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
What’s gender have to do with it?
December 10 2015
Is there a Mars/Venus divide in the way men and women approach dog training? Any answer to that question is an exercise in speculation. We can’t turn to research results because there aren’t any, and gender generalities aren’t universally applicable. As Ken Ramirez, executive VP and Chief Training Officer of Karen Pryor Clicker Training, put it, “As soon as you make one generalization, there will be dozens of examples that are exceptions.”
Still, many professional trainers have observed some general differences between the ways women and men train dogs. We must, however, be clear about what these differences mean. They do not mean that all women train differently than all men—there is a lot of overlap between the sexes. Gender may predict tendencies, but it is not absolute.
So, what are these tendencies?
She adds that more men than women expect a dog to be 100 percent fluent on a command without too much effort on the part of the trainer. Men are more likely to say, “He knows what to do, but he’s choosing not to do it.” In contrast, Hays says, women are tend to focus on their own responsibility, taking the attitude, “I know he’s not doing it, but I know it’s because I’m not doing something right.”
Hays finds that women are willing and happy to lavish petting and praise on their dogs, but men often need to be reminded to do that. On the other hand, she says, women sometimes need to be reminded to save praise and attention and a “hot-dog party” for when the dog has made good choices, and to cut their chatter to their dog during a training session or walk. Of course, as Torelli notes, “It’s more culturally acceptable for women to sweet-talk in public,” and that could account for some of this difference.
In my own work, I’ve noticed that men are more likely (and quicker) than women to follow suggestions to use play as reinforcement. If I observe that a dog is highly motivated by toys and play, I will incorporate play into the plan to help the dog, advising clients to use it as a reinforcement or a distraction, to enhance the relationship between themselves and their dogs, for exercise or to teach new skills.
For example, if I propose that my clients begin a play session when the dog responds properly to a cue or chooses to do the right thing rather than bark/ lunge or chase something inappropriate, a majority of men are enthusiastic and ready to try it as soon as I mention it. Fewer women react that way, though a short demonstration of the effectiveness of play in inf luencing behavior leads most women to come on board as well.
Dog training is a skill that, like many others, is acquired through education and practice. So, it’s not surprising that general tendencies in the way men and women approach any new skill show up in dog training as well. Hays sees a pattern parallel to what a ski instructor once told her about men and women on the slopes: Men focus on going fast, learning enough to get down the hill first. Women focus on details and techniques. Men are quicker to take the attitude “I’ve got it from here,” while women tend to want more information on how to keep improving. According to Hays, her clients display this differentiation as soon as they’ve made enough progress to realize that training is going to help their dogs.
In the realm of professional dog trainers, women dominate in canine sports and family dog training, but men make up the majority in police work and the military. Traditionally, the areas with more women trainers have used gentle training methods, with more positive reinforcement (by men and women), whereas the realms dominated by men are likely to incorporate force-based, high-discipline methods, regardless of the gender of the individual trainers.
Ramirez notes that it’s hard to know the cause of these distinctions. “Is the difference in training styles because of the male- or female-dominated discipline, or is it the type of training that has dictated training approaches? Or is it that different training approaches attract men to certain types of endeavors and women to others? I believe training approaches have more to do with historical practices.”
Hays says that in her sport—field trials—the old style “‘boot, shoot and electrocute’ [kicking, pellet guns and cattle prods] was really a horrible training method. A lot of women were not okay with doing that to a dog, and a lot of men resisted, too.” More humane methods, including using markers such as clickers have changed the field. While more women are doing field trials than in previous decades, the majority of trainers are still men.
Lest we forget, training involves two individuals, the trainer (human) and the trainee (dog), so dogs’ natural responses need to be factored in as well. Dogs respond differently to men than they do to women, and that also affects training. Men and women are dissimilar in many ways, including smell, vocal tone, movement and posture. All of these differences can influence training, as dogs are extremely responsive to visual signals and body language.
