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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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Dog Song [Video]
Canine cheer courtesy of music and paintings

Feeling a bit down? Need a pick-me-up? May I suggest taking a peek at this video featuring “The Dog Song” (written and performed by Emily Westman) and a series of dog paintings by Nancy Schutt?

It made me so happy that I wanted to pass it along. I’m surprised how much it lifted my mood and for how long, especially as I was feeling perfectly well before I saw it for the first time. I’ve watched it at least a dozen times since. My mood is up, but my efficiency is down. It’s a worthwhile trade.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Coffee Shop Dog Talk
What are people saying?

I love listening to people talk, and I justify my tendency to eavesdrop in public places by reminding myself that I am a writer, and this is what writers do. I try to be discreet, and usually succeed, with the exception of one occasion years ago. I leaned back so far in my chair to make sure I did not miss the end of a thrilling story that I fell backwards, crashing onto the floor and badly blowing my cover.

Recently, I was having coffee and enjoying the conversations of the people around me. Within the span of less than an hour, I heard these six dog-related comments:

“I have to take my dog to the vet on Thursday, but I could meet before 7:45 or after 8:30.”

“I was at Jessica’s, and she has the most amazing gardens in her yard, and she had a flourishing mint patch so I took a little sprig and ate it. So then Jessica gasps and says, ‘Oh, no! Don’t eat that! My dog pees all over that!’”

“Did you see that picture of the dog by the coffin? Man, I hate this war.”

“My kids really want a puppy but I cannot take on one more thing for the next few months. Maybe after the holidays I could begin to think about it.”

“My uncle steps in dog poop all the time. I have no idea why it’s always him, but he always seems to find it. It makes my aunt super mad.”

“There’s been a stray dog by our house for days. He’s skinny, there’s no collar and I can’t catch him.”

I might have heard more, but one nearby table was filled with quiet talkers—not very considerate of them, really. What have you heard lately about dogs from the people around you, whether they were talking directly to you or not?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Eats $10,000 in Diamonds
Dog and jewelry both okay

When diamonds went missing from a jewelry store in Georgia, X-rays solved the mystery of who took them. The store owner’s dog, Honey Bun, had eaten the valuable pair of earrings when he had left his desk to help a customer. Usually, Honey Bun’s job is to greet customers rather than to attend to merchandise.

How, you may ask, were the diamonds recovered? Nature was allowed to take its course, and the diamonds saw the light of day in due time. A friend of mine once had her engagement ring take the same sort of travels through her Bernese Mountain Dog puppy’s insides. (I had the “pleasure” of being with them when the ring reappeared.)  Has this ever happened to any of your jewelry?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs in Stripes
The paintings of Kate Hoyer

“I paint dogs in stripes because it makes us look at dogs not just as animals we own but as part of our culture. Painting them in stripes echoes how integrated they have become.” So explains artist Kate Hoyer on her website.

Hoyer has been painting in stripes for almost 30 years, but originally she employed this style for abstract work. Later, she decided that she wanted to combine what stripes offer as a design element with realistic subjects.

The result of this combination of richly colored stripes with recognizable forms is a striking body of work, with dogs being her most recent subject matter. My art education is limited, but I know dogs, and what I see in Hoyer’s paintings are dogs whose expressions and emotions feel real with the vibrancy and honesty that’s always sought, but less often achieved, in art.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Man Saves Dogs With Lasso
They were trapped in a canal

Some skills are like riding a bicycle and never fade away. Those hard-won skills sometimes prove useful in unexpected ways years later. Take Jesus Villanueva, who learned to lasso in Jalisco, Mexico when he worked on a cattle ranch. It had been 30 years since he had roped an animal, but when he had the opportunity to save two dogs being swept away in a canal in Yakima County, Wash., he lassoed each dog on his first try and was able to pull them to safety.

