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
How Long to Wait for the Next Dog
Everybody’s answer is different

The loss of our dogs is nearly inevitable since their life spans are not as long as ours, but that never lessens the pain. The logic of predictability rarely helps a grieving heart. For many people, part of what does help is welcoming a new dog into their lives as soon as they can find the right one. For many others, it takes a long time before they are ready for that, and some never are.

It’s common to feel that the house is just not a home without a dog and that this absence must be remedied quickly before arriving home one more time without the sound of four-legged footsteps running to the door. If a new dog will ease the sadness and bring joy, then there’s no doubt that adopting a new dog is the right course of action.

For people who need to grieve longer before they feel prepared to love another dog, then waiting makes sense. If working through the pain without the complication of a new relationship feels right, then it’s only sensible to hold off on getting a new dog. Among the reasons that some people wait before sharing their lives with a new dog is the feeling that loving a new dog would be disloyal to the dog who recently died.

I deeply respect this view, though I don’t personally share it, in large part because of a comment my mother-in-law made years ago. She is an exceptionally kind and tolerant person whose view on her dad marrying again soon after her mom’s death was that it just showed he really enjoyed being married. She took it as an indication that being married to her mom made him happy and that he naturally wanted to be married—and happy—again. It’s a perspective that’s unusual, but one that prevented many bad feelings from developing.

Though some people want a new dog right away and others want to wait quite a long time, still others have no time frame in mind. They simply wait until the right dog comes along, whenever that may be.

If you’ve lost a dog, how long did you wait until a new dog joined your family, and why?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Where Does Your Dog Sleep?
In your room? In your bed? In your arms?

Dogs are social animals. Most of them feel comfortable being near the rest of the family and that includes at nighttime. Humans, too, often enjoy having their canine companions with them while they sleep.

Many people have their dogs in their room on a dog bed, in a crate or on the floor by the bed. Others allow them the foot of the bed. Still others snuggle with their pup right next to them, even under the covers.

The advantages to having your dog near you while you sleep are many. They are less likely to become stressed either by being alone or in response to something startling, whether it’s lights from cars going by or a thunderstorm. In the morning, you’ll know when they have to go out right away or if they are sleeping in that day without having to leave your bed to check.

If your dog is in or on your bed, any cold weather will seem a lot less harsh with a living furnace right next to you. Sharing sleep is one way to feel really close to each other, and that’s always a plus.

On the down side, some people find a dog keeps them awake, either because the dog snores, or because there is not enough room in the bed or enough covers to go around. It can cause considerable friction in a relationship if one member of a couple loves having a dog in the room or on the bed and the other person doesn’t.

I like having dogs sleep in my room, and I think it’s usually best for the dogs, too. Large dogs, those who hog the bed and dogs who crawl all over us at night have a standing invitation to enjoy a cozy dog bed on the floor next to me. Little dogs, calm dogs and dogs who won’t impersonate a cat by trying to play with us in the middle of the night have usually been permitted on the bed.

Where does your dog sleep and why?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What Makes A Great Dog Photo?

The pictures I like best of dogs I know and love, whether they are my own dogs or other people’s, don’t follow a strong pattern. Sometimes the dog looks sweet and other times devilish. I have favorite photos of both rumpled, windblown dogs, and freshly groomed ones. There are action shots and posed ones. All I can say about what the best photos have in common is that the dog looks endearing for some reason.

It’s easy for me to be won over by certain physical characteristics. A cocked head, eyes that seem really engaged with the observer and a tongue that hangs just slightly out of the mouth all look cute to me.

Perhaps, more important is getting a shot that conveys the essence of a dog. This requires incorporating the dog’s personality into the photo. If she loves to fetch more than life itself, there has to be a tennis ball or two in the frame. If there’s another toy that is a constant companion, I’m more likely to love the photo if that toy is in it, too. If she often has one ear up and one ear down or one paw raised, photos that capture these habits are bound to seem more charming than those that don’t. It’s that sense of having captured what makes a dog unique, rather than just beautiful, that makes them favorites.

