Karen B. London
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A skill worth developing by dog guardians
November 22 2016
Dogs are a lot of work, and though many people take it all on themselves, asking for and accepting help is advantageous for all. That’s especially true for puppies who often require more attention and require it more frequently. The thought of raising a puppy on my own with no assistance practically makes me hyperventilate with anxiety, and though I could probably do a passable job, I would never do so on purpose. Whether you are single and live alone or are part of a large family of dog lovers, outside help can make a big difference. Everyone, especially the dog, stands to benefit from a team effort.
If you have other people in your life who you know you can count on to help you, it relieves a lot of stress. If a friend or neighbor can let your dog out or refill his water bowl when you are late coming home, that’s good for you and your dog. Your dog is cared for and you need not worry. Yes, many people have very regular schedules, but a flat tire, an emergency with a co-worker or icy roads—among many other speed bumps along the road of life—can cause unexpected delays.
There are advantages to asking for and receiving help beyond the immediate benefits. In addition to giving you time to go to work and to deal with the other things you must attend to in life, your dog has experiences with other people. That provides socialization opportunities for your puppy, and also has the side benefit that other people fall in love with your dog, too. (You can never have too many people who love your dog!)
When people help out with your dog, things may not go exactly as they usually do for your dog, and that’s generally okay. In fact, it can help many dogs be flexible rather than routinized. I think routines are wonderful, but so is the ability to cope with changes in that routine.
Despite the obvious advantages of a group effort with our dogs, especially puppies, it is very hard for most guardians to ask for help. Many even struggle to accept help when it is offered. Why is that? Our society often emphasizes a strong go-it-alone attitude and approach to life. There is often a perception of weakness if you can’t do everything by yourself, or if you choose not to. Many people do not want to impose on others, even if the others don’t feel imposed upon in the slightest, and in fact are very eager to help.
I would love for offers to help with a new dog to become more commonplace in the dog community and for every dog guardian to learn to accept graciously all reasonable offers of assistance.
Are you able to ask other people for help with your dog?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Their noses take them to the past
November 19 2016
Dogs tend to live in the moment, accepting each treat, snuggle, or toss of the tennis ball as the whole reason for their existence with a charming singlemindedness. Yet, their understanding of time can be complex. Many dogs are able to anticipate predictable events accurately, which is why they leap on the couch to look out the window when the kids are just about to come home from school or adults are nearly home from work. Even more dogs appear to know, from their own stomach’s rumblings, that the dinner hour fast approaches. And according to researcher and author Alexandra Horowitz, “Dogs smell time.”
What does it mean to smell time? Horowitz writes in her new book “Being a Dog: Following the Dog Into a World of Smell”, that their powerful noses allow them to perceive the passage of time. This is not mystical or other worldly. It’s just that dogs can understand much about the past because of the extreme sensitivity of their noses.
Odors change over time, sometimes predictably. When you leave the house to go to work each day, the smell of you in the house decreases with each hour of your absence, and your dog can detect the difference. Perhaps your dog has learned through repetition that when the smell of you has weakened to a specific degree, you come home. In other words, the strength of your odor predicts the time of your return.
This degree of scent discrimination is not hard for most dogs. Many dogs can, for example, tell which way to follow a scent trail by heading from where it is weakest (oldest) to where it is strongest (most recent) when the difference is miniscule. Stronger odors are often newer and weaker ones are older. That means that when dogs smell weak odors, they are perceiving events of the past. Because dogs can detect both new and old odors, they are perceiving events and substances across intervals of time.
Each day, even in the same place, smells help dogs understand the passage of time. As air heats up over the course of the day, air currents change and move around in space, taking the molecules responsible for odors with them. Dogs, with their sensitive noses and large olfactory lobes are able to sense the movement and presence of chemicals people barely sense if at all.
Though we humans may detect daily patterns in light or even sound, our ability to smell clues about the passage of time, is barely worth a mention. Yet, dogs detect odors that reveal past happenings to them in complex ways we are only beginning to understand.
