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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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Visiting a Therapy Dog Class
Strangers with a purpose

My family was recently invited to attend a dog therapy class. The goal was to provide the dogs an opportunity to practice being on their best, most friendly behavior when presented with strangers, even if those strangers were behaving in unusual ways. We were particularly welcome visitors because our family includes two boys, ages 7 and 8. Finding parents willing to bring their young kids around dogs to help them practice handling excitement is not easy. (Go figure.)

I trust the trainer, Liz Tallman, and knew that the dogs in class were going to be trustworthy around kids, though of course I reserved the right to take my kids out of any situation that made me uncomfortable. Our first step was to meet each of the dogs outside as a family. My kids were instructed to call out from a distance, “May we pet your dog?” and then we all approached when given permission. Our job was to greet the dogs exuberantly, but politely. So, we talked at high volume and petted the dogs vigorously, but we did not try to hug them, ride them, stare into their eyes or anything else that the dogs were likely to dislike.

Once the dogs had each met us and hopefully learned that we were nice, we had each of the dogs come to visit the whole family one by one in the training room. I sat in a wheelchair to help the dogs learn to be comfortable around wheelchairs and also to pay attention to the “patient” rather than the other people in the room. My kids were instructed to leap around, yell a bit, run, hop, and generally act like kids who have been cooped up for awhile. (They asked for clarification on this: “You mean you WANT us to misbehave around the dogs, and do all the things we’re usually not supposed to? Is this a trick?”)

We adjusted our behavior with each dog. In some cases, if a dog seemed a little hesitant to approach, I fed the dog treats to help develop happy associations with wheelchairs. For other dogs, my kids were asked to tone it down a bit, or even to go more crazy if the dog was ready to practice being in those situations. In all cases, the goal was to work on teaching the dog to approach the patient first and present its body in a way that made petting easy. One small dog was even lifted onto my lap after I was asked if that was okay. Only after the pretend therapy with me (the pretend patient) was the dog invited to greet the rest of my family.

It was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend accepting such an opportunity if it presents itself to you. (Do make sure that the trainer would know if a dog could not handle such a situation.) We had a great time and look forward to participating in future classes.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sometimes Dogs Aren’t Sad
They’re just resting

It’s common to misinterpret dogs’ signals and think that they mean something that they don’t. Examples of this abound with everything from the common statement by people who are not overly dog savvy that the dog must be friendly because he’s wagging his tail, to the more complex issues related to the meaning of barking and other vocalizations.

Lately, I’ve noticed that many people look at a dog and interpret the dog’s emotional state as “sad” when I don’t think that’s what’s going on. This typically happens when the dog is lying down with his head on his paws. It’s a very endearing look, and while it’s certainly possible that a dog doing this could be sad, that’s not necessarily true.

The dog is often just peacefully resting, and this posture is particularly common when dogs have had the pleasure of a tiring themselves out with plenty of exercise. The captions on some photos I’ve seen of dogs in this posture are along the lines of “A very tired dog” and “Relaxing after a long walk in the snow.”

Typically, a happy, relaxed dog has its mouth open, its eyes looking bright and is a bit bouncy in its movement. That sort of exuberance in both face and body makes it easy to understand that a dog is in an upbeat emotional state. It’s when a dog is calm that it’s harder to tell if the emotional state is sad or content.

A dog who is lying down with its head on its paws will have a closed mouth, which always makes a dog look less happy. The eyebrows often move as the dog looks around, which can make a dog look pensive, and the dog doesn’t look that energetic, which can be confused with sad. However, a dog who is lying down is likely to be pretty comfortable in the situation since dogs rarely lie down if they are scared or otherwise agitated. Most often, dogs who are lying down with their heads resting on their paws are relaxed and quite at ease.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Enrichment Toys
An engaged mind equals a happy dog

A great many dogs today live lives of leisure, and even dogs who are physically active often lack opportunities for mental exercise. That understimulation can result in the boredom that is the enemy of the happy, well-behaved dog. Dogs evolved to solve problems, and a life of lying on the couch while the rest of the household is at work, and then taking a human-paced walk around the neighborhood, doesn’t present many interesting problems. Which is where enrichment toys come in. Making dogs work to get treats (or even all of their food) by solving the puzzles offered by enrichment toys is a natural fusion.