Tell me about your favorite picture of your dog and let me know what makes it so special to you.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Knowing When to Stop Play or Training
Identifying the moment

As our sons were playing at the park after soccer practice, my friend and I both watched uneasily. All four boys were getting along. They were laughing and nobody was left out. I said, “I wonder how long this can last. They’re hungry and they’ve already played soccer for an hour.”

She answered, “I was just thinking the same thing. It seems that it’s always when I think everything is going great that trouble sprouts up in a big way and I realize I should have cut things off already.”

It reminded me of certain aspects of working with dogs.

It’s a basic principle of working with a dog with behavioral issues that if you say to yourself, “Wow! This is going better than I expected. I think I can push on a little further,” that you must NOT do so. Every behaviorist and trainer has had to learn this by committing the error, but the time to stop is when things are going well.

It’s so often the case that people don’t follow this rule, with the result that the session starts to go south. I find this is especially true when working to help a fearful dog overcome fears or when dogs are playing exuberantly.

I mentioned this to my friend and her response interested me. She told me that she asked her mom, who is a preschool teacher, how she decides to stop an activity that’s going well and in which the kids are all behaving well for a longer time than expected. Her mom’s answer was, “That’s the moment. Right when everything is going better than you could have hoped for and over a longer period of time, you must move on to something else.”

Have you had the experience of letting your dogs continue what they were doing because it was going so well, only to realize a few minutes too late that you should have changed things up earlier?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs in Geek Culture
Does this top 10 work for you?

A friend sent me a “Top 10 dogs in ‘geek’ culture” list. (In many circles, “geek” and “cool” are practically synonymous.) The friend who sent me this knows I always that Doc Brown’s dog in Back to the Future was named Einstein, and I was pleased to see that he made the list.

It was also entertaining to see that Superman’s dog Krypto made the list. Krypto was introduced in the 1950s comics, though Superman has no dog in some movies and TV shows.

The rest of the dogs on the list are not a big part of my geek world. I liked Scooby Doo as a kid, but have not carried a profound interest in him into adulthood. To be fair, I had always found the phrase “Rut roh” to be comical, but I’ve recently learned that this phrase is wrongly attributed to Scooby Doo, and is actually the catchphrase of Astro from the Jetsons. Perhaps Astro should be on this list.

Who do you think is missing from a proper list of dogs in geek culture, whatever that means?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Tool in Canine Cancer Treatment
Results look promising

For anyone whose life has been touched by cancer, and that’s most people, any advancement in treating the disease provides hope and is welcome news. A new tool that helps in the treatment of osteosarcoma is a result of Stan Stearns’s desire to help other dogs like his St. Bernard Gabriel. Gabriel was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, and succumbed to the disease in 2008.

Stearns is an entrepreneur whose company, Valco Instruments, makes tiny tools used for precision work in laboratories. He developed a small drill that can be used to deliver a tiny quantity of a radioactive isotope to a dog’s tumor. This allows doctors to target the tumor accurately without causing harm to healthy cells or subjecting the entire body to chemotherapy. Preliminary results suggest that this treatment alleviates pain and limits the spread of the cancer.

Radioactive isotope therapy is a newer treatment for osteosarcoma, which is often treated by amputating an affected leg, though the cancer still often spreads to the lungs, at which point it’s difficult for the dog to survive more than a year. Treatment for dogs can be $6,000, and Stearns’s Foundation, the Gabriel Institute, has paid the costs for some families.

The goal of the Gabriel Institute is to conduct and support research into bone cancer with the hope of finding a cure. Though the institute focuses on dogs, the hope is that the research will benefit people with bone cancer as well.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Refusal to Load Ailing Dog On Plane
The result was being fired

Baggage handler Lynn Jones was so concerned about the physical state of the dog in the crate that she refused to load it on the plane. Its emaciated body had multiple sores, its feet were in bad shape, and the dog seemed listless. Jones fear that it would not survive the flight from Nevada to Texas was so great she defied the order from her supervisor to load the dog on the plane. She was fired because of the actions she took to protect the dog.

Airport police eventually phoned a local animal welfare agency, which took the dog temporarily. The dog was helped to recover to good health and then returned to the owner in Texas, who hunts with the dog and regularly flies it to hunting locales. (Jones is very upset that the dog was returned to someone who let it suffer.)

