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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.

News: Karen B. London
Brick Memorials
Loving reminders of dogs

The brick says “Remembering Kiwi: 125 Pounds of Love” and it’s part of a wall of bricks outside DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Ore. My brother-in-law and my sister purchased the brick in 2007 to honor their Newfoundland who passed away at age 11½ in April of that year. Kiwi was a great dog and I loved her, so the sight of her brick brought me both joy and sadness.

There are benefits of physical memorials to the dogs who remain in our hearts but no longer walk beside us every day, at least not in the literal sense. The tangible reminder of a loved one has great value, which is why gravestones as well as notices in the paper and even decals on cars mention those who have left us. In the case of Kiwi’s brick and others like it, a charitable contribution to buy the memorial goes to DoveLewis. Though a pet may be gone, honoring them with a contribution is a way to know that the love they inspired continues to give hope and lifesaving help to other pets.

Whether it required a contribution or not, do you have a tangible reminder of your deceased dog?

News: Karen B. London
Don’t Lick the Dog
Good lessons in a kids’ book

Presentations to children about dog behavior and about how to act around dogs provide helpful safety lessons. The basic points I like to make when talking with kids are the things I wish that every child knew for the sake of safety. These include:

  • Don’t approach a dog who is tied out on a rope or chain.
  • Dogs don’t like to be hugged.
  • Don’t kiss dogs.
  • Don’t stare at a dog.
  • A wagging tail does not mean that a dog is friendly.
  • Leave dogs alone when they are eating or chewing something.

Recently, I covered these issues in my son’s first grade class with a combination of photos, discussion, an art activity in which the kids drew a good thing to do around a dog and a bad thing to do around a dog, and a book I read to them. The kids loved the book, which is Wendy Wahman’s Don’t Lick the Dog: Making Friends with Dogs, which is geared towards children ages four to eight.

The book covers many things about greeting dogs such as asking permission to pet a dog; being calm; moving slowly; not patting their heads but instead stroking them on the chin and chest; a few of the visual signals by dogs that indicate discomfort; advising children not to hug dogs or to get right in their faces; and letting dogs approach you rather than the other way around. The whimsical, upbeat drawings captivated the children. I love this book because of the great information in it and because kids like it, which means they are more likely to digest the important messages.

Have you seen this book or read it to children?

News: Karen B. London
The Origins of the Kong
Happy accident launched the toy

Louis Pasteur’s remark “Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind” is true in many fields. Those who have great knowledge recognize opportunity and are able to take a random event and recognize the value of something unexpected.

In the world of dogs, a great example of chance favoring the prepared mind is seen in the original inspiration for the Kong toy. Inventor Joe Markham, founder of The Kong Company, received his inspiration from a surprising source.

He was working on his vehicle and tossed an axle stop with an attached bracket on the ground. His dog got hold of it and loved it. He was playing with it joyously, much to Markham’s amusement. He said to his friend, “What do you think of my new dog toy?”

His friend replied, “Actually, it’s not too pretty. It looks like an earplug from King Kong.” And the Kong toy was born.

I heard this story from Mark Hines, behavior and training specialist for The Kong Company, who gave a talk at a conference on applied animal behavior that we both attended this past weekend. The conference had many great talks and I learned so much, but this one brief story stands out more than any other piece of information. I’ve often wondered how Kong came up with their well-known and trademarked shape.

News: Karen B. London
Missing Our Dogs
Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Having just returned from a small conference focusing on applied animal behavior, I’ve had several friends ask, “What do applied animal behaviorists talk about for three whole days?” It may seem like a long time, but it’s barely enough to discuss all that we find fascinating, which ranges from behavior problems, scientific research and shelter programs.

 

We especially find ourselves short on time because in addition to our professional presentations and discussions, we tell one another all about our own dogs. During a snack break on the second day, one member of the group said, “I miss my dogs. Does anyone else miss theirs?” What followed was an enthusiastic sharing of dog photographs and stories to match. There were print photos, phone photos and piles of adorable images on computers.

 

Missing dogs is always a challenge during travel, but we were lucky to be surrounded by others who understood perfectly. Is it hard for you to leave your dogs when you travel for work? Do you share photos with your colleagues?

News: Karen B. London
Identifying Who Passed Gas
My dog never claimed responsibility

I’m not sure why, but I’ve reached a point where refined jokes don’t always cause me to guffaw but gas is always funny. Perhaps it’s just because I have two young boys, which means that a certain amount of potty humor is a part of daily life. Actually, the trend may pre-date having children because years ago my dog Bugsy could always prompt giggles when he passed gas.

