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
Chihuahua Survives Owl Attack
His winter coat may have saved him

Chico the Chihuahua survived an attack by a great horned owl. In one sense, he was very lucky because a four-pound dog is easy prey for large owls that are capable of killing and eating much larger animals, such as skunks and raccoons. On the other hand, Chico was unlucky, because owls are usually deterred from attacking small dogs by the frightening presence of a human, and Chico’s guardian was right there with him during the attack.

  George Kalomiris was walking Chico on leash when the owl swooped down and attempted to grab Chico. Kalomiris reports that he yelled and lunged at the owl, which had gotten tangled in Chico’s leash. After a few seconds, the owl flew off—without Chico.   Chico was treated by a veterinarian for a puncture wound that was, remarkably, enough, superficial. In all likelihood, the winter coat that Chico was wearing saved his life. It prevented the owl from getting a good grip on the dog. George’s wife Dana said, “Now I feel vindicated for buying dog clothes.”   Have you had a dog who was threatened or injured by a wild animal?

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
“Little Hugo” the Dog Causes Controversy
Venezuela and Columbia in conflict over soap opera

Venezuela and Columbia are two countries that have long had a complicated relationship. Serious matters (such as accusations by one country that the other country was harboring Marxist guerrillas with the intent of overthrowing the government of the first country) strain the relationship. So, too, it seems, do less important problems such as a soap opera made in one country that doesn’t show the other country in a flattering light and named a dog after the president.

  The Colombian soap opera “Chepe Fortuna” stars two sisters called Colombia and Venezuela. The sister named Venezuela is apparently regularly associated with criminal activities, and is portrayed as vulgar and meddling. In addition, Venezuela has a dog who is named “Little Hugo,” which is presumably a reference to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.   Venezuela’s National Television Commission issued a statement objecting to the degrading treatment of Venezuela by the soap opera and urging the television station to cease airing it. The producer replied that it is just about humor and that Venezuelan officials are taking it too seriously.   In one scene, Venezuela asks, “What will become of Venezuela without little Hugo?” and a man answers, “Venezuela will be free. Lately Little Hugo was defecating everywhere.”   I lived in Venezuela for a while back in the 1990s and loved it. It was a warm and welcoming country with some of the most beautiful landscapes and wildlife I’ve ever seen. I must say, it’s easy to see the objection to having their country and president mocked in this way. A person could have a namesake dog and have that be an expression of respect, but it can also be the opposite—an insult.   Yet as a US citizen accustomed to free speech, banning a soap opera seems pretty extreme. In this country, we are used to parodies, especially of powerful people such as elected officials. The request to stop airing the show illustrates the tension between Columbia and Venezuela, the different thresholds for determining what is allowed (and what is not) in various parts of the world, and how seriously some people in Latin America take their soap operas.   Most interesting to me is the fact that a tense international political situation involves a dog. What does that mean to you in terms of dogs’ growing cultural importance worldwide?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Does Tail Length Matter?
Robot dog helps answer this question

 

Dogs communicate with their tails in ways that are more complex than people thought even a few years ago, and new studies continue to reveal more about the information that tails convey. Many people have wondered whether dogs with docked tails or naturally short tails are less able to communicate than dogs whose tails are long and have not been docked.   In a recent study called “Behavioural responses of Canis familiaris to different tail lengths of a remotely-controlled life-size dog replica,” scientists Leaver and Reinchen investigated the importance of tail length in the initiation of social interactions in dogs. Basically, their question was whether the length of a dog’s tail made any difference to other dogs. They found that tail length does matter.   Nearly 500 dogs were videotaped when approaching a life-sized robot dog that had either a short tail or a long tail and the tail was either wagging or held still. They noted whether the dogs were hesitant in their approach to the robot dog or if they approached without such caution.   What did they find? They found that dogs were more likely to approach, without hesitating, a robot with a long wagging tail than one with a long tail that was held still. They were equally likely to approach without caution a short tail when it was still and when it was wagging. Approaches to the short tail (whether wagging or still) were more likely to be hesitant than approaches to a long wagging tail, but less likely to be hesitant than those to a long tail that was still.   The experimenters concluded that it is harder to convey information with a short tail than with a long tail. One possibility is that it is harder for dogs to obtain information from a shorter tail than from a longer tail.   I think the coolest part of this study is the use of a robot dog in the experiment. If live dogs had been used, studying the effects of tail length would have been challenging because so many other variables could have clouded the issue. With a robot, the “dog” is in the same posture, smells the same, and is not adding additional behavior into the experimental design. The different responses by approaching dogs can be explained by the only parts of the robot that are different—tail size and tail motion.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Language Ability of a Dog
It goes way beyond a big vocabulary

[Editor's update: A February 9 episode of Nova will feature Chaser.]

