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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.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Grieving Guardians Can’t Sue
Emotional damages not allowed

The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that guardians cannot sue for emotional damages when a pet’s death is the fault of someone else. The case concerned a challenge to the law by a family whose dog Avery had been euthanized in error by a shelter. A worker had tagged the dog with instructions not to euthanize her because the family was coming back with the money necessary to release her, but somehow those instructions were not followed.

Though the written opinion of the court acknowledged the human-animal bond, it stated that it is not worthy of financial compensation. Justice Don Willet wrote that although figuring out what a pet means to a family is an emotional consideration, that’s a separate issue from the legal determination of the financial value of a pet. That is why people can receive financial compensation for dogs who have value in the strict economic sense, such as a dog who appears in commercials or one who has been successful in the show ring, but not for a dog whose value comes from the family’s love alone.

Since dogs are legally considered property, the family’s attorney argued that financial compensation for their loss is legally comparable to the loss of family heirlooms due to negligence. The attorney called the decision a huge defeat for pets, and asserted that the family never cared about the money, but cared deeply about changing the law.

What do you think about the court’s unanimous decision not to allow people to sue for emotional damage resulting from a pet's death?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Kevin Ware’s New Dog
“Scar” will help him heal

Louisville basketball player Kevin Ware adopted a dog to help him as he heals. The dog, who is named Scar, will be his constant companion during his long recovery. Sometimes I worry when I meet a dog named Scar that it refers to a fighting history or a desire to scare others, but in this case, the name Scar is a reminder of the work ahead of Ware and the scar that his leg will have.

When Kevin Ware went down with a horrific injury last Sunday in the NCAA basketball tournament, the world reached out to comfort him. He has been fielding calls and messages from the likes of LeBron James, Lil Wayne, Matt Lauer, Kobe Bryant and Joe Theisman, not to mention coaches, players, and others throughout the NCAA. His teammates have also showed how much they care from the moment of the injury and every day since. All the support means a lot to Ware, and being a class act, he has acknowledged all of it repeatedly with tremendous gratitude.

Perhaps this simply reflects my own dog lover’s perspective, but it’s hard to imagine anything helping him more during the rough months ahead than the good company of Scar. The college sophomore will not be playing basketball for the better part of a year, and he will be able to spend a lot of that extra time with his new dog. Other family members will need to help with his daily care at first since Ware’s mobility is limited in these post-surgery days. Hopefully Scar will benefit, as many dogs do, from being an important part of his guardian’s life and spending heaps of time together.

How has your dog helped you through a health crisis?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Pets and Domestic Violence
Australian programs acknowledge links

There are many links between domestic violence and animal cruelty. There is the tendency of individuals who hurt animals to hurt people, too. Many abusers threaten their victims by telling them that they will hurt or kill their pets if the victim tries to leave. Many people who have been harmed by domestic violence stay in the situation because they don’t want to leave their pets behind, and many shelters do not allow pets.

The Patricia Guiles Centre in Australia acknowledges these links between violence towards people and cruelty to animals. The organization provides housing and counseling for women and children affected by domestic violence. They also offer a fostering program called Safe Families, Safe Pets (SFSP) for dogs so that when a woman leaves an abuser, her dog can be taken care of for three months by a volunteer while she focuses on building a new life for herself and her children. Australia and the UK are ahead of the US in providing such fostering services, although they are becoming more common here, too.

One of the programs offered by the Patricia Guiles Centre is for kids. Building Animal Relationships With Kids (BARK) is a therapeutic program for children who have either lost a pet when they left their home or who have begun to hurt animals as a result of the violence in their home.

BARK is aimed at elementary school kids with the goal of increasing children’s empathy, trust and self-esteem. It also helps them heal by handling the grief, loss and confusion that results from exposure to domestic violence. The kids learn to care for animals, and are taught to be respectful of them. One of the goals of the program is to break the pattern of kids who are cruel to animals as children and grow up to commit acts of violence towards people.

By considering the importance of animals, these programs support people who want to escape from abusive situations. They also educate children about how to be kind to animals and to people.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Visit Hospitalized Guardians
New policy benefits patients

Dog lovers have long known that being able to spend time with their dogs when they are ill makes them feel better, no matter what health issues they are facing. Yet, it’s only been in recent years that pets have been able to visit them officially in hospitals. Many hospitals have rejected such healing opportunities because of concerns related to liability or infection risk, although a few forward thinking facilities have allowed pet visitation for over a decade.

After three years of a process that involved discussion about logistical issues, cleanliness and potential costs, Rush University Medical Center in Chicago became one of the few hospitals that allows pet visitation. Their policy that lets dogs or cats visit patients’ rooms began last December. Other facilities in the area had previously allowed pet visitation in other areas such as the lobby.

