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
Does size affect behavior?
September 13 2012
He chose the dog, but I chose the name,” the woman explained. Their dog was an especially petite Boston Terrier, but his name — Titan — was one more typically bestowed on a larger dog. I’d seen this type of incongruity before, and though it’s sometimes just for the sake of being ironic, often it’s about conflict. Couples who disagree about whether to add a large dog or a small dog to their family compromise by choosing a dog of one size and a name that’s usually given to a dog of another size. I’ve also met Pixie the Newfoundland, Tank the Bichon Frise, Bitsy the Bouvier and Goliath the Pug.
People often have strong opinions about what size dog best suits them. Some prefer small dogs because they’re more likely to be welcome everywhere, especially when traveling, while others gravitate to large dogs because they associate them with fun and friendliness, as well as kids and families. Sizebased biases are also common, and sad to say, I’ve heard a number of derogatory terms for both small and large dogs. And anyone with big dogs knows that people sometimes fear them even when their behavior is exemplary and a small dog is present whose behavior is not. One Bark reader implored me, “Don’t forget to cover that big dog stigma!”
Many people have asked the question, “How is the experience of having a large dog different than that of having a small dog?” Part of the answer may come from evaluating whether big and small dogs really are different in ways that extend beyond size, particularly in their behavior. Another piece of the puzzle involves determining if people’s behavior toward and expectations of dogs varies based on the dog’s size.
A Sizeable Spectrum
People with little dogs who don’t want them to help themselves to food simply avoid picnicking on the floor and are careful not to leave chairs where they can be used as stepping stones to the table or counter. People with large dogs often find that no place lower than the top of the refrigerator is safe or truly off-limits. With a large dog, the accidental consumption of dangerous foods, such as chocolate, is far less likely to lead to serious consequences than for a smaller dog because it takes much more for the dose to be toxic to a larger dog. Similarly, the few extra treats that lead to weight gain in smaller dogs may be no big deal for a large dog. Finally, helping a large dog with mobility issues can be physically demanding for the caregiver.
Some worry about big dogs around children, but I must confess that I worry when we dog-sit a friend’s sixpound Pomeranian. My kids are gentle with him and do a good job of being kind and respectful, but I’m still worried that they’ll collide with him and cause an injury completely by accident, no matter how actively I’m supervising. With bigger dogs, that isn’t as much of a concern.
Many people point out the advantages of small dogs in urban environments: it’s easier to rent an apartment (weight limits favor them); tight living spaces may be easier to share; and getting small dogs into and out of an apartment building, especially while you’re housetraining them, is far less of a challenge. Yet traits that can be troublesome for urban living — high exercise needs, sound sensitivity, a tendency to bark excessively — have nothing to do with size. Some dogs are beautifully suited to life in the city, and others are not.
So, are behavioral differences sizebased? For the most part, the answer is a resounding “No!” Dogs of all sizes love to play chase, fetch, go on walks, run off leash, meet new people, romp with their best dog buddies, participate in training sessions and eat tasty treats. By the same token, dogs of all sizes are vulnerable to sound sensitivity, exhibit separation anxiety and aggression, jump on people inappropriately, bark to excess, chew on shoes, dig in the garden, or have accidents on the floor. They all wag their tails (if they have them!) in joy.
And yet, there are clearly differences between individual dogs, based perhaps on age, gender or the environment in which the dog lives and was raised. While the similarities in dogs of different sizes are far greater than the differences, can we deny those differences?
Science Steps In
The study’s most important overall finding? There are significant differences in behavior between large and small dogs and between guardians of large and small dogs. The researchers reported that a range of interactions between people and their dogs are related to the size of the dog.
Small dogs were reported to be less obedient, slightly more often aggressive or excitable, and more anxious and fearful. People with small dogs also reported a lower level of consistency in their interactions and enforcement of rules than did those with larger pups.
Much has been made of the practice of treating small dogs like babies, though it’s hardly surprising that it occurs. Babyish features affect human caretaking behavior; we’re evolutionarily hardwired to find big eyes, small size and proportionally large heads endearing. Psychologists call this the “Aww phenomenon.” If babies weren’t so cute, parents could be less likely to respond to their needs, and the offspring would be less likely to survive.
Dogs seem to elicit this same “aww” response in humans, especially small dogs, and even more so, breeds with pronounced juvenile features such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Japanese Chins, Pugs and Boston Terriers. Since babies affect our hormones, raising the levels of oxytocin — nicknamed “the love hormone”— it stands to reason that adorable dogs do, too.
