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Karen B. London

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: The Genius of Dogs
How Dogs Are Smarter Than You Think
The Genius of Dogs

The Genius of Dogs is written in a pleasant, conversational style that is enjoyable to read. Its strength lies in the sections on the history of canine-specific research, which are easy-to-read, informative summaries of the progression of particular lines of study.

Among the well-covered topics are Belyaev’s genetic studies on foxes; the vocal communication of dogs; and Rico and Chaser, the dogs famous for knowing the names of hundreds of objects. Other sections of the book are less successful. More than once, I found myself puzzled by conclusions that didn’t follow logically from the available data. This gave me the impression that the authors already had opinions about how dogs’ minds work and were trying to force the data into supporting those viewpoints.

A notable weakness comes in the discussion of Hare’s own research. Although the authors say they will include work that contradicts Hare’s results, they fail to mention any of the reputable studies disputing his major findings about dogs’ responsiveness to human gestures. Notably absent are the well-known research studies challenging Hare’s conclusion that dogs are better than wolves at following human gestures.

Hare has reason to be proud of both the volume of research into canine cognition his experiments have inspired as well as his trailblazing open-mindedness in using his own pet dog as a subject at a time when such use was discouraged. His innovative work has motivated a new generation of scientists to ask new questions about how dogs think and communicate. I’d love to see him embrace the full range of studies that expand on his original work with dogs, as these are part of his legacy.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Has your Dog Caused Sleepless Nights?
Dogs interrupt slumber in many ways
Doggy Sleepless Nights - Dogs don't let me sleep. Yawning.

I was exhausted, but not too tired to shout, “You’ve got to be kidding!” at my alarm clock when it went off. My dog had woken me up half a dozen times in the middle of the night, and my face had the ugly morning look to prove it. This was a dog who usually slept peacefully through the night and was in no rush to start his day each morning.

On this particular night, though, the poor fellow was suffering from diarrhea, and he was waking me up by uncharacteristically whining and scratching on our screen door to be let out into the yard. Though I was sleep deprived, I was very aware how lucky I was. Better to wake up to noise repeatedly than to a revolting clean-up job in the morning. I was also able to encourage him to drink water and just be there for him. It was only one night of misery for him, and therefore only one night of misery for me.

It’s not the only time I’ve had my sleep schedule disrupted by a dog, though. Of course, there are the puppy times with their expected middle-of-the-night and early morning outings. There are the times when I’ve woken up long before morning because I have been either trapped in the covers by a dog lying on top of me in an awkward way or gradually pushed out from under the covers by a dog taking up more than a fair share of the bed. I’ve been woken up by a dog (who was new to my home) barking at every odd noise, but thankfully that only lasted about a week.

I know of friends who have hardly slept at all in the last few weeks or months of an old dog’s life as around-the-clock care, including carrying them outside to relieve themselves, became part of the routine. Others have dogs who find the wee hours of the morning a delightful time to play with the cat, or whose dog seems to think that it is perfectly acceptable to demand to be served breakfast at 4:30 in the morning. (It’s not!) Canine snoring accounts for a lot of nighttime disturbances, too.

How has your dog prevented you from getting a full night’s sleep?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Former First Dog Barney Dies
George W. and Laura Bush grieve

Barney Bush has died at the age of 12 from lymphoma, according to a statement by former President George W. Bush. Along with a statement, Bush released a photograph of his own oil painting of Barney, which he signed “43.”

Barney the Scottish Terrier was a cherished member of the first family throughout the Bush presidency. Cookies shaped like him were a popular part of the press preview of the White House holiday decorations in 2006. He was well known for his enthusiasm when accompanying the President on hunting and fishing trips and for seeking treats from those working in the White House. Perhaps his greatest fame came from an incident in which he bit a reporter in 2008.

