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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
People as Dog Breeds
Canine thoughts at work

In a recent article entitled “Are You a Man or a Dog?” Susan Breslin puts forth a plan for understanding the other people at work. Her idea? Pretend they are all dogs. Actually, she gives a three-step plan: 1) Identify their breed, 2) Identify your breed, 3) Find your pack.

I have previously written that it helps me understand my sons when I think of one as a Greyhound and the other as a Viszla/Irish Setter cross, so it’s clear that I have no objection to this basic strategy. And yet, this article disappointed me because of its breed stereotyping and lack of understanding of basic dog behavior and training. As someone whose job involves educating people about dogs and dog behavior, this article demonstrates that considerable work remains to be done.

While there is value in noting the traits that people share with typical representatives of a breed of dogs, it has to be done with some accuracy to be useful. So, when Breslin describes German Shepherds as aggressive and implies that Poodles are hard to work with, especially in large numbers, I think she would benefit from better information. Most objectionable is her assertion that Cocker Spaniels thrive on positive reinforcement, implying that not all breeds do. This sort of thinking—that positive reinforcement is limited to certain species, breeds or individuals—is worrisome for those of us who advocate widespread use of humane, positive training methods.

On the bright side, this article’s appearance on Forbes.com is yet another reminder of how very much dogs are in the conversation about all aspects of our lives.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
9 Fun and Educational Toys for Dogs.
Play by the numbers
9 Fun and Educational Toys for Dogs.

The popularity of Dog Perignon Champagne plush toys, Hairy Winston squeak toys, and the chewable Dolce and Grrrbana designer shoes is a sign that the market for dog toys has exploded in recent years. Choosing toys can be daunting—the good ones need to be safe, fun and last a reasonable amount of time, but they shouldn’t be outrageously priced or so painful when stepped on in the middle of the night by bare feet that we lose our PG rating. Here are a few that I feel meet all of the above requirements.

1. Intellitoys. Dogs learn when they play, and some toys, such as the Intellicube and the Intellibone, are designed specifically with canine education in mind. Dogs can spend hours happily playing with the removable parts, learning to use mouths, paws and noses to manipulate objects.

2. Jackpot Chipmunk. Another educational favorite, this toy has a Velcro® closure pocket containing a plush-covered squeaker. Dogs can learn to open the pocket to get the squeaker, or the pocket can be used to store treats. My dog Bugsy, whom I lovingly describe as a couple of ants short of a picnic, finally learned to fetch with this method. He dutifully brought the toy, which he probably thought was a dog-proof cookie jar, back to me so that he could be paid in liver biscotti for his hard work.

3. Kong. If a household has only a single dog toy, it’s likely to be from the Kong line. These almost indestructible hollow toys can be filled with almost any kind of food, including treats such as cheese, peanut butter, cream cheese or biscuits, which the dog will then spend enormous amounts of time removing.Many dogs who are not toy-motivated learn to love them after experiencing the Kong.

4. Ball. A lot of dogs get over-the-top excited about fetching tennis balls, and anybody whose dog loves them to the point of distraction (literally!) should pause to be grateful, because never was there a less expensive, versatile, goodfor- us, good-for-them toy. If you’re inhibited by the prospect of handling a slimy ball, get a Chuckit, a plastic tool that you can use to scoop up and toss the ball without ever touching it.

5. Flying Disc. Fetch games with flying discs are even more fun and exciting to many dogs than fetching balls. The Flying Squirrel and the Hurl-a-Squirrel are both popular with the canine set. The Soft Bite Floppy Disc floats in water and has hot pink edges, which make it easy to locate after an errant throw (note the voice of experience here).Regular flying discs can injure dogs’ teeth, which is why I recommend these kinder, gentler types.

6. Donkey Tail Tug Toy. Though a knotted rope will suffice, the Donkey Tail— a long, stretchy braid of fleece—is even better for tug games. Plus, it’s made of material that doesn’t get as slimy as most tug toys or become as strongly redolent of eau de dog breath.

7. Egg Babies. These plush toys, which come in forms such as dinosaur, duck, hedgehog or platypus, have three removable squeaky “eggs” hidden inside a pouch. Dogs can pull the eggs out through the elasticized opening, which is fun for those who love to search for and find treasures. The eggs are just a little bit bigger than tennis balls, and as a huge bonus, replacement three-packs are available.

8. Booda Rip ’Ems. These are “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” toys.Dogs love to rip things apart, and Booda Rip ’Ems are actually designed for it. Their pieces are attached with Velcro® and can be reattached in a variety of ways. Many dogs love the ripping sound the Velcro® makes as much as the feeling of pulling the toy apart. The shapes include tigers, beach balls and watermelons.

9. The Critter. Lest we forget that our furry friends are predators, and superb ones at that, their toy choices remind us. Plush toys to rip apart and squeaky toys to pounce on are prized by most dogs. For the more discriminating predator, consider The Critter, which is essentially a faux fur–covered tennis ball with a faux fur tail attached. It is rare to make the acquaintance of a dog who does not go wild over it.