The Swedish toys from Nina Ottosson’s Zoo Active (see Bark's article) line are some of the highest quality and most original enrichment toys I’ve seen. Each is a puzzle that the dog must figure out using her sense of smell, reasoning abilities and dexterity in order to get the reward. Besides the food itself, the dog benefits from mental stimulation; problem-solving practice; the opportunity to develop dexterity, coordination and balance; and last—but definitely not least—the fun of facing and succeeding at new challenges. The complexity and variety of the toys’ designs heralds a new era in enrichment toys for dogs.

Each toy requires the use of somewhat different skills. For example, the Dog Brick is a flat rectangle with four channels. Each channel has two covers that slide along the channel so that at any one time, two-thirds of the channel is covered. The dog must figure out that the way to access the treats is to use her paws or nose to slide the covers along the channel until the treats are exposed. In contrast, the Dog Smart is a circle with nine wooden cups over cavities that hold treats. In working this puzzle, the dog learns to pick up or shove aside the cups to get to the treats. The Dog Tornado is a series of stacked wooden circles with cutouts in various places. The dog spins the circles to line up the cutouts, thus exposing the food.

Several of the toys require the dog to perform an action that indirectly releases the food, which for dogs is a harder cognitive task than just uncovering it. For example, with the Dog Box, she has to figure out how to insert an item into a hole in the box. If that item adds enough weight, the mechanism inside is tripped and food spills out. Solving the Twister is a two-step process. First, the dog must remove pegs from a circle of wedges; then, with the pegs removed, she can slide the wedges out of the way and get the treats hidden below.

While it’s fun to watch dogs play with the Zoo Active toys, the play has a serious purpose. The value to dogs of thinking as they figure out how to get the food from these puzzles cannot be overstated. When dogs are challenged to figure something out, and are able to do so, they are doubly rewarded: They benefit by exercising their brains and then by experiencing success, both of which are critical for their happiness.

Another interesting aspect of watching dogs play with these toys is observing the different ways they solve the problems the toys present. Though many dogs are paw-oriented, some seem to prefer to use their noses or their mouths. Then there are those with a very paws-on experimental approach, trying a variety of motions and behaviors in rapid succession. Others contemplate the toy and methodically try one technique at a time. During the setup, some dogs watch the toy as the person is putting food into it, and others watch the person’s face. Since every dog has a mental style in addition to a unique personality, these toys provide dogs and their people with an opportunity to get to know each other better in a fun, interactive way. Both stand to benefit if Zoo Active toys become as popular in the U.S. as they are in Europe.

Watch Bark dog Lola (with help from her packmate Lenny) face down the Dog Brick.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Social Gaffes
A consequence of adoring dogs

I’m pretty sure that as a child, I offended some friends when I went to their houses to play and paid more attention to the dog than to anyone else. Though I’ve always been social with people, this is a gaffe I made repeatedly. I never meant to be rude. It’s just that the dogs were so captivating that I couldn’t help myself.

It wasn’t only in childhood that I attended to dogs first and foremost. While in grad school, my friends and I played cards regularly. One night, three of us drove together to the house of a couple with a new baby for a game. We made ourselves right at home, all heading to what interested us most. That meant Ethan headed to the refrigerator, Amy rushed to hold the baby, and I went over to their Lab cross for my doggy fix. That was typical, and we were all teased for our predictable behavior.

Now in my 40s, I’m far better at minding my manners, which is why I’m so embarrassed by a setback I had earlier this week. I noticed the dog first and then came to realize that there was a person with the dog, and what’s more, it was a person I knew. I should have greeted her right away and chatted a little bit before turning my attention to the dog. (In my defense, this dog was a Great Dane, which is my childhood breed, and I had no idea that my friend was fostering one. It’s a weak defense, but it’s all I’ve got!) It’s as if my heart said, “Ooh, what a marvelous dog!” and then there was a huge lag before my brain piped in, “Hey, there’s a person at the other end of that leash.”