Bush spoke lovingly of his dog, “Barney was by my side during our eight years in the White House. He never discussed politics and was always a faithful friend. Laura and I will miss our pal.” Barney’s niece, Miss Beazley, who shared some of those years at the White House with Barney, remains in good health.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Fighting Museum Exhibit
“The Voiceless Victims”

A temporary exhibit at the Crime Museum in Washington D.C. allows guests to see some of the equipment used by the illegal dog-fighting industry. Among the items in "The Voiceless Victims" exhibit are tools for conditioning dogs, for forcing breedings, and for antagonizing dogs through pain. There are also sticks used to force dogs to release other dogs, and an electrocution device used to kill dogs. It’s not a pretty topic, but it’s educational to see the true horror that is dog fighting.

Though dog fighting is illegal throughout the United States, it is happening all too often in far too many communities. Besides showing the tools of dog fighters, this exhibit also includes items that forensic scientists use to assess the suffering and deaths of dogs who are the victims of dog fighting.

The exhibit includes evidence that was taken from the Michael Vick dog fighting kennel as well as from a case in 2009 that was the largest dog fighting raid in our country’s history. The exhibit has been assembled by the ASPCA, and will be up through September 2013.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Recall: Does Your Dog Really Know to Come When Called?
Recall, Interrupted

Question: My pup was responding well to our recall training at the park, getting reinforced with high-value treats like meatballs and behaving in a way that made us so proud. That all changed when a sweet elderly man at the park starting giving all the dogs Milk-Bones. Not only did our dog fail to come when called while he was feeding her, for the next couple of weeks, she rarely came when we called her in other contexts. My question is about how dogs learn and what makes their training seem to fall apart? What can I do to prevent such setbacks in the future, and how can I know when our dog has really “gotten it” so that I can be sure she will come, no matter what?

Answer: Most people have experienced some variant of what you describe, and these setbacks can be very disheartening. The situation at the park was not so much one in which a dog’s training fell apart as it was one in which a dog was asked to do something that she had not yet been trained to do. Responding appropriately to the cue to come to you when there is nothing particularly new or interesting to distract her is totally different than returning to you when someone else is feeding her treats.

What you learned courtesy of the treat man at the park is that your dog does not know how to come when called while she was getting treats from somebody else. Furthermore, she seems to have learned that even when called, she doesn’t have to come, which may explain why her recall got worse (let’s not say “fell apart”!) and why she did not come when called even in other situations.

The real secret to dog training is that there are 100 steps involved in teaching a dog something so that she can do it in any situation. Step one for teaching recall may be calling your dog to come from five feet away in your living room, with nothing else going on but you and your meatballs, and step 100 is calling your dog to come when she is 500 feet away, chasing a deer. Many people charge from step five to step 95 without realizing what a challenge this is for a dog. This is the equivalent of asking a student to go from addition and subtraction to reinventing calculus, figuring that the student already knows how to do math, so what’s the problem?

Teaching a dog what a cue means is often the easiest part. Proofing the dog to that cue, or getting the dog to respond to that cue in all situations, is the challenge. Just because your dog knows how to come when called when nothing else has captivated her attention doesn’t mean that she can do it when she is really enthralled by the smell of a rabbit, the food she is eating or her best play buddy. Training your dog to come away from these distractions requires that you train her to do so in a series of steps of gradually increasing difficulty.

Avoiding setbacks by not skipping steps is a challenge that requires great discipline on your part. The key is that throughout your training work with her, you must not call your dog unless you are confident that she will respond. For example, if you had never trained her to come when called away from someone giving her food, most trainers would tell you that the odds of success were not in your favor. A wiser course of action would have been to simply go get your dog. Of course, this is not convenient and requires only letting your dog off-leash in areas where you can go get her if she doesn’t come, but it is only temporary.

When you call a dog to come and she doesn’t respond, how you handle the situation is important for your future success with this cue. If you do nothing, or if you keep calling her over and over, you are teaching her not to respond unless she feels like it. Either she learns that she doesn’t have to come because there is no consequence for not coming, or she learns to tune out the “come” cue; it becomes background noise and loses its meaning to her.

One possible response is to go up to her, show her the meatball treat she could have had, and then walk away. Another is to take her out of the park so she learns that if she does not respond, she does not get to stay at the park.