Because many people understood the value of pet visits, there had been many cases of staff feigning ignorance while friends or relatives smuggled pets in at odd hours to see patients. Now there’s a policy in place that allows dogs and cats to visit as long as certain criteria are met. These include approval of the attending physician, proof of rabies vaccination and a bath and brushing for the pet prior to the visit. The pet is not allowed any contact with other patients.

Have you ever been visited by a pet at a hospital or helped facilitate such a visit?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
NCIS Episode Inspired by Hawkeye
Loyal Navy Seal’s Dog Remembered

Last week’s episode of NCIS was inspired by Hawkeye, the dog who led the family into the funeral of his guardian, Navy SEAL Jon Tumlinson, and remained by his coffin throughout the ceremony. The photograph of Hawkeye lying on the floor by the coffin, taken by Tumlinson’s cousin Lisa Pembleton, has been admired by millions of people.

In the episode, a dog named Dexter, who is trained to detect landmines, and his Marine handler save a young boy from being killed. The boy is chasing after his soccer ball, which sets off a landmine. The dog and the Marine guide the boy back to safety, avoiding an additional landmine. Immediately after the boy is safely hugging his mom, the Marine is shot and killed by a sniper. Dexter lies down next to the fallen Marine and stays there, just as Hawkeye remained by Tumlinson’s coffin.

The episode reminds us all of the sacrifices made by members of the military and their families. It is dedicated to working military dogs and their handlers.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Circus Has Serious Message
It may also have a problem

The Wow Wow Dog Circus in Tachikawa City, Japan tours schools, with dogs performing such tricks as jumping rope in a group of dogs or with a person, walking across objects raised off the ground and balancing as they walk on a rolling ball.

Many dogs in Japan are abandoned or killed each year, and this program is part of an effort to make that less common. The goal is an admirable one, and reaching out to children is an excellent strategy.

It concerns me, though, that with one exception, the dogs in this video do not seem happy. Twice in this 53-second video, dogs are seen yawning, which is a sign of stress. Almost all of the dogs have tension in their faces. Only one dog has that relaxed open-mouth expression that indicates a level of comfort with the situation. (The dog I’m referring to is the one who looks like a sesame-colored Shiba Inu and is wearing blue.)

It’s unfortunate that the very organization that is supposed to teach kids how to do right by dogs seems to be stressing its dogs. It’s hard to say whether they are objecting to the training, the activities, the presence of the kids, or perhaps the film crew, but sadly, these dogs don’t look happy to me. On the bright side, the kids seem to be enjoying the dogs a lot, which means that there is a strong likelihood that they are hearing the message that it’s important to take good care of dogs.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Staying With You In Emergency
Some dogs do, but some don’t

A man had broken his back after a fall and was found on the side of his road with a dog who was unwilling to leave his side. That’s the sort of loyalty dogs are famous for, and many dogs live up to this high standard. There are countless examples of dogs who stayed with a person in a crisis situation, providing protection, warmth or simply company.

On the other hand, there are dogs who aren’t as likely to stick around in an emergency. Some panic and bolt. Others consider the unusual situation to be a great opportunity for some freedom and take advantage of it. There are dogs who become distracted by a squirrel or by a smell just begging to be investigated. From time to time, there are dogs who actively go to seek help.

I am convinced that most of the dogs in my life would stay with me if I fell or was injured in some way. I’ve also loved a dog who was fearful enough that I deep down felt it was 50-50 whether he would come through for me in a real disaster. Of course, developing a strong relationship with any dogs makes them more likely to act admirably in an unexpected situation, but some dogs are just more naturally inclined to do so.

Do you have dogs who have stayed with you in a crisis or dogs who have not? Of the dogs who have never (thankfully) been tested by such a situation, what’s your best guess about how they would behave?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Worst Mess Ever
Coming home to destruction

Leaving a dog alone and unconfined at home works out beautifully for millions of families. People leave to go to work, and return to find a dog who is pleased to see them and a house that is exactly as it was in the morning. However, the experience of coming home to a dog who is pleased to see them AND mass destruction is hardly unusual either.

Often this has happened unexpectedly since steps were taken to prevent such trouble. There are many dogs who struggle to handle the responsibility of freedom in the house and are usually confined, but that’s not always foolproof. Sometimes a dog figures out how to open the door to the laundry room. Other dogs jump a gate that was thought to be too tall. In other cases, there is confusion within the family, with each thinking someone else had put the dog in the proper place for the day. True Houdini dogs seem to be able to break out of crates or other means of confinement, no matter how secure they may seem.

Sometimes the mess that dogs make is a result of thinking that a puppy or adolescent dog has put destructive chewing behind them. Though they do quite well for several days or weeks, one day, they are back to their old habits. For some dogs, a thunderstorm or other anxiety-causing event can trigger bouts of chewing and mayhem. Dogs who are unable to tolerate time alone may cause destruction because they are literally in a panic about being separated from the family, and they are just not themselves in that emotional state. (Such dogs need help to overcome this issue and it’s best not to leave them alone until they are emotionally capable of handling being left alone.)

