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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.

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.

News: Karen B. London
Canine Perspective on Candidates
A humorous look at politics

People seem to oscillate between an insatiable interest in the presidential primaries (as well as the upcoming general election) and being absolutely sick of hearing about them. Just when I thought it was unwise to read one more political article or blog, unless I wanted my head to explode, I found this little gem. “In search of ponies: Dogs divided on candidates” considers the candidates from a canine perspective.

The article mentions Gingrich, Obama, Paul, Romney and Santorum—relating various dogs’ opinions based on such diverse events as Obama taking Bo out shopping for gifts, Santorum’s involvement with the Pet Animal Welfare Statute and the popularity of Ron Paul t-shirts for dogs.

As author Sharna Johnson concludes the article, “It’s going to be a long 10 [now, nine] months.”

News: Karen B. London
“Like My Dog”
Song Sings Dog’s Praises

Billy Currington’s song “Like My Dog” expresses what most of us have felt at one time or another. When the country singer sings, “I want you to love me like my dog does,” it’s easy to relate to his desire for unconditional love and uncomplicated relationships. Though he’s been accused of misogyny and unrealistic expectations, I enjoy the song from a more light-hearted perspective.

Just for fun, check out this video with the whole song and let us know if you’ve ever shared his sentiments.

 

 

 

 

News: Karen B. London
Genetic Control of Canine Appearance
A few genes make all the difference

My relationship with dogs is sometimes a bit split. One side of things is that I love them, for all the reasons everybody reading this understands so well. Another side of my relationship with dogs is my fascination with them—a true scientific interest, based on some of their extraordinary characteristics. And research about their genetics has continued to add to their appeal as creatures worthy of great attention, even beyond the fact that they are so lovable.

From the diversity of forms seen in the domestic dog, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that their genetics are unusual. Though other domestic animals including chickens, horses, cows, sheep and cats have many different breeds, dogs alone have the amount of physical variation that is represented by Great Danes, Dachshunds, Pugs and Borzois. Animal lovers are generally interested in that fact, but all scientists ought to be astounded by it, and I most definitely am.

The selective breeding that has led to the range of forms in this species is a fascinating genetics experiment. Geneticists are grateful to the “field work” done by countless breeders over many generations because the dogs that have resulted provide a way to understand things that can’t be learned elsewhere.

One of the most fascinating recent discoveries that makes use of the variation in dogs is that it’s only a few genes that are responsible for the huge range of differences in the appearance of different breeds of dogs. The incredible variation in dog size, fur type, length and color, ear shape and position, and shape of the nose is controlled by just a few dozen gene regions.

In other species, the genetic control of traits such as size and shape is much more complex. For comparison, human height is controlled by around 200 gene regions. Until it was investigated, researchers assumed that underlying the incredible diversity of canine appearances was a corresponding genetic diversity, but it’s just not so. The more we learn about dogs, the more fascinating they become.

News: Karen B. London
Boxer Greets Herd of Cows [VIDEO]
Video reveals an extraordinary dog

Trainers sometimes bring in one of their own dogs to puppy classes to help shy puppies feel comfortable around other dogs. It takes a special type of dog to do this properly. Very few dogs can handle this social situation without causing more harm than good. The dogs who succeed are emotionally stable themselves, capable of remaining calm no matter what the puppies do and socially savvy enough to adjust their own behavior based on what the puppies seem to require. The right dog can help the puppies learn to greet other dogs properly and to feel more comfortable in social situations with other dogs.

This six-months-old boxer in this video is just the sort of dog that I would LOVE to have around shy or timid puppies and dogs, though the video shows a greeting with cows rather than with puppies.

Notice how even in the first moments of the video, the dog moves slowly and calmly. She is not leaping, jumping or showing any other signs of arousal. She approaches the cows calmly, and when, about 7 seconds in, the black cow on the right seems unsure and backs away, the dog reacts by immediately stopping her forward motion and making herself less imposing. Specifically, the dog lies down and stays calm, even ceasing her tail movement and lowering her head, all of which seems to give the cows confidence to approach her.

For the next three-quarters of a minute, the dog remains still except for movements of her head as she sniffs the cows who come close to her. Though she is not moving, her body is relaxed (rather than being still in a rigid way), which likely helps the cows to feel relaxed, too.

She starts to wag her tail again at around 55 seconds (I’m guessing the time based on slight movement of the body since the tail is out of view until 57 seconds when you can see it wagging) and this is right about the time that the cows become more confident. In fact, they come so close to her that just about any dog would have backed up from the pressure. This boxer, however, simply retracts her neck as much as possible and continues to let the cows investigate her.

I’m impressed by what I see in this video—a stable dog who is confident and composed. She’s a dog who stays relaxed, which indicates tremendous emotional control, particularly in a young dog. She’s also quite social with a clear interest in greeting this other species, and willing to proceed in this greeting at the speed at which the cows are comfortable. I even like the way she periodically checks in with the person holding onto the leash by looking that way. It’s hard to know, but it seems as though she would have been responsive to a cue from that person at any time if one had been given.

It’s just a short video—barely over a minute long—but it’s enough to show some really interesting body language and to reveal a dog who’s really something special.

News: Karen B. London
Three-Legged Surfing Dog
What a joy!

Dogs bring us joy. It’s that simple and that beautiful. It doesn’t even have to be a dog I know for the happiness to come my way. This weekend, I read about a three-legged dog named Onyx who is learning to surf. To surf! I have all the legs nature originally gave me, and I have to tell you, my experience with surfing is far more about falling in the water at strange angles and velocities than it is about smoothly riding the perfect wave.