News: Guest Posts
Francis the Poodle will be missed
November 16 2016
Francis the Poodle and the woman known only as “Chef” entertained and informed over a million viewers on their YouTube show “Cooking With Dog”. The dog is an integral part of a show that has demonstrated how to make a variety of Japanese dishes as well as cuisine from other regions of the world since 2009.
The format of the show is that Chef cooks and Francis narrates. Chef speaks in Japanese, while Francis talks in English. The use of English by the dog was a conscious choice to enhance one goal of the show—introducing the cuisine of Japan to people elsewhere in the world. In addition to reaching many foreigners, the show has a large following in Japan.
Chef was chosen to be on the show due to her culinary skills, but there were two reasons that the creator/producer decided to include her Miniature Poodle as a co-star. 1) Chef had no background in television, and the creator/producer hoped that the presence of her dog would make her feel more relaxed, and 2) He hoped that Francis would increase the appeal of the show and make it stand out to viewers who have many options for cooking shows to watch.
Francis passed away last week at the age of 14 years and 9 months. He has many fans who, along with Chef, will miss him terribly.
Wellness: Health Care
Who knew this was something to worry about?
November 11 2016
There are plenty of things to worry about when it comes to keeping our dogs safe. We must protect our dogs from traffic, overly exuberant children, toxic plants, choking hazards like rawhides or small toys, onions, chocolate, Xyitol and everything else under the sun that we know can cause them harm.
Now there’s another thing to fret over—a species of invasive Asian ladybugs that poses a danger to dogs. In Kansas, veterinarians report seeing cases of dogs with dozens of these insects inside the mouths of dogs, which is painful for them. Ladybugs can cause chemical burns to the dog’s mouth because of the insect’s toxins.
According to veterinarians who have treated dogs with this condition, if your dog is foaming at the mouth, drooling, lethargic or refusing to eat, these ladybugs could be something to check for. (Each of these symptoms can be caused by many other problems from minor to extremely serious. A mouthful of these insects is only one of many possibilities.)
Many guardians have been able to remove the insects themselves using their fingers, a spoon or even a wooden tongue depressor. Your own dexterity and your dog’s willingness to allow you to work on his mouth in this way will determine whether you can remove them yourself or whether a visit to the veterinarian is required.
Have you known of any dogs who have suffered due to a mouthful of ladybugs?
News: Guest Posts
An odd way to describe a successful match
November 9 2016
“She’s a failed foster,” is commonly said with a smile and a shrug in certain circles. That’s because a failed foster just means that a dog found a forever home one step ahead of schedule. Often, a foster family plans to help a dog get ready to be placed in a good home but falls in love with that dog. Unable to give up the dog, the foster family adopts him, and voilà, it’s a failed foster. (Though many people like the term and find it charmingly ironic, others object to the use of negativity or humor related to the serious issue of dogs in need of homes.)
On the one hand, the situation is obviously positive because a dog has found a home. Even better, that home is with people who really want him, are committed to him, and are okay with whatever issues, if any, he happens to have. On the other hand, many rescue organizations lament failed fosters because it limits the space they have available for future fosters.
A lot of families who adopt their foster dog take a break from fostering to devote time and energy to their new dog, which makes sense. In other cases, the former foster family may not be able to take in a foster dog because their home now has the maximum number of dogs allowed, according to local ordinances. In a year, a typical family may be able to foster two, three or even six dogs during their path to a forever home. A failed foster can mean that rescue organizations have to find two, three or six spots for other dogs in need of temporary care. It’s not easy to find really good foster situations with dog savvy families who can welcome dogs on short notice to a dog-proofed home.
Despite the drawback in terms of lost foster space, it’s hard for me to hear of a failed foster without great joy. When someone’s decision to adopt a dog is motivated by pure love and acceptance, that’s a great moment, even if we joke about the “failure” it represents.
Have you ever had a failed foster?
News: Guest Posts
How often do you buy them for your dog?
November 5 2016
If the pet store is the place where you are at the greatest risk of blowing your budget, I’m eager to hear from you, especially if your purchases involve toys or items to chew on. It is challenging to keep some dogs adequately supplied with these things.