Sometimes the destruction occurs because something way too tempting has been left within reach. Even dogs who normally allow the house and everything in it to remain undisturbed will chew something amazing just because it’s there. I know of dogs who, understandably, have been unable to resist appetizing steak bones in the garbage, a leather belt and pair of shoes that are usually in the closet, wooden salad tongs that were left to dry by the sink but slipped off onto the floor, and a new couch cushion just begging to have the stuffing ripped out of it.

Over the years, most dog owners have come home to destruction of clothes, food, and furniture, or even a good old-fashioned trash party. What’s the worst mess you’ve ever come home to courtesy of your dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Inherited Dogs
Keeping them in the family

“You’re probably wondering why we even got this dog,” was the first thing a new client said to me. She predicted one of the first questions I was going to ask, because this family seemed overwhelmed even before acquiring a high energy, lovable but slightly out of control, adolescent Vizsla cross.

The woman has recently had surgery, her husband has Parkinson’s disease and some other health issues that affect his mobility, and they’re in the middle of a move to a house without stairs. They already have three dogs, including two elderly ones who require a lot of care and a cat that doesn’t cope well with change. Even taking into account that there is no perfect time to adopt a new dog, their choice begged the question, “Why now?”

The answer is an all too common one. Their daughter is a college student who had adopted the dog as a puppy. She was now moving in with some friends who had chosen an apartment that does not allow dogs, and she had simply dropped the dog off at her parent’s house explaining that when she could have a dog again, she would take him back. Sure, they could have said no, but like many dog lovers, they couldn’t bear the thought of turning away this sweet dog.

Many people inherit dogs from family members. Inheriting dogs often means welcoming a dog into the family suddenly, unexpectedly, and at an inconvenient time. Most often I’ve seen the pass from college students to Mom and Dad, or to children following the death of a parent. It’s natural to want to keep the dog in the family, even if doing so is very challenging.

If you’ve ever ended up with a dog that originally belonged to someone else in your family, why did that happen and how did it work out for you?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Human Point of View
Dogs’ behavior suggests they understand it

Dogs take the human perspective into account when deciding whether to take food that they have been told not to take. This is the conclusion of a recent series of experiments by Juliane Kaminski, Andrea Pitsch and Michael Tomasello described in a research paper called Dogs Steal in the Dark.

The experiments all had a similar set up, in which a dog was in a room with a food item on the floor. Dogs were pre-tested to ensure that they understood the cue not to take the food. They were told not to take the food and then the experimenters recorded whether the dog took the food or not and if so, how long it took for them to do so. In the first experiment, a human was present in the room and there were four conditions: 1) the food and the human were both in darkness, 2) the food was illuminated but the human was in the dark, 3) the food was in the dark but the human was illuminated, and 4) the food and the human were both illuminated.

The dogs took the food most often when both the food and the human were in darkness, and least often when they were both illuminated. The dogs took the food faster when it was not illuminated, but whether or not the human was illuminated had no effect on the time until the food was taken. These results suggest that the level of light in the room had an influence on the dogs’ behavior.

In the second experiment, the food was either illuminated or in the dark, but the human left the room after giving the cue not to take the food. The goal of this experiment was to determine if dogs were avoiding food when it was lit. The results were that the dogs almost always took the food no matter what light situation it was in, but they took it faster when it was illuminated than when it was in the dark. This indicates that the dogs are not simply avoiding food that is illuminated.

In the third experiment, the researchers investigated whether the overall amount of light in the room was important to dogs or whether they were responding to the specific location of the illumination. There were two different situations tested. For one group of dogs, the human in the room was always illuminated. Half the time, the food was illuminated, and half the time the light was directed at another spot in the room. For the other group of dogs, the human in the room was always in the dark and half the time, the food was illuminated, and half the time the light was directed at another spot in the room.

In this study, whether or not the human or the food was illuminated had no influence on the likelihood that the dogs took the food, but they waited longer to take the food when it was illuminated. This suggests that the location of the lit area matters, as opposed to dogs just reacting to the overall amount of illumination in the room. This shows that the visibility of the human is not the factor that causes the difference in behavior.

Overall, the conclusions drawn from these studies are that dogs do take into account illumination when taking food that they have been told not to take. Dogs were more likely to take the food when it was dark compared to when it was light. They took the food faster when the food was in darkness when a human was present, but took the food faster when it was illuminated when they were alone. Whether or not a human in the room was illuminated did not affect their behavior.

This research supports the idea that dogs are aware of and consider the human point of view when deciding whether to take food or not. To put that into a larger context, this relates to the ever-increasing body of evidence that dogs have a theory of mind, meaning they have an understanding that other individuals have different perspectives, knowledge and emotions.

This is very well done research that teases apart a number of variables to add to what we know about the canine mind. Unfortunately, most of the articles in the popular press only say, “Dogs steal more food in a dark room than in a light room,” which is a huge oversimplification of the complexity of this interesting work.

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