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
Dogs at Work Lower Stress
New study confirms long held belief

According to a new study “Preliminary investigation of employee's dog presence on stress and organizational perceptions,” having your dog at work lowers stress levels. This may not seem like news to most of us, but this is actually the first study to quantify the effects of bringing a dog to work on stress levels.

The study took place at Replacements, Ltd. over the course of a week, and involved having 20 to 30 dogs at work each day. Throughout the study, people had dogs with them on some days, but not on others.

Researchers found no difference in stress levels at the beginning of the day between people who had their dogs with them, people who left their dogs at home, and people who do not have a dog at all. Later on in the day, however, the stress levels for those people whose dogs were with them went down, while the stress levels of the dogless went up. People’s stress went up on the days that they left their dogs at home, but did decreased on the days their dogs accompanied them to work.

If you are able to bring your dog to work, do these findings mirror your experience?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What’s going on when a dog does this?

“His hackles went up. What does that mean?” It’s such a great question and one that I hear from clients regularly. When the hair on a dog’s back goes up (technically called piloerection), it’s usually a sign that the dog is aroused or excited in some way. It is an involuntary reaction, just like the goose bumps we humans get, so it’s important not to have any expectation of a dog being able to control it. While sometimes aggressive dogs do exhibit piloerection, it is not true that it’s necessarily a sign of aggression.

Data are limited on this phenomenon, but as an ethologist trained to observe animals and their behavior, I have noticed some things about it. Based on my experience with many dogs over the years, it seems that different patterns of piloerection are associated with different behaviors, probably because they are associated with different internal emotional states.

Some dogs exhibit a thin line (at most a few inches wide) of hair all along their back to the base of the tail. I associate this pattern of piloerection with a high level of confidence and in my experience, these dogs are more likely to go on offense and behave in an aggressive way than other dogs.

Another common pattern of piloerection is a broad patch of fur (up to 8 or so inches wide) across the shoulders, which does not run more than one-quarter or one-third of the way down the back. I associate this pattern of piloerection with low confidence and I often find that these dogs are somewhat fearful.

The most confusing pattern is when a dog exhibits a patch of hair that is raised at the shoulders and another raised patch at the base of the tail. The hair in between along the back is not raised. This pattern of piloerection often occurs in dogs who are in an ambivalent emotional state and feeling conflicted. Many of the dogs who show this pattern are somewhat unpredictable in their behavior and inclined to be more reactive than other dogs.

Of course, there are many exceptions, but these generalizations apply to the majority of dogs that I see. What have you observed about dogs and piloerection?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Street Dogs of South Central
Film about dogs in Los Angeles

The documentary film Street Dogs of South Central follows a mother dog trying to raise a litter of pups in an urban environment. Acquiring food and finding shelter are challenging for dogs living in South Central Los Angeles, and this film shows the harsh reality they face. Queen Latifah narrates this emotional film.

This is the film’s trailer:

Many found it tough to watch the film because of the dangers and hunger the dogs faced. There has been criticism directed towards the makers of the film for not helping the dogs they were filming. On the other hand, some have argued that the purpose of a documentary is to show the reality of a situation, not to interfere with it, no matter how horrible that reality is.

Originally shown on Animal Planet last month, Street Dogs of South Central will be shown on March 31, 2012, at the Atlanta Film Festival. If you’ve seen it, what do you think of it?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Mischief
Dogs find their own entertainment

Facebook gave me a laugh earlier this week when a friend posted this:

“this really happened to me today...i had 15 minutes between meetings so i ran home to let the dogs out. pearl (the puppy) heard kids playing down the street, ran down to see them and then quickly ran through the open door of a house (of a woman who hates dogs), ran through her house, pushed open their bathroom door (where someone was "sitting") grabbed the loose end of the toilet paper roll, started running, got it wrapped around her head and body, a chase ensued with pearl, me, a string of kids and a grandma before finally getting the little stinker back home. i don't like it when my real life starts to look like a scene out of a bad disney movie. it's not good at all.”

As a bonus, I got an extra little giggle from a mutual friend who always has a great perspective on life. Her comment was, “Don't think of it as a bad Disney movie - Think of it as a great Charmin commercial!! Love it!!”

I always worry about dogs who escape and go on their own adventures because I’ve heard too many tales without happy endings, usually involving collisions with cars. However, knowing that Pearl was safe, it was easy to enjoy the ridiculous image created by this post. I feel sympathy for the person who was in the bathroom, for the non-dog-loving woman who owns the house and for my friend whose work break was less relaxing and more memorable than she planned.

It’s far from unusual for a dog’s gleeful actions to result in embarrassment, awkwardness or even strained relations with neighbors, but it usually makes for a story worth telling. Do you have a good one to share about your dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Possible origins of the term

It’s March Madness, which means that in our house, as well as countless other houses nationwide with people following the NCAA Basketball tournament, things are just a little exciting and crazy. People are speaking differently, with phrases such as “exceeding expectations,” “early foul trouble,” “3-pointer at the buzzer,” “tough matchup” and “leading scorer” replacing much of normal conversation.

