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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
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
“My Dog Ate My Masters Tickets!”
It’s not just about homework anymore

Russ Berkman was excited when he won four tickets to the Masters golf tournament. Even after his dog Sierra ate them, he was determined to go. The good news is that the Augusta National Golf Club reprinted his tickets and he was able to pick them up once he arrived in Georgia. The bad news is that in order to recover the tickets, Berkman induced Sierra to vomit. He got back about 70 percent of the tickets, and was able to piece together and photograph the 20-vomit-covered pieces well enough to explain his situation and convince officials that his story was true.

I have sympathy for Berkman, who found himself in a bad spot. Honestly, who among us has not, at least once, had a dog who ate something of great value that we really wanted to get back? Yet forcing a dog to vomit if the dog’s health is not at stake is questionable.

What do you think about it?

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
Piloerection
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?

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