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.
News: Karen B. London
Animal accuracy in Hollywood a rare treat
August 17 2011
It’s always fun to scoff at Hollywood’s attempts to be scientifically correct, and the opportunities come up so often that resisting the urge to poke fun is usually futile. That’s why it was such a surprise to catch Disney getting so much right in the animated movie Bolt. If you're looking for a good kid-friendly summer rental that gets a suprising amount of canine behavior right, here's a good choice.
There were three particularly charming scenes that are spot-on. In one scene, the dog Bolt plays with another dog, and the behavior patterns that he exhibits are accurate. He and his playmate both perform play bows at the start of play. This behavior pattern consists of putting their elbows on the ground while leaving their back end up. As is often the case in real life, the dogs look at each other with the classic mammalian play face of an open mouth and a relaxed face. They wag their tails, too, which is also commonly seen when dogs perform play bows. Then, after the first set of play bows, there is a pause before a game of chase begins, then another break in the play before it gets going again. The behavior sequence is a textbook example of play between unfamiliar dogs, especially in regards to the presence of so many play bows.
Another scene shows Bolt as a puppy completely obsessed with a squeaky carrot toy. He squeaks it repeatedly, and also pounces on it, grabs it, and shakes it, just as many real-life toy-motivated dogs do. His behavior reveals the same big-footed, clumsy goofiness so typical in real-life young dogs. This toy remains a favorite of his for years, which is also remarkably common in the real world.
The third refreshingly accurate scene in Bolt involves a street-wise cat named Mittens teaching the sheltered Bolt how to beg for food from people. Mittens is very specific and quite savvy about how to look as dear as possible in order to get humans to relinquish their food. Mittens’ instructions to Bolt include cocking his head, opening his eyes wider as he tilts his head forward, putting one ear up and one ear down, whimpering, and lifting his paw. The visuals of Bolt performing each step according to the cat’s instructions make for a hilarious montage as Bolt’s body postures and facial expressions combine in ever more effective ways for getting people to say, “Awww” and surrendering their food. In another toast to the reality of life, when this scrawny cat attempts the exact same behaviors to beg for food, the people tell her to scram or slam the door on her. Cats are generally less effective at getting people to give them food. It seems no animal can churn up humans’ sympathetic giving natures like the dog.
Bolt is no nature documentary. As in most animated films, the animals talk and plot elaborate schemes, and display all the other human-inspired behavior you’d expect from an action flick. Nonetheless, when the animals were being true to their species, all I could think was, “Kudos to Hollywood for this rare and unexpected accuracy!”
News: Karen B. London
Some dogs don’t have it
August 15 2011
Last fall, we were dog sitting for a delightful dog called Marley. His breed is best described as “Hmm, hard to say. I’d guess he has some hound in him, but after that I’m mystified.” (Check out the blog Canardly Marley to see what people have guessed about his breed.) Anyway, while spending a lovely four days with Marley, I learned a lot about him. It’s always a process getting to know a new dog, and most things about dogs don’t surprise me.
Marley has one highly unexpected trait. He is not the slightest bit sensitive to sudden loud sounds. He was so unresponsive to loud sounds that I would be worried about his hearing except that he comes running to the kitchen at even the quietest hint of the crinkling of a bag of treats. In a house with two young children, there is ample opportunity to verify that loud sounds don’t upset him, though it was something I did that really showed that loud noises don’t matter to Marley.
Our smoke alarm went off one day. In our house, that usually means that I am cooking pancakes. However, on this particular day, the smoke came from our woodstove as we first lit the evening’s fire and failed to get a good draft up our chimney. As the obnoxious but potentially life-saving beeping of our smoke alarm began, Marley looked up, cocked his head, and then went back to his Kong, completely unconcerned with the noise. Meanwhile, the rest of us were running around opening windows, fanning the smoke alarm with a cookie sheet, and grabbing a chair so that we could reach up to make it stop alerting us to the smoke. I make pancakes often, so our system for dealing with the smoke alarm is a well-oiled one.