Noya and Matt Deats’ dogs, Nia and Fawn, were at risk of drowning in a canal with fast flowing water and steep concrete sides. Noya had already run a long way along the canal trying to keep up with her dogs when she called her husband at work to come help, too. She also called the police. A sheriff’s deputy’s attempts to rope the dogs were not successful, and that’s when Villanueva, working nearby, heard the commotion and put his lasso skills to use. As they say: “Education is never a waste.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fallen Navy SEAL’s Dog Lies By Coffin
Image moves many people

Navy SEAL Jon Tumlinson died in Afghanistan on August 6, 2011. After leading the family into the gym where the funeral was held, his dog Hawkeye stayed by the coffin. Jon’s cousin, Lisa Pembleton, took a photograph of Hawkeye lying by Tumlinson’s coffin, and this stirring image has attracted attention worldwide.

Among the many people moved by this photograph was Jon Lazar, who played football for the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 1970s. Lazar has suggested to the Iowa football team that Hawkeye lead the team onto the field at a game this season as a way to honor Tumlinson, who is a native of Iowa. Lazar envisions the announcer telling the story about this dog’s actions at the funeral, which he thinks would bring the crowd to tears. (I think the idea is beautiful, but I am in favor of carrying it out only if Hawkeye would not be stressed by being in that situation. Some dogs can handle such crowds and noise, but many can’t.)

Though Hawkeye no doubt misses his lost friend, he does have a loving home. Tumlinson’s friend Scott Nichols is Hawkeye’s new guardian.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Photographing Terminally Ill Dogs
“Joy Sessions” by Sarah Beth Photography

The service dog’s name was “Joy” and photographing her had a profound affect on Sarah Ernhart. The photo session was a gift from a friend of Joy’s guardian, who was in hospice. Joy was among the most important individuals in the woman’s life, and the pictures meant so much to her that it inspired Sarah to start something new with her business, Sarah Beth Photography.

The dog’s name gave her the idea to name the new service “Joy Sessions,” which she has trademarked. Joy Sessions are photography sessions offered at a reduced price for people whose pet is terminally ill. She often schedules Joy Sessions for the same day or the next day, as soon as they’re needed. Images from her Joy Sessions are emotionally compelling because of a couple of factors. Ernhart’s photographic skills, including making her subjects comfortable, a strong eye for composition and design as well as an understanding of the technical elements such as lighting and depth of field, combine with her focus on the relationship between people and dogs to create memorable photographs with extra special meaning. It’s her contribution to helping people go through the trauma of saying good-bye to a pet.

Sarah contributes to her local pet community in other ways. She donates 10 percent of her pet session fees to local non-profit groups that help animals such as shelters, rescues, or advocates for animals. She offers discounts of up to 50 percent for people who have adopted their dogs from rescue and is a member of HeARTs Speak, whose stated mission is to unite the individual efforts of animal artists and animal rescues into collective action for social change.

Sarah’s photographs are lovely, and what she says about them shows her love for dogs as well as her images do. My favorite comment? “Ohdinn’s studio session was a gift from his mom’s best friend. He’s getting up there, and they wanted to bring him in while he still had some pep. If this silly, happy old man doesn’t make you smile, I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog With Math Skills
Is it a case of the Clever Hans Effect?

The news is full of stories about dogs with incredible abilities. As a dog lover, I adore hearing about amazing canine skills. As a scientist, I am often skeptical and wonder if the dog in question is really capable of doing what has been claimed. The story of Beau is one such case in which I have been made to wonder.

According to his guardian David Madsen, and to many witnesses, Beau can do math. For example, if Madsen tells Beau that there were six dogs at the park but three of them left, and then asks his dog how many dogs are left, Beau answers, “woof, woof, woof.” He will answer with five barks if asked what two plus three equals.

Madsen says Beau is correct about 85 percent of the time and that he has never had such a smart dog. To prove that he was not signaling the dog, Madsen has allowed others to test Beau when he (Madsen) was absent. Beau’s success when Madsen is not there proves that Madsen is not pulling a fast one on the rest of us, but it does not speak to the possibility that Beau’s skills are the result of the “Clever Hans Effect.”