A third possibility is to immediately set up a similar situation as a training opportunity. Put the meatball right up to her nose, move a few feet away and call her to come. Lure her with the treat if necessary—anything to get her to come away from the food the man is giving her, and then reinforce her for doing so. Then, allow her to go back to the treat man to get whatever he has. Allowing your dog to get both reinforcement from you and what she gave up in order to come to you makes responding to your cue a winning situation all around. Setting up winning situations for your dog over and over again in all sorts of contexts is what proofing a dog for a cue is all about.

During training, have something better than what she gave up so she learns that coming to you is always worthwhile. This means that if someone is giving her liver biscotti, you give her chicken. If they are giving her a lot of nice petting attention, you give her a belly rub. If they are luring her with an ordinary ball, you reinforce her with a super bouncy ball.

In terms of your question about dogs really “getting it”—it’s hard to know for sure that your dog is proofed to respond to a cue in any situation if you have not explicitly practiced and trained her to handle a variety of environments. That said, the more situations and types of distractions in which your dog has learned to respond to the cue, the more likely it is she will respond appropriately in a novel context. Eventually, all situations are sufficiently similar that she can be said to be “fully proofed” for a particular cue. Some dogs get there faster than others, but for virtually every dog, it takes a lot of practice in a wide range of situations involving different places, with different distractions and from different distances.

For more information about canine learning, the best book on the subject is Excel-erated Learning: Explaining in Plain English How Dogs Learn and How Best to Teach Them by Pamela J. Reid, PhD. For specific advice on teaching a reliable recall to your dog, the best resource is the video Lassie Come! by Patricia B. McConnell, PhD.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Loca the Pug Who Cannot Run
She’s happy and deeply loved

An amusing video of Loca, the pug from Ireland who can’t run properly, has been making the rounds online among both runners and dog lovers. Many runners have made comments about this video along the lines of, “Even after all the miles I’ve run. I still feel this way sometimes!” In the dog world, the comments have ranged from being charmed by the video to being appalled that people are laughing at a dog with a medical problem.

The first time I saw the video, I felt uncomfortable about having fun at Loca’s expense. I could see that she clearly has some sort of medical condition that was affecting her movement and balance, but I can’t deny that I still enjoyed the funny song and some of the footage. Then, when the note came up at the end of the video explaining that Loca has a mild brain disorder, that her family has decided it’s too risky to operate on, that the vet feels she is happy and will live to old age in good health, I was fully on board.

Loca has a full and happy life, and it’s easy to see that she is absolutely adored by her two-legged and four-legged family members alike. It seems the video is not making fun of her, but sharing the joy that her family gets from her to those of us in the wider world. With that straight in my mind and heart, I am a fan of Loca and love to watch her.

What do you think of Loca’s video?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Driving With a Dog on Your Lap
New law would ban this

If a new bill in Rhode Island becomes law, it will be illegal to drive with a dog on your lap. The purpose is to protect both people and dogs from being injured or killed in accidents. Distracted drivers are a danger while driving, and it’s hard to argue that a dog on your lap isn’t ever distracting.

Representative Peter Palumbo proposed this legislation last year, but it never came up for a vote. He is hopeful that this year will be different and that the bill will pass. He acknowledges that some people consider this bill frivolous, but he contends that it is an important matter of public safety, especially considering how many people drive with dogs on their laps.

The penalty for violating this new ban on driving with a dog on your lap would be a fine: $85 for a first offense, $100 for a second violation, and $125 for all subsequent ones.

The state of Hawaii does not allow drivers to have dogs on their laps. In Maine, Connecticut and Arizona, distracted-driving laws can be used against people driving with dogs in their laps. What are you thoughts on such laws?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Bite Leads to DNA Match
Evidence used to solve crime

A man unintentionally left evidence at the scene of his crime that led the police to link him with a home robbery. DNA in the mouth of the family dog matched that of David Stoddard.

The dog had bitten him in the arm and in the leg after a human member of the dog’s family had been assaulted during the break in. Stoddard or one of his accomplices then shot the dog. Sadly, the dog died from the gunshot.

After learning that he had bitten one of the criminals, the police swabbed the dog’s mouth for human DNA. Around the time the genetic match was found, Stoddard was arrested for shooting and killing a pregnant 16-year old.
 
