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
Dogs In Motion
A new study of canine locomotion

Many studies of locomotion in dogs focus on sick dogs while others focus on particular aspects of locomotion. The recently published book Dogs In Motion includes the comprehensive findings of a study of more than 300 dogs and how they move. More than 30 breeds were studied with several techniques helping reveal how dogs move.

Researchers Dr. Martin Fischer and Dr. Karin Lilje used high-speed x-rays as well as infrared imaging based on reflective dots positioned on the dogs to record details of their movements from both the side and from the front. Interestingly, researchers found that no matter what breed of dog was looked at, the patterns of movements match. Though the gaits of many breeds may appear quite different, the underlying motions of bones, muscles and connective tissue are not so different after all.

The study shows that displays and textbooks sometimes have errors, particularly related to the heights of corresponding parts of the front and hind limbs. The shoulder blade and hip are often depicted at the same level, when the true placement of these joints is actually different. The thigh and the shoulder blade correspond, as do the upper arm and the lower leg. According to Fischer, the shoulder blade and forearm are moving in matched motion with the thigh and middle foot, even though that is different than what was previously thought.

Previous investigations into the ways dogs move, such as Rachel Page Elliot’s Dogsteps, have changed what people thought they knew about canine locomotion, and this most recent study is one more scientific study that does so.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Recycled Canine Couture
High fashion for dogs

Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang, Chanel and Burberry are all sources of material for Anastasia Torres-Gil’s creations. She designs high fashion for dogs using items from her own closet or from thrift stores, sticking to the motto, “If I wouldn’t wear it myself, I wouldn’t put it on a dog.” Her company is called My Favorite Couture.

Torres-Gil is amused by seeing dogs wearing fancy items, such as a Louis Vuitton handbag that has been redesigned into a pillbox hat. Her creativity involves designing, painting, and accessorizing clothing for dogs. Twenty-five percent of her sales are donated to a local SPCA.

What’s your reaction to dogs dressed in this way?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Winning Dog Art for Wine Label Contest
Artist Nancy Schutt takes it with “Out of Reach”

Over the years, Mutt Lynch Winery has created wines with names such as “Unleashed Chardonnay” and “Merlot Over and Play Dead.” They consistently combine a love of dogs with a love of wines, and the results are often as charming as they are delicious.

They just announced the winner of their third annual wine label contest, which is “Out of Reach” by artist Nancy Schutt. There were many wonderful entries in this contest, which was co-sponsored by Mutt Lynch Winery and Dog Art Today. The theme of the contest was “Naughty.” The wine “Out of Reach” will be available in August 2011, and 10 percent of the profits from its sale will be donated to an animal shelter.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Causes of Death Vary by Breed
What’s your dog’s risk?

Most dog guardians have some idea what to look for in terms of health issues based on the breed of their dog. Those who have Pugs and Bulldogs know that respiratory problems may crop up, while those with Dachshunds and Bassett Hounds are aware that their dogs are more likely than many other breeds to have back issues.

A recent study of almost 75,000 dogs over a period of 20 years delved deeper into serious health concerns that are breed related. Dr. Daniel Promislow and Dr. Kate Creevy investigated the causes of death in 80 breeds from 1984 to 2004 and published their study in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Their findings include many expected results as well as some surprises.

As predicted, they found that small breeds such as the Chihuahua and Maltese have high rates of cardiovascular disease, but they learned that the Fox Terrier does, too. It was no surprise that Golden Retrievers and Boxers are at high risk for cancer, but the finding that Bouvier de Flandres die from cancer at an even higher rate was unexpected.

Understanding what the causes of death are across breeds is important for two different reasons. One, it may help explain a paradox within domestic dogs: Typically, larger mammals live longer than smaller ones, but in dogs, little dogs have longer life spans than bigger ones. Knowing the causes of death may help explain why this is so.

Two, knowing what diseases and health problems a dog is at risk for based on breed can help veterinarians screen for, diagnose and treat health problems earlier. This may result in better management and treatment of these issues, which can prolong life and improve the quality of life for dogs. For rare breeds especially, veterinarians may not see enough individuals in their practice to elucidate the patterns for risk that they notice in more common breeds, which makes studies with large numbers of dogs, such as this one, so valuable.

What health risks are you aware of based on the breed of your dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Why Do Dogs Bite Mail Carriers?
There are so many reasons

A press release from the Postal Service titled “Postal Service Announces Top Dog Attack Cities” shares the statistic that 5,669 postal employees were attacked by dogs last year in 1,400 cities across the United States. Houston was the city in which the most such bites occurred with 62 and Columbus and San Diego tied for second with 45 each.

