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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.

News: Guest Posts
Adopting From Thousands of Miles Away
German flight attendant meets her dog in Argentina

When flight attendant Olivia Sievers met a stray dog near her hotel in Buenos Aires, Argentina, she could hardly have predicted that she would adopt him a few months later. A dog lover, she gave the dog some food and played with him for a bit. This loving attention resulted in a strong attachment by the dog to her, and he continued to seek out her company. He waited outside her hotel until she emerged again, and no matter where she went or by what route, he found her and followed her.

It’s easy to imagine that this sociable dog had rarely encountered people who were as kind and giving to him, so naturally he felt a strong bond with Sievers. He stayed by the hotel’s entrance, prompting her to give him an airline blanket to keep him cozy at night.

She returned to Germany, but the dog greeted her outside the hotel on her next trip to Argentina, and the next one, and the one after that. For several months, the dog was outside her hotel every time she arrived in Buenos Aires, and their friendship grew. She named him Rubio (Spanish for blond) and continued to feed and play with him. Wanting the best for him, Sievers contacted a local rescue group so that he could be adopted. Though he was in a loving home, he escaped and headed back to the hotel in search of his German friend.

When Sievers learned that Rubio escaped and had apparently come to find her, she decided to adopt him herself. Following a mountain of paperwork for the woman and a flight to the other side of the world for the dog, there was a happy reunion for the pair of them.

Sometimes we have to travel to the ends of the earth to find our true love!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs as Model for Emotional Expression by Robots
Using canine ethology to improve interactions
Belgian Malinois / Dog Robot

An understanding of canine emotional expressions and human responses to them are a promising avenue to pursue in developing the best social robots. Social robots are machines that interact and communicate with humans by following social behaviors and rules that go along with their roles. People want more out of them than simply performing tasks to make our lives easier. They want their Interactions with these robots to feel as natural as possible, which means minimizing the disturbing feeling many people experience with robots. For that to happen, social robots must act in a manner that is socially appropriate, which includes exhibiting the right emotions for the situation.

Much of the work on developing emotionally expressive robots has focused on human facial expressions, with some emphasis on gestures and tone of voice. These subtle forms of communication are difficult to create in an artificial system, and researchers are exploring other options. One promising line of study is to consider interactions between humans and robots as an interaction between two different species that must communicate, and to use a non-human species as a model for the robots.

Dogs are a natural choice because of the ability of humans, even without a lot of experience, to identify the emotional content of dogs’ behavior. Children can correctly identify the emotional content of dogs barks, people tend to ascribe emotions to their dogs, and these two species are able to cooperate and communicate with remarkable success. People are able to understand dogs, which is likely a result of our long-standing relationship and shared evolutionary history.

In a recent paper (“Humans attribute emotions to a robot that shows simple behavioral patterns borrowed from dog behavior”), a group of canine ethologists show that people are capable of understanding the emotions of robots when their actions are based on the behavior of dogs. Using a robot that was not shaped like a dog and could not alter its basic posture, this experiment asked the question, “Can even simple expressions of emotional behavior elicit an acceptable level of emotional attribution by people to the robot?” If so, such behaviors in a robot could lessen the need to develop robots capable of communicating complex emotions through behavior based on human facial expressions.


Photo from “Humans attribute emotions to a robot that shows simple behavioural
patterns borrowed from dog behavior” (Gásci et al. 2016)

 

The subjects in the experiment watched videos of a trained dog and of the robot and were asked to attribute emotions to them. The dog was a Belgian Malinois and the robot was a touchscreen mounted on a base with wheels. The body of the robot had arm-like limbs attached to it, one of which was capable of moving in a variety of ways and one of which was not movable. The touchscreen, or head-like part of the robot, could not move independently and had no face. The robot made sounds, which were considered vocalizations. The emotions expressed by the dog and by the robot were fear, joy, anger, sadness and neutral (no emotion). Both the dog and the robot made sounds to accompany other aspects of their behavior.

The behaviors of the dog for expressing joy were approaching, wagging his tail and sidling, while in the robot, joy was represented by approaching, lifting one arm and moving the fingers and spinning. Anger in the dog involved approaching and wagging the tail as well as moving the head up and down dynamically, barking and showing his teeth. The angry robot approached, moved its arm high and swung it several times. Sadness in the dog meant sitting followed by lying down with his head down and then not moving. The robot showed sadness by backing away and turning away, lowering its arm and remaining motionless.