Without the genetic evidence due to the dog’s bite, police may never have matched Stoddard with the earlier crime.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Teaching Your Dog to Take Treats Gently
What to do when a dog is part alligator

Question: My dog takes treats so hard that she’s hurt my hands on occasion. I’ve had the same thing happen to me to varying degrees at the dog park or in classes when I give a treat to another dog. I dread training sessions with my own dog, and I’ve become hesitant to give treats to other dogs. Is there a solution to this problem?

Answer: I sympathize! Your experiences with dogs who chomp enthusiastically are universal among those who spend time with dogs. Many dogs regularly grab treats without taking the care required when dealing with delicate human skin. (On the other hand, some dogs are only “chompy” when revved up, so this can be a good assessment tool; in these cases, the intensity of the alligator-like behavior can indicate a dog’s arousal level.)

Some dogs are naturally gentle with their mouths, but most need lessons to achieve this skill. Dogs should be taught the cue “Gentle,” which simply means to take the treat nicely. Having a dog who takes treats gently can relieve much of the conflict-induced frustration that occurs when you want to reinforce your dog’s good behavior but also want your fingers to remain intact and connected to your body.

Avoid confusion by teaching the cue “Gentle” as its own behavior rather than during a training session for some other behavior. Commit to the idea that your dog needs to take the treats gently or she doesn’t get them at all. In other words, don’t allow the snapping behavior to work for her. Until now, she has been getting the treat no matter what she does, but we want her to only get it when she takes it gently.

To teach your dog what “Gentle” means, hold a treat in your hand, close your fist around it and offer it to your dog. If your dog bites at your hand, keep it closed; this means either toughing it out or wearing gloves, depending on your dog’s behavior and your tolerance. When she stops biting and licks your hand (or even nibbles gently and painlessly), say “Gentle” and open your hand completely to give her the treat.

Keep saying “Gentle” each time you offer her a treat to help her associate the word with the behavior. If she has a relapse and returns to her former finger-gnawing ways, pull your hand away and then offer the treat again, using the cue “Gentle” to remind her of what you want. This will keep you from dropping the treat in response to her snapping.

Until your dog knows how to take treats gently, there are a couple of ways to protect your fingers when giving treats outside of training sessions. At home, put cream cheese or peanut butter on a wooden spoon and offer your dog a chance to lick this food a few times. This is a way to reinforce your dog without putting your hands near her mouth.

In a dog park or class setting, offer the treat on your flat palm. Many dogs who will snap at treats held in the fingertips are able to take them properly when they are presented on an open hand. A final option is to drop the treats on the ground rather than giving them directly to the dog. It takes a lot of repetition for most dogs to learn to take treats gently, and the occasional effort to teach someone else’s dog by, for example, holding them in your closed hand is unlikely to be effective. Unless a dog’s guardian is teaching this at home, save your fingers by either flat-palming the treats or tossing them on the ground. These techniques won’t teach your dog or her dog park friends to take the treats politely, but they do keep your fingers safe!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When Dogs Want to Stay Inside
Cold weather can be daunting

When I opened the back door to let Marley out in the morning, he didn’t move. Normally, he races out gleefully once I give him the okay, but not on that day. In fact, he looked at me reproachfully. He seemed disgusted that I had even suggested he leave the warmth of the house to relieve himself in the minus nine degrees (Fahrenheit!) temperature outdoors.

I changed tactics, and after putting on so many layers of clothes I was practically spherical, I went outside myself and invited him to join me. He complied, did what he needed to do, and bolted back inside to the best spot in the house—in front of the wood stove. Once I had peeled off my winter gear, I joined him there.

Marley, like most dogs, loves snow and usually doesn’t object to the cold. He happily goes out when it’s 20 degrees or above. From five to 20 degrees, he hesitates, but will go out on his own, and below that, he needs serious encouragement and perhaps company to brave the weather.

I can hardly blame Marley for his behavior on the morning he refused to go out at first. It was, after all, more than 40 degrees below the freezing point. I like to call it “not-kidding-around cold” and Marley was not in a laughing mood about it.

How cold is too cold for your dog?

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