Of course, many more people nationwide are bitten, but it’s common knowledge that mail carriers regularly face the threat of dog bites. There are many reasons for this. Mail carriers walk onto dogs’ territories every day, returning no matter what the dogs do to warn them—bark, growl, lunge or stare. From a canine perspective, these people just keep invading the dogs’ space each day without responding to their warnings. So for dogs who are territorial, postal workers are unwelcome, and their behavior sometimes escalates from warnings to actual bites.

The majority of dogs who bite do so because they are afraid. Fearful dogs are often especially scared of people who are carrying things, which puts people who deliver the mail at risk. Furthermore, these mail carriers turn their backs and walk away, an action that can give frightened dogs just enough confidence to act on their fears by biting.

To both fearful and territorial dogs (as well as dogs with both issues), uniforms are often associated with unfamiliar people arriving on their property, so the uniform itself can be a trigger that elicits aggressive behavior.

How does your dog react to the person who delivers your mail?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Walking Dogs in the Rain
Does your dog mind?

The dogs out for walks in the rain seemed to be paying no attention to the constant drizzle. Even the people seemed unconcerned by the wetness. Most were a little damp. A few had on rain jackets. Absolutely nobody had an umbrella.

I just returned from a visit with my parents in beautiful, flower-filled Portland, Ore., during which it rained almost every day. While I was there, I saw dogs being walked in light rain, medium rain, heavy rain and (occasionally) an absence of rain. There was no detectable difference in their behavior. Rain is so common in that part of the country that people generally ignore it and go about their business, whether it’s yard work, exercising, or taking care of their dogs. I actually found it sort of refreshing. (What I found refreshing was that everybody was going about their business, NOT the rain, which I’m not used to since leaving town to head to college.)

I love that people were outside with their dogs, not caring to try to stay dry, and apparently making little attempt to coordinate their outings with times of day when the rain let up. Living in Flagstaff, Ariz., which has 262 days a year with at least some sun, I have clearly gone soft.

Some dogs are like me—unused to the rain. I remember one client from training classes whose Bichon/Poodle mix was perfectly housetrained . . . except when it rained. She seemed to object to getting her paws wet, but if they could get her outside under the upstairs balcony, she would eliminate quickly and then dash back inside, looking offended. Though usually a lover of walks, she was not interested in them when it was raining.

Do you walk your dog in the rain? Does your dog object?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
If I’d Known Then What I Know Now
What would YOU do differently?

It’s common to hear people who train dogs say things along the lines of, “You have to ruin one dog before you know enough to get it right with other dogs.” I don’t think first dogs are “ruined” by a lack of experience, but I do believe that subsequent dogs often benefit from what we learn along the way that helps us do better by our dogs.

  Who among us doesn’t think back to former dogs and wish we’d known then what we know now? For my part, when I look back on my experiences with my first dog I wish had known more about nutrition. I did my best to feed him high quality food, but I could do far better now with what I’ve learned since then.   I also wish I had been more skilled at canine massage and other bodywork. I regularly massage dogs, but like any other skill, it takes practice. I practiced on my first dog, learning a lot in the process, but I’m better at it now than I was then. In his older years, he had some pain and discomfort in his legs and hips. Though I did everything I could to ease his suffering with medical help and what I could do for him at home, I can’t help but think that I could have made him feel better now than I was able to then.   What do you know now that you wish you had known with a previous dog? 


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Did Your Dog Eat Your Tax Check?
What about your homework?

Teaching at a university, I hear a veritable potpourri of excuses about unfinished and late homework. It’s hard to know what’s true and what’s pure fiction. Honestly, I suspect that even some of the most outlandish stories are not made up because I accept that life is full of the strange and the unexpected.

  One student told me that the dog ate her homework. She even presented me with three printed pages of her work with a ragged-edged piece missing. I smelled the paper, detecting dog breath. I told her that she was very lucky that I was her instructor for the class, because I was probably the only one who would bother to observe the evidence. I kept the damaged copy, and when she brought me a new copy at the next class, I was able to compare the documents enough to tell that they were the same. So, I really do believe that the dog can eat your homework.   I’m not the only one who considers “ingestion by dog” to be enough of an explanation. The state of Michigan will accept the excuse “The dog ate my tax check” along with all other excuses during their amnesty program. From May 15 through June 30, people can pay taxes they owe without penalties, though they will still have to pay interest on late taxes. The goal is to collect $88 million in unpaid taxes. The amnesty program will be advertised with the theme “All excuses accepted,” and includes such possibilities as not being able to find a black or blue pen, developing a paper allergy and all the forms being eaten by a big caterpillar. Besides these fantastic ideas, the simple, “My dog ate my check,” seems pretty plausible.   Has anyone’s dog actually eaten the tax forms or the check?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mothering Kids and Dogs
There are so many similarities