We know that dogs are sometimes more attentive to men, and yet more likely to be fearful of them. That focus and that fear can affect training approaches both indirectly via their impact on the relationship between the two individuals, and directly, by making a dog either more responsive or too fearful to respond predictably.
I asked each of the professional trainers I interviewed if he or she approached clients differently based on gender. Across the board, the answer was a resounding No! Hays: “Whether it’s a male or a female—dog or person—it’s up to me to figure out how best to teach them. That’s based on the individual.” Ramirez: “No, I do not approach men or women differently. I do tend to approach each individual differently. The reasons people want to train are always very different, so I adapt my teaching style to their needs and desires and I don’t tend to make assumptions about that based on whether they are men or women.” Torelli: “There are many variables in becoming a great trainer. Being male or female is just one small part.”
News: Karen B. London
The pros and cons of this exchange
December 9 2015
In theory, the exchanges possible with the Bark’N’Borrow app make a lot of sense. People who are unable to have their own dog can spend time with someone else’s dog. People whose dogs need some company or exercise can loan them out. Dogs can also be loaned out as a kindness to people who need some canine comfort. Members of this community who care for dogs are either borrowers who spend time with a dog for free, or professional dog sitters who charge for their services.
Though it’s a lovely idea, I have concerns, and they extend beyond the worry about the occasional bad person out there. Of course, the idea that sinister people could be involved and be cruel to dogs or not return them is frightening, but it’s not the only source of potential trouble.
Even kind people with good intentions could cause harm to a dog. The alarming questions that come to my mind are many. Will people keep the dog on leash where safe and appropriate? Is their house set up to protect a dog from electrical wires, poisonous foods and other dangers? Will everyone be as gentle with the dog as they should be? Will they pull hard on the leash or react harshly if a communication error or other confusion is interpreted as disobedience? Will the dog be nervous or scared in unfamiliar surroundings? Do the people borrowing dogs know anything about canine behavior or how to interact with dogs?
I know that a lot of people are members of this community and many positive exchanges have taken place. Still, I think to loan your dog out to a stranger involves taking a big chance. Sure, many times things work out fine, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t risky. That everything often works out does not speak to the dangers of this system. Similarly, people sometimes drive themselves safely home while drunk or ride a motorcycle without a helmet and have no problem, but that does not provide proof that these actions are wise or reasonable.
The Bark’N’Borrow FAQs has the following to say about safety:
“Is Bark’N’Borrow Safe?
DEFINITELY! Our aim at Bark’N’Borrow is to provide the safest experience possible to all our members and their dogs. Every person who joins our pack has had our trustworthy team review and verify their profile. We pride ourselves in being thorough and are dedicated to only offering the best of the best. For extra protection, and in case of emergencies, we also provide 24/7 customer support.”
I’m just not convinced that having a team “review and verify” a profile constitutes sufficient safeguards for the dogs against criminal, negligent or simply thoughtless behavior. Clearly, a lot of people disagree with me because this app is popular. If you are a fan of Bark’N’Borrow, let me know what I am missing and how it’s worked out for you. If you would not consider participating in this community, let me know why not.
News: Karen B. London
Do dogs prevent anxiety?
December 4 2015
Kids who are asking their parents for a puppy this season have a convincing new argument to try. A recent study ("Pet Dogs and Children’s Health: Opportunities for Chronic Disease Prevention?”) reports that kids who live with a dog are less likely to be anxious than their peers living in homes without dogs. Researchers evaluated 643 children for signs of anxiety. They found that only 12 percent of kids who have dogs met the clinical criteria that would prompt health care professionals to further screen for anxiety. This was in contrast to 21 percent of kids without dogs who met those criteria.
Despite the way this study has been reported in the media, the authors of this study do not claim that there is a causal relationship between having a dog and lower levels of anxiety in children. Sure, if you are reading this, you are all but certainly a dog lover and inclined to see the benefits of being with dogs. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to back you up if this where you stand. Being with dogs can lower levels of cortisol (which is associated with stress), decrease blood pressure and heart rate, and increase levels of oxytocin (which is associated with social bonding.)
