Karen B. London
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Woven items of the Coast Salish
February 28 2012
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
A trainer talks about her “heart dog”
February 23 2012
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
Directly at dogs, that is
February 21 2012
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?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Article in Time Magazine says no
February 13 2012
Sometimes when you have a strong opinion about something and want to share your views, someone else expresses what you think so well that all you really want to say is, “Yeah! What she said!” I am currently having that experience. I just read Trisha McConnell’s blog responding to the new article in Time Magazine about the science of animal friendships, and I highly encourage you to take a look at her articulate reaction. (The original Time Magazine article is only available online to subscribers.)
In the article, writer Carl Zimmer makes some good points, but I believe he’s off the mark a bit on some others. On the plus side, he discusses research supporting the formation of friendship in a variety of species other than humans. On the downside, he asserts that scientists have only recently concluded that animals form friendships, which runs counter to the work of Barbara Smuts, Frans de Waal and Jane Goodall, to name a few of the people whose research provided substantial and well-accepted evidence of animal friendships decades ago.
Kudos to the author for pointing out that long term studies of animals are essential for understanding bonds between individuals and asserting that such studies are highly valuable. A thumbs up to Zimmer for understanding that all the anecdotes in the world can’t make up for the lack of research and hard data. It’s true that studies of friendship in the domestic dog are sorely lacking. However, I must insert a thumbs down here since a paucity of evidence because the phenomenon has not been investigated does not merit the article’s claim that most scientists think dogs “fall short of true friendship.”
I’m glad that Zimmer wrote this article so we can participate in the discussion about it. It’s a wake up call regarding the need for more research on social relationships in dogs AND the importance of scientists making themselves available and more easily accessible to people who write articles about science. (Zimmer has written on Facebook that he spoke to several scientists while researching this article, but he didn’t mention any whose work dealt with social relationships in dogs.)
I think there is ample reason to think that rigorous studies are likely to support the idea that dogs form true friendships, and I’d love to see good studies that address the question. What do you have to say about the topic of friendship in dogs?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Adolescence is only a stage
February 13 2012
The puppy was leaping all over the adult dog—batting the older dog’s ears, crawling across her neck, nudging her muzzle and generally acting like he had no idea that she might prefer to rest after their long play session. It’s the kind of scene I’d heard people describe countless times, but this client had video. As we watched, she said, “See, she was so sweet to him. He could do anything to her and she would just let him.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A humorous look at politics
February 10 2012
People seem to oscillate between an insatiable interest in the presidential primaries (as well as the upcoming general election) and being absolutely sick of hearing about them. Just when I thought it was unwise to read one more political article or blog, unless I wanted my head to explode, I found this little gem. “In search of ponies: Dogs divided on candidates” considers the candidates from a canine perspective.
The article mentions Gingrich, Obama, Paul, Romney and Santorum—relating various dogs’ opinions based on such diverse events as Obama taking Bo out shopping for gifts, Santorum’s involvement with the Pet Animal Welfare Statute and the popularity of Ron Paul t-shirts for dogs.
As author Sharna Johnson concludes the article, “It’s going to be a long 10 [now, nine] months.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Song Sings Dog’s Praises
February 7 2012
Billy Currington’s song “Like My Dog” expresses what most of us have felt at one time or another. When the country singer sings, “I want you to love me like my dog does,” it’s easy to relate to his desire for unconditional love and uncomplicated relationships. Though he’s been accused of misogyny and unrealistic expectations, I enjoy the song from a more light-hearted perspective.
Just for fun, check out this video with the whole song and let us know if you’ve ever shared his sentiments.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A few genes make all the difference
February 1 2012
My relationship with dogs is sometimes a bit split. One side of things is that I love them, for all the reasons everybody reading this understands so well. Another side of my relationship with dogs is my fascination with them—a true scientific interest, based on some of their extraordinary characteristics. And research about their genetics has continued to add to their appeal as creatures worthy of great attention, even beyond the fact that they are so lovable.
From the diversity of forms seen in the domestic dog, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that their genetics are unusual. Though other domestic animals including chickens, horses, cows, sheep and cats have many different breeds, dogs alone have the amount of physical variation that is represented by Great Danes, Dachshunds, Pugs and Borzois. Animal lovers are generally interested in that fact, but all scientists ought to be astounded by it, and I most definitely am.
The selective breeding that has led to the range of forms in this species is a fascinating genetics experiment. Geneticists are grateful to the “field work” done by countless breeders over many generations because the dogs that have resulted provide a way to understand things that can’t be learned elsewhere.