Socialization, Training and Other Interactions
Many say that their small dogs are “people” dogs and don’t like other dogs; lots of people with big dogs say the same thing. Size notwithstanding, positive experiences with other dogs during puppyhood are the best way for a dog to develop good manners. Absent enough of those experiences, dogs of all sizes face social challenges.
Well-trained dogs are always a joy, but training is another way in which interactions between people and dogs differ based on size. Two research studies found that small dogs do not receive as much formal training as large dogs (Kobelt, et al.; Masters and McGreevy). Also, people play fetch more often and do more tugging and nose work with big dogs than with small ones, and are more likely to take them running or biking (Arhant, et al.). Arhant’s study concludes that differences in people’s behavior may account for the higher rates of disobedience in small dogs.
Codes of Conduct
For example, small dogs are more likely to be allowed in our beds and on our laps (Westgarth, et al.). Practical considerations are at work here. Having a 25-pound dog jump or sit on you is one thing, but having a 100-pound dog do it is another. Others encourage little dogs to jump up on people and get on the furniture, but rarely invite big dogs to do so. Jumping up isn’t the only thing that’s treated differently. The behavior that is considered a nuisance in a small dog may be deemed antisocial in a large dog. Even aggression and other serious behavioral issues are more likely to be tolerated in small dogs.
As evidence that some people with small dogs don’t take undesirable behavior seriously, consider this story: an eight-pound Chihuahua escaped from his home, bit someone and was declared a dangerous dog. When a representative from animal control came, the dog’s people apparently thought it was a joke. One of them was reported to have said, “I broke out laughing. I said, ‘Look at the dog, do you see the dog going after you?’ The guy kind of got upset when I started laughing at him.”
For years, I have specialized in cases involving aggressive dogs, and to be honest, the size of the dog sometimes makes a difference in how I feel about the threat they represent. I once had a very aggressive Dachshund in my office, followed by a Chesapeake Bay Retriever with similar issues. During both appointments, I employed all the cautions necessary in this line of work. Still, throughout the appointment with the Chessie, I was aware of being afraid, while with the Doxie — though I knew I was at risk of being bitten if I made a mistake — I just didn’t feel the same anxiety. Both dogs were equally aggressive, but the size factor affected my fear response.
I’m not alone in reacting differently to aggressive dogs based on their size. Large dogs are more likely to be euthanized for aggression (Reisner, et al.), though another study (Guy, et al.) found that the average “biter” tended to be a smaller dog. It’s possible that greater tolerance for this behavior in small dogs allows genetic tendencies toward it to persist.
In some ways, there are correlations between size and breed characteristics. Many small dogs are terriers and earthdogs, types that have been deliberately developed to be tenacious and curious as well as to dig and explore. If dogs are bred for those characteristics, such behavior will have far more to do with genetic inf luences on behavior than with size.
Also related to breeding, Arhant, et al. found that small dogs were more likely than large dogs to come from pet stores, which generally acquire their “stock” from puppy mills. When you consider that puppy mills are notorious for environmental deprivation and risky breeding practices, it is perhaps no surprise that small dogs are burdened with more problematic behavior..
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What dogs do — their behavior! — is what makes them good company, great friends and essential members of our family, and very little of that has anything to do with size. When dog people swap stories, they are not about the size of the dog, but about the experiences we have in common — the joy, the angst, the training, the vet emergencies, the photos, the occasional chewed shoe, the games, the walks, the friendship, the fun and the love. It’s always a big love, no matter what size the dog.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
The science behind the behavior
September 11 2012
I had always assumed that dogs shake vigorously after a bath or a swim in order to share massive quantities of water with all people in the immediate vicinity. That hypothesis fits in with my philosophical view that dogs have a generosity of spirit that knows no bounds and that they love us very much. It also matches my personal experience as a dog groomer and as a dog guardian.
A recent study takes a far more scientific approach to this behavior. Mammals that are wet suffer the risk of hypothermia, so water removal is a serious issue. Animals who remain wet can use 20 percent of their daily energy staying warm and generating the heat necessary for evaporation of that water. If an animal can quickly and efficiently remove excess water, they will dry faster, suffering less risk from the cold and saving energy.
In “Wet mammals shake at tuned frequencies to dry”, Andrew Dickerson, Zachary Mills, and David Hu enlighten us about the specifics of shaking. They studied the water removal affects of shaking behavior in animals ranging in size from mice to bears, and including dogs.
