as a gift under any circumstance is risky.

Another couple I know got their dog not long before the wife gave birth to their twins. The husband brought the dog home unexpectedly when he found it as a stray. Unable to find a guardian, they adopted him. He is a great dog who is gentle and calm with both their children (now 10 years old) so it obviously worked out well. Yet, the sudden adoption of a dog around the same time as the birth of twins sets off alarm bells for me.

I still recommend giving thoughtful consideration to the process of getting a dog and carefully choosing which dog to adopt because of the greater likelihood that the story will have a happy ending. All too often, the sorts of scenarios I mentioned above don’t work out too well. On the other hand, there’s no denying that sometimes people take a big gamble and it pays off.

How have your dogs come into your life—with careful consideration and planning, or spontaneously and unexpectedly?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Does Reproductive Capability Matter?
Its association with lifespan and cause of death

In a new study called Reproductive Capability is Associated with Lifespan and Cause of Death in Companion Dogs, researchers report on the links of reproductive status (intact or spayed/neutered) with both lifespan and cause of death. Previous studies have suggested that sterilization increases the risk of certain cancers. However, if spaying and neutering actually does increase life span, then any cancers that are more common in older dogs may only appear to be more common in sterilized dogs because sterilized dogs live longer.

The overall conclusions of this new study are that there is a link between lifespan, cause of death and reproductive status. Sterilization was associated with longer lifespan. The mean age of death for intact dogs was 7.9 years and for sterilized dogs was 9.4 years. Sterilization increased life expectancy 13.8% in male and 26.3% in females.

In this study, researchers found differences in the cause of death between the reproductively capable group and the sterilized group. Compared to reproductively capable ones, dogs who were spayed and neutered were more likely to die of cancer and immune-related diseases, but less likely to die from infectious diseases, trauma, vascular disease and degenerative diseases. These differences in causes of death were consistent when the data were compared between dogs of the same age.

Data are from 40,139 dogs in a veterinary teaching hospital who died from 1984 to 2004. Juvenile dogs, dogs with a congenital issue that caused death, and dogs whose reproductive status, cause of death, or age were unknown were eliminated from the over 80,000 dogs originally considered for inclusion in the study. Reproductive capability was defined in this study as intact versus spayed or neutered, and does not mean the sterilized dogs had not reproduced. It’s unknown if they had reproduced prior to being sterilized. There were no data on how many times intact dogs had reproduced, only that they were still reproductively capable.

Though the results of this study are intriguing, it is important to recognize the limitations in the data and therefore in the conclusions. Though the groups—intact or sterile—are assumed to differ in no other way, that may not be the case. It is possible that the members in the sterilized group have received more regular or better medical care throughout their lives, for example. The sterilized dogs may come from different sources such as rescue groups or shelters rather than from pet stores or breeders. In other words, differences in life span or cause of death may not relate to reproductive status, but to one of these other factors. This study shows links of reproductive status with lifespan and cause of death, but we cannot assume that reproductive status is the cause of these differences. They may be correlated for some unknown reason.

Some other concerns I have about the data are that the dogs had all been referred to a veterinary teaching hospital for medical reasons, which means that the dogs in the study may be largely dogs with serious health issues rather than typical dogs. This means that conclusions based on this study may not be applicable to dogs in general.

I’m glad that studies are expanding on the question of lifespan and reproduction by looking at causes of death instead of just reproductive capability. I think this study is a great start at exploring questions that are of interest to all of us who love dogs, but I do think we need to exercise caution in order to make sure that we are distinguishing between studies that show correlations between various factors and those that demonstrate a causal relationship between those factors.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Celebrating Success
A great day begins with great behavior
Marley deserves a high five!

It was not even 7:30 in the morning and Marley had already made me proud twice since we rolled out of bed. To a person not familiar with dogs, his behavior might not seem notable, but most people who have ever lived with dogs will understand why I felt like celebrating.

The first praiseworthy moment was during our morning run. Marley noticed the herd of deer before I did, and responded by becoming a little more excited and bouncy than usual. His energetic behavior just made me think he was having a bout of the spring sillies until about 30 seconds later when I realized that there were eight deer who had completely frozen at the sight of him. Eager to avoid a problem, I began talking to Marley in a happy voice, “Good boy, Marley, what a good dog you are, good boy, good boy, good boy,” and sped up a bit to move beyond the deer faster. Though he kept glancing back at the deer, Marley stayed with me, and calmed down quickly. Preventing dogs from chasing deer is always a goal of mine, and I was thrilled with the way Marley handled the situation.

Twenty minutes later, we were back home and Marley had the opportunity to exhibit great behavior again. I was walking to the kitchen table carrying a bowl of oatmeal when I slipped on a wet spot on our tile. I’m not naming names, but a certain dog had drooled all over the floor after drinking from his bowl. I managed to catch myself before I fell, but the bowl flew out of my hands, and despite a bobbled attempt, I could not catch it. The oatmeal and the bowl hit the ground, but luckily, the oatmeal landed on the easy-to-clean wood floor, and the bowl bounced on the wood, then onto the rug, and did not break. (How lucky can you get?) Marley started to head to the oatmeal, but stopped when I said, “Leave it.” Yay! I rushed to get him a stuffed Kong from the freezer, which served the dual purpose of reinforcing him for his excellent response to my cue and keeping him occupied while I cleaned up the mess.