People more often attributed emotions to the dogs than to the robots, but the type of emotion was correctly identified with similar levels of success. The amount of experience people had with dogs was not a factor in their ability to identify emotions in either the dog or the robot.

The goal of this study was to investigate the possibility that simple canine behaviors can provide a way to facilitate the understanding of emotional expressions of robots. The robot is not designed to resemble a dog, and indeed a strength of this approach is that robots do not have to match their animal models. That is an advantage because the robots can be built with their function in mind without the extra expense and constraints of creating a specific form in order to maximize emotional expression.

General behaviors such as approaching, backing away, turning to the side, being in motion or staying still can all be performed by a robot of any shape. These behaviors, though based on canine models, are hardly specific to dogs, but apply across a large range of mammals. It is possible that creating the most emotionally expressive and natural-seeming social robots may require developers to consider a number of universal actions that are easily understood by humans as well as by other mammals.

Because human facial expressions are often considered too complex or confusing to mimic in social robots, the use of simple behaviors that convey emotions may provide a better way to make robots that are capable of emotional expression. Future work will explore ways that dogs (and perhaps other mammals) can serve as models for combining functionality with sociality. This approach will allow researchers to develop better social robots that people consider more like companions and with which they are more comfortable.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Has a Dog Saved Your Life?

In recent years, I’ve had more clients than ever with service dogs, especially psychiatric service dogs. Most of these cases involve veterans with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury). Almost every one of these clients has said, “This dog saved my life.” What they mean is that they were suicidal until receiving the dog. The fact that these dogs have collectively saved so many lives is one of those truths that makes me love my work.

Of course, there are lots of other ways that dogs can save lives besides preventing suicides. They have kept runaway and lost children warm through dangerously cold nights, they have stopped people from stepping onto train tracks, they have led disoriented people home, and they have taken down would-be attackers. They have gone for help or barked to get attention when a person has fallen or is trapped after a car accident, they have woken people up just in time to get out of a house on fire or with high levels of carbon monoxide, and alerted parents that a child has fallen in the pool.

I know of one man whose dog fought off a grizzly bear when they were camping together in Alaska for several months while he conducted field studies for his graduate work. Later, when he returned to the university to write his dissertation, he and his new girlfriend fought about the dog. Specifically, she did not want the dog on the bed because he tended to push her out of it on purpose.

His response? “This dog saved my life and has been with me longer than you have. Once you have literally saved me from death, you will have priority on the bed, but not until that happens.” That relationship did not last, but he soon found a woman who loved being with the dog at night and who the dog did NOT kick out of bed, and they are happily married.

Has a dog ever saved your life?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Licking the Bowl
I’m more like dogs than I care to admit

It’s usually with great pride that I take note of similarities between myself and dogs. If I greet someone with genuine enthusiasm or consider how well I am living in the moment or if I choose a delicious nap instead dealing with some of my paperwork, I pat myself on the back. We all know that everything we need to know we learned in Puppy Kindergarten, right?

Recently, though, I realized that I share a behavioral pattern with dogs that is not so special or admirable: I lick my plate. I’m not saying that I’m a member of the clean plate club or bragging that I eat my vegetables. No, there are occasions when I literally lick my plate.  We expect this sort of behavior from dogs. Most of them are extremely enthusiastic about food, but not picky about it and not into savoring it. They are not discussing the oaky overtones or the interesting way that the duck flavor blends with the sweet potato. They are just making sure they haven’t missed a morsel.

Concern about missing a speck of food is important to me only once in a while. I don’t lick my plate every time I eat, but rather only after one particular meal, and I have a good reason for it. Still, I felt sheepish when members of my family joked that I must have become a plate licker because of my personal and professional relationship with dogs.