The study highlights the correlation between living with a dog and a lower likelihood of anxiety in children, but makes no claims about why the association exists. It is entirely possible, for example, that people who are less anxious by nature are more likely to have dogs, and their children just happen to share a lower likelihood of anxiety. Or perhaps people with children tend to get dogs only when their lives are not too stressful, which means that the people with and without dogs vary in their anxiety levels for reasons that are not related to having dogs.
It seems highly possible that living with a dog lowers the risk of anxiety in children, perhaps by alleviating loneliness and separation anxiety or by facilitating social interactions. Still, it’s important to understand that the links found in this study do not show the presence of the dog to be the key factor.
While I would not recommend that anyone rush out to acquire a dog for the sole purpose of lowering their children’s chances of developing anxiety, kids might try to convince you to do exactly that. They may have a point.
News: Karen B. London
It explains the behavior of Costa Rican dogs
December 2 2015
During a recent field trip to Costa Rica, I was as interested as my students in Ceiba trees, toucans, sloths and tree frogs, along with so many other organisms we were able to see in the tropical rain forest. When I was in town, though, my focus shifted to the local dogs.
One aspect of their behavior repeatedly caught my attention. Over and over, I saw dogs waiting just outside the doors of local businesses. Whether it was a bakery, restaurant, butcher’s shop or hair salon, dogs did not go inside. These were all stray dogs, many in need of food, but they did not charge through the doorway no matter what tempting goodies were inside. They exhibited impressively polite behavior, which is easy enough to explain.
The reason that these dogs never went inside businesses is that the behavior of the people in those businesses has consistently been favorable when the dogs stay outside and not so favorable if they attempt to enter. As soon as these dogs are old enough to wander through town, they have multiple experiences with people shooing them out of stores if they enter, and also have repeated experiences with receiving food if they wait outside. The dogs learn that waiting outside is a good strategy and that barging into a store is a bad strategy. Because the culture so strongly opposes having stray dogs enter stores, the dogs get consistent messages about what to do. The dogs are so well trained, if you want to look at it that way, because of the consistency of the responses to their behavior. There are no mixed messages.
There’s a lesson here for all of us about being consistent with our training. This sounds obvious and is well known, but even a rare departure from consistency can mess up an otherwise excellent training program. There is a huge difference between never permitting your dog to jump up on you, beg at the table or join you on the couch and almost never allowing these behaviors to happen. The difference lets your dog question whether each occasion is one of the exceptions and keeps hope alive. It can make them seem quite pushy when they are really only unsure about what the rules are.
When we are completely consistent with our dogs, training goes more smoothly and there are fewer problems. The Costa Rican people I observed simply never allow dogs to enter their stores, and the dogs learn that the only way to get food from the people is to wait patiently at the door. It’s a successful system for members of both species.
In what ways are you completely consistent with your dog, to the benefit of your training?
News: Karen B. London
Frustration? Vocalizing? Sad face?
November 26 2015
When we train our dogs, we are teaching them something new, whether it’s a new behavior, a new cue for that behavior, or how to perform it in a different situation. It’s bound to be frustrating from time to time, just as learning can be for us. People rarely get through the process of learning how to drive, learning a new piece on the trumpet, or learning the many methods involved in mastering calculus without some frustration. We all have different reactions to the frustrations of learning, and dogs show a variety of responses as well.
Some dogs may bark when a training session has made them feel a little lost. Others may shut down and refuse to do anything. A small percentage of dogs may become aggressive. Some become very affectionate and affiliative as if seeking comfort in this tough situation. I’ve seen dogs refuse to pay any attention to a trainer in these situations, and I’ve seen dogs looking searchingly at the trainer as though hoping to find the missing information in her face.
