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
Was a good time had by all?
July 25 2011
Typical advice for happy travels by car with dogs includes some basics such as having your dog up to date on vaccinations and in good health. It also makes sense to have your dog microchipped and to check on any parasites or diseases that may be common at your destination and take the proper preventive measures. For travel safety, it’s wise to have your dog restrained in the car, perhaps riding in a crate in the back of the car.
These simple suggestions belie the true nature of traveling by car with dogs. It’s a lot more exciting with many more unexpected events. In simple terms, taking your dog on a road trip is one of those experiences that never looks quite like it did in the brochure. Everything from fitting the crate into the car to walking your dog at rest stops to cleaning up 20 pounds of kibble from the back seat can lead to tears, laughter, or even tears of laughter.
What experiences—good or bad—have you have on the road with your dog?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Awkward, embarrassing and dangerous
July 21 2011
Watching a neighbor walk a couple of dogs by my house recently, it appeared more as though the group was attempting a complicated macramé pattern than going on a brisk walk. These sweet dogs were weaving in and out, twisting around my neighbor, their leashes, and each other. One word came to mind: chaos.
I’m not picking on the person—just empathizing. I’ve had my share of leash mishaps, and performed the leaping-over-the-leash-and-spin-to-untwist dance. In fact, I’ve acquired enough experience to achieve a high level of skill at it.
Once, my dog and I walked on opposite sides of a tree and when I reversed to go onto his side (because were working on loose leash walking and he’d been doing so well I didn’t want to make him come back), he kept going and followed me around the tree. In the sort of absurd comedy or errors that all friends experience from time to time, we walked around that ill-placed tree, switching directions, several times such that an observer might have thought it was the maypole, not a maple. It was the dog walking equivalent of getting wedged in a doorway like The Three Stooges. Usually, we were quite adept at coming around a pole or tree, but on this one occasion, it was far from smooth.
I’ve never been injured by silly leash antics, but I know not everyone has been so lucky. Many people have been knocked over, jolted enough to hurt their backs, or even broken fingers when they got tangled up and the dog pulled on the leash. The trainer in me cannot help but point out that this is yet another reason to teach dogs to walk nicely on leash without pulling, though I’m well aware that sometimes bad luck is more a factor than a lack of training.
Please share your experience with leash acrobatics.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Going the distance
July 21 2011
I should have realized right away that something special was going on in a group dog-training session last spring. When I asked the participants to call their dogs to come and then run away, they all did, and with Whippet-like speed. Most people need lots of encouragement to run, and even then — looking sheepish — they tend to take a few half-hearted jogging steps at most. This was no ordinary group, but rather, some of the world’s best distance runners, athletes so good they are sponsored by the likes of Adidas, New Balance, Nike, Mizuno, Brooks and Reebok. They’re living and training in Flagstaff, Ariz., in pursuit of their Olympic dreams because this mountain town’s high altitude, abundant trails and sunny weather provide the perfect conditions for distance running.
Since that day, I’ve worked with other local elite runners, helping them teach their dogs to conquer fears of unfamiliar people, cars and leashes; stop chasing bikes; greet visitors politely at the door; walk nicely on leash; perform tricks like crawl, high-five, shake, spin and roll over; and continue running rather than be distracted by other dogs. The successes they have as trainers have everything to do with their success as athletes: they take what they already know about training to be world-class runners and apply it to training their dogs. The following principles apply equally to dog training and running.
Value consistent practice.
It’s not how fast you run in training, it’s more a consistency, those back-to-back 100-mile weeks.
Recognize that progress is incremental.
In dog training, there can be 100 steps from the starting point to the end point. Step one in recall work may be calling your dog to come when you’re standing in your distraction-free living room holding cooked chicken. Step 100 is calling your dog to come when he is chasing a rabbit with his best canine buddy. Small changes over time lead to success — a familiar concept for runners, who take years to build the fitness, technique and strategy required to race successfully at the international level.
Each workout seems to be building on the last.
Be goal oriented.
