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 story remains compelling decades later
January 9 2012
Discussing her new book Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend on NPR, Susan Orlean said something that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about: “During the silent film era, dogs were on par with human actors. Nobody had the power of speech. A dog was just as credible as a character conveying through gesture and action and the look on his face. A dog was just as good as a human at doing that and, frankly, more natural.”
It’s well known that a substantial amount of dogs’ communication is visual, but I had never considered that this made them as good as or better than human silent film actors. This helped me to better understand the reasons that Rin Tin Tin was considered a national treasure.
Besides the insight into Rin Tin Tin’s acting skills and reputation, Susan Orlean tells great stories about this dog’s life and that of Lee Duncan. Duncan rescued Rin Tin Tin from a kennel that had been destroyed, probably by artillery fire, during World War I. An animal lover who had spent part of his childhood in an orphanage and part on an isolated ranch in the absence of other children, his dog was his main companion, he was unable to leave the mother and her new litter of puppies (including Rinty, as Duncan called Rin Tin Tin) behind in the destruction of the battlefield.
In another part of the interview, Orlean remarks on the close emotional connection between Duncan and Rin Tin Tin. Though the dog was his livelihood and had made him a very rich man, Duncan always seemed to value the dog as a close personal friend, rather than as a source of wealth, saying, “. . . what mattered to him was his relationship with the dog.” I often think about how times have changed with dogs becoming ever more important in our lives, particularly the emotional part, but Rin Tin Tin’s story reminds me that great love for dogs has existed in every era.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Did you and your child get a new puppy?
January 6 2012
Even though most experts think it’s not a good idea, many children receive puppies as holiday gifts. Whether or not a child’s new puppy was a surprise or planned well in advance, there are many ways to help children raise the new family member so she will develop into a happy, healthy dog. Here are ten tips for doing right by the new puppy in a child’s life.
1. Help your child. Don’t rely on a child to do all the care and work. Always supervise, even though all parents know that it’s sometimes more work to monitor what your kids are doing than it is to just do it yourself. Adults must be a big part of the dog’s care and training. On a related note, if everyone shares the less popular jobs (backyard poop, anyone?), most kids respond favorably to the fairness.
2. Help your puppy to succeed. Limit her access to just part of the house and thoroughly puppy-proofing those areas. It’s easier to prevent bad habits from forming than to try to change those bad habits later on. Encourage your children to be responsible about closing doors and gates.
3. Take house training seriously. At all times, a puppy who is still learning where the potty is should be: 1) Confined to a crate or small puppy-proofed area, 2) Outside with someone who is ready to offer excellent treats along with praise as soon as she eliminates, 3) Inside being watched constantly for any signs that she needs to relieve herself. What about other situations? There are none!
4. Play with your puppy. Play provides so many benefits—fun, mental exercise, learning life skills, training possibilities, exercise, and the opportunity to develop a great relationship with your puppy. Few activities offer the bang for your buck that playing with a puppy does. Among the best games for kids and dogs are fetch and hide-and-seek. Tug and chase games are best for adults only since they can result in puppies who are highly aroused, which can lead to trouble, even with nice kids and nice dogs.
5. Provide toys and chews. Puppies tend to be very busy, and it’s always wise to teach your dog what she is allowed to put in her mouth and what is off limits. Teach kids to leave dogs alone when they are chewing on something. Many dogs tolerate people bothering them when they have a treasure, but even if yours does, it’s unwise to let a child think that approaching a dog with a chew toy is okay, because another dog may react badly. Children should learn to respect dogs’ space and puppies should learn to entertain themselves.
6. Train the puppy. Training a dog to be a polite member of society is an ongoing process, but it’s never too early to start. Get off on the right paw by prioritizing and starting to teach your puppy a few cues. I like to begin with teaching a new puppy her name, to come when called, to sit and lie down on cue, and to wait at the door. Also important are greeting people properly with all four paws on the floor, walking nicely on a leash, and to stay. It’s ideal to have adults teach the puppies new cues before the kids use the cues with the puppy.
7. Have each child be in charge of teaching one trick to the puppy. Great options include roll over, high-5, and crawl. Trick training is fun and great for the relationship between kids and puppies, but it’s low pressure since there’s not a lot riding on whether or not the puppy can perform the trick well. It allows kids to be involved in the training without any risk of setbacks on something as important as a reliable recall.
8. Take a family dog training class. Everyone can attend and learn how to train from an professional, which means that the kids have an outside person, rather than Mom or Dad, who is instructing them. Choose a class that is taught by a qualified person using humane training methods.
9. Provide opportunities to exercise. Typical puppies need a minimum of two 45-minute sessions a day of high-level exercise, plus many additional short walks or backyard play sessions. Off-leash romps in safe places are ideal.
10. Let your dog make new friends. Arrange for canine play dates with one or two social, polite dogs or puppies at a time. Not just any play partner will do. They must be dogs who play nicely and never frighten or overwhelm your puppy. The risk of that is too high at the dog park, so I would avoid such places with a puppy. Adults must supervise play sessions, as it’s unfair to ask a child to monitor the emotions and arousal level of the puppy.
