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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
Why Elite Runners Make Great Dog Trainers
Going the distance

I should have realized right away that something special was going on in a group dog-training session last spring. When I asked the participants to call their dogs to come and then run away, they all did, and with Whippet-like speed. Most people need lots of encouragement to run, and even then — looking sheepish — they tend to take a few half-hearted jogging steps at most. This was no ordinary group, but rather, some of the world’s best distance runners, athletes so good they are sponsored by the likes of Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Mizuno, Brooks and Reebok. They’re living and training in Flagstaff, Ariz., in pursuit of their Olympic dreams because this mountain town’s high altitude, abundant trails and sunny weather provide the perfect conditions for distance running.

Since that day, I’ve worked with other local elite runners, helping them teach their dogs to conquer fears of unfamiliar people, cars and leashes; stop chasing bikes; greet visitors politely at the door; walk nicely on leash; perform tricks like crawl, high-five, shake, spin and roll over; and continue running rather than be distracted by other dogs. The successes they have as trainers have everything to do with their success as athletes: they take what they already know about training to be world-class runners and apply it to training their dogs. The following principles apply equally to dog training and running.

 

Value consistent practice.
Runners understand that it’s the work they put in daily that leads to success. Similarly, dog trainers know that you have to practice skills with your dog every day.

It’s not how fast you run in training, it’s more a consistency, those back-to-back 100-mile weeks.
— Martin Fagan, Reebok-sponsored 2008 Olympic Marathoner and two-time Irish 5K Champion

Recognize that progress is incremental.

In dog training, there can be 100 steps from the starting point to the end point. Step one in recall work may be calling your dog to come when you’re standing in your distraction-free living room holding cooked chicken. Step 100 is calling your dog to come when he is chasing a rabbit with his best canine buddy. Small changes over time lead to success — a familiar concept for runners, who take years to build the fitness, technique and strategy required to race successfully at the international level.

Each workout seems to be building on the last.
— Andrew Middleton, All American and course record-holder at the Sedona and Tucson Half- Marathons, and
guardian of Poodle mix Scooter

Be goal oriented.

I often ask clients what they think success would look like. Do they want to be able to walk their reactive dog on leash through the neighborhood, or are they hoping to turn their little firecracker into a therapy dog? Do they want their dog to do a downstay when people enter the house, or is any behavior that involves keeping all four paws on the floor acceptable? Runners set goals, whether it’s running a personal-best time, following their race plan or winning an Olympic medal.

Setting an ultimate goal and stepping- stone goals help you to commit and make the ultimate goal tangible in your mind, which reflects in your daily actions, leading to success.
— Emily Harrison, Adidas-sponsored 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier

Welcome coaching and ideas for improvement.

Part of my job as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist is coaching — suggesting ways skills can be improved. I remind people to say a cue only once, help them with their timing, instruct them on modulating the pitch of their voice and guide them on giving clear visual signals. Coaches also give advice on modifications of everything from running form and breathing to when to make a move in a race. Athletes are accustomed to responding to their coaches, so they easily respond to my coaching, too.

Having a coach makes all the difference in the world, to offer outside advice with inside knowledge.
— Trina Painter, former U.S. 20K Champion and four-time Olympic Trials finalist

Know that little things matter.
When training a dog, the volume and pitch of your voice, where you’re looking, the direction your toes are pointing, when you stand still and when you move, whether you lean away from or toward the dog, and fractions of a second in reaction time all make the difference between progress and frustration. For elite runners, details matter, too, including those concerning workout duration and intensity, type of workout, nutrition, sleep, stretching and race strategy.

Attention to detail, making sure to do all the little things right, is at a premium.
— Ian Burrell, three-time All American and five-time top-five finisher in U.S. Road Championships, and guardian of mixed-breed Chili Dog

Understand that every situation is different.
Runners work hard to prepare for race day by simulating as many aspects of the competition as they can. However, at a race, the atmosphere, people, running surface, time of day, location and weather may all be different than they were during daily workouts. Knowing that differences and distractions affect performance allows elite runners to understand that dogs may also be thrown off by the presence of strange smells, a crowd of people, squirrels, loud noises, wind or anything else that is new and different. They also know that giving dogs experience with as many of these factors as possible is going to improve the dog’s performance when it really counts.