Hans was a horse who lived in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was owned by Wilhelm von Osten, who claimed to have taught him many skills, including arithmetic. Hans responded to questions, both oral and written, by tapping his foot. Many people observed Hans perform with von Osten at various shows throughout Germany.

In 1904, a panel of 13 people tested Hans to determine whether the horse actually knew the answers to the questions or if von Osten was tricking them all by secretly signaling his horse. They concluded that von Osten was not committing fraud and that the horse did indeed know the answers to the questions.

In 1907, psychologist Oskar Pfungst evaluated Clever Hans and shed new light on what the horse was able to do. In a series of tests, Pfungst investigated the horse’s success at answering questions under a variety of circumstances. He sometimes kept the horse away from spectators to make sure that the horse was not using any cues from them. He had people other than von Osten question Hans at times. He used blinders so that the horse could not always see the person asking the questions. He varied the distance between the questioner and Hans. Finally, in some cases, he used questioners who did not know the answer.

Pfungst noted that Hans got the answer to questions right even when von Osten was not the person asking the questions, which convinced him that Hans’ performance was not a fraud. He also observed that Hans answered correctly only when he could see the questioner and when the questioner knew the answer. For example, when von Osten knew the correct answer, Hans was correct almost 90 percent of the time, but when von Osten did not know the answer, the horse’s responses were correct only about 6 percent of the time. Hans’ performance suffered to a lesser degree if the questioner was far away from him.

What Pfungst noticed after observing the behavior of questioners was that as the horse tapped his leg, the person would change his expression and posture subtly as the horse approached the correct answer. He observed that when the horse had tapped the right amount of times for a correct answer, the person released that tension. That release in tension was the cue that the horse was using to know when to stop tapping.

Even being aware of this tendency to cue the horse, questioners, including Pfungst, could not stop their faces and bodies from giving information to the horse, as these cues are largely involuntary. Questioners were entirely unaware that they were communicating with the horse in this way. Pfungst showed that while Hans did not know the answers, von Osten was not a fraud. (Von Osten never accepted that Clever Hans was cuing off of people rather than actually solving the problems and continued to show his horse to appreciative crowds throughout Germany.)

The tendency of an observer to influence the behavior of a subject being studied with subtle and unintentional cues is called the “Clever Hans Effect.” Most experiments in psychology are now carefully designed to avoid it.

Hans may not have had the grasp of mathematics that von Osten claimed, but there is no doubt that this horse was a brilliant observer. His ability to cue off subtle cues in people’s posture and facial expressions was remarkable, and as such, this famous and talented horse certainly earned his nickname “Clever Hans.”

It would be interesting to test Beau, the dog who has so recently gained fame for his performances. Beau clearly possesses an extraordinary ability, but I want to know exactly what it is. Is it a great mathematical talent or a highly developed aptitude for observing and responding to people’s subtle, unintentional facial expressions and body language?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Girl Scouts Buy Badges for Police Dogs
Cookie sales fund the project

Girl Scouts in Troop 10470 met officers last year during a safety presentation by the police. The girls were saddened to learn that the canine police dogs did not have their own badges, and they decided to do something about it.

Buying badges costs money, and we all know how Girl Scouts raise money. They sell cookies. It took more than 1,000 boxes to raise enough money to buy badges for the five police dogs, which were presented to them on August 17, 2011. Each badge has the dog’s name on it, rather than an officer ID number, which is what human police officers have on their badges.

It’s telling that the Girl Scouts felt that the dogs, being police officers too, should have their own badges. To them, and to many adults, it just makes sense that dogs as well as people should have badges. They are part of a new generation growing up with the viewpoint that dogs are on equal footing with their human partners, which is why one girl had asked, “Why does your dog not have a badge?”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Favorite Summer Movie Gets a Lot Right
Animal accuracy in Hollywood a rare treat

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!”

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