Of course, training our dogs methodically and little by little so that we can minimize frustration makes sense. We want them to enjoy their training experiences, and that’s not going to happen if frustration is the primary emotion involved. On the other hand, sometimes pushing things a bit can really accelerate the learning process, and that may be worth a bit of frustration or the risk of it. Those dogs who can handle frustration without it tipping them over the edge may even be better off for having worked through the frustration and emerged successfully on the other side of it. Some dogs really relish the sense of accomplishment that comes from finally getting it. Other dogs are harmed enough by the confusion that it’s best not to go there.
Of course, sometimes during the course of training, we try really hard not to frustrate our dogs and do it anyway. It may be because of circumstances beyond our control. For example, a dog may have learned a cue from a previous guardian, but then you try to use that same cue for a different behavior. Alternatively, we may just blow it by failing to notice that our dog is struggling, and push on.
How does your dog react if he becomes frustrated during a training session?
News: Karen B. London
Grief fades and a new puppy is welcomed
November 24 2015
In the 10 years that we have lived in the same neighborhood, I have seen one woman and her dog out walking so many times we began to joke that we were on the same treadmill. I saw the progression of this dog through youth and middle age to becoming an older, yet still active dog, to a dog who shuffled up the block and back, and no longer had that glow of good health about him. This was followed by a period of a week or so during which I didn’t see the pair at all. Then, one day, I saw the woman out walking alone, and I knew that the dog was gone.
Offering my sympathy, though I had never formally met this woman, I learned that she had lost her dog to cancer. We talked at length about how hard it is to lose a dog, how empty the house can seem, and how people’s well-intentioned advice to “get a new dog” can really hurt. She needed time to grieve, and for months afterwards, I would see her out for her own walk and feel the heaviness in her heart whether we just exchanged hellos or chatted for a long time.
Today while out running, I saw her with a new dog—a puppy who shows all the signs of a lovely temperament. She’s friendly, energetic and clearly adores her new guardian. The feeling is mutual, and I was delighted to see this woman happier than she had been in some time. I offered her my congratulations, and felt a close bond with her and the new dog. There’s so much love already growing between them!
Please share your experience of feeling great happiness with a new dog once you were ready to take that step.
News: Karen B. London
Do canine sayings decorate your house?
November 20 2015
“Home is where the DOG is.” That’s the first plaque my husband and I hung on the wall after we bought our house. Quite a few have been added since. My artist mother-in-law painted two that I asked her for over the years. One says, “Love grows best in little houses,” and the other says, “Thank you for not stressing in our home.” Other than those two, the signs that I’m drawn to are about dogs. They capture my attention in stores and often the temptation to buy them is too strong to resist.
Today, in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, I saw an oldie but a goodie. It said, “Husband, fishing pole & dog missing. Reward for dog.” The high regard for the dog is appealing, but the disdain for the husband doesn’t make it a good fit for me, though it did make me laugh. I’m more drawn to other whimsical sayings such as:
My dog winks at me sometimes, and I always wink back in case it’s some kind of code
Life is short, play with your dog
Beware of dog poop
The best part of the day is coming home to a wagging tail
Please remove your shoes. The dog needs something to chew on.
In dog beers, I’ve only had one
Perhaps the all-time champion for causing me to engage in an awkward public fit of laughter is:
Home is where the dog hair sticks to everything but the dog.
What dog sayings adorn your walls?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Links between canine lateralization, behavior and emotion
November 19 2015
A few years ago, dog trainers and behaviorists renewed their love affair with tail-wagging, constantly checking to see whether dogs were wagging their tails higher to the right or to the left. Our awkward attempts at positioning ourselves to observe this behavior were surely entertaining to others. Why were we so eager for the information conveyed by these asymmetrical tail wags? Because they indicate dogs’ differential use of the left and right hemispheres of their brains and are, therefore, a window into their emotions.