I felt such joy learning about this dog enjoying himself on the water, when surely many would have doubted that it was possible. Onyx is in a happy home, now, but when he was found five months ago, he was attached to a wooden post and his leg was a bloody mess. The veterinarian and orthopedic specialist who is now his guardian was worried he wouldn’t even make it to surgery much less survive it because he was severely dehydrated and septic. And now he’s romping, playing and surfing.

His story tells of a more dramatic turnaround than many dogs experience, but he’s not alone in doing things that seemed doubtful at one time. Over the years, I’ve had many clients whose dogs had behavioral issues and were able, after hard work, to do things that they wouldn’t have believed possible. To hear someone express joy that they can take their dog out on uneventful neighborhood walks now even though the dog used to bark-lunge and go crazy at the sight of a dog even a block away thrills me. And the happiness people feel now that their formerly frightened dog accepts visitors to the house without shrieking and hiding is a happiness I share with them.

Anytime a dog achieves something, it’s a cause for celebration, but that’s especially true when it’s the end result of an uphill battle. What does your dog—with however many legs—do that you or other people might have considered unlikely or even impossible, but that is now a source of joy to you both?

News: Karen B. London
Differences in Behavior of Big and Little Dogs
What do you think?

Are there differences between the behavior of big dogs and the behavior of little dogs? There are obviously all sorts of influences on behavior, some of which may be confounded with size while others are not, and there are statistical issues with asking about size, but that doesn’t take away the fun of thinking about the differences in the behavior of large and small dogs.

Bark editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska has asked me to address this subject in my next behavior column, which I’m really excited about! Though I have some thoughts about this, I’m most interested in knowing what YOU think.

I’m particularly interested in observations by anyone who has worked with a lot of dogs of all sizes—trainers, behaviorists, groomers, veterinarians and any other canine professionals as well as people who have been guardians to many dogs. But if you have comments based on just one or a couple of dogs, that’s great, too!

I’m so curious what you think, and your opinions on the following questions or any insights at all will be most welcome.

DOES size influence canine behavior, and if so, how?

What does being a big dog person versus a small dog person mean to you?

Do people treat large and small dogs differently?

How does guardian behavior toward dogs of unequal sizes influence their dogs’ behavior? (This question is of interest to scientists. There’s a 2010 research paper called “Behaviour of smaller and larger dogs: Effects of training methods, inconsistency of owner behaviour and level of engagement in activities with the dog”.)

Are there different expectations of dogs based on their size?

If you were seeking a dog of a certain size, was behavior a factor in that wish?

I look forward to hearing from you!

News: Karen B. London
Popular Because I Brought a Dog
Social facilitation alive and well

When I have a dog with me, I am more popular at the elementary school than on any other occasion. At times, I have brought cupcakes and other treats to school, and the dog is a bigger draw by far. Marley came with me when I went to pick my kids up from school last week, and it became apparent that dogs may just be the best social facilitators ever.

I met some parents I’d never talked to before. Some said something along the lines of, “He’s very well-behaved” or “I wish my dog were so easy to have out in public,” but the conversations often moved on to unrelated topics. As a result, I made one new friend who I am meeting for coffee next week, and there are more people I can greet by name at school pick-up and other events than before.

Nearly every child I know and many I don’t came up to talk to me, and to tell me stories about their own pets. I love when kids ask if they may pet my dog, which is a lesson that more and more children seem to have learned. It’s charming when kids say, in that endearingly simple way of the young, “I like your dog” or “Your dog is cute.” My kids love showing off Marley’s training skills by asking him to perform a trick such as high-five or crawl.

Does your dog cause smiles and social mingling?

News: Karen B. London
Postage Stamps of Dogs at Work
Issue date is January 20, 2012

In recognition of the many ways that working dogs contribute to human society, the United States Postal Service is issuing stamps featuring working dogs. This new set of four stamps illustrates some of the many important jobs that dogs do. The individuals portrayed are a guide dog, a dog who is tracking, a search and rescue dog and a therapy dog.

The “Dogs at Work” stamps are the work of artist John M. Thompson who created the original paintings and art director Howard E. Paine, who designed them. They are 65 cent stamps, which is the postage required to send a piece of first class mail weighing between one and two ounces.

Dog stamps have historically sold well, with the  “Adopt a Rescue Pet” set selling out quickly at many post office branches. A large number of the new stamps will likely be sold to collectors as well as to those of us who like dogs and appreciate being their friends, family members and coworkers.

Any dog-loving philatelists out there?

News: Karen B. London
Dogs Good For Business
They even give their names to them

Dave Ward is a self-described coffee freak and when that hobby turned into a business, he named it after his dog. Buddy Brew Coffee in Tampa, Fla. is a thriving small business that draws inspiration from the loyalty and trust that dogs inspire.

Businesses that are named after dogs are far from unusual. Biff’s Bagel’s, a popular place in Flagstaff, Ariz. is named after the owner’s Samoyed. Mutt Lynch Winery in Sonoma, Calif. is clearly dog friendly, with wines sporting names like Unleashed Chardonnay and Merlot Over and Play Dead. The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company in Madison, Wisc. was one of my favorite restaurants when I lived there, and now they have four more of them—a small litter if you will.

What are your favorite businesses that have canine names? Has your dog inspired the name of your business or any products?

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