Training Lucy is a lot like training for a big race that doesn’t quite work out. Training her one-on-one always goes really smoothly, like running a workout I’ve done a dozen times. In practice, everything goes fine, but race day can be a different story.
— Vince Sherry, NCAA Championship qualifier and guardian of Lab/Border Collie cross Lucy and Border Collie/Chow cross Baxter

Accept setbacks as part of the process.

Progress is not always smooth. Setbacks teach us what we need to do to move forward. Accepting this as part of achieving goals is a trait these runners carry with them from their professional lives into their other pursuits, including dog training.

Setbacks are bound to happen, but if you approach it properly, I think you can come away much stronger and much smarter.
— Brett Gotcher, Adidas-sponsored 2009 U.S. 20K Champion and 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, and guardian of mixed-breed Taz

Want success.

Elite runners love to win and hate to lose. In dog training, as in all endeavors, actively pursuing success makes its achievement more likely.

Times are nice, but I want that first place, that gold medal!
— Jordan Horn, Adidas-sponsored sub-four-minute miler and guardian of mixed-breed Wicket

 

It’s a joy to associate with people who are so talented and willing to sacrifice so much in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Yet, what I love most about working with elite runners is what I love about working with all of my clients: they love their dogs. “Many of the athletes and all of the coaches have dogs that we love like children,” says Trina Painter, assistant coach of Team USA Arizona, which includes many of these athletes. “They protect us, love us when we’re happy and sad, greet us with licks whether we’re sweaty or clean. They run with us and play with us. They keep us laughing with their silly faces and tricks and speak to us with their expressive eyes and body language. They are, for many of the runners, their best friend and source of unconditional love each day, and a wonderful warm and furry positive distraction from running.”

News: Karen B. London
Preventing Aggression over Food
A simple approach is often effective

“I’ve been putting my hand in his food while he’s eating since he was a puppy, so he’s never growled at me over his food.” This sort of comment sets my teeth on edge because repeatedly bothering a dog who is eating is actually an effective technique for teaching dogs to behave aggressively around food, NOT a great way to prevent it. Many such dogs start to growl, snap, or bite when someone comes near their food. It’s like they’re saying, “Enough already. Leave me alone!” If a dog is constantly bothered while eating but never displays food bowl aggression, it shows that he’s a great dog, not that harassing him was a good idea.

The natural response of many dogs when you approach, reach for, or take away their food is some canine version of, “Hey! It’s mine! Back off!” Creating a response that’s the canine equivalent of, “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, here she comes!” is a great way to prevent dogs from developing food bowl aggression.

You want your dog to feel happy when you approach him while he’s eating, and even when you reach toward his bowl or take it away. Dogs who are happy about your approach are not going to growl or snap to get you to leave.

If you regularly walk by a dog who is eating and toss a treat to him, you are teaching him to anticipate a treat whenever you approach him at his food bowl. Once he learns that your approach predicts something good, he’ll be happy to see you coming.

To begin, walk by your dog as he eats and toss a treat without stopping. Do this only 1-2 times during any feeding session and don’t do it every time your dog is eating. Overdoing it can cause a dog to feel irritable, the same way many people feel in a restaurant when a waiter refills the water glass after every sip.

If your dog begins to look up in anticipation when you approach, he is ready for the next step, which is to walk towards him, stop, toss the treat, and then walk away. The step after that is to reach towards the bowl, toss a treat and then walk away, and the last step is to pick up the bowl, put a few extra treats into it, and then give it back to your dog before walking away. It usually takes a few days to several weeks to work through each successive step.

This technique can prevent food bowl aggression. If your dog is already behaving aggressively around his food, or if at any point in this process your dog shows signs of aggression or tension (such as stiffening, growling, eating faster, hovering over the bowl, snapping, or showing his teeth), stop and seek help from a qualified trainer or behaviorist.

The result of this process is a sentiment that’s a joy for me to hear: “My dog doesn’t growl over his food because I taught him to love it when I come near him while he’s eating!”

