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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
Underwater Dogs
Photos that amaze and amuse

Dogs provide a pick-me-up, and they are able to do it in so many different ways. Yesterday, I found myself immensely cheery after watching this video of incredible dog photographs three times in a row.

We know that many dogs plunge into the water to chase toys with enthusiasm, but to see what they actually look like—lips pulled back, teeth showing, eyes wide open, hair all over the place—is extraordinary.

Photographer Seth Casteel creates images of dogs underwater (and above water, too!) that are charming in the extreme, and he has a book coming out later this year called Underwater Dogs. As a great lover of all things marine, two of my favorite images in this video are the one at 10 seconds, in which the dogs’ legs look like sea cucumbers, and the one at 37 seconds, which I adore because the dog displays the essence of its close relative, the sea lion.

I can’t imagine anyone not being charmed by the photo of the dog with what looks like a crooked smile (2:36) and the one in which a dog is licking another dog who looks thoroughly disgusted by the action (2:55). I can literally feel my heart connecting with these dogs.

Please let me know that you’ve watched this video and whether it made you as happy as it made me!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dandelion Dog
She helps me find weeds

Yesterday I was searching for dandelions to yank from my lawn and garden with Schultize, a dog who is staying with us for a couple of weeks. After about 10 minutes of pulling these weeds, Schultize was consistently in my way. Several times, I found myself having to wait for her to move so I could use my weeding tool without risk of hurting her. She just kept sitting right near a dandelion. At first I thought this was a bit of an annoyance, and it reminded me of the futility of trying to read the newspaper on the floor when a cat is present.

Then I started to think that Schultize was finding the dandelions before me. As I searched the lawn methodically and found one, she was already sitting by it. Is this possible? Had she figured out what I was searching for and begun to lend her services? I pulled the one right near her and then waited. Sure enough, she went and sat by a nearby dandelion and looked at me. How cool is this? The worst part of weeding is finding the unwanted plants. Pulling them up just takes a moment.

Schultzie has not been trained to find dandelions. She just seemed to notice that I was looking for them, and did her part to show them to me. Today, when I went into the yard with my weeding tool and began to look down at the ground, Schultzie immediately sat by a dandelion in the grass, and when I pulled it up, she trotted over to another one. Today, there were only a handful of weeds (progress!), but after Schultzie showed them to me, I only found one additional one on my own, which suggests that she wasn’t just randomly sitting by a plant that is common.

In my past experiences, the only part of gardening that dogs in my home have joined in on is the digging. Has your dog ever figured out what you were doing in the garden and actually helped?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Robber Chased by Dog and Dad
The bad guy was caught

I hope I never outgrow feeling greatly satisfied when bad guys’ evil deeds are thwarted. That feeling showed up this morning when I read about 8-year old Cade and his dog Roscoe, who together alerted the parents to an intruder in the home who was attempting to make off with the purse belonging to Cade’s mother. Cade saw a stranger in his house and called out in a way that told his parents something was really wrong. When they opened the door to the house, Roscoe gave chase to the robber, followed by Cade’s dad.

The robber was chased until he was hit by a car. (He is expected to recover.) While I take no pleasure from his injuries, I am glad that he did not get away with his crime. Though it is obviously risky to chase down an intruder (law enforcement recommends calling the police instead), it’s still invigorating when good guys stop the bad guy.

What interested me most about this story is that the dog gave chase at all. Was he chasing for fun because the guy ran and that was enough of a stimulus to trigger the dog’s chasing behavior? Or did Roscoe give chase because he understood, at least to some degree, what was going on?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Three Myths about Playing with Your Dog
Okay to play tug?

Strong opinions exist about the “Do nots” of playing with dogs. I agree with only some of these prohibitions.