 

It was his response that amused me. Even before the horrid smell had spread to the rest of the occupants of the room, he would sniff in the direction of his back end. His facial expression would show true disgust, and he would grudgingly stand up, look at the rest of us as if to say, “Really? Who would do such a thing?” and leave the room. It was rare for him not to want to be in our presence, but his own emissions were too much for him to bear.

 

It seemed to us he had no idea that he was the cause of the bad smell. Of course, we can’t prove that. He wasn’t the brightest of dogs, so I think it’s unlikely that he was purposely trying to feign ignorance of what he had done in a complex plan to deceive. In support of that, I should share that usually what he did was silent (but deadly) and on the rare occasions that he made noise, he would literally startle to the sound and then proceed with the behavior described above.

 

I know that Bark readers are a sophisticated group, but I’m hoping there are others out there who share my ability to enjoy lowbrow humor, too. Do you have a story to share about your own dog along these lines?

News: Karen B. London
Dog Hair Used in Textiles
Woven items of the Coast Salish

Wearing dog hair has become acceptable to the point that many people believe no outfit is complete without it. The contribution of canine fur to textiles is hardly new, though.

 

Before European contact, the Coast Salish people of the Pacific Northwest incorporated dog hair into their textiles, including robes, sashes and blankets. Oral histories have long claimed this, and a recent scientific study has confirmed it. Pieces as old as 200 years that are stored at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian were analyzed using protein mass spectronomy.

 

All items prior to 1862 contained dog hair, but pieces from the late 1800s and early 1900s did not. No items were made entirely of dog hair, leading scientists to believe that dog hair was a supplemental material. Mountain goats were the primary source of wool, though commercial sheep wool was in some items as well. Ceremonial items were made of goat hair alone, while everyday items also included dog hair.

 

Museums have labeled blankets made by Coast Salish people as “Dog Hair Blankets” but this study suggests that those descriptions need to be updated.

 

Dog hair is used to make fibers for knitted and crocheted objects in our culture, too, and the yarn spun from dog hair can be of a very nice quality. Of course, most of us still just wear the fur of our canine pals in an ad hoc, purely decorative way, which always looks good. If you love dogs and wear dog hair, you’ll always be fashionable—good taste never goes out of style.

News: Karen B. London
The Dog of Your Life
A trainer talks about her “heart dog”

I love dogs. I love stories. And I love love. It stands to reason that I would love stories about the love of dogs, and, in fact, I do. Recently, I read this one about trainer Kathy Sdao and her dog Effie, the kind of once-in-a-lifetime dog whose entrance into someone’s life changes it forever. Whether we call such dogs the loves of our lives, our heart dogs, or our soulmates, they remind us that love is for every day, not just Valentine’s Day, and their love makes life richer, better, sweeter.

Kathy shares the experience of having her second husband leave her on September 10, 2001 for another woman, much as her first husband had done many years earlier. She would have been shattered even without facing what the following day brought, and it was Effie who helped her resist the temptation to take her own life.

Many dogs have saved people’s lives, thankfully, and there is something especially powerful about Effie having done this for Kathy by fostering her will to live. Kathy writes, “I gradually realized, with genuine surprise, that just having her close by, I felt a tiny ribbon of relief deep inside. It turns out that this simple pleasure of her presence, at a time when nothing else brought comfort, was the first steppingstone on my path back to wholeness and happiness.”

Describing Effie as her “joy-coach,” Kathy says, “She knows what's important: playing daily, experiencing the nowness of every moment, speaking volumes without using words, surrounding herself with dear friends.”

It’s been more than a decade now since Effie saved her life, and that time has given her a delightful new perspective, which is “I may not know how to pick men, but I sure as hell know how to pick a dog!”

News: Karen B. London
A Commercial Aimed at Dogs
Directly at dogs, that is

A dog food commercial is expected to air in the UK with sounds so high in pitch that people won’t be able to hear them, but dogs will. The goal of the commercial is to attract the attention of dogs. Ideally, from the point of view of those who designed the ad, dogs will perk up their ears and even bark when the commercial plays. They hope that this will direct their guardians’ attention to the commercial. Along with the high frequency sounds, the commercial has bells, whistles and barking.

This 2011 version of the commercial does not have the high-pitched sounds in it, but the one that will air in 2012 does.