These researchers observed mammals shaking themselves when wet and came to several conclusions. One is that there is a mathematical relationship between the size of the animal and the frequency with which they shake. The smaller an animal is, the more water they take on relative to body weight, and the faster they shake to remove that water. Smaller animals shake faster (at a rate of 29 oscillations per second for mice) while larger animals shake more slowly (4 oscillations per second for bears.) As animals in the middle of the size range studied, dogs had an intermediate rate of 5-7 oscillations per second depending on the size of the dog. The dogs in the study included members of various breeds: poodle, Labrador retriever, chow, Siberian Husky and Chihuahua.
Another conclusion of the researchers is that the ability of mammals to remove water relates to a property of their skin—its looseness. The amplitude of the shake is increased by loose skin. Though the rotation of the spinal column only reaches 30 degrees, the skin movement allows a total rotation of up to 90 degrees. Loose skin in mammals has previously been hypothesized to help with limb movement but this study suggests another function—extra movement in shaking that allows additional water removal.
If you’ve ever been near a wet dog shaking, it will come as no surprise at that dogs, as well as other mammals, can remove about 70 percent of the water from their fur with just a few seconds of shaking. The effectiveness of shaking behavior is extraordinary, though I must confess that I rarely appreciate it when I experience it at close range.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
No tools can do what she can
September 6 2012
It really should come as no surprise that a dog can be trained to find bones. In fact, it’s hard to think of a job better suited to them. Yet, Migaloo the Black Lab is believed by her guardians to be the first dog who has been specifically trained to find buried human bones at archaeological sites. Trained cadaver dogs have previously discovered human bones that were nearly 200 years old, though they were not specifically trained to do so.
Migaloo was trained to alert to skeletal remains with the use of a 250-year old human skeleton on loan from a museum. It took six months of training, field trials and search tests to turn her into an archaeologist. Now Migaloo can do what no humans can do, even with the assistance of radar, magnetic technology and help from historical records. She can find ancient humans bones with high reliability due to their distinct odor. It’s unclear what that odor is and many people are surprised that there is a specific odor. Perhaps that’s why some people didn’t think dogs would succeed in this sort of work.
But Migaloo has succeeded, finding human bones over 600 years old that she was able to detect at a depth of two meters. Her job is to work at sacred Aboriginal sites in Australia finding skeletal remains. Her knowledge can be used either to find places to excavate or to find and protect burial sites. Perhaps soon there will be other dogs working at sites around the world at sites of ancient civilizations.
Migaloo is rewarded for her work not with a bone of her own, but with a game of fetch.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Puppies are named after them
September 4 2012
After September 11, 2001, more explosives detection dogs were trained to work in airports and other areas of mass transportation all over the country. To honor those people who lost their lives on that day, the Transportation Security Administration began naming the dogs in their puppy program after them.
Lisa Dolan’s husband, U.S. Navy Captain Bob Dolan, was one of the people who died at the Pentagon. When Lisa met Dolan, a Labrador Retriever puppy named in his honor, she said that it felt like she was hugging her husband. He gave her great comfort. Can there be any nicer gift to give a widow?
And it was surely an emotional moment when the family of fallen firefighter Carl Asaro met the dog named Asaro. The two-year old dog was trained as a bomb-sniffing dog and was recently put up for adoption. His new guardian went to great lengths to meet Asaro’s wife and three sons.
Dolan was born over a year ago, and he was the 500th puppy in the program. A lot of people who died on September 11, 2001 have had a puppy named after them, but sadly, there are many more who have yet to be honored in this way.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Unusual pairings happen
August 31 2012
When I said that she looked like a Pit Bull Chihuahua cross, I didn’t really think that’s what she was. Though our whole family thought that’s what she looked like when she showed up in our driveway, we also thought that such a mating was unlikely.
It didn’t matter much to us—we just enjoyed her for who she was—a delightful dog who was energetic, expressive, friendly, bouncy, and very licky. None of us cared that much about her heritage, but it’s always fun to guess what breeds are in a dog.
When we did ask her guardian if he knew what kind of dog she was, he replied. “You’re probably not going to believe this, but she’s a Pit Bull and Chihuahua.” They had neighbors who each bred one of the breeds, and she was from an accidental litter. (The Pit Bull was the female in case you were curious.)