Serious chewers, especially those young dogs in their peak chewing years, need a near endless amount of appropriate things to chew on to keep them from destroying things that are meant to be left alone. There are dogs who have a few favorite toys or only like tennis balls, and the expense of keeping such dogs in toys is on the low end. At the other extreme are dogs who tire quickly of toys and only become excited by new and different ones. Particularly playful dogs often benefit from new, entertaining toys. Though rotating toys every few days will keep some dogs interested in toys for many months, it doesn’t always have that effect. Some dogs make a distinction between toys that are truly new and toys that they just haven’t seen for a while. Regardless of how often they get new things, dogs sometimes destroy the things we buy for them extremely quickly, and are soon eager for more.
During the four years that my husband and I lived long distance, I kenneled our dog every time it was my turn to fly for a visit. I would bring a bag of toys and chews to the kennel with instructions to give my dog one new one each day. When I was home with him, he had a lot of activities such as running with me, going out on walks, training sessions and playing with various neighborhood dog buddies. He did get new toys and chews from time to time, but not even close to every day. When he was at the kennel, I knew he was getting some attention and exercise, but I used the extra toys and things to chew on to help make up some of the difference between the calm life there and the more eventful life at home. Most of my visits were just for a weekend, but twice a year I would go for two full weeks, so we ended up spending a lot of money on these extras for the dog. (We just considered it one more expense related to living 1300 miles away from each other.)
Buying lots of toys and chews is common for people who have young, playful, active dogs, especially if the jaws are among the most active parts of those dogs. Other people cannot resist picking something fun out each time they go to the pet store whether their dog is really into them or not. I certainly know of husbands and wives who have begged their partner to stop buying something on every trip, and I know of other couples whose members are both big fans of bringing something home for the dog at every opportunity.
How often do you buy your dog new toys or new things to chew on? How much do you think you spend providing for your dog in this way?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A natural developmental stage in dogs.
November 3 2016
I was walking Rosie, a happy, well-socialized 9-month old Chocolate Lab through my neighborhood when she uncharacteristically barked and stiffened. I could tell that something had spooked her even before I looked up to see a man with a big hat and huge sunglasses working on his mountain bike in his front yard. Luckily, he was unfazed by her reaction, and even more luckily, he was dog savvy and kind. He immediately removed his hat and glasses, knelt down and said to Rosie, “Hey, there, I’m not really that scary am I?” in a calm, cheerful voice. She responded by wagging enthusiastically from the shoulders back and greeting him in her usual, friendly way.
It was the second time in two days that Rosie had been startled by someone who previously would not have bothered her, so I knew that she was entering a new developmental period that is common as puppies approach a year of age. Many young dogs become more fearful of new people and new things than they were as puppies. My mentor, Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D. half-jokingly called it “Juvenile Onset Shyness” because so many sociable dogs become a little nervous as they emerge from puppyhood and enter adolescence.
If your adolescent dog suddenly seems a little skittish, but has previously been more confident, it is likely that your dog is just entering a normal developmental period during which new things (and even not-so-new things) seem scary even though they didn’t used to. It’s so useful for guardians to know that this stage is temporary and that it is completely normal. Within a few months, your dog is likely to be just as social and happy about whatever the world brings his way as he was when he was a puppy. (If your puppy always found the world to be a scary place, he will most likely continue to be cautious or fearful as an adult, but he may be even more so in adolescence.)
Most dogs move past this stage without any special care on the part of guardians. However, your behavior can make a difference in how this period affects them, and there are ways to help your dog as he is going through it. When your dog is spooked by something, follow these general guidelines.
I immediately came home from the walk during which Rosie was unnerved by a man in sunglasses and hats and worked on associating both items with treats. Several times, I put on my sunglasses and gave her a treat, and did the same thing with hats. I want her to have good associations with those items, which make many dogs nervous. I also asked several men in my neighborhood to give her treats and to play fetch with her.
How have you handled dogs while they were experiencing “Juvenile Onset Shyness”?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
November 1 2016
The saying, “Love me, love my dog” implies that your dog is a problem—something negative in the whole package of You. Could anything be more ridiculous? While it’s easy to assume that our dogs make us more lovable and even more desirable (I mean, really, how could it be otherwise?), is there any evidence for this point of view?
