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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.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Olympic Trials Runners and Their Dogs
Canines take their share of the spotlight

Watching the US Olympic Trials in track and field is filling much of my recreational time this week, but my thoughts are never far from the world of dogs. More and more often, announcers comment on competitors’ dogs, as do the athletes themselves. When discussing that Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix has had a rough year, the broadcast team spoke of two issues. One problem was an injured ankle that leads to pain with every step and the other was the death of her beloved Yorkshire Terrier, Chloe. Chloe is well known to fans of Felix, who often tweeted about Chloe. Felix has said that Skyping with Chloe when she traveled to races helped her to settle her mind and to feel in touch with home. The two even appeared in a commercial together.
 

 

The importance of dogs also came up in an interview with Brenda Martinez. Martinez was expected to qualify for the Olympics in the 800 m event, but that dream slipped away when she was tripped up by another runner near the end of the race. When asked how she put that disappointment behind her in order to focus on her upcoming 1500 m race, she emphasized the role her dogs played. She said that she and her husband had brought all four of their dogs with them and that being with them made her happy and helped her move on emotionally. She visibly relaxed when she spoke of her dogs despite the high pressure situation she is in.
 

Few of us face pressure as intense as what these athletes are dealing with this week, but many of us still rely on our dogs for relief from the stresses of life. Do you?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Not So Secret Life of Pets
Real dogs just as funny as movie versions

I was quick to roll my eyes and grumble that the makers of the film “The Secret Life of Pets” went for cheap laughs over more believable depictions of our pets. I had to eat my words, though, when I saw this ad showing dogs acting just like their movie counterparts. Some crazy things that I’ve never see in the real world include a dog turning on the music and then rocking out to it, and a Dachshund taking advantage of electric beaters to get a back massage.

 

In what way does your dog act like the dogs in the clip?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Cat Burglar Dogs
What has your dog broken into?

Some dogs would make excellent cat burglars. They seem to be able to break into anything. Secure trash can? Not so secure actually. Treats high up on top of the fridge? Not high enough to be out of reach. Storage bin that you can’t open without tools? Some dogs have all the tools they need inside their heads and mouths.

There are dogs capable of climbing to seemingly inaccessible spots, and dogs who can have a snack whenever they want just by opening up their dog proof food canister. Here is a video of one methodical dog patiently working out how to pull the top off a container of food.

Don’t even get me started about the dogs who actually open the fridge! If it weren’t for YouTube, I would have no idea that this is so common. Over the years, I’ve had a few clients tell me about dogs who do this, but if you look at videos online, you can find tons of examples. This collection of fridge-opening dogs features individuals using paws, noses and mouths to get inside and help themselves to the treasures within.

Dogs who can break into supposedly secure places to get what they want are probably quite happy and find many aspects of their world exceedingly convenient. What has your dog broken into that was supposed to be off limits to dogs?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
How Does Your Dog Relate to Other Animals?
Friends Across Species

Dogs and people are truly the best of friends, but that doesn’t mean that dogs can’t be buddies with other animals, too. Though dogs and cats are often considered natural enemies, countless households have a dog and a cat who very close. They play together, sleep together and generally prefer to be near one another.

Less common, but still far from rare, are the dogs who have strong social connections to other species. I have one client whose dog loves to head upstairs in their apartment complex to hang out with the neighbor’s rabbit. A friend of mine has a ferret who plays daily with her dog until they are both exhausted.

Dogs and pot-bellied pigs can be great chums, and countless canines love spending time with their horse pals. There are plenty of dogs whose friends include sheep and goats.

I know of a couple of parrots and parakeets who socialize with dogs, and one pair of these vocalize together with great regularity. I’m not going to lie—the howling dog and the screaming bird don’t sound pleasant to me, but they seem quite happy with their symphony, and that’s what matters.

If your dog has a friend outside the dog or human species, how do they interact?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Comical Dog Moments
Watch just for laughs

This video of “Dog Fails” by FailArmy is filled with moments that show dogs being just like us at our worst—a little uncoordinated, confused or just plain silly. It even shows dogs acting unlike dogs by loving the vacuum cleaner or disliking meat. There are a few clips included that are a little scary either because of the risk of injury or because a dog seems scared. The rest are pure entertainment.