One of the most fascinating recent discoveries that makes use of the variation in dogs is that it’s only a few genes that are responsible for the huge range of differences in the appearance of different breeds of dogs. The incredible variation in dog size, fur type, length and color, ear shape and position, and shape of the nose is controlled by just a few dozen gene regions.
In other species, the genetic control of traits such as size and shape is much more complex. For comparison, human height is controlled by around 200 gene regions. Until it was investigated, researchers assumed that underlying the incredible diversity of canine appearances was a corresponding genetic diversity, but it’s just not so. The more we learn about dogs, the more fascinating they become.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Kong's Mark Hines on toys and training
February 1 2012
It’s not surprising that retired sport dogs Kaya and Dakota are well behaved, polite and respond phenomenally fast to a wide variety of cues. They live with Mark Hines, behavior and training specialist for the Kong Company, who’s logged thousands of hours with them, and thousands more consulting with service dog organizations, shelters, military and law-enforcement handlers, prison programs, behaviorists, breeders, and veterinarians, to name a few. At heart, though, he’s just a guy who loves his dogs. Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Mark about using toys as a training tool.
Q: Why do you like training with toys?
A: Basically, because it’s fun! You see more desire on the dog’s part to work, more passion and willingness to perform when you train with toys.
Q: Is one type of dog more receptive than another to this method?
A: High-drive dogs tend to respond well to toys. By drive I mean high arousal, easily stimulated dogs who are willing to work and have the motivation and desire to work. Dogs with drive are dogs who are rarin’ to go. When I see drive, I see so much happiness. I know I can shape a behavior and get a beautiful response.
Q: How do you advise people to begin using toys as training aids?
A: Find a toy the dog likes and that is stimulating. Then, teach a good foundation, which includes a solid “out” so there’s no conflict over the toy. The dog can spit it out on the ground, drop it or trade it for a treat. If you are having trouble with this, try switching to a toy that the dog doesn’t want as much. You can also go up in size to a bigger toy that the dog can’t get into the back of the mouth, an area I call the “power zone.” Or, go to a harder toy that’s not as self-rewarding. For example, a Wubba with tails that flop around is harder for many dogs to give up than a toy that has no movement. If the toy is self-rewarding, the dog may not release it as easily, especially early in the training process. Once a dog has a clean “out,” any toy should be fine.
Q: Not all dogs are interested in toys. What then?
A: Dogs can be taught to enjoy toys, even dogs who seem to be the least playful or toy-motivated. I once worked with a Beagle who was only into food, not toys. I started giving him treats every time he made a toy squeak, and it evolved into play even after I stopped using food as reinforcement.
Q: What about the dog who’s more interested in the toy than in you? How do you stimulate that interest?
A: You have to be engaging. What’s the point of trying to interact with the dog if he doesn’t even want to be with you? Be the gate to play—a clown with gadgets, toys and fun.
Q: You also use food rewards; why do you incorporate both types of reinforcement into your training?
A: Using toys as a reward instead of food is kind of like taking your child to an amusement park rather than taking him out to dinner. Which do you think your child would choose? I consider food as a way to focus the dog (especially puppies) and toys as a way to stimulate play and create drive. Sometimes toys bring out arousal and frustration, which can actually cause a dog to lose focus, so you need to balance toys and food. When working with a low-drive dog, it’s possible to do more repetitions with food than with a toy. High-drive dogs will work for a toy all day long.
Q: Can you use toys to increase a dog’s drive?
A: Yes. Movement is your friend. Show excitement, be active and animated, make an idiot of yourself. Make a toy desirable by holding onto it. Make it something that your dog finds fascinating and really, really wants. Build frustration just a little. Play hard-to-get in order to build the dog’s energy and motivation. Toys on ropes create even more drive because they move faster and are unpredictable.
Q: What would you say is the most common training mistake people make?
A: Not using markers, either a clicker or a consistent “Yes!” Don’t use the toy as a marker. Say “Yes!” or click before presenting the toy or the treat. Otherwise, the dog will only watch the toy.
Q: How much time should a dog be allowed to play with the toy as reinforcement?
A: Train with a pattern of “drive, exercise, drive.” Start with a toy in your training vest or under your arm, then ask the dog for a behavior, and as a reward, offer the toy for a few seconds to rev him up. Ask him to release the toy, then ask for another behavior and continue that way throughout the session. The toy is a reward just as a treat would be a reward. So, it’s sit, yes! toy, out! Then it goes back in the pocket for another exercise. These are not play sessions in between. In training mode, the dog is working for that toy, and he works fast because you are withholding the reward and he really wants it.