 

In a recent study in the journal Behavioural Processes, John W. Pilley and Alliston K. Reid have demonstrated an impressive level of language ability in a Border Collie named Chaser. It’s certainly easy to be most impressed by the fact that she knows the names of 1,022 objects, which she was taught over a nearly three-year period. Yet, from a scientific point of view and especially for scientists who study language acquisition and cognitive abilities, that is not as interesting as the other conclusions from the study “Border collie comprehends object names as verbal referents.”

 

These scientists who studied Chaser also conclud that she can distinguish between the names of objects and commands. In other words, she understands that names refer to objects, regardless of the action she is told to perform to those objects. She was asked to either nose, paw or take one of three toys in an experiment, and could successfully do so. Years ago, the study of a Border Collie named Rico amazed the world with reports that the dog had a vocabulary of over 200 words, did not demonstrate this ability. Though Rico may have been able to do so, the experimental design did not allow a definitive conclusion.   Pilley and Reid also concluded that Chaser understands categories of objects such as “ball,” “Frisbee” and “toy.” When asked to retrieve an object of one of these types, she was successful at choosing an item from the correct category. She is familiar with many items in each group. Interestingly, “balls” and “Frisbees” are categorized based on overall shape, but “toys” are those objects she is allowed to play with as opposed to those with which play is forbidden. The function, but not the form, of toys and non-toys is distinct.   The final conclusion in the study was that Chaser can learn the name of a new object by inferential reasoning by exclusion. That is, she can learn the name of a new object based on the fact that it is the only novel object in a group of objects whose names are all already known by her. This kind of learning cannot be based on associative learning mechanisms because the novel name and the novel object are not presented together.   What do you think about this study and what does it make you wonder about your own dog?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Burglar Goes Through Doggy Door
Homeowner shoots the intruder

 

The great thing about dog doors is that they allow access in and out of your home. That is also their biggest drawback. A man entered a home in Oklahoma City through a dog door, apparently with the intent of robbing it, but instead, he was shot by the owner of the house. Though he got away, he was later apprehended at a convenience store when the clerk saw that he had been shot and called 911. Officers responding to the call realized he fit the description of the intruder who had gone through the dog door.   Obviously, if a medium to large dog can fit through a dog door, so can many people. For many years, I was among the smallest children in my neighborhood, and that, combined with the skills from being a gymnast, made me the go-to person when people were locked out of their houses. Over the years, I was shoved through various windows and asked to crawl through even tiny dog doors to get inside and unlock a door to let the owners back in. As recently as last year and at my adult height of 5’7”, I crawled through a neighbor’s dog door to help out when their front door lock mechanism was broken. I’ve always considered dog doors the easiest way to enter a house, and far preferable to, for example, going head first through a bathroom window and landing in a handstand in the tub.   Have you ever crawled through a dog door out of necessity? Have you ever had an unwanted intruder gain access to your house in this way?  

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Killing Over Dog Urine On Lawn
What’s this really about?

 

When I heard about the man who killed a neighbor after that neighbor’s dog urinated on his perfect lawn, my initial response was “Can you say ‘overreaction’?” When I learned more details about the case, I realized that the sad result of the situation was more about the behavior of the people than of the dog.   While it is true that the incident was started by one man’s dog urinating on another man’s lawn, that alone did not immediately lead to violence. When the owner of the nicely manicured lawn confronted the man whose dog had just urinated on it, the man with the dog cursed at him, pushed him, and punched him in the face. So while the dog’s behavior may have been a catalyst for the fatal shooting, the intervening human behavior was a critical part of the problem.   The distinction is important to me because while many people get into altercations over dog behavior such as barking, chasing, or even the people’s failure to pick up after their dogs, it is rarely dog behavior alone that leads to a truly problematic response by a person. It is the reaction of the people involved that causes situations to escalate into arguments, anger and even, on occasion, violent crime.   I’m certainly not saying that someone who yells, pushes and punches deserves to be fatally shot, and I think the situation is still one that involves a huge overreaction with tragic consequences. But I do think that the headlines saying a man shot another man after his dog urinated on his lawn tells only part of the story.  

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Toys Are Meant To Be Used
Damage means that they have been

Dogs like to chew on many of their toys. It is common for people to say, “He ruins all his toys!” I like to think of it a little bit differently: When toys are damaged, it’s just a sign that the dog has used them. Toys don’t stay in pristine condition if they have truly been enjoyed, but that just means the toys have been used, not that they have been ruined.