I often ask clients what they think success would look like. Do they want to be able to walk their reactive dog on leash through the neighborhood, or are they hoping to turn their little firecracker into a therapy dog? Do they want their dog to do a downstay when people enter the house, or is any behavior that involves keeping all four paws on the floor acceptable? Runners set goals, whether it’s running a personal-best time, following their race plan or winning an Olympic medal.
Setting an ultimate goal and stepping- stone goals help you to commit and make the ultimate goal tangible in your mind, which reflects in your daily actions, leading to success.
Welcome coaching and ideas for improvement.
Part of my job as a dog trainer and canine behaviorist is coaching — suggesting ways skills can be improved. I remind people to say a cue only once, help them with their timing, instruct them on modulating the pitch of their voice and guide them on giving clear visual signals. Coaches also give advice on modifications of everything from running form and breathing to when to make a move in a race. Athletes are accustomed to responding to their coaches, so they easily respond to my coaching, too.
Having a coach makes all the difference in the world, to offer outside advice with inside knowledge.
Know that little things matter.
Attention to detail, making sure to do all the little things right, is at a premium.
Understand that every situation is different.
Training Lucy is a lot like training for a big race that doesn’t quite work out. Training her one-on-one always goes really smoothly, like running a workout I’ve done a dozen times. In practice, everything goes fine, but race day can be a different story.
Accept setbacks as part of the process.
Progress is not always smooth. Setbacks teach us what we need to do to move forward. Accepting this as part of achieving goals is a trait these runners carry with them from their professional lives into their other pursuits, including dog training.
Setbacks are bound to happen, but if you approach it properly, I think you can come away much stronger and much smarter.
Elite runners love to win and hate to lose. In dog training, as in all endeavors, actively pursuing success makes its achievement more likely.
Times are nice, but I want that first place, that gold medal!
It’s a joy to associate with people who are so talented and willing to sacrifice so much in pursuit of their Olympic dreams. Yet, what I love most about working with elite runners is what I love about working with all of my clients: they love their dogs. “Many of the athletes and all of the coaches have dogs that we love like children,” says Trina Painter, assistant coach of Team USA Arizona, which includes many of these athletes. “They protect us, love us when we’re happy and sad, greet us with licks whether we’re sweaty or clean. They run with us and play with us. They keep us laughing with their silly faces and tricks and speak to us with their expressive eyes and body language. They are, for many of the runners, their best friend and source of unconditional love each day, and a wonderful warm and furry positive distraction from running.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A simple approach is often effective
July 19 2011
“I’ve been putting my hand in his food while he’s eating since he was a puppy, so he’s never growled at me over his food.” This sort of comment sets my teeth on edge because repeatedly bothering a dog who is eating is actually an effective technique for teaching dogs to behave aggressively around food, NOT a great way to prevent it. Many such dogs start to growl, snap, or bite when someone comes near their food. It’s like they’re saying, “Enough already. Leave me alone!” If a dog is constantly bothered while eating but never displays food bowl aggression, it shows that he’s a great dog, not that harassing him was a good idea.
The natural response of many dogs when you approach, reach for, or take away their food is some canine version of, “Hey! It’s mine! Back off!” Creating a response that’s the canine equivalent of, “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, here she comes!” is a great way to prevent dogs from developing food bowl aggression.
You want your dog to feel happy when you approach him while he’s eating, and even when you reach toward his bowl or take it away. Dogs who are happy about your approach are not going to growl or snap to get you to leave.
If you regularly walk by a dog who is eating and toss a treat to him, you are teaching him to anticipate a treat whenever you approach him at his food bowl. Once he learns that your approach predicts something good, he’ll be happy to see you coming.
To begin, walk by your dog as he eats and toss a treat without stopping. Do this only 1-2 times during any feeding session and don’t do it every time your dog is eating. Overdoing it can cause a dog to feel irritable, the same way many people feel in a restaurant when a waiter refills the water glass after every sip.
If your dog begins to look up in anticipation when you approach, he is ready for the next step, which is to walk towards him, stop, toss the treat, and then walk away. The step after that is to reach towards the bowl, toss a treat and then walk away, and the last step is to pick up the bowl, put a few extra treats into it, and then give it back to your dog before walking away. It usually takes a few days to several weeks to work through each successive step.
