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
Doubling Up: Are Two Puppies a Good Idea?
August 22 2012
Question: We have a five-month-old Lab and a six-month-old Golden Retriever. My husband and I thought it would be great to get two puppies so that each of our kids (ages three and five) could have one to care for and train. It’s a nightmare! The dogs only pay attention to each other, their training is nonexistent, and we are so overwhelmed and exhausted that we wish we had only gotten one. Is there anything we can do to make the situation better?
Answer: It’s a huge temptation to get two puppies—who wouldn’t want double the cuteness and double the fun?—and you succumbed, as have so many others before you. Take heart: The problems you describe are common in households with two puppies, and you can make the situation better.
The most important step is to spend time alone with each puppy daily. Besides helping you build a strong relationship with each of the dogs, this will also accustom them to being separated. Use this one-on-one time to work on training. The pups need to be trained individually before you try to work with them as a pair, because they are going to distract one another when they’re together.
The time you spend alone with each puppy shouldn’t be all work—engage them in other activities as well. Playing, going on walks, or taking a class together are all ways you can spend valuable time with each dog. Another benefit is that you can focus on doing what that dog enjoys most. Perhaps one loves nothing more than to have you practice canine massage on him, while the other dog’s favorite activity is running and jumping in the creek.
It is wise to let them be individuals; living in the same house does not mean that they necessarily have identical personalities or that they have the same needs. On the flip side, the fact that one dog dislikes riding in the car doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun for the other dog. No matter how similar they are, treat them as individuals. The more you do, the more likely it is that they will have a strong bond with you, and the easier it will be for you to get their attention.
Don’t expect your children to lessen the workload of having dogs. Even mature children with the best of intentions need lots of supervision when helping care for or train dogs. The amount of guidance required means that when they pitch in, it may be even more work for you. The adults have to commit to the full responsibility of the time and effort involved in raising two dogs.
Finally, the voice in your heart that keeps repeating the wish that you had only gotten one dog deserves to be respected. I truly believe that when you adopt a dog, it is your responsibility to do what is best for that dog. In an environment where the people are overwhelmed, the dogs are out of control, and everyone is exhausted and unhappy, it is fair to consider a change of environment. If, after trying the suggestions included here, life is still not at all what you had hoped for, consider rehoming one of the dogs.
I recently took care of a client’s puppy for a weekend so she and her family could see how they would feel with only one puppy in their home, a home that also includes two small children. The trial showed them that one puppy was enough and two were too many. They decided to place the dog I cared for in one of the several households who wanted her. Now, two happy homes each have one lovely puppy, instead of one feeling crazed by the stress and chaos of two puppies. Returning a puppy to a breeder, placing her with a rescue group or finding her a new home is not a decision to be made lightly, but in some cases, it can lead to a happy ending all around.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Queen’s dogs cause injuries
August 21 2012
Sure, there are differences between the lives of most of our dogs and the lives of the Queen of England’s dogs, but there are probably more similarities than differences. (And if your dogs have recently been filmed with the Queen and Daniel Craig as James Bond for a short piece shown in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, perhaps your dogs have even more in common with the royal dogs than most canines do.)
Unfortunately, the Queen’s dogs were recently part of an incident that shows all too well how similar the lives of dogs can be. The Queen’s dogs were in a dogfight in which they attacked and injured Max, an 11-year old Norfolk Terrier belonging to Princess Beatrice. Only a small percentage of dogs behave aggressively, but when they do, their behavior often follows predictable patterns.
In the incident with the royal dogs, many of the things that happened are common when dogs fight. One is that it happened in a corridor, in this case one within Balmoral Castle. While the corridors in this palatial dwelling are larger than the hallway in a typical home, they are still more confining than many rooms or the great outdoors, and many dogfights happen when dogs are inside in narrow spaces.
The fight involved many dogs who apparently got very excited. It’s often the case that large groups of dogs become overly aroused and that can lead to aggression. According to reports, the Queen’s dog boy (a title that presumably sounds odd to most Americans, including me) lost control of the dogs. It’s not unusual for a person to be unable to prevent a fight, even if they are very attentive to dogs and skilled with them. It happens so fast that fights are always described in the past tense as in, “And then he bit her!” or “And the next thing I knew, it was a big fight!”
In this fight, Max was quite badly hurt, needing veterinary care for a number of bites, including a badly torn ear that bled a lot. Ears are often damaged to varying degrees in dogfights, and when that happens, there’s almost always a lot of blood. It’s also common for one dog in a large fight to receive the lion’s share of the injuries, which is what apparently happened to Max. (I don’t mean to imply that it’s unusual for multiple dogs to be hurt and even hurt badly, because that happens sometimes, too.)
Finally, this incident was upsetting to the guardians of all the dogs. Naturally, we expect the person whose dog sustained the worst injuries to experience horrible feelings, and Princess Beatrice was clearly distressed by what happened to Max. On the other hand, in my work, I often see the people whose dog was the aggressor, so I know how devastating it is to people when the dog they love hurts someone, and the Queen is said to be devastated by what happened.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
“Wild Karen” the inspiration
August 16 2012
I recently met another woman named Karen, and our conversation turned to dogs. Of course, there’s a tendency for many of my conversations to take that route, but this one arrived at the subject quite directly. The other Karen told me that she bet the story of how she got her name was more interesting than the story of how I got mine.