I do stand by the ban on rough-and-tumble wrestle play and the teasing that often accompanies it. Though this form of play can be fun, the high emotional arousal that results often leads to a lack of inhibition, and that’s when trouble can happen, even to nice dogs and to nice people. Many actions of play are also used in serious fights and predation. These can create real danger when you (or your nephew or the little girl who lives next door) are down on the ground with your face next to an excited predator with dangerous weapons in her mouth. Serious bites could happen someday, even if she’s never bitten. All too often, I’ve seen shocked and devastated families crying in my office, and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.

I’m also opposed to people chasing dogs, preferring to let dogs chase people instead. If you play by chasing your dog, you risk teaching her that moving toward her means the game is afoot, making her more likely to run away even when you approach her for another reason. This can ruin your dog’s recall. It can also lead to injury if your dog charges away from you into the street or other unsafe area. There’s no denying that letting a person chase a dog can be a great reinforcement for the dog, but I only approve this game for dogs who are so well-trained that the person can stop the game at any time and successfully call the dog to come.

I disagree with the following play advice:

Don’t mix training and play. Yes, do! It’s actually great to incorporate play into training sessions. The best training occurs when the dog views an activity as a game rather than a lesson. Using chase games to teach recalls, playing follow to build a base for heeling, using tug to practice “take it” and “drop it,” and practicing stays with “find it” games or hideand- seek are all great ways to blend training and play. Additionally, play is reinforcing, so playing with your dog may be better than the best treat.

Only young dogs need to play. No, not true! A small percentage of animal species play at all, and even fewer play beyond childhood. Dogs and people remain playful into adulthood, which may partially explain why we’ve been best friends for thousands of years. Many older dogs stop playing only because they no longer have buddies to play with. Keep playing with your dog well into old age. It’s part of what makes them dogs and us human!

Don’t play tug. Most importantly, I disagree with this prohibition (at least for most dogs). Many people advise against tug, which is a shame because so many dogs adore it. Tug is a great game, and dogs can learn a lot from playing it. Many trainers share this view and actually teach tug in puppy classes. The earlier dogs learn the lessons that tug has to offer such as impulse control, mouth control and cooperation as well as skills like “take it” and “drop it,” the safer and more fun the game becomes.

For a long time, many experts advised against playing tug for fear that it would create or increase aggressiveness in dogs. Later, tug was considered fine for most dogs as long as they were not allowed to “win” by keeping the toy at the end. The concern was that it would have bad consequences for her to feel she had just triumphed over the person.

A scientific study by Rooney and Bradshaw addressed this issue. They found that “winning” the toy in a game of tug had no impact on the relationship of the human-dog pair. Based on their research, though, we should still be thoughtful about letting certain dogs keep the toy after a tug game. The most playful dogs in the study exhibited significantly higher amounts of playful attention-seeking behavior when they were allowed to “win.” Therefore, it may be better not to allow those dogs who become relentlessly pushy about seeking more play time to “win” at tug.

Of course, for a few dogs, tug is a bad idea. Dogs who are prone to aggression induced by high arousal are not good candidates for it. The same warning applies to dogs with poor bite inhibition or poor self-control as well as those who tend to creep up the toy with their mouths during tug. Additionally, it may exacerbate object-guarding behavior in dogs who already exhibit it.

For most dogs, tug has many benefits. It is interactive and requires cooperation between humans and dogs. It can give dogs exercise and help them stretch their bodies prior to other activities such as running or agility. Tug can effectively rev up an agility dog for maximum success on the course. It helps many dogs learn better mouth control in general.

With so many “Do nots” out there in the world of play, the most important may be this: “Do not spend so much time worrying about playing with your dog that you don’t have time to actually play with her.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Losing Weight Improves Quality of Life
Pounds shed relates to less pain, more energy

Being overweight affects our dogs’ health and longevity, and a recent study has examined the effect it has on quality of life. In a study in Great Britain, where it is estimated that a third of all dogs are obese, researchers investigated the change in quality of life of dogs who have lost weight.