This technique can prevent food bowl aggression. If your dog is already behaving aggressively around his food, or if at any point in this process your dog shows signs of aggression or tension (such as stiffening, growling, eating faster, hovering over the bowl, snapping, or showing his teeth), stop and seek help from a qualified trainer or behaviorist.
The result of this process is a sentiment that’s a joy for me to hear: “My dog doesn’t growl over his food because I taught him to love it when I come near him while he’s eating!”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
That’s how police identified him
July 13 2011
It’s Successful Crime 101: Don’t leave anything behind at the scene of a crime. Doing so might give law enforcement just the break they need to come find you and arrest you. It was a violation of this basic tenet that lead to the arrest of a man for alleged burglary. He apparently left his dog behind at a home that had been burglarized.
A police officer recognized the dog and had seen him with the man earlier in the day. The rope around the dog’s neck was distinctive, which made him even easier to recognize. Police officers went to his home where they found some of the stolen items. The man is in jail, charged with residential burglary.
That’s two alleged bad actions on his part: burglary and not attending to his dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
It’s a great kids book!
July 12 2011
Like most people who live where I do (an hour from Grand Canyon), I consider it part of my backyard and I love stories and art inspired by and about this wonder of the world.
In The Adventures of Salt & Soap at Grand Canyon, Park Ranger Lori April Rome narrates the true story describing how two lost puppies became her own dogs. Salt and Soap were just three months old when they were found wandering together in a remote area of Grand Canyon National Park. These puppies had a variety of adventures, including capsizing during a ride on the river, lots of hiking, a thunderstorm, and finally a helicopter ride out of the canyon. Though written for kids ages 4 to 8, this story appeals to a much broader age range.
Tanja Bauerle’s illustrations capture the wildlife in the area, the facial expressions and body language of these two exuberant puppies and the grandeur and beauty of Grand Canyon. The puppies take their names from Salt Water Wash and Soap Canyon, which are features of Grand Canyon near where they were first found. Their permanent home in Grand Canyon Village near the rim of the canyon is also beautifully depicted.
Among the many reasons I adore this engaging book are the fact that the puppies are mixed breeds, that it was a cooperative effort by many people to help the puppies survive in this harsh, unforgiving habitat, and that there are other animals in this outdoor adventure tale. The puppies see a variety of wildlife while they interact with rangers, hikers and river runners. It’s refreshing to read a children’s book in which dogs are one of many species inhabiting our planet.
The story is told with that sense of wonder that is so captivating to children. The emphasis is on positive aspects of life: the friendliness and trust of the puppies, the compassion of strangers, the majesty and vastness of Grand Canyon and the contagious happiness that dogs bring to us all.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Another sign of love for dogs
July 7 2011
How people say good-bye to loved ones is a strong indication of how much they were valued. Meaningful or elaborate ceremonies as well as permanent tributes are ways that people show how important someone was to them. Whether it’s the Egyptian pyramids of Giza, King Tutankhamun’s tomb, the mausoleum that includes the Terra Cotta Army of the Chinese Emperor Qin Shi Huang or the Taj Majal, people have often demonstrated great love and respect for someone who has died.
In recent years, dogs’ places in our hearts and homes have become every more solidified, and the way that we mourn them is keeping pace. It is now common for people to make donations in deceased pets’ honor, to bury them near the rest of the family, to attend grief support groups and to make memory books to help cope with the loss. It’s in keeping with the increased status of dogs as members of our family that it is now possible to conduct burials at sea for dogs.
The company New England Burials at Sea offers services for pets complete with ash scatterings at sea. A typical service may follow the scattering of ashes with a poem and placing flowers or wreaths in the ocean. People then receive a sea burial certificate on which the time, date, and latitude and longitude of the ash scattering are recorded. If desired, a picture of the pet is also on the certificate.
As dogs’ place in our hearts and lives continues to expand in today’s modern society, so does our respect for them in death. A proper, meaningful good-bye allows people to acknowledge the magnitude of love they have for their dogs. Hopefully, this helps with the grieving process.
How have you bid a fond farewell to a beloved pet?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How should we as a community respond?