If your family was blessed with a new puppy this holiday season, congratulations to you! Enjoy this magical time with an individual who has only been on the planet for a short time. Treasure moments such as watching the joy on your child’s face match the joy on the puppy’s face. As for the moments that are less joyous, such as leaving a cozy bed at 5 AM to head out into a snowstorm with a puppy who needs to pee, remember this: Puppyhood is brief and wonderful, but it’s okay during rough moments to consider that it is wonderfully brief.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Most are common for people, too
January 3 2012
When I was deciding what to call my children, any name that seemed more like a dog’s name than a person’s name was immediately eliminated. That meant that I said, “No,” to Max, Sadie, Molly, Jack, Jake, Maggie, Lucy, Zoe, Charlie, Riley, Bailey and Sam, even though my grandfather was named Sam, and my dad’s grandparents were Max and Sadie. After years of training dogs in classes and in private consultations, those names seemed more canine than human to me. I was worried enough about treating my kids like puppies, and I didn’t want their names to make it even harder for me to learn how to be a parent to human children.
A generation ago, this would not have been a problem since the use of traditionally human names for our dogs is relatively new. It reflects the wonderful trend towards considering our dogs members of the family and our ever-closer relationship with them. So except for the fact that it added an extra challenge to choosing names for my children, I heartily embrace the changes in dog names.
The list of the top 10 dog names for 2011 according to Petfinder.com contains eight common human names (Max, Daisy, Bella, Lucy, Molly, Charlie, Jack, Sadie) and two names that sometimes belong to humans but are still more common for pets (Buddy and Rocky). This is a big contrast to years ago when Rusty, Rover, Fido, Spot, Chief and Patches were among the most popular names for dogs.
Does your dog have a name that is also popular with people?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
January 2 2012
Most dog trainers love the process of teaching dogs new skills as much as they love the results. That’s why so many of us have dogs who are better than a résumé at showing what we can do. Our dogs sit, lie down, heel, stay and come on cue; wait patiently at the house or car door until told to proceed; or back away from food on the floor rather than scarf it up. The love of training also means that dog trainers are particularly inclined to teach their dogs tricks.
Many people consider dog tricks completely frivolous, or at least think that time spent training dogs to do them could be better invested in teaching useful skills. But if people realized the practical value of tricks, they might be willing to engage their dogs in learning a few. Many tricks offer more than just charming performance opportunities; here are eight that fall in that category.
Crawl. I used to ask my dog to do this when I lived on a farm in Wisconsin and he got muddy walking through the fields. Depending on the season, I would have him crawl through snow or over grass to clean up a bit before we went inside.
Shake. I ask dogs to present a paw on cue when cutting their nails, or at the vet to make a blood draw easier. It’s also useful for checking for pad injuries or just toweling off wet paws after a walk.
Belly up. This cue tells dogs to lie on their backs with their legs in the air. Most often, I ask a dog to do this to get a belly rub, but it can also help a vet perform an examination more easily.
Beg. This is another way to get a dog to expose the belly, and I like to ask a dog to beg when I need to pull off burrs or seeds. If a dog’s balance is good, “beg” can also be a way to position a dog for a quick brush of the belly fur.
What? This is a cue to cock the head, which makes photos of dogs especially endearing no matter what position they’re in. The less time you spend trying to get dogs into specific poses, the more likely they are to have a nice expression on their face.
Bow. Having a dog perform a play bow on cue is more than just a cute trick; it can also help dogs who are a bit awkward or nervous around other dogs. The play bow is a social signal that means “What follows is playful in nature,” and performing one near other dogs can mean that social interactions start off on the right paw, easing tensions caused by confusing or unexpected behavior.
Up. I use this as a cue to jump or step onto something; it’s a great way to get big dogs to stand on the vet’s scale. It is even more useful when combined with a solid stay, but that’s not always essential.
Dry off. This cue, which tells dogs to shake their whole body, is a way to have dogs shake off excess water before coming inside after a walk in the rain or a bath.
Being able to ask a dog to perform a behavior makes many situations less anxiety provoking. If our dogs need to perform a certain behavior, either for medical reasons or to further that fruitless, endless pursuit of cleanliness, it’s better to be able to communicate what we want than to physically manipulate them. Even if we have their best interests in mind, our dogs have no way of knowing that. Rather than grab them, lift them or push them around—however gently—it’s advantageous just to be able to tell them what we want and have them do it on their own. Tricks involve dogs putting their bodies (or at least parts of them!) in all sorts of positions, and that variety of movement and behavior is what gives tricks their practical value.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Big truths in little sayings
December 30 2011
Since dogs have been such a big part of our lives for thousands of years, it’s no surprise that they appear in expressions in many human languages.
In French, “between a dog and a wolf” signifies dusk or twilight. In Spanish, “like a dog in a canoe” means being very nervous and “little dog of all weddings” is a way to describe a highly social person.
In Italian, an admonition to stop beating around the bush is expressed as “stop leading the dog around the barnyard,” while the Russian expression for “like a fifth foot on a dog” refers to something useless.
In German, “a fat dog” is a startling piece of news and to say that people get on “like a dog and a monkey” in Japanese means that they are on bad terms.
Dog idioms show up in English, too, and I’ve always really liked the expression, “the tail wagging the dog.” It is used to describe either a situation in which a small part of something is controlling the whole of it or a reversal of the proper roles. Despite the actual meanings, it always makes me think of happy dogs who wag their tails so enthusiastically that their whole bodies, from the shoulders back, are involved in the action. It looks as though the tail is literally wagging the dog.
Do you have a favorite dog-related expression?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Everybody’s answer is different
December 27 2011
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
In your room? In your bed? In your arms?
December 23 2011
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
December 20 2011
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
Identifying the moment
December 15 2011
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
Does this top 10 work for you?
December 14 2011
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?
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