She almost wins that one by default because my story is that my parents found “Karen” in a book of baby names and liked it. Riveting, isn’t it? Karen does indeed have a much better tale. Her stepfather went to the greyhound racing track and a speedy dog named “Wild Karen” won, and that’s who she was named after. She told me that as a child, she hardly ever shared that story because being named after a dog would have invited a lot of teasing from other kids.
I understood completely, but oh, how times have changed! Now, it sounds pretty cool that she was named after a dog. (Of course, going to the greyhound racetrack is not viewed as positively as it once was, but that’s another issue.) Because Karen had expressed concern about sharing this story, I made sure to ask her if I could write about it for The Bark’s blog, and she agreed. It turns out that she just received The Bark for Christmas and loves it!
Lots of dogs share names with humans these days, and some of the really common names such as Emma, Zoe, Sadie, and Sophie are popular for both species, but it’s hard to know who’s named after whom anymore, or whether parents and guardians simply liked the name. Do you know of any people who were named after dogs?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Beautiful, even though it’s not true
August 13 2012
Various forms of the following story have been all over the online world in recent months. As it turns out, it’s yet another urban legend, but that doesn’t take away from its value. Like most fictional stories, its emotional power comes from our recognition of the great truth within it.
This is one version of the tale:
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.
I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker‘s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ”I know why.”
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.
He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The six-year-old continued,
”Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Reactions to the photo vary
August 8 2012
The photo of Andy Murray’s Border Terriers on Twitter wearing his Olympic medals has met with different reactions. Some found it quite endearing that Murray wanted his dogs to be a part of the sweetest victories of his life. (Competing in his home country, the tennis star won a gold medal in singles and a silver medal in mixed doubles in the London 2012 Olympics.) My reaction was in this category—kind of an “Aww, look at that” response.
Many other people consider the photo further evidence that tennis players don’t value the Olympics enough since there are other events in their sport that have long been more prestigious. Those with this perspective think that putting them on his dogs degrades the medals or shows that Murray doesn’t care about them. It’s hard to imagine he doesn’t care after seeing his emotional reaction to winning the gold medal, and I just don’t ever think that dogs degrade events, because I think they enhance them. The photo suggests to me that Murray values his dogs, rather than that he doesn’t value his Olympic medals.
Of course, among the worldwide audience are many people who don’t view dogs as favorably as I do, so the difference in perceptions is hardly surprising. What is your response to this photo?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Do people think I am?
August 6 2012
On a day that I had gone for a run, and not yet had a chance to shower I saw the woman who cuts my hair, looking chic and well-styled as always. We said our hellos and then I burst out with, “I swear my hair hardly ever looks like this! The cut you just gave me is great and I’ve been able to make it look really nice, but today I went for a run and then threw it into a ponytail and rushed here!” Always kind, she smiled and was very gracious about my weird behavior. I wondered out loud to my friend whether this poor woman is used to people acting this way when they see her.
My friend said, “I’ll bet people feel the same way when they see you and their dog is not being a saint. I replied, “I’m not judging dogs’ behavior when I see them!” And it’s true. I understand that dogs can get very excited when out and about and that what I see may not be their typical behavior. And my friend asked me, “But do you really think the woman who cuts your hair is going around judging people for not having perfect hair?”
I gave this a lot of thought and realized that people often want to show me what their dog can do—a new trick, not jumping up to greet me, an impressive down-stay or anything else the dog can do well. They are so proud when the dog does just what they want, and I love to applaud these successes with them. I’m well aware that it means a lot to people to show me the best in their dog. I just hadn’t thought about the other side of the coin—when the dog goofs in front of me by jumping up, pulling on the leash, barking or any other imperfect behavior. I tend to focus on celebrating what the dog is doing right rather than becoming worked up about other behavior. After all, it’s not like I’ve ever had a dog whose behavior was consistently perfect.
Have you had the experience of your dog acting up in front of just the person you want them to show off for? Have you had your dog make you proud, too?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Disability not a deal breaker
August 4 2012
I just finished watching Oscar Pistorius of South Africa qualify for the semifinals in the Olympics 400m race. Nicknamed the Blade Runner because of the shape of the prosthetic legs he wears for racing, Pistorius is the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games. He reminds us all that disabilities need not inhibit success and that the joy of having a purpose is not limited to the able-bodied.
Today must be my own personal “disabilities awareness day” because when I took a break from watching the Olympics, I read a story about Pirate the Papillon, a one-eyed dog who is in training to become a service dog. Though one of his eyes failed to open, his guardian recognized that he was special, and looked into the possibility of Pirate becoming a service dog. Pirate is in the initial phases of the process now, learning to be comfortable in all kinds of situations with a wide variety of people and being trained to do basic skills. Within the year, he will receive specific training, perhaps as a hearing dog or as an alert dog for someone with epilepsy or diabetes.