The answer is yes! Multiple scientific studies—extensions of research into dogs’ many social effects—have concluded that dogs enhance human attractiveness. Scientists have known for some time that people are more attentive to and socially engaged with those accompanied by a dog than those who are not. We also know that bystanders are more helpful toward people with dogs. Other studies have extended our understanding of the canine influence on human social activity by investigating more personal, intimate types of behavior in the areas of courtship, dating and romance.
In one study, having a dog with him enhanced a man’s success when he asked women out. In this experiment, the man asked 240 women for their phone number— 120 times while accompanied by a dog and 120 times without one. He followed the exact same script whether the dog was with him or not.
The difference the dog made in his success rate was astounding. When he gave his pitch without a dog, 11 out of 120 women (9.2 percent) were sufficiently charmed to give him their number. When he was with a dog, 34 out of 120 (28.3 percent) complied with his request. With a dog, his success rate was three times as high. Never mind a wingman— if you want to meet someone, you need a wing-dog!
Studies have shown that people’s helpfulness and social interactions are prompted most strongly by light-colored dogs and puppies. An adult black dog was part of this experiment; researchers speculated that if the man had asked women for their phone numbers while accompanied by a light-colored puppy, his success might have been even higher. (Guéguen and Ciccotti 2008)
Why do dogs (of any kind) increase our appeal? To most dog lovers, explaining how dogs can make someone more attractive is pretty straightforward: people are more attractive if they have dogs because they have dogs! Quite simple —also quite circular. As it happens, there are a number of other, more satisfactory explanations.
Many people report that those with dogs seem safer, friendlier and more approachable; by being a conversation starter, the dog may also ease social awkwardness.
Interacting with companion animals can result in changes in our oxytocin and other hormone levels, and that may affect the opinion others have of us as well. Those who feel a rush of oxytocin in the presence of a dog may transfer the warm, fuzzy feelings to the person with the dog. So, dogs may make people attractive by prompting emotions that are extended to them by association.
This may not be good for our ego, but it can still be good for our love life!
Does This Dog Make Me Look Cute?
Another study surveyed 1,210 people on Match.com who owned pets—both cats and dogs—to learn if and how pets influenced their views about potential dates. One of the main findings was that dogs had a greater positive impact on the perceived level of attractiveness than did cats. (Gray et al. 2015)
Interestingly enough, there was also a gender component. The study concluded that dogs make men attractive to women to a greater degree than they make women attractive to men. Women were more likely to find someone attractive because they had a dog, and were also more likely to find a photo of a dog in an online dating profile a turn-on. Not surprisingly, more men than women ’fessed up to using a pet to attract a potential date. (I know of no studies investigating how dogs affect attractiveness between members of the same sex, but it would be intriguing to see what patterns emerge once that area has been explored.)
Compelling biological forces suggest the reasons for this gender difference, and there’s a large body of work on the subject. The basic theory is that, because women must commit a large amount of energy and effort to produce offspring (pregnancy and often greater caretaking responsibilities for the children), they need to be more selective about who they choose as a mate. Men, biologically speaking, are capable of producing lots of offspring with a minimum of, um, effort, so they can afford to be less discerning in their choices.
Of course, there are many exceptions, and in today’s world, the division of child-care responsibilities is often more equitable than in the past, but our evolutionary heritage still influences our behavior. Women are often attracted to men who have something to offer to potential offspring.
Having a pet may be a plus for several reasons. The expense of a pet may be a variation on finding a man in an expensive car attractive. If it demonstrates wealth, it could be appealing, since a lot of evolutionary research suggests that females prefer males with substantial resources to devote to offspring. The social skills observed when a man interacts with his dog may also add to his allure. Just like men with resources to share, those capable of emotional commitment and those with strong parenting skills are more likely to contribute to the successful raising of children. Dogs can enhance perceptions of all of these qualities.
Although the effects of having a dog were different for the two groups, the majority of men and women surveyed said that finding out that a date had adopted a pet made that person seem more attractive. (Cat guardians were less likely to feel this way than dog guardians.) As everyone in this study was a pet guardian, the increased attractiveness of someone with a pet may simply reflect our natural inclination to like people with whom we have things in common.
