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: Karen B. London
Canine abilities that are inconvenient for humans
November 3 2015
By the time he was six months old, my husband’s childhood dog could leap their six-foot fence. He was part Whippet, so it should come as no surprise that once he was out of the yard, it was pretty easy for him to cruise the neighborhood at speeds that made it impossible to catch him on foot or on a bike, and even a challenge by car. His physical capabilities were wondrous to behold, but also highly problematic.
I once fostered a puppy who was an excellent jumper and extremely fit. She had a lovely temperament, but like most active young dogs, she could be a bit tiresome to other dogs. Since we also had a five-year old dog at the time, we knew that giving our adult dog some breaks from the puppy would be wise. The first afternoon that the two were together, we put a baby gate across a doorway to separate the two dogs. We figured our adult Lab mix could jump over the gate if he wanted to be with the puppy, and jump away if he needed a break.
Regrettably, the puppy hopped over that fence with more than a foot of clearance under her, while our adult dog did not attempt it. It had surprised us that our adult dog was hesitant to jump because he had a history of leaping obstacles we thought were high enough to contain him, so we took him to see his veterinarian. That’s how we learned he had a slight tear in his AC. (So, on the bright side, we probably saved him from more pain by treating that injury earlier than we would otherwise have done.)
Some dogs show tremendous prowess at track and field events—running and jumping in a variety of ways—but others excel with their fine motor skills, and that can be just as challenging. It’s easy to marvel at a dog who can open doors, is undeterred by childproof latches or can open every secure trash can on the market, but it’s far harder to live with such a dog. If you have a dog who turns on faucets or opens the refrigerator, I would bet good money that you envy people whose dogs lack the skills to do so.
What physical ability of your dog has been a colossal inconvenience for you?
News: Karen B. London
Human behaviors that precede them
October 30 2015
One disadvantage of being a canine behaviorist is that so many human behaviors scare me. My heart leaps into my throat all too often when I see people performing risky behaviors around dogs. From hugging dogs and picking up dogs to sticking their faces right by a dog’s face or bending over a dog, there are plenty of gasp-worthy moments. I see people performing these behaviors and want to scream out a warning. It’s similar to the reaction I have when watching a horror movie and want to yell, “Don’t go in the house!”
I work with so many clients whose dogs have bitten someone, and as I hear the stories of the bites, the same human behaviors are mentioned over and over. I’m not saying this to blame the people, but rather to help us all learn how to lower our risk of being bitten.
Dog bites are a serious problem that we should all attempt to avoid, and among the most distressing are bites to the face. In a new study called Human behavior preceding bites to the face, scientists examined 132 incidents of bites to human faces that did not involve bites to any other parts of the body. The goal of the study was to determine the human behavior that preceded bites.
Well-know risky behaviors such as bending over a dog, putting the face close to a dog’s face and eye contact with the dog and person very close to each other did occur before many of the bites, which is no surprise. What was a bit of a shock was the percentage of times that these no-no behaviors happened before the 132 incidents in the study. In 76 percent of the bites, people bent over the dog just before the bite! In 19 percent of the cases, a bite was preceded by people putting their faces close to the dog’s face, and in five percent of the cases, gazing between dog and person at close range occurred before a bite. In no incidents was a bite to the face preceded by trimming the dog’s nails, falling on the dog, hitting the dog as punishment, stepping on the dog, pulling the dog’s hair, tugging the dog’s body or scolding the dog.
More than 75 percent of the bites to the face happened to people who knew the dog. Over two-thirds of the bites were to children, and of those, 84 percent were to children under the age of 12. Children who were bitten were with their parents in 43 percent of the cases and with the dog guardian in 62 percent of the incidents. Sixty percent of the bites were to females, and no adults were bitten by their own dogs. More than half of the bites were to the nose and lips of the person, as opposed to the chin, cheek, forehead or eye area.
All of the dogs who bit someone in the face were adult dogs, and over two-thirds of them were male dogs. In only six percent of the bites did people report that the dog gave a warning such as growling or tooth displaying prior to biting. (To me, this is the single most surprising finding in the study, and I think it’s quite possible that some people did not notice or failed to remember warnings by dogs.)