  Of course, if the dog is at risk of being hurt on a rough edge of a broken toy, or by ingesting part it, that’s a different story, and I’ll always intervene to prevent that. I’m not advocating being reckless about dogs and their toys, and I well understand how expensive it can be to supply toys to a dog who is hard on them. I’m simply pointing out that when dogs chew on toys or toss them around, they are using them for entertainment purposes, which is what toys are for. I’m interested in protecting dogs from toys, but I see no need to protect toys from dogs.   I used to have dogs come to my office all the time and start chewing on the toys I had there for the dogs. Invariably, guardians would say, “Oh no! He’s going to chew that up.” I always asked if the dog was likely to swallow the pieces, and if the answer was no, then I assured my clients that it was fine with me for the toy to be shredded, ripped, chewed, torn etc. I would tell them, “We go through dog toys like most office go through paper clips.”   How many toys can your go through in a month or so, and how much money are you spending on your dog’s “hobby”?

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Multipurposing Dog Gear
Finding non-dog oriented uses for supplies

The items needed for our dogs form an extensive list—leashes, collars, food, books, training treats, bowls, gates, toys, things to chew on, poop bags, tags, seat belts and on and on. Having spent years accumulating these items instead of a hefty savings account, I appreciate their value. In fact, I consider much of the pet gear I have to be so worthwhile that I use it for purposes that extend far beyond dogs.

  In 2000, I fostered a puppy named Who, and to help make our time together better, I invested in a puppy pen. Now, without a puppy in the house, I primarily use it for keeping young children away from the wood stove. When my own kids were younger, the pen was up almost all winter since the wood stove is our primary heat source. Now that they are old enough to stay away from the stove without this barrier, it is only up when we have tiny visitors.   Many dog trainers and behaviorists use enzymatic cleaners in their offices and training spaces to properly clean up after accidents and marking incidents, and I am no exception. Even thoroughly house-trained dogs can occasionally goof in an area that smells of so many dogs, and I’ve found that cleaners such as Nature’s Miracle are the best at removing the smell completely.   As a mother of two boys, my bathrooms are not always pristine. (Actually, they’re NEVER pristine, but sometimes they are moderately clean for at least an hour after being cleaned.) I used these enzymatic cleaners extensively during the toilet training phases. Even now, I periodically catch a whiff of an odor I could do without and I clean the entire bathroom with one of these enzymatic miracles. And during a recent bout of the stomach flu, we had a level of gross in our house that I don’t feel the need to give details about (you’re very welcome!), but let’s just say I’ve never been so glad to have Nature’s Miracle in large quantities on hand at home.   In my own bathroom, I use a large fancy dog bowl that was the base for a gift basket full of dog goodies to hold my hair dryer, curling iron, and some hairbrushes. It is a metal bowl with a bone-shaped rubber base and really quite decorative.   Have you found new—non-canine oriented—uses for your dog gear?

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Ease Exam Stress
Students benefit from canine visits

 

Many colleges and universities are experimenting with new ways to ease the stress of exams for their students. The point of such activities as dance breaks in the library and yoga classes late at night is to help students cope with the extreme anxiety of finals. From oxygen bars to simultaneously dropping 10,000 rubber balls from a roof, it seems that no idea is too odd to consider. Things have sure changed a lot since I was in college and our only organized stress relief was the 9 o’clock scream.   I wish that I could have benefited from the technique I consider best of all—bringing in therapeutic dogs. It is well documented that dogs reduce stress and elevate moods, so I love that colleges are recognizing this and using that knowledge to help their students. Students who are away from their own pets as well as those who have never had a dog but always wanted one all benefit from visits by playful, affectionate dogs. Since the only way that university administrators could reduce stress more would be to cancel exams, I applaud their efforts to bring dogs in to help students.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
He’s A Penn State Dog
Does your dog wear your school colors?

I recently got to dog sit for a friend who is a big Penn State fan. Actually, I didn’t know that until she brought her dog over and I saw his shiny new navy blue color, which says “PENN STATE PENN STATE PENN STATE” all the way around in white writing.

  When I lived in Wisconsin, I saw lots of dogs with red and white collars or with ones adorned with badgers to show their allegiance to the University of Wisconsin. I’ve often wondered if schools with canine mascots, such as the Georgia State Bulldogs have even more dog fans, especially of the proper breed.   Our dogs reflect who we are in so many ways, including what we name them, and how we decorate them. Many people who do not actually dress their dogs up in clothes or costumes do like to personalize their dog’s attire with a collar that means something to them. Are you a proud alumnus whose dog wears your school colors? Does your dog’s collar reflect another of your interests?

Pages