They found that dogs who lose weight had a corresponding increase in their quality of life. They showed greater vitality and experienced less pain. The more weight they lost, the greater the improvement was in these measures of quality of life. Interestingly, those dogs who did not lose weight over the course of the study had lower quality of life scores at the start of the study compared with those dogs who were able to shed some excess pounds.

If you have a dog who has successfully lost weight, what changes did you notice in your dog’s quality of life?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Behavioral Signs of Pain
Your dog may be saying “Ouch!”
Dogs with pain

For the first couple of weeks, our dog Bugsy enjoyed playing with our foster puppy. Then he changed, tiring of her quickly and often avoiding her, even growling if she approached him while he was on his bed. He stopped playing in the snow with her, and would go to his bed rather than lie next to her on the rug. We figured that when she left, he would stop being sulky and return to his usual upbeat, playful self.

When Bugsy remained grumpy after her departure, we suspected that something was wrong. And it was. The veterinarian determined that he had a partial tear in his anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL (a knee ligament), and was probably in considerable pain. The way Bugsy was acting should have told me that he was hurting, because although most dogs are not obvious about it, there are many behavioral signs of pain.

1. Changes in behavior. Any change can mean something is wrong. If your dog is less energetic or less cheerful than usual, doesn’t engage in the activities he usually enjoys, acts restless, becomes unusually clingy, or stops socializing as much or as happily as he used to, he may be experiencing discomfort.

2. Nighttime grouchiness. Even minor injuries or maladies can be exacerbated by the day’s activities, resulting in a cranky pup in the evening, when things slow down.

3. Good days and bad days. If your dog acts like his normal self some days but is grumpy, aggressive or otherwise different on other days, pain may be the cause.

4. Unusual behavior after strenuous activity. Dogs who exhibit unexpected behavior after they have had more exercise than usual may be in pain. An injury or any kind of soreness may become worse with additional exercise, so if your dog is predictably out of sorts on such days, pain may be the culprit.

5. Suddenly behaving aggressively. If a fully mature dog suddenly exhibits aggressive behavior, it may be because he’s in pain. I’m especially alert to the sudden onset of aggression in a dog over the age of four, because dogs that age (or older) with no history of aggression rarely behave this way unless something is wrong. There are exceptions, of course, but out-of-the-blue aggression in an older dog can often be linked to pain, in my experience.

6. Unwilling to play. If a dog who usually takes any opportunity to play with reckless abandon ceases to be interested in playtime, it could be a sign that something hurts.

7. Avoiding other dogs. Sometimes when dogs are in pain, they don’t want other dogs near them, especially if those dogs are young, bouncy or exuberant. If it is inconsistent with a dog’s personality to shy away from other dogs, doing so might mean he’s protecting an alreadytender area.

8. Loss of appetite. A dog’s refusal to eat, which can have many causes, will almost always result in a trip to the veterinarian. Though sometimes the diagnosis is serious—liver failure or cancer, for example—not eating can also be a sign of pain from other less-alarming conditions.

9. Reacting badly to being touched. If your dog reacts negatively to a touch that he would normally like (or ignore), that reaction may be due to pain. Typical negative reactions include yelping, leaping, whining, licking your hand, pulling away or even growling. A painbased reaction will usually only be displayed when a specific spot is touched.

If you have any reason to suspect that your dog may be in pain, make an appointment to see your vet right away, as we did with Bugsy. It was a relief to know exactly what was going on with him, and to be able to ease his misery. Only a veterinarian can diagnose a medical condition, but with astute observations of the behavioral warning signs, you can help save your dog from unnecessary suffering by seeking speedy medical help.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Service Dog Helps Woman Giving Birth
Labor easier with dog’s support

Laura Hulsing has post-traumatic stress disorder, and her service dog Autumn is essential for her well being. By predicting anxiety attacks as well as offering security and comfort in troubling situations, Autumn helps Laura daily. The day Laura gave birth to her son Noah was not a typical day, but Autumn provided the same assistance by being there throughout labor and delivery.