Serious basketball fans and those who just watch hoops three weeks out of each year alike share the refrain, “My bracket is a disaster!” The most common phrase of the sportswriter crowd is perhaps “underdogs to root for.” How, exactly, did the term “underdog” come to mean the competitor who is least likely to win?

One theory is that it relates to the practice of sawing wooden planks by hand, which was done by two men using a two-man saw. One man stood on top of the wood in the preferred position while the other stood below in a much less comfortable position in the pit. The iron supports that held the wood were referred to as “dogs,” which has led people to suppose that this situation is the origin of the terms “top dog” and “underdog.” However, there is no evidence whatsoever to support this otherwise lovely theory. There are no written references to either of these terms in the context of sawing wood until after mechanical sawing was the norm.

Another possibility is that the term originates in the world of dog fighting, with the losing dog literally being under the winner at the end of a fight. People who took bets on the fights kept track of a dog’s previous fights, and used the label “underdog” for the dog who was more likely to be beaten in an upcoming fight between two particular dogs.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
People as Dog Breeds
Canine thoughts at work

In a recent article entitled “Are You a Man or a Dog?” Susan Breslin puts forth a plan for understanding the other people at work. Her idea? Pretend they are all dogs. Actually, she gives a three-step plan: 1) Identify their breed, 2) Identify your breed, 3) Find your pack.

I have previously written that it helps me understand my sons when I think of one as a Greyhound and the other as a Viszla/Irish Setter cross, so it’s clear that I have no objection to this basic strategy. And yet, this article disappointed me because of its breed stereotyping and lack of understanding of basic dog behavior and training. As someone whose job involves educating people about dogs and dog behavior, this article demonstrates that considerable work remains to be done.

While there is value in noting the traits that people share with typical representatives of a breed of dogs, it has to be done with some accuracy to be useful. So, when Breslin describes German Shepherds as aggressive and implies that Poodles are hard to work with, especially in large numbers, I think she would benefit from better information. Most objectionable is her assertion that Cocker Spaniels thrive on positive reinforcement, implying that not all breeds do. This sort of thinking—that positive reinforcement is limited to certain species, breeds or individuals—is worrisome for those of us who advocate widespread use of humane, positive training methods.

On the bright side, this article’s appearance on Forbes.com is yet another reminder of how very much dogs are in the conversation about all aspects of our lives.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
9 Fun and Educational Toys for Dogs.
Play by the numbers
9 Fun and Educational Toys for Dogs.

The popularity of Dog Perignon Champagne plush toys, Hairy Winston squeak toys, and the chewable Dolce and Grrrbana designer shoes is a sign that the market for dog toys has exploded in recent years. Choosing toys can be daunting—the good ones need to be safe, fun and last a reasonable amount of time, but they shouldn’t be outrageously priced or so painful when stepped on in the middle of the night by bare feet that we lose our PG rating. Here are a few that I feel meet all of the above requirements.

1. Intellitoys. Dogs learn when they play, and some toys, such as the Intellicube and the Intellibone, are designed specifically with canine education in mind. Dogs can spend hours happily playing with the removable parts, learning to use mouths, paws and noses to manipulate objects.

2. Jackpot Chipmunk. Another educational favorite, this toy has a Velcro® closure pocket containing a plush-covered squeaker. Dogs can learn to open the pocket to get the squeaker, or the pocket can be used to store treats. My dog Bugsy, whom I lovingly describe as a couple of ants short of a picnic, finally learned to fetch with this method. He dutifully brought the toy, which he probably thought was a dog-proof cookie jar, back to me so that he could be paid in liver biscotti for his hard work.

3. Kong. If a household has only a single dog toy, it’s likely to be from the Kong line. These almost indestructible hollow toys can be filled with almost any kind of food, including treats such as cheese, peanut butter, cream cheese or biscuits, which the dog will then spend enormous amounts of time removing.Many dogs who are not toy-motivated learn to love them after experiencing the Kong.

4. Ball. A lot of dogs get over-the-top excited about fetching tennis balls, and anybody whose dog loves them to the point of distraction (literally!) should pause to be grateful, because never was there a less expensive, versatile, goodfor- us, good-for-them toy. If you’re inhibited by the prospect of handling a slimy ball, get a Chuckit, a plastic tool that you can use to scoop up and toss the ball without ever touching it.

5. Flying Disc. Fetch games with flying discs are even more fun and exciting to many dogs than fetching balls. The Flying Squirrel and the Hurl-a-Squirrel are both popular with the canine set. The Soft Bite Floppy Disc floats in water and has hot pink edges, which make it easy to locate after an errant throw (note the voice of experience here).Regular flying discs can injure dogs’ teeth, which is why I recommend these kinder, gentler types.