The main purpose of dog toys is not to give us a peaceful moment in which to read the paper and have a cup of coffee (although if you’ve used them this way, join the club). Rather, their function is to enhance play, which is a critical and often ignored part of canine behavior. And just as the best children’s books can be enjoyed by adults and children reading together, the best dog toys can be enjoyed by people and dogs playing together.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Brick Memorials
Loving reminders of dogs

The brick says “Remembering Kiwi: 125 Pounds of Love” and it’s part of a wall of bricks outside DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Ore. My brother-in-law and my sister purchased the brick in 2007 to honor their Newfoundland who passed away at age 11½ in April of that year. Kiwi was a great dog and I loved her, so the sight of her brick brought me both joy and sadness.

There are benefits of physical memorials to the dogs who remain in our hearts but no longer walk beside us every day, at least not in the literal sense. The tangible reminder of a loved one has great value, which is why gravestones as well as notices in the paper and even decals on cars mention those who have left us. In the case of Kiwi’s brick and others like it, a charitable contribution to buy the memorial goes to DoveLewis. Though a pet may be gone, honoring them with a contribution is a way to know that the love they inspired continues to give hope and lifesaving help to other pets.

Whether it required a contribution or not, do you have a tangible reminder of your deceased dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Don’t Lick the Dog
Good lessons in a kids’ book

Presentations to children about dog behavior and about how to act around dogs provide helpful safety lessons. The basic points I like to make when talking with kids are the things I wish that every child knew for the sake of safety. These include:

  • Don’t approach a dog who is tied out on a rope or chain.
  • Dogs don’t like to be hugged.
  • Don’t kiss dogs.
  • Don’t stare at a dog.
  • A wagging tail does not mean that a dog is friendly.
  • Leave dogs alone when they are eating or chewing something.

Recently, I covered these issues in my son’s first grade class with a combination of photos, discussion, an art activity in which the kids drew a good thing to do around a dog and a bad thing to do around a dog, and a book I read to them. The kids loved the book, which is Wendy Wahman’s Don’t Lick the Dog: Making Friends with Dogs, which is geared towards children ages four to eight.

The book covers many things about greeting dogs such as asking permission to pet a dog; being calm; moving slowly; not patting their heads but instead stroking them on the chin and chest; a few of the visual signals by dogs that indicate discomfort; advising children not to hug dogs or to get right in their faces; and letting dogs approach you rather than the other way around. The whimsical, upbeat drawings captivated the children. I love this book because of the great information in it and because kids like it, which means they are more likely to digest the important messages.

Have you seen this book or read it to children?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Origins of the Kong
Happy accident launched the toy

Louis Pasteur’s remark “Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen? Chance favors only the prepared mind” is true in many fields. Those who have great knowledge recognize opportunity and are able to take a random event and recognize the value of something unexpected.

In the world of dogs, a great example of chance favoring the prepared mind is seen in the original inspiration for the Kong toy. Inventor Joe Markham, founder of The Kong Company, received his inspiration from a surprising source.

He was working on his vehicle and tossed an axle stop with an attached bracket on the ground. His dog got hold of it and loved it. He was playing with it joyously, much to Markham’s amusement. He said to his friend, “What do you think of my new dog toy?”

His friend replied, “Actually, it’s not too pretty. It looks like an earplug from King Kong.” And the Kong toy was born.

I heard this story from Mark Hines, behavior and training specialist for The Kong Company, who gave a talk at a conference on applied animal behavior that we both attended this past weekend. The conference had many great talks and I learned so much, but this one brief story stands out more than any other piece of information. I’ve often wondered how Kong came up with their well-known and trademarked shape.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Missing Our Dogs
Absence makes the heart grow fonder

Having just returned from a small conference focusing on applied animal behavior, I’ve had several friends ask, “What do applied animal behaviorists talk about for three whole days?” It may seem like a long time, but it’s barely enough to discuss all that we find fascinating, which ranges from behavior problems, scientific research and shelter programs.

 

We especially find ourselves short on time because in addition to our professional presentations and discussions, we tell one another all about our own dogs. During a snack break on the second day, one member of the group said, “I miss my dogs. Does anyone else miss theirs?” What followed was an enthusiastic sharing of dog photographs and stories to match. There were print photos, phone photos and piles of adorable images on computers.

 

Missing dogs is always a challenge during travel, but we were lucky to be surrounded by others who understood perfectly. Is it hard for you to leave your dogs when you travel for work? Do you share photos with your colleagues?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Identifying Who Passed Gas
My dog never claimed responsibility

I’m not sure why, but I’ve reached a point where refined jokes don’t always cause me to guffaw but gas is always funny. Perhaps it’s just because I have two young boys, which means that a certain amount of potty humor is a part of daily life. Actually, the trend may pre-date having children because years ago my dog Bugsy could always prompt giggles when he passed gas.