Do you know of any particularly unexpected crosses, whether they were a result of a “whoops” litter or not?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It’s an awkward social situation
August 27 2012
A friend of mine was telling me that when her sister-in-law comes to visit, it can be very uncomfortable because that sister-in-law really hates dogs. She voices a lot of criticism of the cleanliness of houses with dogs and the fact that so much time is wasted cleaning up after dogs, which my friend naturally finds annoying. To her, the dogs are family and the extra effort to keep the house clean is worth it. (By the way, I have been in this friend’s house and I consider it immaculate! I’ve been in houses that have a little too much dog hair and eau de dog aroma even for my taste and this house is nothing like that.)
It’s perfectly reasonable to tell potential visitors that if they don’t want to be around dogs, they are more than welcome to stay in a hotel and that you’d be happy to help them find a conveniently located one that is to their liking. However, we all know that family dynamics can sometime make this option very sticky. Being asked to kennel your dogs or keep them locked in the backyard or in one room are all requests that have been received by various friends or colleagues of mine from assertive relatives.
The simple reply that the dogs are part of the family and as such as not shut away or sent away, no matter how tactfully stated, is likely to upset the sort of people who would make such demands in the first place. It’s hard to explain how much we value our dogs to someone who just doesn’t get it.
If you’ve faced a situation with visitors who don’t love dogs and expect you to remove your dogs from the situation, how have you handled it?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Packing no fun for anybody
August 23 2012
A friend of mine posed the question, “Am I the only crazy lady who has to pack bags for a trip in secret so the dog doesn’t have a meltdown?” The answer to this is, “No!” Many of us have watched our dogs become nervous as we pack, or even as we pull the suitcase out of the closet.
Even if dogs are comfortable in a kennel or at a friend’s house when their guardians must travel without them, it has to be unsettling for them not to know what’s happening. When the suitcases come out, the dogs don’t know whether it’s a trip they’re going on or not. They don’t know where they will be staying, especially if several home-away-from-homes are options.
I used to travel a lot during the four years that my husband and I lived 1300 miles apart. As the first sign of a trip, my dog began to watch me even more intently than usual. I always imagine a cartoon bubble over his head that read, “Uh-oh, I don’t like the looks of this at all.”
And this was a dog who was adored at the place he stayed when I was away and loved to be there. When I dropped him off, he would trot away with one of the staff, bouncing happily with joy. He was so enthusiastic about the love from the people and playtime with his dog friends, that there was not so much as an ear flick in my direction. It used to make me feel bad, even though I know that I was lucky to have a dog who was well adjusted and able to handle such transitions.
I know some people never travel without their dogs, and those dogs may just be excited when they see the signs that travel is imminent. How does your dog act when you start to pack?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Doubling Up: Are Two Puppies a Good Idea?
August 22 2012
Question: We have a five-month-old Lab and a six-month-old Golden Retriever. My husband and I thought it would be great to get two puppies so that each of our kids (ages three and five) could have one to care for and train. It’s a nightmare! The dogs only pay attention to each other, their training is nonexistent, and we are so overwhelmed and exhausted that we wish we had only gotten one. Is there anything we can do to make the situation better?
Answer: It’s a huge temptation to get two puppies—who wouldn’t want double the cuteness and double the fun?—and you succumbed, as have so many others before you. Take heart: The problems you describe are common in households with two puppies, and you can make the situation better.
The most important step is to spend time alone with each puppy daily. Besides helping you build a strong relationship with each of the dogs, this will also accustom them to being separated. Use this one-on-one time to work on training. The pups need to be trained individually before you try to work with them as a pair, because they are going to distract one another when they’re together.
The time you spend alone with each puppy shouldn’t be all work—engage them in other activities as well. Playing, going on walks, or taking a class together are all ways you can spend valuable time with each dog. Another benefit is that you can focus on doing what that dog enjoys most. Perhaps one loves nothing more than to have you practice canine massage on him, while the other dog’s favorite activity is running and jumping in the creek.
It is wise to let them be individuals; living in the same house does not mean that they necessarily have identical personalities or that they have the same needs. On the flip side, the fact that one dog dislikes riding in the car doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun for the other dog. No matter how similar they are, treat them as individuals. The more you do, the more likely it is that they will have a strong bond with you, and the easier it will be for you to get their attention.
Don’t expect your children to lessen the workload of having dogs. Even mature children with the best of intentions need lots of supervision when helping care for or train dogs. The amount of guidance required means that when they pitch in, it may be even more work for you. The adults have to commit to the full responsibility of the time and effort involved in raising two dogs.