Can you describe an all-time favorite goofy moment featuring your own dog?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Sniffing and Emotions
Differential use of the left and right nostril

The common wisdom that dogs can smell fear doesn’t give dogs full credit to the nuances of their ability to sense emotion through their noses. A recent study titled “The dog nose “KNOWS” fear: Asymmetric nostril use during sniffing at canine and human emotional stimuli” examined dogs’ tendencies to sniff various substances with the right or the left nostril. Exploring this side bias may seem like looking at random details, but the side of the nose used to sniff something tells us a lot about the dog’s emotional reaction to the odor. The use of one side of the body indicates a differential use of one side of the brain or the other, which is a clue to the dog’s emotions.

The left side of the brain processes more positive emotions such as happiness and excitement as well as stimuli that are familiar. The right side of the brain tends to take over when a dog is processing negative emotions such as sadness or fear as well as novel stimuli. In general, the right side of the body is controlled by the left hemisphere of the brain and vice versa. However, the nose is an exception; the right nostril sends information to the right side of the brain to be processed and the left nostril sends its information to the left side. The findings of this study suggest that the pathways used to process various olfactory stimuli are dependent on more than just whether they elicit negative or positive feelings.

Eight odors were tested—four from dogs and four from humans. The four human odors were collected as sweat from donors who were joyful, fearful, physically stressed, or in a neutral situation. The joyful and fearful states were elicited by movies, and the physical stress odor was collected after donors ran for 15-minutes. The four canine odors were collected from dogs who were happy following a play session with the guardian, stressed by isolation in an unfamiliar place, disturbed by a stranger approaching the car, and dogs who were asleep. The dogs who “donated” odors were different from the dogs whose sniffing behavior was studied.

To further explore the phenomenon of side bias in sniffing, the guardians of the dogs in the study filled out a questionnaire related to each dog’s temperament. During the study, dogs were led to a video camera under which was mounted a Q-tip saturated with various odors. The videos captured the dog’s sniffing behavior so that it was possible to determine a laterality index for each dog for every odor based on the amount of time spent sniffing with each nostril. A laterality index of 1.0 indicated exclusive use of the left nostril and negative 1.0 indicated exclusive use of the right nostril. Dogs’ cardiac activity was also recorded during the tests of each odor.

I’m sure it’s the science geek in me, but I got a kick out of reading the sentence, “Results for nostril use are shown in Figure 2.” Three of the odors elicited consistent sidedness in nostril use and five of them did not. Dogs more frequently used the right nostril to sniff the canine isolation odor. They more frequently used the left nostril to sniff the human fear odor and the odor from human physical stress.

There were two ways in which the results of the questionnaire were correlated with the laterality pattern for a particular odor. The higher a guardian ranked the dog’s fear/aggressiveness to other dogs, the more likely that dog was to use the right nostril for sniffing the disturbed canine odor. This suggests that individual differences in emotional arousal and perhaps even in temperament influence asymmetries in sniffing behavior. Dogs with higher scores for predatory behavior used the left nostril more for sniffing the odor that came from physically stressed humans. This makes sense when we consider that it is structures in the left side of dogs’ brains that are involved in predatory behavior.

Dogs’ brains are every bit as amazing as their noses, as research about both of them reveal!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Injured on the Trail
Carrying dogs no easy task

I saw Lucy at the running store that her guardians own, bandaged up and limping a bit. She was also enjoying the sympathy of customers and friends, especially if that sympathy came with a side of treats. While chasing a squirrel, Lucy had run into a piece of old barbed wire that had sliced her leg pretty badly.

Following a visit to the emergency veterinarian, treatment involving stitches, bandages, antibiotics and painkillers, and a substantial transfer of funds from the guardians to the vet, Lucy is on the mend. She won’t be running for the next little while, but will instead be on a strict regimen of rest and sleep. She certainly will not be left home alone with the other two dogs in the household to play and damage her bandages or healing leg, which is why she was at work.

Luckily, Lucy will be fine, but there is one piece of the story that really stresses me out, and that’s how far Lucy’s guardian had to carry her from the spot where she was injured to get back to the car. I had asked about this specifically because so many people here in Flagstaff, Ariz. love running on remote trails, especially with their dogs. It was alarming to learn that Lucy had to be carried a mile and a half. This was quite a physical endeavor with a dog weighing over 60 pounds—even for her guardian, who is strong and fit. Some adrenaline from concern about her injury probably gave him a little boost, but it was still a challenge.

Even with internal chemical changes that help us out in emergencies, I shudder to think how hard it would be for most people to carry their injured dogs. Depending on the size of the dog, and the strength of the person, it could range from no big deal to actually impossible. If anyone is ever out stranded with a full grown English Mastiff or a Saint Bernard, the situation could become serious quite quickly, but many of us could run close to full speed with a small terrier.