The youngest people in the survey— those in their 20s—were more likely than members of any other age group to express an attraction to someone because of a pet. They were also more likely to judge a date based on that person’s reactions to their own pet than were members of other age groups. Perhaps being a pet guardian makes these younger men and women seem more grown-up, mature or responsible, which could be a plus for younger people.
Another explanation for this strong age effect is the growing trend toward considering dogs to be members of the family. An increasing number of people describe their dogs (and cats) this way, and it’s possible that dogs influence mate choice by revealing a person’s emphasis on family. Compared with older people, who may be new to the concept or may never have fully embraced it, the youngest people in this study may have always placed this level of importance on their pets.
As it happens, Bark readers of all ages seem to be more likely than the general population to consider dogs as family members. In reply to a blog post asking about this, two-thirds of the answers used words that implied familial relationships: dogs were their babies, or they were their dogs’ moms and dads.
Dad or Cad?
Another study warns women to be aware of how dogs influence their views. Men can be attractive because they seem romantic, caring and interested in long-term attachments; in other words, they would make good dads. Another type of man is more of a cad—dangerous, exciting and into chasing women. Women are often attracted to cads for short-term relationships and to dads as long-term partners, but dogs can interfere with that classification.
Women taking part in this study were provided with descriptions of both cadlike and dad-like men. They said that overall, they preferred to marry the dads, but many expressed an interest in shortterm affairs with the cads. These same characters were then described to women with only one detail changed—they were now all dog guardians. Dogs made both dads and cads more attractive, but the difference was greater for the cads. In fact, if cads had dogs, they were even more appealing than dads with dogs.
Dogs appear to supply cads with the perfect combination of traits; attractive, exciting cads seem to have had their bad qualities erased by having a dog. The potential for manipulation is obvious: a man exploiting the shortterm cad-like strategy can block negative perceptions of his style by having a dog. As the authors of the research study write, “Thus, a cad with a dog is especially attractive to women, as they may believe they are getting the best of both worlds.” (Tifferet et al. 2013)
It’s wonderful to know that dogs can make men, and, to a lesser extent, women, more attractive. Now, if only scientists could find evidence that dog hair has the same powerful effect!
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Does playing after training sessions make a difference?
October 29 2016
Many people know that going to sleep after studying helps consolidate the information and commit it to long term memory. (It works out beautifully if the subject was putting you to sleep anyway!) For dogs, a different approach may be worthwhile. Researchers conducted a study in dogs called “Playful activity post-learning improves training performance in Labrador Retriever dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)” and concluded that physiological arousal—in the form of play—following training has a positive effect on learning in dogs.
The subjects of the study were all Labrador Retrievers, which allowed the researchers to make sure that differences between breeds did not influence their results. The dogs were trained in a choice task between two objects that looked and smelled differently. Training took place in sessions of 10 trials with short breaks to walk around outside or rest in a waiting area in between each session. Dogs were considered successful at the choice task when they chose the right object eight or more times in two consecutive trials of 1O.
Once dogs reached this level of success, they either rested for 30 minutes in the presence of their guardian and one of the researchers, or they were active for 30 minutes. Specifically, that activity consisted of 10 minutes of walking on leash, then 10 minutes of off leash play (fetch with a ball or with a disc or tug, depending on the dog’s preference), then 10 more minutes of walking on leash. The dogs in each group (rest or activity) were monitored for salivary cortisol levels and heart rate to confirm that their states of physiological arousal were different. (They were.)
The following day, all of the dogs were tested again to see how many trials it took them to relearn the task. The difference between the two groups was remarkable. The dogs who walked and played after training took an average of 26 trials to relearn the task. The dogs who rested after training needed an average of 43 trials to reach that same level of success. The differences could be a result of chemical changes in the brain.
The brain is affected by chemicals that influence memory, whether those chemicals are naturally produced by the body or given as a drug. Various studies have shown that hormones and drugs that induce high arousal can have positive effects on memory if the brain is exposed to them after training.