As the authors of the paper mention, this research is based on questionnaires that ask people about past events. As such, there are inherent limitations with the study. Still, the results about the frequency with which kids are bitten, the greater likelihood of male dogs biting faces than female dogs, and the finding that only adult dogs bit faces are consistent with previous research.
If you have ever been bitten in the face or seen it happen to someone else, what do you remember about the human behavior right before the bite?
News: Karen B. London
A common sense approach that should be more common
October 27 2015
Of course, we all want solutions to our dogs’ behavior issues, but sometimes the best approach is to avoid the problem. There’s generally nothing to be gained by putting our dogs into situations that they cannot handle. In other words, sometimes preventing the problem in the first place is the way to go.
In some areas, we as dog guardians take this for granted. It’s not unusual to put a dog in a crate or in the back room if a toddler play group will be descending on the house. It’s even more common to use a leash when walking a dog on a busy road. Nobody thinks it makes sense to bet a dog’s life on his recall or his ability to refrain from chasing cars.
This seems like basic common sense to me, but there are a lot of barriers to this approach. Using prevention feels like a failure to many people. I wish this weren’t so. To me, a dog being hit by a car or injuring a young child represent failures. Keeping a dog on leash while walking on a busy road or letting a dog chill out in the crate with a stuffed Kong do not.
Halloween offers a very specific opportunity to protect your dog with a commitment to preventing trouble. However dear trick-or-treaters may be to many humans, few dogs feel the same way. Having a tree, a storm trooper or a fully functioning traffic light at your door may prompt you to say, “My, how clever,” but most dogs react in a more, “Ye gads, what is that thing?!” kind of way. Between the doorbell and the monsters (literally!) at the door, the night is far more trick-y than treat-y for most of our beloved canines. Many of them react with fear, excessive exuberance or even aggression.
Since this holiday happens only once a year, it’s hard to give dogs practice with the situations unique to it. It’s true that handling the horrors of Halloween can be step 100 in a program to teach dogs to be able to cope with anything, but most dogs are somewhere between step 20 and step 50. Jumping up too far in the process can be damaging to dogs and actually set them back. I do hate to sound defeatist, but unless your dog is experienced all the way up through step 99, I’m in favor of avoidance for so many dogs who struggle with this holiday.
Avoidance may mean staying in the back room with your dog while another member of the household answers the door and passes out candy. It may mean having your dog spend the evening visiting a friend who gets no visitors on Halloween. Another option is to put candy out on your porch with a note saying, “Take a piece of candy to save my shy dog from listening to the doorbell ring.” If you really want to go to extremes, you can turn your lights out, draw the shades, and pretend you’re not home. None of these options are ideal, but they all have the advantage of protecting your dog from getting overly excited or spooked this Halloween and exhibiting undesirable behavior as a result.
Life can be hard, and for many dogs, that is especially true on Halloween. Let’s not miss out on opportunities to make it easier when we can.
News: Karen B. London
Dogs know how to enjoy the season
October 23 2015
Fall is my favorite season, and I feel a special kinship with dogs who love a good autumn frolic. It is often a playful time of year. Many dogs become more energetic at this time of year because they are not wilting in the heat. Others simply love playing in the leaves.
Stella is one of those dogs who have fun leaping into leaf piles, although my guess is that she finds entertaining ways to indulge her inner puppy in every season. This video shows her happily enjoying a fall ritual.
Many people enjoy the colors of the season by being “Leaf Peepers.” Is your dog one of the ones who have fun at this time of year being Leaf Leapers?
News: Karen B. London
Variable reactions, similar behavior
October 21 2015
Dogs with very different feelings about vacuums can exhibit behavior that is remarkably similar. In the following three videos, all three dogs act somewhat alike, but based on subtle differences, I believe that their emotional reactions to the vacuums are very different.