So, here’s what’s going on with me. I used to overeat every time we had pancakes. I would eat a few pancakes, and then realize I had some extra maple syrup. I lived in New England for years, I adore real maple syrup, and I couldn’t stand the thought of wasting even a drop of this precious commodity. So, I would take another pancake to avoid wasting the syrup, but sometimes there wouldn’t be enough syrup, and I’d add more. Basically, I ended up eating to excess in my attempt to match up syrup and pancake. Finally, I realized that I could solve the problem by licking the syrup after my initial serving of pancakes. Of course, it’s inelegant, but it is healthier because I don’t eat as much. My kids—who as young children loved to lick water out of bowls to pretend that they were dogs—are so repulsed by my plate-licking behavior that I always sneak into the kitchen to do it so nobody has to watch.

There are so many traits we could share with dogs that would make us better people—loyalty, enjoyment of life, fairness to all people, emotional perceptiveness—but licking the plate is far from the most commendable, and it is certainly not the classiest.

Do you share something with dogs that nobody considers one of their most admirable traits?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs Help Us Be the Greatest Version of Ourselves
Bringing Out Your Best

Sometimes I feel like I’m falling short as a wife, a mother, a collaborator, a friend, a sister, a daughter or in any other role in my life. I’m not beating myself up over this because every day I fight the good fight and try very hard to do my best. I don’t live with constant guilt because I put in a solid effort, but I know in my heart that many times I don’t quite succeed to the degree that I want.

The funny thing, though, is that I feel much better about how I come through for dogs. I don’t know why, but I’m generally more confident that I am doing better by the dogs in my life. Don’t get me wrong—sometimes I still have dog-related guilt and a desire to improve, but not as often as I do with people. On the one hand, it’s not as complicated to provide for dogs’ needs, but the real issue here is, I think, that dogs bring out the best in me.

Sometimes, I’ve been too tired to play with my kids and I’ve answered no to their request to go to the park, but I always manage to walk dogs. At the end of an exhausting day, I may leave dirty dishes in the sink, but if a dog needs to be brushed out, I find the energy to get that done.

I’m more likely to comply with the majority of the Boy Scout Law with dogs than with people. (For those who are not familiar with it, this law says that a Boy Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.) I’m not sure whether it is the vulnerability and complete reliance that dogs have on us that brings out the best in me, or if it’s just that dogs don’t tend to be as demanding as people, so it’s easier to measure up. (Yes, I realize that some dogs are unbelievably demanding, but my experience with such dogs is a small percentage of my interactions with the canine set.)

It can be really hard every day to face not quite being as good as I’d like to be, and I’m so grateful that dogs provide an area of my life that is less prone to causing such feelings of failure.

If dogs bring out the best in you, why do you think that is?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Flagstaff Dog Running
This dog running company is great business idea
Dogs love to run!

Like many runners who have lived in Flagstaff, Ariz. Adam Vess is a professional runner. Adam is also, like many people in Flagstaff, a dog person. He found that if he runs 4-6 miles with his dogs Alex and Macy before going to work, they are happier and easier to live with. His business began with the thought, “Could other people use this, too?”

The answer was yes, and Flagstaff Dog Running was born. Now that Vess has moved back to the east coast, there is not anyone in our area offering this service. Vess spent many hours taking dogs out to run on the trails or fire roads around town to keep their joints and the rest of them safe from the dangers of the streets. Dogs were always on leash, and were with him for up to two hours. He ran them long enough that they’re fatigued, but not anywhere near exhaustion. Most dogs are happily tired out in 30-40 minutes, though some dogs need well over an hour to reach that point.

The charge was $25 a session, and $40 for two dogs. They never ran more than two dogs at a time because of safety concerns, and 10-12 miles is the maximum distance he took any dog. That was only for fit dogs who have gradually and safely built up to running such distances.

Adam originally planned to expand his business to exercising dogs at boarding kennels. People boarding their dogs would have been able to request and pay for the running as a special service. The exercise and the opportunity to go on an adventure as well as to have some company would all have enhanced their kennel experience.

If you lived in a town with a dog person who was a professional runner, would you consider hiring that person to exercise your dog? Does anyone in your area offer this service?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Is More Always Merrier?
How many dogs are in your bed?

A three dog night refers to weather so cold that three dogs had to be called into bed to keep a person from freezing to death. We don’t know whether this expression originated in the Australian outback, or far north in either the Americas or in Europe. What we do know is that for many of us who sleep comfortably indoors in houses with central heat, having only three dogs in the bed is for amateurs. There are a lot of dog lovers out there with four, five or even more dogs sharing a pretty limited sleeping space.