6. Donkey Tail Tug Toy. Though a knotted rope will suffice, the Donkey Tail— a long, stretchy braid of fleece—is even better for tug games. Plus, it’s made of material that doesn’t get as slimy as most tug toys or become as strongly redolent of eau de dog breath.

7. Egg Babies. These plush toys, which come in forms such as dinosaur, duck, hedgehog or platypus, have three removable squeaky “eggs” hidden inside a pouch. Dogs can pull the eggs out through the elasticized opening, which is fun for those who love to search for and find treasures. The eggs are just a little bit bigger than tennis balls, and as a huge bonus, replacement three-packs are available.

8. Booda Rip ’Ems. These are “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” toys.Dogs love to rip things apart, and Booda Rip ’Ems are actually designed for it. Their pieces are attached with Velcro® and can be reattached in a variety of ways. Many dogs love the ripping sound the Velcro® makes as much as the feeling of pulling the toy apart. The shapes include tigers, beach balls and watermelons.

9. The Critter. Lest we forget that our furry friends are predators, and superb ones at that, their toy choices remind us. Plush toys to rip apart and squeaky toys to pounce on are prized by most dogs. For the more discriminating predator, consider The Critter, which is essentially a faux fur–covered tennis ball with a faux fur tail attached. It is rare to make the acquaintance of a dog who does not go wild over it.

The main purpose of dog toys is not to give us a peaceful moment in which to read the paper and have a cup of coffee (although if you’ve used them this way, join the club). Rather, their function is to enhance play, which is a critical and often ignored part of canine behavior. And just as the best children’s books can be enjoyed by adults and children reading together, the best dog toys can be enjoyed by people and dogs playing together.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Brick Memorials
Loving reminders of dogs

The brick says “Remembering Kiwi: 125 Pounds of Love” and it’s part of a wall of bricks outside DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Ore. My brother-in-law and my sister purchased the brick in 2007 to honor their Newfoundland who passed away at age 11½ in April of that year. Kiwi was a great dog and I loved her, so the sight of her brick brought me both joy and sadness.

There are benefits of physical memorials to the dogs who remain in our hearts but no longer walk beside us every day, at least not in the literal sense. The tangible reminder of a loved one has great value, which is why gravestones as well as notices in the paper and even decals on cars mention those who have left us. In the case of Kiwi’s brick and others like it, a charitable contribution to buy the memorial goes to DoveLewis. Though a pet may be gone, honoring them with a contribution is a way to know that the love they inspired continues to give hope and lifesaving help to other pets.

Whether it required a contribution or not, do you have a tangible reminder of your deceased dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Don’t Lick the Dog
Good lessons in a kids’ book

Presentations to children about dog behavior and about how to act around dogs provide helpful safety lessons. The basic points I like to make when talking with kids are the things I wish that every child knew for the sake of safety. These include:

  • Don’t approach a dog who is tied out on a rope or chain.
  • Dogs don’t like to be hugged.
  • Don’t kiss dogs.
  • Don’t stare at a dog.
  • A wagging tail does not mean that a dog is friendly.
  • Leave dogs alone when they are eating or chewing something.

Recently, I covered these issues in my son’s first grade class with a combination of photos, discussion, an art activity in which the kids drew a good thing to do around a dog and a bad thing to do around a dog, and a book I read to them. The kids loved the book, which is Wendy Wahman’s Don’t Lick the Dog: Making Friends with Dogs, which is geared towards children ages four to eight.

The book covers many things about greeting dogs such as asking permission to pet a dog; being calm; moving slowly; not patting their heads but instead stroking them on the chin and chest; a few of the visual signals by dogs that indicate discomfort; advising children not to hug dogs or to get right in their faces; and letting dogs approach you rather than the other way around. The whimsical, upbeat drawings captivated the children. I love this book because of the great information in it and because kids like it, which means they are more likely to digest the important messages.

Have you seen this book or read it to children?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Origins of the Kong
Happy accident launched the toy

Louis Pasteur’s remark “Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind” is true in many fields. Those who have great knowledge recognize opportunity and are able to take a random event and recognize the value of something unexpected.

In the world of dogs, a great example of chance favoring the prepared mind is seen in the original inspiration for the Kong toy. Inventor Joe Markham, founder of The Kong Company, received his inspiration from a surprising source.

He was working on his vehicle and tossed an axle stop with an attached bracket on the ground. His dog got hold of it and loved it. He was playing with it joyously, much to Markham’s amusement. He said to his friend, “What do you think of my new dog toy?”

His friend replied, “Actually, it’s not too pretty. It looks like an earplug from King Kong.” And the Kong toy was born.

I heard this story from Mark Hines, behavior and training specialist for The Kong Company, who gave a talk at a conference on applied animal behavior that we both attended this past weekend. The conference had many great talks and I learned so much, but this one brief story stands out more than any other piece of information. I’ve often wondered how Kong came up with their well-known and trademarked shape.