The study of asymmetrical tail wagging that prompted our collective interest (Quaranta et al. 2007) found that differences depended on what inspired the wags in the first place. Dogs wagged higher to the right when greeting their guardians. The same right-side bias was seen in response to unfamiliar people, although the wags were lower overall. In response to cats, there was little wagging, but it was still higher to the right. In the tests, the only stimulus to which dogs’ wags had a left-side bias was an unfamiliar, confident dog.
Left or Right?
The left hemisphere is activated when the brain is processing positive experiences associated with emotions such as happiness, affection and excitement, as well as anything familiar. The right hemisphere takes precedence when processing sadness, fear, other negative emotions and novel things.
This link between emotions and sides of the brain came to light in studies of humans. Ahern and Schwartz (1979) found that people who were asked questions that elicited either positive or negative emotions responded in accordance with this principle. They looked to their right (showing left brain hemisphere involvement) in response to questions that elicited positive emotions, but looked to their left (showing right brain hemisphere involvement) in response to questions that evoked negative emotions.
Individuals—canine or human—who favor the left paw or hand more often use the right hemisphere of their brain, while right-pawed and right-handed individuals have a more active left-brain hemisphere. Studies have shown differences between right-pawed and left-pawed dogs. They have also revealed that dogs who are ambilateral—who don’t have a paw preference—are different in predictable ways from dogs who strongly prefer one paw over the other.
Lateralization research, an active area of study, informs our understanding of emotions and behavior. Though dogs and people are common study subjects, similar patterns have been found in fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and primates and other mammals.
Determining Paw Preference
Strength of Lateralization
Batt et al. (2009) showed that dogs with stronger paw preferences were bolder and less cautious than dogs with weaker paw preferences. They were more confident, less prone to arousal and anxiety, quicker to relax or become playful in new environments, and exhibited calmer responses to novel stimuli and strangers. It turns out that we humans are similar to our best friends in this regard: People with weak hand preferences are more likely to suffer high anxiety levels and are more susceptible to both PTSD and psychosis than those with a strong handedness.
Just as being right-pawed predicted guide-dog training success, dogs with a strong lateralization (either left or right) and a low rate of using both paws in the Kong test fared better in these programs (Batt et al. 2008). The authors hypothesize that this may be because strongly lateralized and right-pawed dogs are less likely to experience high reactivity and distress responses, which are detrimental to success as a guide dog.
Dogs also turned left in response to images of cats and snakes but not to images of dogs. With repeated presentations, there was a change toward right-turning behavior, indicating that the left side of the brain and its associated positive emotions were involved. This suggests that novelty may be a factor in fear and other intense negative emotions that tend to be processed by the right side of the brain.
To understand the role of lateralization in processing olfactory stimuli, it is essential to know that each side of the brain processes the information received on the same side: the right nostril goes to the right hemisphere, the left nostril goes to the left hemisphere. Dogs started to sniff novel but non-aversive stimuli (food, lemon, dog secretions) with their right nostril and then shifted with repetition to using their left nostril, showing a change from negative to positive emotions. When presented with adrenaline and sweat from their vets (really!), dogs demonstrated a consistent bias toward the right nostril, suggesting that their emotions started, and remained, negative in response to these odors (Siniscalchi et al. 2011).
* * * * * * *
Love and understanding compound one another with our dogs, and lateralization is a case in point. A dear dog friend of mine is strongly right-pawed; it was pitiful to watch him attempt to learn to give a left high-five, or use his left paw to hold his Kong when he briefly had a bandage on his right paw. I used to find how hard it was for him to do anything with his left paw somewhat comical. Now I understand that this trait is part of the package that makes him the unflappable, happy, don’t-care-about-the-power-tools-running-all-day-during-the-kitchen-remodel, playful and exploratory, nothing-fazes-him kind of dog I love so much. I’m honored and overjoyed that when he greets me, his tail wags are as one-sided to the right as the rest of him.