My cousin Leslie posted this picture of her husband with four of their dogs sharing the bed with him. (It’s not obvious where my cousin sleeps, but she jokingly claims to have rights to the other corner of the bed.) These four dogs are small, but anyone who has settled in for the night only to have 16 additional feet and their attached bodies climb aboard knows that crowding is a hazard. Dogs of any size can steal the covers, cause you to overheat and wake you up multiple times.

They also keep you cozy while making you feel safe, secure and very loved. It’s a wonderful feeling to have dogs snuggle up at night, or even during a nap. Many people sheepishly admit that their dogs sleep with them, only to find out that the person receiving this confession also has canine bed buddies. There’s so much love and joy when we share the bed with our best friends, so I’m happy that judgment about it is less common that it used to be.

In some families, there are dogs with bed privileges and dogs who are given their own comfy bed or a spot on the rug. It may be the dog’s choice, but more often, the guardians make this important decision. Sometimes size influences a dog’s sleeping position, with extra large dogs interfering too much with sleep. In other cases, it’s dogs’ behavior that determines whether or not they are welcome on the bed. Dogs who settle down and sleep calmly all night are welcome in the big bed while dogs who spend the night walking around or who mistake the comforter for a tug toy are more likely to find themselves sleeping on the floor.

I know of many couples who must compromise because one person wants the dogs in the bed but the other person wants the bed to be for people only. In those cases, often just one dog is allowed up. It may be the same dog every night, or they may rotate so each gets a turn.

How many dogs share your bed and how is that working out for you?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Break-Ups and Good-Byes
Sometimes people miss the dog the most

I remember a college friend commenting that he considered himself lucky to have gotten out of a bad relationship but also mentioning how much he missed his ex’s dog. He probably would have been completely happy about the break-up if it hadn’t been for Peaches. Most people discuss the person that they have broken up with, but in this case, our entire social circle heard about the dog, not the ex-girlfriend.

It’s common for people to ache from the pain of missing the children of their ex, so it’s no surprise that there is great sadness when people no longer get to live with or even see the dog they’ve come to love. When members of a couple adopt a dog together, there are sometimes visitation rights discussed during a break-up or written into a divorce agreement. If, however, you were with someone who had a dog before you were in the picture, you are unlikely to have any legal recourse. You will be allowed to see the dog if your ex lets you, but otherwise you are simply out of luck.

Sometimes people take the high road and allow their former partner to see the dog either because they recognize that it is good for the dog, or out of a loving kindness to the person with whom they just split. Sadly, denying access to a dog after a break-up is often done as retaliation, just to be mean and spiteful. (The same thing happens with children, which is extremely troubling.)

Were you allowed visits or some time with your ex’s dog after a break-up or a divorce?

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Photographs of Old Dogs
The most beautiful images of all
Champ, 9, South Dakota

Photographer Nancy Levine sees beauty in old dogs, and in her new book, Senior Dogs Across America, the rest of us can, too. Levine photographed her own dogs constantly, and as they aged, she was inspired by the grace and dignity of their changing bodies. Having developed an interest in such dogs, she spent over a decade seeking out elderly dogs to photograph.

Levine traveled around the United States asking friends, veterinarians, rescue groups and sanctuaries about old dogs she could photograph. Her goal was loftier than a book of adorable pictures of dogs. She wanted to compile photos that showed dogs’ individuality and emotional expression. Avoiding close-ups, she chose to photograph dogs in their environment, whether that was out in the fields of South Dakota and Oklahoma, or on the streets of Manhattan and Baltimore.

Some of Levine’s subjects were stiff and had trouble moving, but others at the same stage of life still ran energetically. The beauty of these dogs is in their uniqueness, which comes down to their personality, expression and behavior as well as their physical appearance.

Levine’s has a special love for older dogs, and all her images, from the cover photo all the way through the book, reveal it.

Cecilia, 12, Baltimore

Murphy, 10, Connecticut

Red, 12, Connecticut

Lolli, 15, San Francisco

Bottom to top: Phyllis, 12, Logan County Rescue; Englebert, 9, Denver Dumb Friends League; Loretta, 12, Denver County Shelter; Eeoyore, 14, Denver Dumb Friends League; Enoch, 5, Denver.

 

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?

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