How far have you had to carry your dog because of an injury? How far could you do that if you had to?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Summer Activities
Adjustments because of the heat

A client just called me to request that we change our appointment this week to early in the morning to beat the record heat expected over the next few days. We have to be mindful of preventing this dog from overheating because one piece of our behavior modification work each week involves having him play fetch with strangers. The goal is to teach him to feel happy when he sees a stranger by associating strangers with the opportunity to play his favorite game. Right now, he still finds unfamiliar people scary, but thanks to many fetch games, his circle of familiar people has grown. There are now quite a few of us who he greets with happy anticipation, knowing that our presence means that a fetch game is in his immediate future.

Every summer, people make adjustments based on the heat, and this is especially true for those who live in hot climates. Sometimes the schedule changes are as simple as walking the dog a little earlier in the morning or a bit later in the evening. In other cases, physical activities are shortened by running or playing fetch for 20 minutes instead of for 45 minutes. There are dogs who have a seasonal rotation of activities based on the weather, so they may swim or walk in the hottest months, even though they go running alongside a bicycle for exercise during the rest of the year.

The most basic ways to modify activities to accommodate the stress of hot weather are to do less vigorous activity, to exercise for shorter periods of time and to be active during the coolest parts of the day. What changes are you making in your schedule so your dog is not exposed to the excessive heat?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Genetic Variation in Scenting Ability
Natural detection task is very revealing

We all know that Beagles have better noses than Whippets, right? This almost seems too obvious to point out, especially to anyone who has ever had a dog of either breed. However, the authors of a recent study claim to be the first to scientifically document a difference in olfactory abilities across groups of dogs.

The researchers compared scenting ability across four groups of canines: dog breeds that have been selected for scenting abilities, dog breeds that have not been selected for scenting abilities, short-nosed dogs and hand-reared wolves. The task asked of these animals was simple—find the raw meat in a container that is hidden underneath one of five pots. There were multiple tests that varied in difficulty based on the number of holes in the container’s lid.

The results of the study were that dogs bred for scenting ability performed better than both short-nosed dogs and dogs who were not bred for their olfactory capabilities. The short-nosed dogs performed worse than any other group, suggesting that breeding for this head and face shape has adversely affected olfaction. In the most difficult of the tests, only wolves and the dogs bred for scenting abilities performed better than what would be expected if the animals were just guessing. Wolves improved their performance when they were re-tested, but the dogs in all three groups were no better the second time around.

Since dogs did not improve with repeated testing, this test may be a useful one-and-done way to assess a dog’s scenting capabilities. That is important because there is currently no standard method for testing the olfactory ability of dogs, but the method in this study could be used for quick assessments of dogs’ abilities. Most ways of testing dogs involve a match-to-sample design, which means that the dogs are taught a scent and they then have to find the same scent from among a group of scents. That requires extensive training, so it is impossible to determine to what degree those tests are assessing trainability and to what extent they measure scenting ability. Both trainability and olfactory ability are important for success as a working detection dog, but there’s great value in evaluating each trait independently.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Drowning Dog Rescued
Sikh man uses his turban to save him

Breaking a religious taboo may upset many people, but occasionally, it results in near universal respect and praise. That’s true in the case of Sarwan Singh, a 28-year old Sikh man in Punjab, India. His heroic action and willingness to briefly violate an important rule of his religion allowed him to save a life. He removed his turban in public in order to use it as a rope to save a drowning dog from a canal.

Singh, who himself cannot swim, was driving when he saw a group of people pointing at the canal. He stopped his car and quickly took in the situation. A dog was in danger of drowning, but nobody was helping. He says that when he started to remove his turban, people around him were shocked, thinking he was showing great disrespect to his faith. Wearing a turban is an important article of faith in the Sikh religion and the doctrine states that it can only be removed at home or while bathing. He says, “But what was most important at that point was to save the animal’s life.” And that’s exactly what he did.

Singh says that the dog was very frightened, and did not want to come towards him. They moved about 200 meters along the canal before Singh was able to capture the dog with one part of his turban and use the other piece as a rope to keep himself from falling into the canal along with the dog. I cannot understand the language they are speaking, but I can certainly notice the change in tone of the speakers. Before the rescue, everyone is frantic, but afterwards, the great relief and joy is obvious in all the voices.

I appreciate the value placed on religion and the rules that come with each faith. Still, I feel comfortable saying that it’s a beautiful thing to put kindness, humanity and saving a life over guidelines of any sort—even sacred religious ones.

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