In the first video, the dog exhibits no discomfort around the vacuum. He moves close to it many times, offers a series of play bows, and seems quite eager to interact with it. When you see his face, his expression is not tense or fearful, but relaxed. Though his aroused barking suggests he might get overly worked up, which is not great for dogs, this one-minute video does not show a dog having a negative experience at all. His body is relaxed, there are a lot of happy tail wags, and the whole experience seems like a playful one for this dog
In the second video, there is a mix of positive and negative reactions to the vacuum by the dog. She is clearly interested in the vacuum and seeks interaction with it. She is sometimes relaxed and playful as she charges at it, but other times she seems nervous and unsure. While there are play bows, there are also nervous tongue flicks and retracting lips, which suggest that she is not enjoying herself. The fact that she runs away from the vacuum is also concerning. This dog seems more serious than the previous dog and also a bit frantic, reminding me of the way some dogs act around laser pointers. She is ambivalent about the vacuum—interested in it and yet not thoroughly comfortable around it.
In the third video, the dog seems distressed by the vacuum. The way he approaches it and bites at it do not look playful, and may be an attempt to get the vacuum to go away. When it moves towards him, he retreats, and I think that he is quite frightened by it. Many dogs run away and hide when afraid, but other dogs (including this one) tend to go on offense, preferring to get the vacuum before it gets them. This dog appears tense and anxious, darting in and out around the vacuum, but running away on multiple occasions.
How do you think your dog feels about the vacuum based on his behavior towards it?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Taking the angst out of canine introductions.
October 16 2015
“We put the new dog into our car with our other dog.”
“I held each of them by the collar and put them nose-to-nose to meet.”
“Our son brought home a stray dog and took her into the back yard with our other dogs. I guess it was too much for an eight-year-old to handle by himself.”
When it comes to dog-dog introductions, I’ve heard it all—usually because the introductions have gone badly, very badly or disastrously, which leads to families coming to see me in varying stages of distress. Some are unsure about keeping the new dog, many are scared and a few are injured. All have learned the hard way that introductions are not to be taken lightly.
People introduce dogs to one another in all kinds of suboptimal ways, including those mentioned previously. Some of the time, it goes just fine, but even so, they’re still gambling with the safety and well-being of both their dogs and themselves
Whether you are introducing a new dog into your own household, setting up a first meeting between your dog and your partner’s, or just want to go for a walk with a friend and her dog, it’s more likely that the new relationship will flourish if the first meeting goes well.
As in all aspects of behavior, knowledge is your ally. It’s important to know that there’s no standard protocol for dog-dog introductions that works best for every dog in every situation, and no introduction is risk-free. That said, there are a few general guidelines and techniques that go a long way toward making the first meeting between dogs a positive experience for everyone. (Don’t feel you have to do it alone. Line up professional help if you have reason to suspect that there will be trouble, or that one or more of the dogs isn’t good with other dogs.)
• Have new dogs meet one-on-one. Group introductions can be a bit challenging even for a well-adjusted dog. For a dog who struggles in social situations, meeting multiple dogs simultaneously can be so overwhelming that it could damage the new relationships.
• Choose the location of the meeting carefully. Off-territory is best so that neither dog feels like the other is the intruder. And conduct the initial meeting outside rather than inside. Often during meetings, a dog will urinate and then walk away, especially if he is feeling overwhelmed. That gives the other dog an opportunity to get to know the stressed dog by sniffing the urine without coming into close contact with its source. If dogs are inside where urinating is a no-no, their options are limited.
• Avoid gates, fences, doorways and other tight spaces. They tend to make dogs tense, and a tense dog is unlikely to be at his best. In general, dogs feel more relaxed and are more likely to exhibit desirable behavior when they don’t feel confined, so do your best to keep both dogs in open space and away from narrow passageways. For example, try to conduct the introduction in the middle of the yard rather than along the edges.
• Don’t crowd the dogs. Like narrow spaces, having people too close can also make dogs feel uncomfortably confined. For many dogs, being crowded by people is worse than being crowded by inanimate objects and tight spaces because it puts a lot of social pressure on them. Resist the urge to lean toward them or hover over them. It’s natural to want to move toward the dogs if you perceive even the slightest sign of tension or trouble, but ironically, it can make things worse. Moving away is far more likely to lower the arousal or tension level and prevent escalation of the situation. If you see tension, use a cheerful voice to say something like, “This way,” or “Let’s go,” then clap your hands and walk away.