Please tell me I am not alone! Have you ever been guilty of these sorts of social gaffes because of your adoration for dogs?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Dances the Merengue
Pure joy with rhythm!

When people spend time with their dogs, doing fun activities together, it’s good for both of them, and good for the relationship. As long as they both enjoy what they are doing, just about any activity will serve. In the video below, Jose Fuentes and his dog Carrie, both from Chile, perform a Latin dance called the merengue. They are both having a ball as they dance to Wilfredo Vargas’ “El baile del perrito” (“The dance of the little dog”).

Yes, I know that many will have orthopedic concerns when watching a dog up on her hind legs for so long, but all I could focus on was how happy Carrie looked throughout the dance. She is having a great time, and has clearly been the beneficiary of a lot of training and quality time with the man in her life.

They’ve spread joy to a lot of people, as evidenced by the fact that this video has over 12 million hits on YouTube. What do you think of it?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Singing Around Our Dogs
How do they react?

You know how everybody says that they can’t sing and then you hear them and they’re really not that bad? Well, that’s not how it is with me. I’m truly dreadful, and when people hear me sing anything, even Happy Birthday, they probably think I’m kidding. Even dogs don’t enjoy my musical moments.

I was in the car last week with Marley, singing along to the radio, and he began to whimper. I was concerned that his harness was bothering him, so I pulled over to check the straps, and he seemed just fine. Then I kept driving (and singing) and he whimpered again. I checked on him again, and then all was well. Puzzled, but pleased that he seemed okay, I kept driving. Though I had stopped singing by that point, I didn’t make the connection between my silence and his silence until later.

I was at home, singing again, and my son said, “Mom, don’t sing! Look what you’re doing to Marley!” He had his ears back, his brow was furrowed so that he looked worried, his whole body was tense, and he was looking away. You could practically see the cartoon bubble over his head with the words, “Help! How can I make it stop?” In this picture with me singing, you can see that he looks less than thrilled.

Many dogs join in with a howl when people are singing. Others ignore it or walk away or whine. Still others pay extra attention, perhaps either enjoying it or trying to figure out if any relevant information is in the vocalization. How does your dog react when you sing?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Whose Dog Is It?
A conflict that’s hard to resolve

If you’ve taken in a lost dog, you’re not alone. Many of us have done so, and then made all attempts to contact the guardian so that the dog could be returned. Sometimes the reunion takes place within hours or days, but other times it can take weeks or months. At some point, many people have abandoned hope of finding the original family and simply accept the dog into their own.

That’s what Jordan Biggs did after months of searching for the guardians of a husky mix who came to her door in April 2011. Attempts to contact the people who had lost the dog she calls Bear through humane societies, animal shelters, craigslist, veterinary offices, posters, and going door to door failed. Once he had been with her for two months, she considered him to be her dog.

Since that time, Bear has become her service dog, having been trained to seek help if her asthma results in a loss of consciousness. They do agility together, which is one way she has invested in him in addition to providing him with veterinary care and having him microchipped and neutered.

Then, earlier this month, Sam Hanson-Fleming saw Bear, who he calls Chase, in the car in front of him, and was ecstatic that he had found the dog who had jumped his fence over a year ago, leaving him and his two young sons deeply saddened by the loss. When his dog was first lost, he posted craigslist ads and filed lost dog reports with several organizations. He wants his dog back, but Biggs refuses to give up her dog.

This is a tricky situation. Of course, there’s the possibility that the dog Biggs has is not the same one that Hansom-Fleming lost, and perhaps additional medical records can clear up the issue. But if it is the same dog, whose dog is it now? Do they both have a claim to this husky mix, or does he clearly belong to one or the other of these people? Obviously, they both love the dog. However, the question, from a legal standpoint, is not who loves the dog, but who OWNS the dog. What do you think?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Love for Visiting Dogs
Good-byes are hard

Whether a dog who stays with you for just a short while is a foster, a stray or a friend’s dog, it’s easy to become attached to a temporary visitor. We are about to say good-bye to Schultzie, who is spending about 2.5 weeks with us while her family is in Italy, and I’m beginning to feel upset about her impending departure.