News: Karen B. London
Max Domi relies on Orion every day
November 15 2015
“He’s made me a better person and a better hockey player.” That’s what rookie sensation Max Domi says about his two-year old diabetic-alert dog, Orion. Diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 12, Domi’s first question was, “Can I still play hockey?” The answer was yes but that doesn’t mean it was easy. It’s still a challenge, but Orion has made it easier and safer.
Like many diabetic-alert dogs, Orion is a Labrador Retriever who has been trained at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars. Orion was trained by Canine Hope for Diabetics to do his job, which is to detect odor changes that indicate a low blood sugar level and alert Domi. When Domi is awake, Orion alerts him by pulling at the bringsel (which looks like a small foam roller) that Domi wears at his waist. That’s the cue to Domi that he should check his blood sugar, which he does 15-20 times most days, but around a dozen times before, during, and after each game in addition to the rest of that day’s tests. When he is asleep and his blood sugar drops, Orion wakes him up by barking and jumping on him. If that doesn’t rouse Domi, then the dog will use his paws to wake him up with some well-placed contact to the face. Low sugar levels in his blood can be especially likely after a late-night game, so Orion’s tenacity about waking him up is especially critical at those times.
Domi had to go through a huge process to be considered for a service dog, and that included writing essays about why he was worthy of receiving such a dog, why he wanted one and what would do with him. He also had to meet several dogs so that the trainers could choose the dog they thought was the best match for Domi. For example, of the dogs under consideration, one was eliminated for not being as good in crowds, which is obviously not ideal for a professional athlete. I really enjoyed a recent video on ESPN that discusses what Orion does for Domi, and includes good footage of this adorable and hard-working dog.
Orion travels with Domi to all their games so he must be able to handle the air travel, the huge crowds, hotels, the ice rinks and the generally complex and crazy life of a professional hockey player. One challenge for anyone with a service dog is preventing other people from petting him or otherwise distracting him while he is working. All the other players along with coaches and other staff of the Arizona Coyotes know that they cannot interact with Orion when he is working. When he is off duty, though, he is just as friendly and loving as you might expect, and everybody cherishes the time they get to spend with Orion when he is not working.
Domi treasures all his time with Orion and is grateful for how much easier it makes it to concentrate on hockey. At only 20 years old, he’s arguably the best rookie in the NHL, so any fan of Domi or his team should appreciate that, too.
News: Karen B. London
Many reasons for this behavior
November 13 2015
Dogs often hold onto their own leashes with their mouths, and sometimes even take the leash of another dog. It’s generally pretty adorable, perhaps, in part because we relate to any example of dogs acting like us. If you watch any dogs hanging on to the leash of another dog, you may be able to make guesses about why the dog is doing it.
In some cases, as in the video below, it looks to me as though the dog is simply playing with the leash. The leash is an object in the environment that has caught the dog’s attention and interest, and the fact that it is attached to the collar of another dog does not seem to be important or highly relevant.
In other situations, such as in the following video, one dog appears to be walking the other dog around, much as humans do. It’s not a very forceful situation and no malice is apparent, but the dog with the leash in his mouth is using it to lead the other dog around. The dog on leash seems untroubled at first, but later appears to dislike the limitations imposed by the leash. Then, he starts to pull on the leash, just as dogs so often do when it’s a person holding it.
In this last clip, the more confident dog in the video appears to be using the leash to encourage (pull!) the more timid dog to go down the slide. Again, this is something that a person might do. Some dogs benefit from being forced in this way because they find the slide fun but might not have tried it on their own. Other dogs were scared to go down the slide before they did it and very scared while they do it, so it can be traumatic for them. It’s definitely a risk, but it sometimes works out well. I’ve seen a lot of people make their dogs go down a slide with this technique, but I’ve not seen a dog participate in this way before.
After watching the last two videos, it’s natural to wonder if dogs have learned how to guide dogs around by their leashes from watching humans do it. With so much recent research on social learning in dogs, I find myself watching dogs do things that humans have done and wondering if the dogs learned it by observing people.
Do you have a dog who leads another dog around with the leash?
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