• Keep moving. This is a great way to help an introduction go smoothly. It not only prevents you from crowding the dogs, it also keeps their interactions with each other from developing intensity. If humans walk purposefully, dogs will often follow, allowing them to avoid greeting or interacting more closely than they’re comfortable with.
• If you can and it’s safe, drop the leashes and let them drag on the ground so you can easily take hold again if you need to. “Safe” means that the area is securely fenced and both dogs have a history of behaving appropriately around other dogs. If you can’t let go of the leashes, keep them loose to prevent tension from traveling down to the dogs. This is easier with thin, 12-foot lines, but can be done with 6-foot leashes, too.
•Model calm, relaxed behavior and remember to breathe. Our dogs respond to our emotions and behavior, so if you’re holding your breath because you’re tense, or sending out nervous energy (“Oh jeez, oh my, oh no! Yikes, I hope this goes okay!”), the dogs will pick up on that. Focus on breathing evenly, avoiding negative thoughts and keeping your own body relaxed.
• Make the meeting a food-free, toy-free experience. Many wonderful dogs are not at their best in the presence of other dogs when food or toys are around, especially if the toys are their own or the food is held by their people. Eliminate the possibility of possessiveness, which can cause problems.
• Keep the first meeting really short. By “short,” I mean just a few minutes. Many dogs find meeting new dogs fun and exciting, and if both dogs are like that, no harm is done by a short meeting. You leave them wanting more, eager to hang out again, and that’s not a problem. But if one or both dogs find meeting new dogs stressful, upsetting or tiring, a short meeting helps them avoid becoming overwhelmed, and that prevents trouble. The next time they interact, they are not truly “new” to each other, and a longer interaction is not as likely to be as detrimental. For dogs who really struggle in new social settings, a few short sessions may be indicated, but for most dogs, even one short session goes a long way toward a successful introductory experience.
• Make a new dog seem less “new.” Novelty is often exciting to dogs, and the resulting high levels of arousal can work against a smooth meeting. If you can remove some of the novelty from the situation, it helps make introductions easier and less intense. How do you take away some of the “newness”? By getting them used to the sight or smell of each other ahead of time. Then, by the time they meet, much of the novelty will have worn off.
One way to do this is to walk the dogs in the vicinity of one another without allowing them to greet. Continue to move in the same direction, keeping several feet between them, and adjust the distance as needed. Walking in the same direction (rather than facing each other head-on) and exploring smells is one of the normal ways dogs get to know one another—it’s the canine equivalent of “let’s have coffee.”
Having the dogs smell each other’s urine before they actually encounter one another is another way to get them over the “newness.” You can either lead each to a spot the other has used to urinate, or actually collect some urine from each and present it to the other. Oh, the things we do as dog people for the sake of a successful introduction!
And a successful introduction is the whole point. Proper meetings go a long way toward preventing social problems, from minor angst all the way up to and including serious fights. Whether you are adopting a new dog into your household or making the acquaintance of an occasional play buddy, following this advice will make it more likely that the dogs will become friends. That’s especially important when the goal is to have a “blind date” lead to a “together forever” happy ending.
News: Karen B. London
The charming book you have to see
October 16 2015
A man and his Bull Terrier, Jimmy Choo, became famous last year as a result of the art they created together. Rafael Mantesso is the brains behind the operation, Jimmy is the onscreen talent, and the results are captivating. These whimsical photographs are so appealing because the drawings around the dog so clearly take their inspiration from Mantesso’s best friend.
The art in this book records a highly advanced version of those games in which you have to make a drawing from a squiggle someone else makes for you. In this case, the squiggle is replaced by Jimmy Choo, and the man playing the game is as clever as he is talented.
Mantesso started this project on Instagram after his wife left him, leaving him the dog but little else. In his loneliness, the white walls and his dog became a muse to chase away the sadness. He began to draw around his sleeping dog and posted the pictures to Instagram. His following grew into the hundreds of thousands. Though Mantesso and Jimmy live in Brazil, people around the world have become interested in his work.
His book, A Dog Named Jimmy, contains 100 photographs of his work taken by a professional photographer, and they are exquisite. My favorite one shows Jimmy taking a shower, but everyone I know favors a different image. Is there one that you especially adore?
News: Karen B. London
Are they available in your community?