News: Karen B. London
Burglar Left His Dog at Crime Scene
That’s how police identified him

It’s Successful Crime 101: Don’t leave anything behind at the scene of a crime. Doing so might give law enforcement just the break they need to come find you and arrest you. It was a violation of this basic tenet that lead to the arrest of a man for alleged burglary. He apparently left his dog behind at a home that had been burglarized.

A police officer recognized the dog and had seen him with the man earlier in the day. The rope around the dog’s neck was distinctive, which made him even easier to recognize. Police officers went to his home where they found some of the stolen items. The man is in jail, charged with residential burglary.

That’s two alleged bad actions on his part: burglary and not attending to his dog.

News: Karen B. London
The Adventures of Salt & Soap at Grand Canyon
It’s a great kids book!

Like most people who live where I do (an hour from Grand Canyon), I consider it part of my backyard and I love stories and art inspired by and about this wonder of the world.

In The Adventures of Salt & Soap at Grand Canyon, Park Ranger Lori April Rome narrates the true story describing how two lost puppies became her own dogs. Salt and Soap were just three months old when they were found wandering together in a remote area of Grand Canyon National Park. These puppies had a variety of adventures, including capsizing during a ride on the river, lots of hiking, a thunderstorm, and finally a helicopter ride out of the canyon. Though written for kids ages 4 to 8, this story appeals to a much broader age range.

Tanja Bauerle’s illustrations capture the wildlife in the area, the facial expressions and body language of these two exuberant puppies and the grandeur and beauty of Grand Canyon. The puppies take their names from Salt Water Wash and Soap Canyon, which are features of Grand Canyon near where they were first found. Their permanent home in Grand Canyon Village near the rim of the canyon is also beautifully depicted.

Among the many reasons I adore this engaging book are the fact that the puppies are mixed breeds, that it was a cooperative effort by many people to help the puppies survive in this harsh, unforgiving habitat, and that there are other animals in this outdoor adventure tale. The puppies see a variety of wildlife while they interact with rangers, hikers and river runners. It’s refreshing to read a children’s book in which dogs are one of many species inhabiting our planet.

The story is told with that sense of wonder that is so captivating to children. The emphasis is on positive aspects of life: the friendliness and trust of the puppies, the compassion of strangers, the majesty and vastness of Grand Canyon and the contagious happiness that dogs bring to us all.

News: Karen B. London
Company Offers Pet Burials at Sea
Another sign of love for dogs

How people say good-bye to loved ones is a strong indication of how much they were valued. Meaningful or elaborate ceremonies as well as permanent tributes are ways that people show how important someone was to them. Whether it’s the Egyptian pyramids of Giza, King Tutankhamun’s tomb, the mausoleum that includes the Terra Cotta Army of the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang or the Taj Majal, people have often demonstrated great love and respect for someone who has died.

In recent years, dogs’ places in our hearts and homes have become every more solidified, and the way that we mourn them is keeping pace. It is now common for people to make donations in deceased pets’ honor, to bury them near the rest of the family, to attend grief support groups and to make memory books to help cope with the loss. It’s in keeping with the increased status of dogs as members of our family that it is now possible to conduct burials at sea for dogs.

The company New England Burials at Sea offers services for pets complete with ash scatterings at sea. A typical service may follow the scattering of ashes with a poem and placing flowers or wreaths in the ocean. People then receive a sea burial certificate on which the time, date, and latitude and longitude of the ash scattering are recorded. If desired, a picture of the pet is also on the certificate.

As dogs’ place in our hearts and lives continues to expand in today’s modern society, so does our respect for them in death. A proper, meaningful good-bye allows people to acknowledge the magnitude of love they have for their dogs. Hopefully, this helps with the grieving process.

How have you bid a fond farewell to a beloved pet?

News: Karen B. London
Concerns About Unleashed Dogs
How should we as a community respond?

In Juliana Keeping’s column Hey Ann Arbor—put your dog on a leash. A short one, she writes about bad experiences with off leash dogs. She shares her own stories and those of a few other people and complains angrily about so many dogs being off leash in violation of the laws of her city.