A play session at the end can serve as a jackpot for exceptionally good work, and that can be as long as you have time for. At the end of a session, I say “free dog,” which means work is over and we’re having fun.
Q: How can you use toys to help a dog learn a variety of skills?
A: Presentation matters. The dog has to take toys from all over: high, low, different positions. Be versatile. This also helps dogs learn to target. If the dog gets too near my hand and bites by mistake, the game ends immediately. Dogs can be very careful with their mouths, but not enough people require them to be.
Always have the dog come in to you—move the toy away to attract him in. This is especially true with recalls. Throw the ball behind you as the dog approaches, sometimes to one side, sometimes to the other, to keep the dog coming in with good speed and in a straight line.
Q: In addition to fun and training, do you use toys in other ways?
A: Toys are great tools to help dogs recover from something scary—a fallen jump or loud noise, for example. You can take the dog right back to a state of drive with a toy.
Q: Lots of people like to play tug with their dogs, but sometimes struggle to play it correctly. What advice do you give people about this game?
A: If you give an inch, dogs will take a mile. When playing tug with dogs, pull forward and out, not up and down or side to side. To keep the dog from creeping up the toy, keep the toy moving. Dealing with arousal is important. You need to decide when the game starts and ends.
Q: What are your favorite toys?
A: I love the Kong, of course, and the Kong on the rope is my key toy. I also love the large Goodie Bone to train good “outs.” I can hold onto both sides while the dog has it in his mouth, and it is not self-rewarding because it has no motion. To create intense drive, many agility or dock-dog trainers swear by the Wubba.
Q: What other training advice do you wish everyone would follow?
A: Train in short sessions, especially with young or inexperienced dogs. “Short” means just a few minutes, or even one minute for puppies at the very beginning. Multiple sessions throughout the day that add up to 15 minutes are better than 15 minutes all at once. Make it happen every time. It’s better to ask dogs for a behavior 50 times and have them do the behavior 50 times than to ask 100 times and have them do it 75 times. Have fun! The minute a session turns into work for you, give it up because it’s not going to go anywhere. Finally, always, always, ALWAYS end on a positive note.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Video reveals an extraordinary dog
January 30 2012
Trainers sometimes bring in one of their own dogs to puppy classes to help shy puppies feel comfortable around other dogs. It takes a special type of dog to do this properly. Very few dogs can handle this social situation without causing more harm than good. The dogs who succeed are emotionally stable themselves, capable of remaining calm no matter what the puppies do and socially savvy enough to adjust their own behavior based on what the puppies seem to require. The right dog can help the puppies learn to greet other dogs properly and to feel more comfortable in social situations with other dogs.
This six-months-old boxer in this video is just the sort of dog that I would LOVE to have around shy or timid puppies and dogs, though the video shows a greeting with cows rather than with puppies.
Notice how even in the first moments of the video, the dog moves slowly and calmly. She is not leaping, jumping or showing any other signs of arousal. She approaches the cows calmly, and when, about 7 seconds in, the black cow on the right seems unsure and backs away, the dog reacts by immediately stopping her forward motion and making herself less imposing. Specifically, the dog lies down and stays calm, even ceasing her tail movement and lowering her head, all of which seems to give the cows confidence to approach her.
For the next three-quarters of a minute, the dog remains still except for movements of her head as she sniffs the cows who come close to her. Though she is not moving, her body is relaxed (rather than being still in a rigid way), which likely helps the cows to feel relaxed, too.
She starts to wag her tail again at around 55 seconds (I’m guessing the time based on slight movement of the body since the tail is out of view until 57 seconds when you can see it wagging) and this is right about the time that the cows become more confident. In fact, they come so close to her that just about any dog would have backed up from the pressure. This boxer, however, simply retracts her neck as much as possible and continues to let the cows investigate her.
I’m impressed by what I see in this video—a stable dog who is confident and composed. She’s a dog who stays relaxed, which indicates tremendous emotional control, particularly in a young dog. She’s also quite social with a clear interest in greeting this other species, and willing to proceed in this greeting at the speed at which the cows are comfortable. I even like the way she periodically checks in with the person holding onto the leash by looking that way. It’s hard to know, but it seems as though she would have been responsive to a cue from that person at any time if one had been given.
It’s just a short video—barely over a minute long—but it’s enough to show some really interesting body language and to reveal a dog who’s really something special.
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