Autumn visited the birthing unit of the hospital prior to Noah’s arrival so that she would be comfortable there. During the birth, in addition to the usual hospital staff, Laura had support from her husband, Autumn and Autumn’s trainer. Laura had been concerned that being in pain and stressed during labor and delivery would be tough on Autumn, but the dog handled it just fine. Autumn was really attentive throughout the process, and provided Laura the comfort she needed. Autumn continues to support Laura, which allows her to be independent and to be a mom.

;m excited about how Autumn makes life better for Laura, and also thrilled that the hospital allowed her service dog to be present during labor and delivery.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sometimes Only Dogs Bring Comfort
Dogs do what people can’t

“Sometimes only the dogs can make her feel better. They do what I can’t,” a friend of mine confided in me. He was explaining that after a year of marriage, he had learned that when he wife is particularly sad, the dogs have the best hope of easing her pain. Yesterday had been one of those really bad days, and she had spent much of the evening brushing their dogs, lying down with them and crying beside them. My friend was grateful to have the German Shepherd and Malamute in the family.

It’s well known that dogs can do so much that people can’t, with the most common examples usually related to sniffing out land mines or finding lost people. We all know that therapy dogs work miracles, and most of us receive tremendous emotional benefits from our own interactions with dogs. So it should come as no surprise that dogs provide emotional support that’s not just equal to what humans give, but sometimes far better.

Yet my friend doesn’t like most people to know what he just told me—that sometimes only the dogs can make his wife feel better. He worries that people will think he’s not supportive, that their relationship is troubled, and that his wife is strange, even though none of that is true. He told me because he knew I’d understand, which of course I do.

In what situations can your dog make you feel better when nobody else can?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Frank Lloyd Wright Doghouse
A one-of-a-kind design

“A house for Eddie is an opportunity,” was Frank Lloyd Wright’s reply to a boy who requested designs for a doghouse from the famous architect. Though he designed many famous buildings and homes in the many decades that he worked in architecture, this is his only known doghouse. 

Jim Berger was 12 when he wrote to Wright and asked if he would design a doghouse for his dog, Eddie. Berger’s parents had a house designed by Wright and Jim really wanted to build a doghouse that would go with the house and that would allow Eddie a comfortable place to rest in the winter. Though Wright was a little too busy at the time working on the design of the Guggenheim, he did send Berger the designs a few months later, free of charge. Berger had planned to pay by saving up money from his job delivering newspapers.

Though the original doghouse was destroyed, Berger and his brother rebuilt it form the original design for a recent documentary about Frank Lloyd Wright called “Romanza.” Though he now has three Beagles, Berger says they prefer to stay in the house, and he hopes that the doghouse will find a home in a museum.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Custody
Who gets the dog when a couple splits?

Divorcing couples may fight over anything and everything—the house, retirement funds, electronic equipment, cars, music collections, kitchen appliances, baseball cards, furniture, season tickets to sporting events and, of course, custody of dependents. Custody battles used to be over human children only, but that’s not the case anymore. Dogs and other pets are now regularly the subject of many contentious fights among couples who are separating, and shared custody is even an option.

Though most people consider them family members, in legal terms, dogs are viewed as property. A few states now have laws that view dogs as more than mere property in cases in which domestic abuse has occurred.  For the most part, though, they are considered no different than cars and TVs—just part of what must be divided up between people going through a divorce.

Mediators and lawyers are often involved in sorting out canine custody. Though many understand the seriousness of the decision, not all of them seem to grasp the importance of the issue to the people involved.

Attorney Cathy Gorlin notes that, "People will cede $20,000 to a spouse, plus attorney fees, for a pet that could have been replaced for $500." Doesn’t that seem like she missed the point—that no matter how they are viewed by the law, a dog that is loved is priceless, and cannot be replaced? Hopefully understanding will continue to spread both in and out of the legal profession.

Have you had an experience with canine custody?

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