In the month since she lost her job, she has been praised by her former employer, Airport Terminal Services, Inc. The company “commends this employee’s situational awareness and her desire to raise the concern on behalf of the canine.” They haven’t offered Jones her job back, and even if they did, Jones says she doesn’t know if she would return to work for them.

So many sad issues are involved in this situation—possible animal abuse, airlines looking the other way when it comes to animals’ well-being, vulnerability of animals more generally, and being fired in tough economic times. I’d like to focus on the positive, though. There are people out there like Lynn Jones who care enough about animals to stand up for them when they have no power to do it themselves.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Is Your Dog Smarter Than a 2-Year-Old?
A scientist’s observations

We’ve all heard that dogs and 2-year-old children are roughly equivalent in intelligence, but comparing across species is truly an apples and oranges sort of proposition.

I always want to ask about the age of the dog. Why does the human age matter while “dogs” seems to be an ageless concept? And I’m also curious about which dog and which person. Are we talking about a dog who knows 1,000 words or a more typical canine? Albert Einstein or someone less amazing? Whether you consider the basic premise behind the comparison problematic or not, it’s worth checking out, “Is Your Dog Smarter Than a 2-Year-Old?,” a recent opinion piece in The New York Times.

It’s written by Alexandra Horowitz (author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know), who researches canine cognition and has a 2-year-old child. Horowitz starts by expressing her overall view of the assertion, with which I thoroughly agree, “From my perspective as a researcher of canine cognition, it at once overstates and understates dogs’ abilities to claim that they are equal in some unifying, cross-species 'intelligence' to 2-year-olds.”

She then writes that observations of her own 2-year-old child and dog remind her that people make this comparison because of some obvious behavioral similarities. The article takes a look at the behavior of both these individuals over a period of a week with some relevant science added to the mix.

It’s a fun read and is, as Horowitz puts it, “fully quasi-scientific.” She acknowledges that there are issues with making the comparison at all. More entertaining than enlightening, she compares many things that are not actually indicators of intelligence, such as the tendency to use one’s mouth to explore the world and being patient.

Still, I think the value of turning this question on its head as Horowitz has done is to encourage careful observation and to remind us, “There is no ruler that measures both dogs and little boys and girls. Just as a child is more than a young adult, a dog is more than—and much different from—a simple human. You are no more doing your dog a kindness by treating him as a child than you would be in treating your child as a dog.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Food Drive for Pets
Stephen Huneck’s studio hosts

When times are tough, many families struggle, and often all members of the household face difficulties, regardless of species. Much as we wish it weren’t so, many well-loved pets suffer during hard economic times. To help ease these troubles, the Dog Chapel on Dog Mountain is sponsoring a holiday pet food drive in St. Johnsbury, Vt., through Dec. 23. Food will be distributed to local food shelves and shelters.

The host of this pet food drive is the studio of the late artist Stephen Huneck, whose work focused on dogs. Huneck’s legacy goes beyond his art and extends to the kindness he long showed to his community. His body of work is a joy to dog lovers and his charitable contributions, both before his death and after, make life better for people and animals alike.

Does your community have opportunities to give and receive food assistance for pets?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Yoga Dogs Calendar
So adorable I approached Nirvana

Dogs draw my focus in every situation. If I were at a dog park full of famous actors and actresses, my thought process would probably be along the lines of, “What a gorgeous Irish Setter! Look at that Greyhound run—how beautiful! And, ooh, a Havanese! You don’t see those very often. Gee, that guy with the Boxer looks familiar. . .”

So my experience last week when I tried yoga for the first time ever was not surprising. I did not immediately notice the new age music or the smell of incense. My awareness was not on my breathing or the feeling of my body relaxing in the present moment. Instead, what captured my attention was the calendar in the lobby that featured dogs practicing yoga. Honestly, it was so cute I could hardly stand it. It was the 2011 version, but the 2012 Yoga Dogs Calendar is just as charming.

At my next class, my intention will be to focus on yoga rather than on dogs. There’s always room to grow and improve, which is why I love it that people say they “practice yoga.” The dogs already look pretty experienced at it, though.