On another occasion, Marley was playing with a balloon leftover from my son’s birthday party the day before. (By the way, I don’t advocate this as a toy for dogs because many dogs do get scared when they pop and also because dogs who habitually ingest things are too likely to choke if they take pieces of balloon into their mouths.) The balloon popped, and as you can see in the video below, Marley’s reaction was minimal in the extreme.
It’s quite delightful to live with a dog who is not bothered by loud noises, as anyone who has ever had a dog who panics in similar situations knows. Marley is not reactive to any loud noises, including power saws, as you can observe in this video:
Care to share any tales of dogs don’t care at all about loud noises, or about dogs who get alarmed in response to the sound of the proverbial pin dropping?
News: Karen B. London
EBay listing causes anger
August 9 2011
No matter what you want to buy, eBay probably has it. Looking for an 1897 Pocket Kodak camera? What about a gold-plated mango fork? Or perhaps you seek a service dog vest about which the seller says, “Use this for your good puppy and take her shopping with you. May have to play blind or stupid, but you love your puppy.”
This listing, which is no longer up, angered many people. Those with disabilities or whose family members have disablities are offended by the suggestion that people should dishonestly claim that their pets are service dogs, when they are not specifically trained in that way. They are concerned about the harm this causes to people with disabilities. The legitimacy of all service animals comes into question when people try to pass off their dogs as service animals.
It can be difficult to know whether an individual dog is a service animal. There is not some simple way to identify them such as a government-issued identification card. Identification of a service animal or proof that an animal is in fact a service dog is not required in most cases, and a disabled person who is asked for proof of their animal’s qualifications or training does not have to provide it. (An exception is the airlines, which are able to request documentation or ask questions to verify that a dog is a service animal, under the Air Carrier Access Act.) If a person is asked to leave a business or denied service because they brought in a service animal, that person can file a legal complaint against the owner of the business for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act.
What do you think of the wording of the listing on eBay for a service dog vest? How do you feel about the apparently common practice of falsely claiming that a dog is a service dog?
News: Karen B. London
How has your use of the floor changed?
August 8 2011
Recently, I decided to stretch on my living room floor. Naturally, moments later there was a dog right beside me, sniffing my hair, pawing at my leg and generally expressing enthusiasm about joining in the fun. Maneuvering through a series of stretches is far more entertaining with a companion, and I never mind the company of dogs, but it did make me ponder how I use and share my floor.
In what ways do we give up on total floor access when we live with dogs? It can be tricky to stretch without wanted or unwanted participation. If you are interested in having your dog join in, then doga (yoga for dogs) may be for you. In doga classes, people and dogs work as partners in the practice of yoga, supporting each other in their poses. Many cities do not have doga classes, but the book Barking Buddha: Simple Soul Stretches for Yogi and Dogi can give human and dogs an introduction to it. Doga is a great example of the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach to sharing the floor with your dog.
There are other activities besides stretching that become more challenging due to the presence of dogs. Playing monopoly is easier on the coffee table than on the floor. Bending over to look under the couch for a lost item is no longer a solo activity, and a dog is bound to show up to participate. And, of course, kids are generally better off snacking at the table rather than taking their food with them while they play on the floor.
In what ways has the use of your own floor been changed by the presence of a dog?
News: Karen B. London
Literacy improves when kids read to dogs
August 3 2011
When kids read to dogs, the dogs don’t judge kids who are still learning how to read or those who may feel hesitant about their skills. Dogs don’t laugh or tease, either. That makes the experience of reading to dogs very different than reading when other kids, or even adults, are around. Kids become more confident and are willing to spend time reading when the listener is a dog. Practice results in improved literacy and increased confidence.
Last week, my oldest son Brian had the opportunity to read to a dog at our local library through Paws to Read, a program in which kids read to dogs. The dogs are all Delta-registered therapy dogs who listen to kids read, along with their handlers. In Flagstaff, Ariz., Paws to Read teams are in public school classrooms as well as at the library during the summer. It creates a positive, non-threatening situation in which kids WANT to read and have fun doing it.
I had not heard of Paws to Read until I saw the library’s list of kids’ summer activities, and I signed up immediately. Like most parents, I appreciate any way to keep my kids engaged academically during the summer. As a canine behaviorist, I love that kids get an opportunity to see dogs with good manners contributing to society.