As a behaviorist, it alarms me to think of sounds that target dogs without humans being able to detect them. What if the dogs find them distressing? We would have no way of knowing that there are sounds associated with the commercial, and that can make it extra hard to find the source of trouble. There are already so many stimuli that our dogs can detect without our being aware of them, especially scents. The idea of adding triggers whose purpose is to cause our dogs to perk up and bark doesn’t thrill me.

On the other hand, I’m curious about whether dogs will react to the commercial as expected, based on the 12 dogs tested by the company. All 12 expressed some interest in the commercial and a couple of them came over to the television.

What do you think about commercials with sounds only our dogs can hear?

News: Karen B. London
Do Dogs Form Friendships?
Article in Time Magazine says no

Sometimes when you have a strong opinion about something and want to share your views, someone else expresses what you think so well that all you really want to say is, “Yeah! What she said!” I am currently having that experience. I just read Trisha McConnell’s blog responding to the new article in Time Magazine about the science of animal friendships, and I highly encourage you to take a look at her articulate reaction. (The original Time Magazine article is only available online to subscribers.)

In the article, writer Carl Zimmer makes some good points, but I believe he’s off the mark a bit on some others. On the plus side, he discusses research supporting the formation of friendship in a variety of species other than humans. On the downside, he asserts that scientists have only recently concluded that animals form friendships, which runs counter to the work of Barbara Smuts, Frans de Waal and Jane Goodall, to name a few of the people whose research provided substantial and well-accepted evidence of animal friendships decades ago.

Kudos to the author for pointing out that long term studies of animals are essential for understanding bonds between individuals and asserting that such studies are highly valuable. A thumbs up to Zimmer for understanding that all the anecdotes in the world can’t make up for the lack of research and hard data. It’s true that studies of friendship in the domestic dog are sorely lacking. However, I must insert a thumbs down here since a paucity of evidence because the phenomenon has not been investigated does not merit the article’s claim that most scientists think dogs “fall short of true friendship.”

I’m glad that Zimmer wrote this article so we can participate in the discussion about it. It’s a wake up call regarding the need for more research on social relationships in dogs AND the importance of scientists making themselves available and more easily accessible to people who write articles about science. (Zimmer has written on Facebook that he spoke to several scientists while researching this article, but he didn’t mention any whose work dealt with social relationships in dogs.)

I think there is ample reason to think that rigorous studies are likely to support the idea that dogs form true friendships, and I’d love to see good studies that address the question. What do you have to say about the topic of friendship in dogs?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Ages and Stages
Adolescence is only a stage