The comments in response to the article are highly varied and many are as angry as the original article, whether the point was to agree or disagree with her. The whole conversation prompts me to ask some questions: How should we as a community respond? That is, how should people with dogs react to the anger that’s out there?  Are we as a community largely obeying local leash laws with a few violators causing tensions, or could we do a better job overall of following the rules?

It’s worth reading Keeping’s article to hear her perspective, though I advise you to be prepared that you may dislike some of what you read, no matter what your views are. (For example, I objected to her saying, “By the way, if your menacing beast, with its bad breath and muscular jaws, comes near me and my child, I will end your pet.” Such a clear threat to an animal’s life made me very uncomfortable. I also think that Keeping strikes an inflammatory tone rather than one that seeks to find common ground, solutions to issues or even a worthwhile discussion of them.)

Despite these criticisms, I think Keeping touches on some important points that it would be wise for those of us in the dog community to address. The first and most important one is that many towns have so-called leash laws, but they are rarely strictly enforced. She also makes a fair point when she discusses that off leash dogs sometimes cause harm, and that not all people take responsibility for the situation.

For example, I was once out hiking with my kids in an area where dogs are required to be leashed. No person was in sight when an unleashed Malamute roughly knocked over my son, who was then two years old, and I still remember how angry the owner was to (finally) come around the bend, catch up to her dog and find me restraining the dog by holding his collar. (The nasty things she said to me and the fear I had that in her rage she would harm me or my children are pretty memorable, too.)

Additionally, I’ve had many clients whose efforts to help their own reactive dogs be able to walk on leash through the neighborhood were hampered by off leash dogs. When working with a dog with leash reactivity or leash aggression, it can be a major setback to have a loose dog come running up while a person half a block away calls out cheerfully, “Don’t worry! She’s friendly!” Kathleen St. John addressed this particular aspect of the value of leash laws a few months ago in her post Why I Like Leash Laws.

If too many members of our society are not happy with the way that people with dogs are behaving, it will become increasingly difficult for space to be allocated to dog parks or for dogs to have access to public areas including parks and trails. I think it’s so important for a high quality of life that dogs have opportunities to run off leash, but I do think that using leashes in the areas where they are required by law is a responsible course of action.

What do you think of Keeping’s article?

News: Karen B. London
When The Dog Is Ready For Bed
Does he try to tell you so?

Our old dog would let us know when he wanted to go to bed. Around 10 pm, if we had not headed upstairs for bedtime, he had a routine he went through. We interpreted his actions as an attempt to communicate his desire that we all turn in for the night.

The first step was to walk over to either my husband or to me and yawn conspicuously. Next, he would walk to the bottom of the stairs, turn towards us, yawn again, and enjoy a big stretch. He typically yawned and stretched at the bottom of the stairs a few times. He next tried putting his front paws on the steps and turning his head towards us with the hint of a whine in his yawn.

We have always gone to bed on our schedule, not according to the dog’s whims, but we enjoyed his all-too-obvious attempts to get us to go to bed. He never chose to go to bed without us. Perhaps he wanted to remain in our company, or perhaps he was afraid of missing out on something fun if he left the party early.

Does your dog let you know that he is ready to go to bed?

News: Karen B. London
If Dogs Could Read
What topics would capture their attention?

Arizona Daily Sun columnist Tom Carpenter always prompts me to start Sunday mornings with a chuckle, but this week, I laughed especially hard in response to his column “If our pets could read.” It shows great insight into what sorts of issues might be of interest to dogs.

He proposes a number of possible articles for the imaginary (as far as I know anyway!) magazine “People Fancy.” My favorites titles were:

Biting the Hands that Feed Us. Commonsense tips for avoiding this faux pas.

Ten Code Words for “Walk.” Never miss another one.

Obesity. Laps are disappearing at an alarming rate. A roundtable discussion.

Baby on Board. Twenty easy steps you can take to stay in the house and out of the shelter after the baby arrives.

What topics do you imagine your dog would want to read about?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Eight Basic Training Cues to Teach Your Dog
Cue ’em in

Trainers spend a dog’s lifetime teaching new cues and behaviors, but there are a few worth teaching every dog sooner rather than later.