Pirate is so much more than a one-eyed dog. He is a dog with a lovely temperament who is going to make the life of his lucky human companion so much better and so much easier. I’ll bet that’s true of a great many dogs with a disability. Do you have one whose story you’d like to share?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Some fetchers are made, not born!
July 31 2012
The game of fetch wins the prize as the ultimate good-for-us, good-for-them activity. It gives dogs exercise without humans having to work up a sweat and is a great way to teach dogs the crucial skill of dropping an object on cue. Since it’s fun and interactive, it enhances the relationship between people and dogs. Fetch provides the basis for some of the most amusing tricks, such as teaching a dog to go get a tissue when he hears someone sneeze or to grab a beer from the cooler when told that someone is thirsty.
Unfortunately, many guardians expect their dogs to play fetch without any training, and they are disappointed when that doesn’t happen. They assume that their dog just isn’t into fetch. That’s a shame because many dogs who aren’t naturals at the game love to fetch once someone has taught them how to play.
When teaching a dog to fetch, do what you can to get off on the right paw by choosing your dog’s favorite toy, whether it’s a ball, a plush squirrel, or something squeaky. Begin inside the house where the distractions are fewer and less intense than outside and it will be easier to keep your dog’s attention.
In the early stages, the farther you throw the ball, the less likely your dog is to go after it, so start with short tosses of 10 feet or less. Use two or three toys so that you can throw one when your dog comes back to you even if he doesn’t want to let go of the one in his mouth.
After throwing the ball, either make rapidly repeated high-pitched noises such as woop-woop-woop (pup-pup-pup is also good) or clap as you run away from your dog to encourage him to run towards you. Change the throwing direction with each toss to keep it unpredictable. It’s the unpredictable that makes much of play so fun. Another way to keep it fun, so that your dog will want to keep playing, is to throw the ball the microsecond he comes back to you. It’s more natural to stand there holding it (your dog thinks you’re hoarding it) as you praise him, but that may bore your dog and cause him to lose interest. Finally, quit before your dog wants to. “Leave’em wanting more” is a great strategy when teaching fetch.
As wonderful as fetch can be, it’s not the right game for every dog. Dogs who become aggressive either because they become too aroused or because they are possessive (defending their toys with threatening or even injurious behavior) should not play fetch.
Any dog who is physically capable of playing the game can learn to fetch, and many dogs from a huge variety of breeds love it. It is true, however, that fetch is often picked up fastest by dogs who have a natural tendency to chase after things or are toy-motivated.
If you teach your dog to play this wonderful game, you will have a dog who is fetching, in every sense of the word.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Little moments bring closeness
July 29 2012
It’s the togetherness that makes those who live together and share their lives feel like a family. That’s what’s so great about having a dog in the house. The close proximity makes us realize how much a part of the family the dog is.
When you share the same space, you are literally sharing your lives. The way that we live with our dogs—literally WITH them—means that we have the same sorts of interactions with dogs that we do with other humans in our household. We step on each other’s feet by mistake, bump into each other in the kitchen while getting ready in the morning, share food, open the bathroom door on each other, head out together to bring in the mail or the paper, nap with each other, and share a good stretch in the morning.
None of these little events even touch on the bigger aspects of togetherness: hikes and runs together, attending training classes, playing together, and all the other ways we spend our days in tandem. Sometimes simple things like sharing a water bottle after a run or looking out the window together at the rain make me feel more connected to a dog than other activities do. It’s in these seemingly inconsequential moments that the reality of sharing our lives is most obvious.
What little parts of your day that you share with your dog make you feel especially close?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs vary in their responses
July 23 2012
Hugging is very human. Actually, this behavior occurs in our species as well as quite a few other primate species, as we primates seem to seek out and enjoy ventral-ventral contact with one another.
Dogs are quite different, as they typically don’t enjoy hugs, no matter how accommodating they are to the humans in their lives who insist on it. To see a dog look displeased, or even disgusted, giving one a hug is often all that’s required.
Of course, I would not recommend hugging a dog for a very important reason that is related to but extends beyond that fact that dogs typically detest it. Many dogs bite when they are hugged. The bites are sometimes motivated by fear, and sometimes a reaction along the lines of, “Don’t you dare do that to me. Again. Ever.”
It’s pretty straightforward to me. Humans like to give and receive hugs. Dogs don’t. When we hug them, most tolerate it in much the same way that children tolerate having their cheeks pinched by aging relatives—grudgingly and with an understanding that the people doing these dreadful things really can’t help themselves.
What’s far less clear to me is what dogs make of observing humans hug each other. I’ve known dogs with a variety of responses to hugs between the human members of my family or our visitors. Some dogs join the hug by jumping up and leaning into the action. Some leap onto the huggers repeatedly and with increasing vigor. Others place themselves between the huggers, causing them to separate. I’ve seen dogs spin in place or circle around the huggers, and I’ve known dogs who bark and growl when two or more humans hug in their presence. It’s unusual to have a dog who runs away, perhaps out of the room when they observe hugging, but I do know of a couple of dogs who did respond in exactly that way.
What does your dog do when you hug someone?
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