Finally, the voice in your heart that keeps repeating the wish that you had only gotten one dog deserves to be respected. I truly believe that when you adopt a dog, it is your responsibility to do what is best for that dog. In an environment where the people are overwhelmed, the dogs are out of control, and everyone is exhausted and unhappy, it is fair to consider a change of environment. If, after trying the suggestions included here, life is still not at all what you had hoped for, consider rehoming one of the dogs.
I recently took care of a client’s puppy for a weekend so she and her family could see how they would feel with only one puppy in their home, a home that also includes two small children. The trial showed them that one puppy was enough and two were too many. They decided to place the dog I cared for in one of the several households who wanted her. Now, two happy homes each have one lovely puppy, instead of one feeling crazed by the stress and chaos of two puppies. Returning a puppy to a breeder, placing her with a rescue group or finding her a new home is not a decision to be made lightly, but in some cases, it can lead to a happy ending all around.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Queen’s dogs cause injuries
August 21 2012
Sure, there are differences between the lives of most of our dogs and the lives of the Queen of England’s dogs, but there are probably more similarities than differences. (And if your dogs have recently been filmed with the Queen and Daniel Craig as James Bond for a short piece shown in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, perhaps your dogs have even more in common with the royal dogs than most canines do.)
Unfortunately, the Queen’s dogs were recently part of an incident that shows all too well how similar the lives of dogs can be. The Queen’s dogs were in a dogfight in which they attacked and injured Max, an 11-year old Norfolk Terrier belonging to Princess Beatrice. Only a small percentage of dogs behave aggressively, but when they do, their behavior often follows predictable patterns.
In the incident with the royal dogs, many of the things that happened are common when dogs fight. One is that it happened in a corridor, in this case one within Balmoral Castle. While the corridors in this palatial dwelling are larger than the hallway in a typical home, they are still more confining than many rooms or the great outdoors, and many dogfights happen when dogs are inside in narrow spaces.
The fight involved many dogs who apparently got very excited. It’s often the case that large groups of dogs become overly aroused and that can lead to aggression. According to reports, the Queen’s dog boy (a title that presumably sounds odd to most Americans, including me) lost control of the dogs. It’s not unusual for a person to be unable to prevent a fight, even if they are very attentive to dogs and skilled with them. It happens so fast that fights are always described in the past tense as in, “And then he bit her!” or “And the next thing I knew, it was a big fight!”
In this fight, Max was quite badly hurt, needing veterinary care for a number of bites, including a badly torn ear that bled a lot. Ears are often damaged to varying degrees in dogfights, and when that happens, there’s almost always a lot of blood. It’s also common for one dog in a large fight to receive the lion’s share of the injuries, which is what apparently happened to Max. (I don’t mean to imply that it’s unusual for multiple dogs to be hurt and even hurt badly, because that happens sometimes, too.)
Finally, this incident was upsetting to the guardians of all the dogs. Naturally, we expect the person whose dog sustained the worst injuries to experience horrible feelings, and Princess Beatrice was clearly distressed by what happened to Max. On the other hand, in my work, I often see the people whose dog was the aggressor, so I know how devastating it is to people when the dog they love hurts someone, and the Queen is said to be devastated by what happened.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
“Wild Karen” the inspiration
August 16 2012
I recently met another woman named Karen, and our conversation turned to dogs. Of course, there’s a tendency for many of my conversations to take that route, but this one arrived at the subject quite directly. The other Karen told me that she bet the story of how she got her name was more interesting than the story of how I got mine.
She almost wins that one by default because my story is that my parents found “Karen” in a book of baby names and liked it. Riveting, isn’t it? Karen does indeed have a much better tale. Her stepfather went to the greyhound racing track and a speedy dog named “Wild Karen” won, and that’s who she was named after. She told me that as a child, she hardly ever shared that story because being named after a dog would have invited a lot of teasing from other kids.
I understood completely, but oh, how times have changed! Now, it sounds pretty cool that she was named after a dog. (Of course, going to the greyhound racetrack is not viewed as positively as it once was, but that’s another issue.) Because Karen had expressed concern about sharing this story, I made sure to ask her if I could write about it for The Bark’s blog, and she agreed. It turns out that she just received The Bark for Christmas and loves it!
Lots of dogs share names with humans these days, and some of the really common names such as Emma, Zoe, Sadie, and Sophie are popular for both species, but it’s hard to know who’s named after whom anymore, or whether parents and guardians simply liked the name. Do you know of any people who were named after dogs?
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