News: Karen B. London
They’ll jump in any puddle
July 29 2011
While dog sitting for the adorable Marley, I learned that I share an unexpected trait with him: Marley loves water. I found this endearing and it made me feel close to him because I’m the same way. I grew up in LA within sight of the ocean. (If we leaned a certain way in our driveway and the neighbor’s Magnolia tree blew just right, we could see the ocean. We enjoyed joking that our house had an ocean view.) I've always loved the beach, tidepooling, scuba diving, windsurfing, the pool, lakes, streams, ponds and any other type of water. I even love to splash on puddles in the rain when no other water option is available to me.
It seems Marley is the same way. He’ll jump into any puddle. We took him into the backyard, and after surveying his temporary playground, he headed right for a two-person sled that had fallen from our shed and filled with rainwater in the previous night’s storms. He stood there in the chilly water looking very pleased. I knew at once we were kindred spirits.
On subsequent walks, we both enjoyed sloshing through the water in the gutter and stomping in the few puddles that remained. I suspect that Marley, like me, would gravitate towards any body of water no matter the size or the temperature. While I find this charming, I could also imagine it to be inconvenient at times.
Does anyone else have any tales to tell of a dog who seems drawn to water of all kinds, whether it’s the neighbor’s pool, the sprinkler in the garden, or even an upturned trash bin lid?
News: Karen B. London
Was a good time had by all?
July 25 2011
Typical advice for happy travels by car with dogs includes some basics such as having your dog up to date on vaccinations and in good health. It also makes sense to have your dog microchipped and to check on any parasites or diseases that may be common at your destination and take the proper preventive measures. For travel safety, it’s wise to have your dog restrained in the car, perhaps riding in a crate in the back of the car.
These simple suggestions belie the true nature of traveling by car with dogs. It’s a lot more exciting with many more unexpected events. In simple terms, taking your dog on a road trip is one of those experiences that never looks quite like it did in the brochure. Everything from fitting the crate into the car to walking your dog at rest stops to cleaning up 20 pounds of kibble from the back seat can lead to tears, laughter, or even tears of laughter.
What experiences—good or bad—have you have on the road with your dog?
News: Karen B. London
Awkward, embarrassing and dangerous
July 21 2011
Watching a neighbor walk a couple of dogs by my house recently, it appeared more as though the group was attempting a complicated macramé pattern than going on a brisk walk. These sweet dogs were weaving in and out, twisting around my neighbor, their leashes, and each other. One word came to mind: chaos.
I’m not picking on the person—just empathizing. I’ve had my share of leash mishaps, and performed the leaping-over-the-leash-and-spin-to-untwist dance. In fact, I’ve acquired enough experience to achieve a high level of skill at it.
Once, my dog and I walked on opposite sides of a tree and when I reversed to go onto his side (because were working on loose leash walking and he’d been doing so well I didn’t want to make him come back), he kept going and followed me around the tree. In the sort of absurd comedy or errors that all friends experience from time to time, we walked around that ill-placed tree, switching directions, several times such that an observer might have thought it was the maypole, not a maple. It was the dog walking equivalent of getting wedged in a doorway like The Three Stooges. Usually, we were quite adept at coming around a pole or tree, but on this one occasion, it was far from smooth.
I’ve never been injured by silly leash antics, but I know not everyone has been so lucky. Many people have been knocked over, jolted enough to hurt their backs, or even broken fingers when they got tangled up and the dog pulled on the leash. The trainer in me cannot help but point out that this is yet another reason to teach dogs to walk nicely on leash without pulling, though I’m well aware that sometimes bad luck is more a factor than a lack of training.
Please share your experience with leash acrobatics.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Going the distance
July 21 2011
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.
It’s not how fast you run in training, it’s more a consistency, those back-to-back 100-mile weeks.
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.
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.
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.
Know that little things matter.
Attention to detail, making sure to do all the little things right, is at a premium.
Understand that every situation is different.
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.
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.
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!
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
A simple approach is often effective
July 19 2011
“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!”
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