The results of this study provide further evidence that arousal following training can be beneficial, since dogs in the active group were more highly physiologically aroused than dogs in the rest group. However, I’m not convinced that the data show that play itself is the key factor that caused the difference between the two groups in the study. Perhaps the walking part of the post-training activity played a role, and it may be that any form of exercise could be beneficial following training.
I hope researchers conduct studies in the future to investigate whether it is truly the play itself that improves learning in dogs. I would love to know if playing during training (as opposed to after) enhances dogs’ learning, whether because of physiological arousal, or simply because it might be easier to learn when having fun.
Whether play is the cause of the difference between the two groups or not, I’m definitely in favor of playing with dogs after training sessions. It provides a mental break for dogs after the hard work of training. Most dogs love training, and the fun of play prevents a negative feeling about the end of a session. Both training and play can strengthen relationships between people and dogs and doing them back-to-back may be especially powerful. I often play with dogs after a training session, and if that enhances their training because of positive effects on memory, that’s another bonus.
Do you play with your dog after training sessions?
News: Guest Posts
There’s something special (and valuable!) about it
October 25 2016
Having two dogs can be more than twice as much work as having one, and having three can require way more than three times as much effort. That pattern continues as the number of dogs increases. There’s no doubt that having a multi-dog household is a big undertaking, and yet many people can barely imagine having just one dog in their heart and home at the same time. They would miss scenes like the one to the left of an adorable dog pile.
These are the three dogs—from two different households—that my family recently hosted for a couple of days, and it was a good experience for all of us. (They live on the same street and their guardians are friends, so they know each other. Luckily, they all get along.) The companionship they gave one another during their stay with us made me happy, and not just because it took some pressure off of me to make sure that they were having fun. When I observed them together, there was a comfort in the company they provided one another that was lovely to see. I’m not saying it is better or worse than the social benefits to dogs of being around people, but it’s different.
Despite the extra work for the people, I kept thinking about the benefits for the dogs of being in a group, beyond just how nice it was for them to have a couple of buddies of the same species around. There are obviously drawbacks to having more than one dog, but some of those can be channeled positively. Having multiple dogs can provide training challenges, but it also offers opportunities to help dogs learn to attend to a person despite big distractions. While these dogs were visiting us, I made a point of doing some training sessions with the added difficulty of having other dogs around. Here is a photo of Marley and Saylor successfully holding their “stay” while Rosie (out of view) played with a toy nearby.
Performing any skill in a distracting environment is a challenge, and the presence of other dogs is often particularly hard for social dogs. With three dogs in the house, it was easy to set up situations where one dog worked on a skill while one or both other dogs were there. Rosie worked on her “spin” trick a lot during her visit. In the first video below, she practices it while the other dogs are not around. That work was to lay the groundwork for the success you can see in the second video, in which she spins when the other two dogs are present.
Walking three (or more) dogs at the same time is not always easy, but it offers opportunities, too. Each time one dog stops to sniff or for a potty break, the other dogs need to exercise patience.
It’s hard standing around when you want to keep going, but being required to do so brings benefits. Handling frustration and exhibiting self-control in such situations is beneficial to dogs. Similarly, waiting your turn when it comes to treats or dinnertime also gives dogs practice with emotional self-control, and that is an important part of maturing into a pleasant adult.
My main concern before the shared visit was making sure that Marley, who is 10 years old, had some peace and quiet from both his regular housemate Saylor, who is about a year old, and from his neighbor Rosie, who is about eight months old. Marley likes both dogs and often plays with them, but he needs more rest and snoozy time than the young pups. He opted out of some play sessions, as many older dogs often do. He would take a rest, hang out with us or chew on something while the other two played.
We also helped Marley get away if he wanted to by letting him up on our couch, but not allowing the younger dogs to bother him when he was there.
The only reason it ever felt overwhelming to have three dogs was a result of bad luck in the form of the weather. It rained all day in the middle of the visit, which meant that every time the dogs came inside, we had a dozen wet, muddy paws to deal with. I’m not going to lie—that was a big hassle. Other than that, we had a glorious time while these three little angels were visiting us.
What advantages do you appreciate about having multiple dogs?
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