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am thinking back to when I first became a mom. It’s hard to remember much because massive sleep deprivation made me so tired that my brain failed at recording all but the occasional bit of information. Some of what I do remember is how awkward I felt with a baby compared to how comfortable I was with dogs, including puppies.

  This should not be surprising. I was a novice with a baby, but I had lots of experience as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist. I occasionally slipped into dog mode when dealing with my new baby. For example, if I wanted to get my son’s attention in order to take a photo of him looking at the camera, I fell back on my dog training habits and either clapped, smooched, or made a clicking sound in my cheek as I would with any dog. I have no recollection of ever saying, “pup, pup, pup,” for this purpose, but it’s possible I did so and have just repressed the memory.   This tendency to have my mind in the dog world did not go away as the fog of those early weeks with no sleep lifted. When my son was about 9 months old, someone asked me, “Is he walking yet?” and I answered, “No, but he’s often up on his back legs.” Most moms would have said, “He’s cruising,” to refer to children’s early pre-walking behavior of toddling along while hanging onto couches or other furniture. I quickly corrected myself and said something more appropriate to a description of human behavior, but the funny look I was given is burned into my brain forever.   Not only did I treat my kids in ways similar to how I would behave with dogs, I reacted to dogs as I did to my son. When he was only two months old, I returned to teaching dog training classes one evening a week. As a nursing mom, I already knew that any crying baby, not just my own, would result in my milk letting down. While teaching classes, I learned that certain dog vocalizations (a yelp from a dog whose paw had been stepped on for example, or the sound of a whining puppy) had the same effect, which was biologically fascinating as well as monumentally inconvenient. The sound of any creature in distress, whether human or dog, apparently spoke to my motherly desire to give.   Hopefully, my dog expertise is enhancing my parenting skills. I do apply many behavioral techniques from my years in clinical practice with dogs to the task. Only my sons, and in later years, probably their therapists, will be able to comment intelligently on whether or not this was wise.   Happy Mother’s Day to all. No matter what species your children are, here’s hoping you have a wonderful day!


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Research on Canine Marking
Who is peeing and where?

Urine marking in dogs is a well-known behavior in the sense that everyone is aware that it happens, but it is poorly known in the scientific sense because so few studies have examined it with a rigorous approach.

  Scientists Anneke Lisberg and Charles Snowdon applied such needed rigor to the subject and report the results in “Effects of sex, social status and gonadectomy on countermarking by domestic dogs, Canis familiaris,” which was recently published in the journal Animal Behavior.   Countermarking behavior in dogs consists of either marking on (overmarking) or near (adjacent marking) previous scent marks. Part of what’s so great about this study is that it shows that what we think we know about behavior from observing it casually, even over years and years, may not be as spot on (so to speak) as we think.   As is so often the case, a controlled study of the relevant variables revealed that what is going on is significantly more complex than previously believed. Lisberg and Snowdon’s study is one of a few to examine canine urine marking and as such makes a big contribution to our understanding of this behavior. Here’s what their study found:   In an experiment with urine from groupmates and from unfamiliar dogs presented to dogs in a controlled way on sticks, they found that:   Intact males (but not neutered males) were more likely to overmark urine from intact females.   Males who overmarked had a higher tail base position (which the authors used as a measure of social status) than males who did not overmark.   Familiarity with a dog did not affect overmarking of its urine, but dogs adjacent-marked only urine samples from unfamiliar dogs.   Neither sex nor tail base position affected adjacent marking.   Being spayed or neutered had no relationship with the likelihood of countermarking.   In observations of countermarking at a dog park, they found that:   Males and females both countermarked and investigated urine.   Males and females with higher tail base positions did more urinating, countermarking, and investigating of urine than members of their same sex with lower tail base positions.   Lisberg and Snowdon conclude that although intact males may be overmarking intact female urine as a form of mate guarding as has long been suspected, that is only a piece of the story. Both sexes, whether intact or not, appear to countermark in a competitive manner. Additionally, this study suggests that overmarking and adjacent marking may have different functions.   What have you observed about your dog’s marking behavior?