The puppy was leaping all over the adult dog—batting the older dog’s ears, crawling across her neck, nudging her muzzle and generally acting like he had no idea that she might prefer to rest after their long play session. It’s the kind of scene I’d heard people describe countless times, but this client had video. As we watched, she said, “See, she was so sweet to him. He could do anything to her and she would just let him.”
But then the story took a turn: “It’s different now. Sometimes they have so much fun, but other times, she’ll growl at him, or even nip his nose,” she told me, clearly bewildered. In a more recent video, the adult dog was indeed growling and baring her teeth at the exuberant youngster (now more than twice his former size) after he pounced on her head. The younger dog immediately stopped and scuttled away. Though the dramatic difference between these two scenes distressed my client, she felt better when I explained that this new development in her dogs’ interactions was completely normal.
Well-socialized, stable, adult dogs typically indulge puppies, allowing them to get away with just about anything. They offer no objection to a young pup who slams into them while they’re resting, walks over them or takes the toy they are playing with.
But when the puppy reaches early adolescence at five or six months, the adult dog will often react differently. This change is not only normal, it’s desirable. There’s no better way for a young dog to learn some manners than to have a socially skilled adult dog set clear boundaries.
As I told my client, the relationship between the adult and the younger dog wasn’t in trouble—rather, it was just that the little guy’s “puppy license” had expired. The older dog was letting him know that jumping on her head would not be tolerated, and that invitations to play must be offered politely by play-bowing or presenting a toy. Relieved, the woman said that when the puppy did this, the adult dog usually played with him.
Essentially, the puppy had reached the age at which other dogs were inclined to let him know what would and would not be allowed. Humans also do this boundary-setting. When a baby grabs at earrings or pokes an adult in the eye, the adult’s response is minimal. But a seven-year-old who does this is likely to receive instruction on appropriate behavior. Ideally, such instruction is given kindly and fairly to young humans and young dogs alike.
Teaching is a gentle art. It’s reasonable for an adult dog to warn a puppy with a quick growl or a highly inhibited nip, but not okay for the adult to attack or scare the puppy. Dogs who allow puppies to have their way with them probably have enough self-control to set appropriate limits with an adolescent, and are unlikely to be too rough and overdo it. That said, generalizations aren’t always true, and a young dog should be protected from excessive force, however unexpected. It’s not good for a youngster to be frightened or hurt, even mildly, by an adult dog teaching him manners.
Conversely, it’s not good for that dog to spend tons of time with an adult dog who doesn’t set limits. He’ll never learn that other dogs expect him to behave with more decorum, which means he won’t have opportunities to practice making good choices and inhibiting objectionable behavior. Worse, when he interacts with other adult dogs, some may correct him harshly, or even attack him.
Having been told that an adult dog’s behavior is not a problem, the client’s response is often one of relief, followed by the question, “Why didn’t anybody warn me?” It’s a fair question. Why indeed?
The answer is that we generally don’t think about age as having much of an effect on dogs’ behavior. Sure, there are a few exceptions: Most people realize that puppies can’t control their bladders as long as adult dogs, even if house-training is progressing well and the pup seems to grasp the basic idea that the bathroom is outside, rather than inside on a clean pile of laundry or the rug. It’s also generally accepted that dogs in their golden years tire more easily, and that a strenuous three-hour hike should be reconsidered.
However, the situations in which dogs’ behavior is influenced by their age far outnumber those in which their age is taken into account. This discrepancy creates the possibility of misunderstandings and frustration, which are counterproductive to developing and enjoying a close relationship. In fact, relationships between people and dogs can be tested during adolescence, and it’s no coincidence that dogs are the most vulnerable to being surrendered to shelters and rescues at this stage.
Like human adolescents, some dogs have a rather mild time and others have a more extreme experience. Still, the “teen” period can be a shock, coming as it does right on the heels of the adorable-puppy stage. Sure, during a dog’s puppyhood, there are usually some accidents and interrupted sleep, but puppies’ cuteness largely distracts us from viewing this as a terrible part of our dog’s life. People are rarely blind- sided by the trials and tribulations of puppyhood—nobody is surprised by the occasional chewed-up shoe.
Not so adolescence. This is the time when many of the kindest, most patient guardians in the world are left wondering where their sweet puppy has gone. There’s an understandable urge to say, “Who is this monster, and what has he done with my dog?”
People are often surprised by the sudden independence of their adolescent dog. The lovable pup who always wanted to be with you and gleefully dashed to your side at the “Come!” cue now seems not to hear you. There’s no reaction—none at all, not even an ear twitch. Sigh. The perfect recall that brought you such pride seems to have disappeared. The same dog who loved to lie down when asked now looks at you as though considering his options: “Hmm, is that really what I want to do right now?” Often, teenage dogs seem to have forgotten everything you worked so hard to teach them.
Don’t panic when you see a training slump in early adolescence; it’s a common, and temporary, phenomenon. The work you’ve put in with your puppy will pay off later. The well-trained, responsive puppy is likely to mature into a well-trained, responsive adult, even if the adolescent in between bears little resemblance to either. As professional baseball player Earl Wilson said, “Snow and adolescence are the only problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough.”
Besides behaving like classic human teenagers, it’s common for adolescent dogs to become more fearful than they were as puppies. At around six to 10 months, some dogs suddenly act timid in situations that they’ve seemed comfortable with previously. New people, loud sounds or going to a new park may cause a dog to hang back, hesitate or startle. Mild cases of this “juvenile-onset shyness” are just a phase, and many dogs pass through it no worse for wear. (This is in sharp contrast to dogs who are truly fearful. Dogs don’t simply outgrow fear, though with knowledge, patience and hard work on their guardians’ part, they can overcome it.)
Though many dogs move past juvenile-onset shyness without assistance, it’s wise to be proactive in helping a dog through this challenging period by associating whatever triggers the response with something that the dog loves. For example, if an eight-month-old dog suddenly seems nervous when a man approaches, I would pair that approach with something the dog adores, such as a ball or the best treats ever. This conditioning goes a long way toward preventing shyness from escalating into a deeper fear.
Dogs’ behavior is not static. Many differences are predictably related to age, with especially big changes occurring during adolescence. They’re easier to handle if we recognize these changes for what they are: a normal part of development. We naturally do this with humans, but often fail to accord the same courtesy to dogs, though age is relevant to behavior in both species. Adult dogs understand the change from puppyhood to adolescence and react accordingly. Perhaps the best course of action is to follow their lead.

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