So, before breakfast, this dog had resisted the temptation to chase deer and had responded to the cue “leave it” in a real life situation. I knew it was going to be a great day!

What has your dog done lately that has you celebrating?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
9 Ways to Improve your Relationship with your Dog

Whether they occur within a species or between them, relationships are much the same in what they require to grow and flourish, and books about improving your relationship with a partner, child or friend offer very similar advice. The ideas that follow could also apply to other close bonds, but in this case, they refer specifically to improving your relationship with your dog.  

1. Spend time together. A relationship is about being with one another and sharing experiences, so time spent together strengthens it, especially if you spend that time in enjoyable ways.

2. Communicate clearly. Misunderstandings and confusion are the enemies of good relationships, so be as clear as you can when you communicate with your dog. Be consistent with your training signals. Since dogs tend to learn visual signals faster than vocal cues, use the former when possible. Dogs pay attention to what we do more than to what we say, which means that we should attend to what we do when we communicate with them. You’ll feel closer when there’s greater understanding between you.

3. Put a little love into their food. The way to many a dog’s heart is through the stomach, and preparing healthy, tasty food for your dog shows you care. You can choose to cook for your dog or simply focus on providing the best nutrition in the most delicious way possible.

4. Train your dog. Well-trained dogs are allowed greater freedom. If they come when called, they get to spend more time off leash. If they don’t go for the food on the table, they can stay nearby during meals. Training also reduces frustration because when you ask your dog to do something he’s been taught to do, he knows what you want.

5. Be playful. There’s a reason I called my last book Play Together, Stay Together. Scientists have observed that across a variety of species, parents who play with their children have the closest relationships with them, and this also seems true in relationships between people and dogs. Playing games and having fun strengthen your bond.

6. Remain calm. Losing your temper, yelling or freaking out in any way upsets everyone in the vicinity of the emotional storm, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with them. No matter what’s going on, exude a sense of tranquility so your dog can count on you to keep your cool.

7. Learn more about canine behavior, especially body language and facial expressions that indicate stress. When you can identify the signs that your dog is anxious or scared, it will be easier for you to protect or remove your dog from situations that make him uncomfortable. If your dog can count on you to keep him safe, the trust between you will be better and so, therefore, will your relationship. There are a number of excellent books and DVDs on this subject; look for the works of Patricia McConnell; Suzanne Hetts, Daniel Estep and David Grant; and Barbara Handelman.

8. Pay attention to your dog’s likes and dislikes. Knowing your dog’s preferences, favorite games and foods means that you can give him what he really wants and be the source of all things wonderful. Similarly, keep track of what your dog can’t stand. A good starting place is to know the things that most dogs find unpleasant: head pats, citrus or strong floral scents, loud noises, being stared at, being dressed up in clothes that impede their ability to move and being hugged.

9. Touch your dog. There is strong evidence that physical contact such as grooming and petting lowers stress in shelter dogs, which is measured by reductions in both heart rate and the stress hormone cortisol as well as by an increase in the anti-stress hormone oxytocin. This has led researchers to believe that physical contact plays a role in enhancing the bond between people and dogs. Focusing on your relationship with your dog is arguably the most important aspect of living with a friend of the canine persuasion. After all, it’s not a desire to help the economy by spending money at the vet and the groomer or to ensure that our clothes are covered in fur that drives us to have dogs. Rather, we love dogs as friends and as family members, and being with them enhances our life in unique ways. It’s all about the relationship, which is worth improving no matter how magnificent it is already. 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Poop Bags and Receptacles
Chicago neighborhood will remove them

Many neighborhoods provide bags for dog waste and receptacles for discarding them. People with dogs generally appreciate this service. It’s wonderful to have a bag available if you’ve forgotten one. It’s also helpful if your dog has a three-poop walk, and you brought two bags, which is usually enough considering he rarely goes more than once. People with dogs, and those without, appreciate that this type of service presumably helps keep an area cleaner.

It can be costly to supply the bags and maintain the containers, and the $5000 annual price tag explains why the Hyde Park neighborhood in Chicago will cease to provide both of them at the end of this month. In my neighborhood, there are bags and trash cans to help people with dogs, and I love it. It’s especially great when I am running. One of my favorite three-mile loops has three such stations, so I never have to run very far with a full bag.

Does your neighborhood or favorite park provides poop bags and containers to toss them in? If so, how much do you rely on them? If not, do you wish they were available?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Heads on Tables
Does it happen in your house?

I remember as a child hearing my mom say, “Karen, Karen, sweet and able, get your elbows off the table, this is not a horse’s stable.” I thought the rhyme was entertaining and my mom thought it was effective. I soon learned that I was not allowed to rest my elbows on the table. Similarly, I teach tall dogs that they are not allowed to have their heads on the table.

We were dogsitting a large dog named Bear whose height made it easy for him to rest his head on our dining room table. After photographing him at the table, I used the cue “leave it” to let him know that the table was off limits to him. I reinforced him with a chew toy for choosing to back away from the table and thereafter reinforced him for resisting the urge to put his head there again. He seemed familiar with the rule already, so I suspected that he had the same rule at home. We avoided leaving food on the table so that there was less temptation, but he followed our guidelines agreeably.

Though I don’t want dogs to put their heads on our table, I can’t deny that they look awfully endearing when they do so. Do you let your dogs rest their heads on the table, and if not, has it been challenging or straightforward to teach them that this behavior is not allowed?

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