October 14 2015
As Arizona desert dwellers, we’re not too invested in the idea that you can never be too rich or too thin. We’re more likely to assert that you can never be too protected from the sun or too hydrated. Making water available for members of the community is more than a nice gesture—it’s a potentially lifesaving and sensible public policy. That’s why I’m so pleased that a drinking fountain for dogs is present in one of our most used public recreation areas—Buffalo Park.
This park has miles of great walking and running trails, beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, and plenty of wildlife. Every time I go there, I see tons of people out walking their dogs. It’s a great place to be at any time of year, but it’s easy to get hot and thirsty in the sun and on the hills. Many people bring water for themselves and their dogs, but even those of us who come fully stocked consider the drinking fountains a welcome opportunity for a cool drink and a great place to refill bottles.
Right next to the standard waist-high fountain for humans is a fountain for dogs. It’s low, accessible and easy to use. The bowl easily fills up for dogs who prefer to lap water up from a pool, and the spout is easy to use for dogs who prefer to drink from flowing water. Almost every time I go there, a fellow dog guardian is gushing about how wonderful it is to have a drinking fountain for dogs. I agree, and wish even more of our public parks had them.
Do any parks and recreation areas in your area have a drinking fountain just for dogs?
News: Karen B. London
Dogs vary in their view of the world
October 8 2015
If you think all dogs are cheerful, upbeat and excited about what life has to offer, you’ve either interacted exclusively with optimistic dogs, or you haven’t noticed that some dogs are a little more on the “food bowl half empty” side of the personality spectrum. Not all dogs are quite as happy-go-lucky as we humans generally assume.
The idea of individual personalities in dogs is hardly stop-the-presses news anymore, but studying such differences in dogs is still a fruitful area of research. In a 2014 study published in PLOS, a group of scientists studied judgment bias in dogs to investigate individual tendencies to view the world optimistically or pessimistically.
To study dogs’ expectations of the world, they trained them to associate different sounds with different outcomes. One sound let them know that touching a target would result in receiving the preferred reward of milk. The other sound, two octaves apart from the milk sound, indicated that they would get the less desirable reward of an equal amount of water. The correct response to the water tone was not to touch the target. Once dogs could easily distinguish between these two sounds, the real test of their personalities began.
Trained dogs were given a tone that was between the two trained tones, and their response was observed. Dogs who reacted to the ambiguous tone by pushing the target in anticipation of milk were considered optimists. They expected good things to happen. Dogs who failed to respond to the ambiguous tone were considered pessimists in that they did not have an expectation of good things. They were not filled with the hopefulness of the optimists in the study. This study allowed researchers to determine whether individual dogs have the expectation of positive outcomes or whether they expect negative outcomes.
Some dogs would respond to ambiguous tones even if they were more similar to the water tone than to the milk tone. These dogs were considered extreme optimists. Overall, researchers found that more dogs were optimists than pessimists. I find that reassuring since it matches the way most of us view dogs.
What do you think this test would reveal about your dog?
News: Karen B. London
The number is soaring
October 6 2015
The number of homeless dogs in Greece is on the rise due to the financial crisis in the country. Many people are abandoning pets when they feel as though they can’t afford to keep them. The same issue affects the United States in tough economic times. Our recent Great Recession resulted in an increase in the number of dogs abandoned at shelters or simply dumped on the street.
In Greece, the number of stray dogs has been reported at over a million. Many local citizens are taking them in or feeding them, but there are still so many who need help. Besides the obvious concerns for these unfortunate animals themselves, the spread of disease and potential effects on human health has many people worried. Additionally, a lot of Greek citizens are aware of the damaging effects of hungry stray dogs on tourism in their country.
There are many veterinarians who are doing what they can to care for these stray dogs and tend to their health needs without pay. Some are sterilizing dogs for free to help prevent increases in the stray population. Recently, a group of British veterinarians came to Greece for a week to participate in efforts to spay and neuter stray dogs. Led by veterinarian Hugo Richardson, their work was made possible by client donations to Richardson’s London clinic.
There are so many people as well as dogs who are vulnerable in Europe right now and dependent on the kindness of strangers. Luckily, there are always some strangers who offer that kindness.
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