Home
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
Weather Dogs Have Meteorological Names
“Radar” is very common

Many weather stations have dogs, and they typically have weather-related names, with the name “Radar” being especially common. There is, for example, a dog named “Radar” at WNKY in Bowling Green, one at KPRC in Houston and another at WARN KOTV* in Tulsa.

Besides Radar, the following meteorological names have been suggested for dogs at weather stations: Cloudy, Puddles, Snowy, Storm, Sunny, Twister, Tornado, Tsunami, Sunshine and Rainy. Weather dogs sometimes appear on air doing tricks, and often do public events focusing on teaching people, especially kids, about severe weather safety.

I once had a meteorological nickname myself. When I lived in their country, my Costa Rican roommates were true to the cultural norm of teasing friends about their most obvious traits, which led them to call me “Hurrikarencita”  (translation: “Little Hurricane Karen.”) Thus, I was a little disappointed my search failed to find any dogs with the hurricane moniker.

Does your local station have a weather dog? What names do you favor for dogs in this line of work?

*Editor's note: We originally misidentified KOTV in this post. When Joanna Shelton, statewide creative services manager for Griffin Communications, alerted us to our error, she told us a little more about Radar. “He was rescued from 'the pound' and has helped 20,000 kids so far learn about severe weather safety,” Joanna Shelton, statewide creative services manager for Griffin Communications. “His name was chosen by our fans in an online contest.” We're sorry for the error but happy to know a little more about this adorable pup!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
You Get The Behavior You Reinforce
It’s not just true with dogs

“It’s time to line up.” Upon hearing this once, 30 kids who had been happily engaged in soccer matches were immediately racing at top speed across the field to line up with their teams. They formed straight lines quickly and cheerfully, just like they do every time their coaches tell them to.

Is this a particularly good group of children? Are they all the type that do what they’re told right away just because they want to please? Of course not! The group is just as mixed in behavioral tendencies as any normal group of kids. They are displaying desirable behavior because they have been reinforced for doing so.

Specifically, at British Soccer Camps, the coaches reinforce the campers by awarding points in their imaginary World Cup competition. The greatest number of points (10) is given to the first team to line up properly, which shows that this behavior is most highly valued. By comparison, the winning team in a match receives 3 points and the “man of the match” (the player who is singled out for excellent play, fine sportsmanship, consistent effort or any other commendable behavior the coach chooses to recognize) earns 2 points for his team. Team effort is more highly prized than individual effort.

In a similar way, when I train dogs, I use the most highly valued reinforcement for the most important behavior I am working on, which is often recalls. When a dog comes when called during training, the reinforcement may be a new toy, a stuffed Kong, going for a walk, multiple treats, or anything else that is highly desired. Because this behavior is so important, I reinforce it very strongly.

“You get the behavior you reinforce” is as fundamental a truth in dog training as it is in any situation that involves teaching and influencing behavior. At soccer camp, many of the parents comment that the coaches are so good with kids, and that’s certainly true. I see it from a very specific perspective though: These coaches are well-versed in using positive reinforcement to get the behavior they want. (Another way to think of this is that the coaches themselves are well trained by the organization and its experts.) Positive reinforcement works, and it makes camp fun for all. When the same techniques are used in dog training, the results are identical: It works, and it makes the experience fun for everyone, whether two-legged or four-legged.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Robot Dog Expands on Virtual Pets
Wappy Dog is here

Having a dog is so enjoyable that gamers are seeking out the experience in the virtual world. Wappy Dog is a robot dog that interacts with a person by way of a Nintendo game.

Virtual pets are not new, but this system expands on virtual pets by including an actual toy. The toy robot dog develops—changing its behavior, skills, mood, personality and responsiveness based on the virtual interactions the person has while gaming with this system. The addition of a physical toy is supposed to lead to a stronger bond than a game alone can create.

A toy dog is no substitute for a real dog, but I think the educational opportunities are intriguing. Just as people can learn about parenting through virtual experiences, there is the potential for people to learn skills from Wappy Dog that could enhance their ability to raise, care for and train a real dog.

Has anyone tried out Wappy Dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Retirement Funds for Pet Care
IRS denies request

Tank was diagnosed with cancer. When his guardian, Victor Mills, attempted to withdraw money from his retirement plan to pay for treatment, the request was denied. Withdrawals for certain types of emergencies are allowed, but the American Bulldog’s cancer was not considered a qualified “unforeseeable emergency.”

Mills says he told his plan administrator that it made no sense that he could have used the money to play for a roof, a furnace or a sidewalk but not a living creature.

He is appealing the ruling with the Internal Revenue Service, though it’s already too late for Tank. He passed away at the end of May.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trick Video Reveals Happy Dog
Mental exercise improves quality of life

I love this video of a dog going performing a series of tricks and tasks. (It helps that this dog is so cute it hurts!)

The first thing I notice when I look at this video is an adorable dog performing tricks. But I also see the benefits of a dog who has had ample mental exercise. This dog looks incredibly happy as she goes through her repertoire.

Everybody knows that dogs need physical exercise but the fact that mental exercise improves dogs’ quality of life is sometimes overlooked. The joy that is so evident in the dog in this video makes her the poster child for the importance of providing dogs with lots of activities. It’s so wise to supply dogs with ample stimulation so that they are not bored, and many of us have lifestyles that make that a significant challenge. Training dogs to perform tricks is one way to accomplish this, and there are many advantages.

1. Dogs can be trained at home so there is no need to drive anywhere.

2. Tricks can be taught and practiced by working a few minutes here and a few minutes there each day, so it is easier to work into daily life than many other activities.

3. Training dogs to do tricks is often a light-hearted activity. That makes it easy to be happy and have fun while doing so, which is good for the relationship between people and dogs.

4. Dogs often receive a great deal of positive attention when practicing or performing their tricks, which makes them feel good.

5. You can post videos of your dog doing tricks on YouTube and spread the happiness around.

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?

Pages