I know her family will be ecstatic to see her, and that Schultzie will be just as thrilled, and I’m happy for all of them. It’s just that I am sad to see her go. It has been such a pleasure to share a few weeks of our lives together. She is delightful company and easy to be with.

She is the sort of family dog that I wish were more common. She’s friendly and peppy, but is easily satisfied by a couple of 20-30 minute walks a day. She likes to work and is food-motivated, but not at all pushy for food. She hasn’t chewed on anything in our house that she’s not supposed to. On the one occasion that she took a tissue in her mouth, I simply walked toward her with the idea of trading it for a treat and she backed away at my approach and went over to one of her own toys. She doesn’t pull on the leash or bark to excess, and she sleeps in a bit in the morning—bonus! Although she’s not crazy about the car, she rides in it quite amiably.

Of course, all of these good qualities don’t really explain in full why we’re going to miss her so much. Beyond this list explaining her best traits, there’s that indefinable magic that happens when you grow to love a dog, and that’s what happened with Schultzie. I’ve grown very fond of many dogs who have spent time with us for a short time, but it will be especially hard to say good-bye to this one.

I’m grateful that she lives nearby and that we will still see her from time to time, and we’d definitely be open to dogsitting for her in the future.

As my 7-year son said last night, “When you dogsit a dog, it feels like the dog is yours.” Obviously we fall in love with our own dogs, but sometimes we feel that way about other dogs, too. I’d love to hear your stories of dogs who have just been passing through but took a little piece of your heart anyway.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tim Tebow’s Dog has a New Name
Bronco has become Bronx

Football player Tim Tebow ‘s every action seems to attract attention, so it’s no surprise that when he changed his Rhodesian Ridgeback’s name recently, it made the news. The name Bronco, which was such a great name when he played for the Denver Broncos, became awkward once they traded him to the New York Jets.

Many sportswriters are discussing how cruel it was to make this name change and claiming that the dog will suffer terribly as a result. Most dog professionals, myself included, think that changing a dog’s name is fine, even if the new name is nothing like the old one.

Bronco to Bronx is a minor change, which makes me suspect that Tebow made a real effort to change his dog’s name to something similar. Most people do think that it’s a big deal for a dog, so this gesture may have been prompted by a thoughtful attempt to minimize any issues for his dog.

Love him or hate him, Tebow’s big news is a sign of many things: his status as a cultural icon, the pattern of naming our dogs after what’s important to us, and the ever-increasing importance of dogs in our culture.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Pet Poison App
Lifesaving information available 24/7

Imagine coming home and finding a chewed up bottle of your medication with no pills left in it or a houseplant that has clearly been used as a chew toy, or a bottle of cleaning solution that spilled when it was knocked off the counter. How do you determine if this is just a small inconvenience for you, a life-threatening emergency for your dog, or something in between? The new Pet Poison Help app by Pet Poison Helpline can be a great first step. You can use it to reference the specific substance and find out how toxic it is, the symptoms your dog is likely to experience, and what to do. It may suggest that you induce vomiting, encourage eating or drinking, or that you take your dog to an emergency clinic immediately.

Though there are other apps that provide information about pets and poisons, this one is the most comprehensive. It covers over 250 toxins and spans a wide variety of potentially poisonous substances including pesticides, plants, foods and cleaners. You can search by toxin, within categories, or check substances based on whether they are toxic to dogs, cats or both.

Pet Poison Help is a reliable resource from which people can get accurate information and it has a direct dial feature to the Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center that is available 24/7. According to Ahna Brutlag, a veterinarian with an M.S. in toxicology, and the co-creator of the Pet Poison Help app, the consumption of human medications accounts for the largest number of calls to their helpline, but many other toxic substances are consumed by dogs and other pets each year. If you place a call to the Pet Poison Helpline, you can share vital information with a veterinarian about your dog’s age, breed, size and what was eaten, and find out what your next step needs to be to provide the best care for your dog.

The new app is easy to use, full of pictures, and loaded with live-saving information. Pet Poison Help has been available for just a few weeks, and already nearly 2000 people have downloaded it. Have you had a chance to check it out yet?

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