Wait
Don’t move forward. This cue is especially useful at doors. Dogs who wait are easier to take on walks and let in and out of the car because they don’t go through the door until given permission. Wait is also a great safety prompt, in that it can prevent a dog from charging out a door into traffic and reduce some of the chaos inherent in living with dogs. It also allows people to catch up during off-leash walks if the dog has gone ahead.

Watch
Look at my face. Helpful for getting a dog’s attention and distracting him from problematic situations, such as the unexpected presence of another dog.

Sit
Put your bottom on the ground. One of the easiest things to teach dogs to do. It’s a useful calming cue and — since sitting is incompatible with undesirable behavior — in defusing otherwise touchy situations.

Stay
Remain in place until released. “Stay” helps dogs practice self-control. It also keeps dogs in one spot when necessary, for reasons ranging from “It’s dinnertime and our guests are not dog people,” to “I just broke a glass in the kitchen and you’ll cut your paws if you come in here before I clean it up.”

Come
Run to me. Run directly to me. Do not stop at the dead squirrel. Do not collect a toy on the way here. Dogs who reliably come when called can safely be given more freedom.

A Release
“Okay” or “Free” gives your dog permission to stop doing what you previously cued him to do. Used most commonly with “Wait” and “Stay,” it tells your dog that the behavior no longer needs to be performed — he can get up and move around if he’s been staying, and move forward or go through the door if he’s been waiting.

Greeting
Without Jumping The appearance of a new person, rather than a word or a hand signal, is the cue to keep all four paws on the ground. Many dogs do the opposite— jump on every new person—and that can make both guardians and guests uncomfortable. Few behaviors are more appreciated in dogs than the skill of greeting people politely.

A Trick
Being able to perform an endearing trick on cue shows off a dog’s training better than most practical skills. Sure, it may be harder to teach a dog to stay or come when called than to high-five, wave, beg or roll over, but not many people know that. So, most people will be impressed by the trick, and consider your dog more charming as a result.

Learning these cues and behaviors allows your dog to reap the benefits of being a well-mannered member of society. Education is never a waste!

News: Karen B. London
Small People Suffer Like Small Dogs
No wonder some feel like biting

“So many small dogs bite when people try to pet them or pick them up. Is it any wonder?” This was my reply to a friend who posted on her Facebook page that she is not a small dog and told the world, “Please don’t pet me.” My friend is 4 foot 11, and not surprisingly, has therefore dealt with this kind of offensive treatment before.

People react differently to little individuals of a species than to large ones. Part of this may be a tendency to equate smaller with younger, and part may be a general disrespect for small versus big.  

Many small dogs truly suffer as a result of these attitudes and behavior. Unwelcome and unsolicited petting is harder to discourage when directed at a smaller dog. There’s something about their diminutive size that makes many people, including kids, want to touch them and feel as though they can do so, whether the dog likes it or not. For dogs who love petting by friends and strangers alike, this is not a problem, but not all dogs appreciate this degree of familiarity.

And while large dogs are picked up only occasionally (if ever) to lift them into a car, onto a grooming or examination table, or in the event of an injury, small dogs may face this indignity multiple times daily.

I remember one client with a papillon who was growling and biting everyone in the house, but only when he was picked up. One of the first questions I asked them was how many times a day they picked him up, and the answer once they added up everyone’s contribution was around 40 times a day. They picked him up when he was playing, eating, sleeping, walking, stretching and every other time. While many dogs would never bite even when treated like this, I was full of sympathy for this dog. His biting behavior was unacceptable and had to stop, but much of the change had to come from the people. Following my suggestions, they massively reduced the number of times he was picked up, and they conditioned him to associate being picked up with receiving his favorite tasty treats. The dog no longer bites even when he is picked up, whether it’s by members of the family who rarely do it, or by visitors who automatically respond to this little dog’s charms by reaching for him.

Do you have a small dog who people pick up or pet despite your dog’s desire that this not happen? Are you a small person who SO knows what these dogs are going through?

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