 

It was his response that amused me. Even before the horrid smell had spread to the rest of the occupants of the room, he would sniff in the direction of his back end. His facial expression would show true disgust, and he would grudgingly stand up, look at the rest of us as if to say, “Really? Who would do such a thing?” and leave the room. It was rare for him not to want to be in our presence, but his own emissions were too much for him to bear.

 

It seemed to us he had no idea that he was the cause of the bad smell. Of course, we can’t prove that. He wasn’t the brightest of dogs, so I think it’s unlikely that he was purposely trying to feign ignorance of what he had done in a complex plan to deceive. In support of that, I should share that usually what he did was silent (but deadly) and on the rare occasions that he made noise, he would literally startle to the sound and then proceed with the behavior described above.

 

I know that Bark readers are a sophisticated group, but I’m hoping there are others out there who share my ability to enjoy lowbrow humor, too. Do you have a story to share about your own dog along these lines?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Hair Used in Textiles
Woven items of the Coast Salish

Wearing dog hair has become acceptable to the point that many people believe no outfit is complete without it. The contribution of canine fur to textiles is hardly new, though.

 

Before European contact, the Coast Salish people of the Pacific Northwest incorporated dog hair into their textiles, including robes, sashes and blankets. Oral histories have long claimed this, and a recent scientific study has confirmed it. Pieces as old as 200 years that are stored at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian were analyzed using protein mass spectronomy.

 

All items prior to 1862 contained dog hair, but pieces from the late 1800s and early 1900s did not. No items were made entirely of dog hair, leading scientists to believe that dog hair was a supplemental material. Mountain goats were the primary source of wool, though commercial sheep wool was in some items as well. Ceremonial items were made of goat hair alone, while everyday items also included dog hair.

 

Museums have labeled blankets made by Coast Salish people as “Dog Hair Blankets” but this study suggests that those descriptions need to be updated.

 

Dog hair is used to make fibers for knitted and crocheted objects in our culture, too, and the yarn spun from dog hair can be of a very nice quality. Of course, most of us still just wear the fur of our canine pals in an ad hoc, purely decorative way, which always looks good. If you love dogs and wear dog hair, you’ll always be fashionable—good taste never goes out of style.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Dog of Your Life
A trainer talks about her “heart dog”

I love dogs. I love stories. And I love love. It stands to reason that I would love stories about the love of dogs, and, in fact, I do. Recently, I read this one about trainer Kathy Sdao and her dog Effie, the kind of once-in-a-lifetime dog whose entrance into someone’s life changes it forever. Whether we call such dogs the loves of our lives, our heart dogs, or our soulmates, they remind us that love is for every day, not just Valentine’s Day, and their love makes life richer, better, sweeter.

Kathy shares the experience of having her second husband leave her on September 10, 2001 for another woman, much as her first husband had done many years earlier. She would have been shattered even without facing what the following day brought, and it was Effie who helped her resist the temptation to take her own life.

Many dogs have saved people’s lives, thankfully, and there is something especially powerful about Effie having done this for Kathy by fostering her will to live. Kathy writes, “I gradually realized, with genuine surprise, that just having her close by, I felt a tiny ribbon of relief deep inside. It turns out that this simple pleasure of her presence, at a time when nothing else brought comfort, was the first steppingstone on my path back to wholeness and happiness.”

Describing Effie as her “joy-coach,” Kathy says, “She knows what's important: playing daily, experiencing the nowness of every moment, speaking volumes without using words, surrounding herself with dear friends.”

It’s been more than a decade now since Effie saved her life, and that time has given her a delightful new perspective, which is “I may not know how to pick men, but I sure as hell know how to pick a dog!”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Commercial Aimed at Dogs
Directly at dogs, that is

A dog food commercial is expected to air in the UK with sounds so high in pitch that people won’t be able to hear them, but dogs will. The goal of the commercial is to attract the attention of dogs. Ideally, from the point of view of those who designed the ad, dogs will perk up their ears and even bark when the commercial plays. They hope that this will direct their guardians’ attention to the commercial. Along with the high frequency sounds, the commercial has bells, whistles and barking.

This 2011 version of the commercial does not have the high-pitched sounds in it, but the one that will air in 2012 does.

As a behaviorist, it alarms me to think of sounds that target dogs without humans being able to detect them. What if the dogs find them distressing? We would have no way of knowing that there are sounds associated with the commercial, and that can make it extra hard to find the source of trouble. There are already so many stimuli that our dogs can detect without our being aware of them, especially scents. The idea of adding triggers whose purpose is to cause our dogs to perk up and bark doesn’t thrill me.

On the other hand, I’m curious about whether dogs will react to the commercial as expected, based on the 12 dogs tested by the company. All 12 expressed some interest in the commercial and a couple of them came over to the television.

What do you think about commercials with sounds only our dogs can hear?

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