July 5 2011
In Juliana Keeping’s column Hey Ann Arbor—put your dog on a leash. A short one, she writes about bad experiences with off leash dogs. She shares her own stories and those of a few other people and complains angrily about so many dogs being off leash in violation of the laws of her city.
The comments in response to the article are highly varied and many are as angry as the original article, whether the point was to agree or disagree with her. The whole conversation prompts me to ask some questions: How should we as a community respond? That is, how should people with dogs react to the anger that’s out there? Are we as a community largely obeying local leash laws with a few violators causing tensions, or could we do a better job overall of following the rules?
It’s worth reading Keeping’s article to hear her perspective, though I advise you to be prepared that you may dislike some of what you read, no matter what your views are. (For example, I objected to her saying, “By the way, if your menacing beast, with its bad breath and muscular jaws, comes near me and my child, I will end your pet.” Such a clear threat to an animal’s life made me very uncomfortable. I also think that Keeping strikes an inflammatory tone rather than one that seeks to find common ground, solutions to issues or even a worthwhile discussion of them.)
Despite these criticisms, I think Keeping touches on some important points that it would be wise for those of us in the dog community to address. The first and most important one is that many towns have so-called leash laws, but they are rarely strictly enforced. She also makes a fair point when she discusses that off leash dogs sometimes cause harm, and that not all people take responsibility for the situation.
For example, I was once out hiking with my kids in an area where dogs are required to be leashed. No person was in sight when an unleashed Malamute roughly knocked over my son, who was then two years old, and I still remember how angry the owner was to (finally) come around the bend, catch up to her dog and find me restraining the dog by holding his collar. (The nasty things she said to me and the fear I had that in her rage she would harm me or my children are pretty memorable, too.)
Additionally, I’ve had many clients whose efforts to help their own reactive dogs be able to walk on leash through the neighborhood were hampered by off leash dogs. When working with a dog with leash reactivity or leash aggression, it can be a major setback to have a loose dog come running up while a person half a block away calls out cheerfully, “Don’t worry! She’s friendly!” Kathleen St. John addressed this particular aspect of the value of leash laws a few months ago in her post Why I Like Leash Laws.
If too many members of our society are not happy with the way that people with dogs are behaving, it will become increasingly difficult for space to be allocated to dog parks or for dogs to have access to public areas including parks and trails. I think it’s so important for a high quality of life that dogs have opportunities to run off leash, but I do think that using leashes in the areas where they are required by law is a responsible course of action.
What do you think of Keeping’s article?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Does he try to tell you so?
July 1 2011
Our old dog would let us know when he wanted to go to bed. Around 10 pm, if we had not headed upstairs for bedtime, he had a routine he went through. We interpreted his actions as an attempt to communicate his desire that we all turn in for the night.
The first step was to walk over to either my husband or to me and yawn conspicuously. Next, he would walk to the bottom of the stairs, turn towards us, yawn again, and enjoy a big stretch. He typically yawned and stretched at the bottom of the stairs a few times. He next tried putting his front paws on the steps and turning his head towards us with the hint of a whine in his yawn.
We have always gone to bed on our schedule, not according to the dog’s whims, but we enjoyed his all-too-obvious attempts to get us to go to bed. He never chose to go to bed without us. Perhaps he wanted to remain in our company, or perhaps he was afraid of missing out on something fun if he left the party early.
Does your dog let you know that he is ready to go to bed?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What topics would capture their attention?
June 29 2011
Arizona Daily Sun columnist Tom Carpenter always prompts me to start Sunday mornings with a chuckle, but this week, I laughed especially hard in response to his column “If our pets could read.” It shows great insight into what sorts of issues might be of interest to dogs.
He proposes a number of possible articles for the imaginary (as far as I know anyway!) magazine “People Fancy.” My favorites titles were:
Biting the Hands that Feed Us. Commonsense tips for avoiding this faux pas.
Ten Code Words for “Walk.” Never miss another one.
Obesity. Laps are disappearing at an alarming rate. A roundtable discussion.
Baby on Board. Twenty easy steps you can take to stay in the house and out of the shelter after the baby arrives.
What topics do you imagine your dog would want to read about?
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