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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. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Drool
You gotta love it.

Yesterday, I was listening to one of the Harry Potter books on CD as a way to motivate myself to clean my house. (It’s a losing battle, but I remain ever hopeful!) Anyway, what really caught my attention were the scenes with Hagrid’s dog Fang. I found it so amusing that the author always has Fang choose to be near Harry and to drool all over him. Harry never seems too thrilled, but accepts it as part of life. I myself have been drooled on to excess by Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, Pit Bulls, Bulldogs, and the occasional elderly Golden Retriever.

When I was working full time with seeing dogs with behavioral issues, my clothes were often covered in dog hair and dog slobber by the end of the day, and I never really minded. I always felt so lucky to be spending my days with dogs that the fact that I was wearing the evidence of that happy occurrence was of no consequence to me. Of course, when I returned home at the end of the day, my own dog sniffed me like I had been unfaithful.

One day I picked up my dry cleaning and the owner of the shop came rushing out to the front of the shop in a hurry. As he slid up to the counter, he suddenly assumed a casual, unhurried air and said, “Say, I was just curious. What do you do for a living?” When I told him that I worked with dogs with serious behavior issues, he said, “Aaah, I see. Dogs.” I’ve always suspected that the employees had a pool going about what I did to get my clothes dirty in such an unusual way.

The dry cleaner was an ally in my battle against slobber. I wore black a lot, which worked out well since my own dog was black. After I’d worked with a Samoyed, a Yellow Lab, an American Eskimo or any other light-colored dog, I required a once-over with a lint brush before going out in public. Or not, if I didn’t feel like bothering. The mess is just part of living with, working with and loving dogs.

How do you deal with the drool, hair, and other related issues? Or, is it so irrelevant that you simply ignore it?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Got Leash?
Safely passing it requires care.

Leashes only function if one end is connected to the dog’s collar and a person is holding the other end. Over the weekend, I saw a dog running free (and fast!) trailing the leash with two people running after him. In an attempt to pass the leash, the first person had let go before the second person got a good grip on it, and the dog capitalized on this mistake. I helped them collect their dog before he had the chance to run into the busy road, but it was a scary time.

When handing a leash off to someone else, be sure that the other person has hold of it before letting go. I suggest that everyone do this, and I certainly teach my children to do it. Here’s a video (taken on Halloween—hence the poison dart frog attire) of my kids safely transferring the leash. My son holds onto the leash until he has asked his brother if he’s got the leash and received an affirmative reply. Only then does he let go. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Protecting Dogs on Halloween
Beware of chocolate, decorations and costumed strangers.

Halloween is a devil of a holiday. One the one hand, it’s among my favorites—parties, chocolate, creativity in dress and behavior, neighbors working together to create fun for all ages. On the other hand, there are hazards we all need to be aware of to make sure our dogs have a good day, too. There are three main concerns for dogs at Halloween.

 1) Chocolate is dangerous for dogs. Don’t let them eat the candy. It’s the perfect excuse to keep it all to yourself! This is another reason I love this holiday—more chocolate for me!

2) Not all decorations are safe. Dogs like to chew on things (Newsflash—you heard it here first!) so decorations should be kept out of reach to avoid choking or intestinal upset. Flames pose the risk of setting a dog’s fur on fire, so jack-o-lanterns with flashlights or other battery-powered light sources are a better choice.

3) Strangers coming to the door dressed up like every kind of weirdo, monster or freak is no fun for most dogs. Dogs don’t seem to understand that people in costumes are, well, still people. Many dogs are thrown off by small changes in people’s appearance—hats, beards or backpacks—so you can imagine how disturbing it is for them to see gorillas, Darth Vader, dragons, giant Q-tips or a bunch of grapes on their doorstep. If your dog can handle this, great! Make sure she continues to like having trick-or-treaters visit by giving her dog a high quality treat every time you open the door to any. If your dog freaks at the sight of trick-or-treaters, consider crating her or putting her in another room where she can’t see them, and preferably where the doorbell is not too loud. I actually know one professional trainer whose dogs react with excessive barking to visitors. She says that on Halloween night, they turn out all the lights and pretend that they are not home by hiding in the basement. This is a more extreme response to the holiday than most dogs require, but her dogs sure don’t mind Halloween the way some dogs do!

Check out the list of pet safety tips offered by the American Humane Association.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Teaching My Dog To Stay
I did it for the ice cream.

Well-trained dogs are a joy to be around and they are more likely to stay safe. Additionally, they often have a better quality of life due to the fact that they get to accompany people to more events since their behavior is trustworthy. These are all worthy reasons to train our dogs, but I must say I am often just as motivated by my own quality of life. Specifically, I needed my dog to have a rock solid stay so that I had the freedom to eat ice cream.

I wanted to be able to cue him to stay so that I could go inside the local Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop. This goal involved a high level stay since he had to deal with distractions and with me being away from him, though still in sight through the store window. It took me a couple of months, but I got to the point where I could tell him to sit and to stay, then go inside, buy my ice cream and come back outside to a dog who was staying without stress just outside the door where he could see me.

This occurred in Hanover, New Hampshire, which is a small and very friendly dog town. Most places I have lived, I would not leave my dog outside a store even in my sight because I would be worried that someone would either harass my dog or take him away. Hanover is ridiculously safe so that the risk of any harm coming to my dog was miniscule. It was also a town where dogs were allowed almost everywhere.

In such a town as this where dogs are allowed to be in so many places, a good stay is just part of what a dog needs to be able to do. They also need to walk politely either on or off leash and they need to come when they are called. These are the minimum core skills that dogs must be able to perform in order for them to be polite members of society. And in my case, my dog’s stay was the most important because I need my regular doses of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in order for me to be a polite member of society.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Halloween Costumes
Scary for our four-legged friends

It’s hard to resist the urge to put dogs in costumes. The cuteness factor can fly off the charts, and for many people, dressing up our dogs is as natural as dressing up our human children. Despite my recognition of the joy it can bring to see our pups parading around as cowgirls, devils, sports stars or Elvis, I urge caution when considering costumes for dogs.

Most dogs hate costumes. They easily become stressed and uncomfortable when wearing clothing, especially anything on the head or around the body. In the picture with this blog, the dog dressed up as a quarterback looks tense, with the closed mouth so indicative of a dog who is not comfortable, and he seems frozen in angst. In contrast, the dog behind him, sans costume, has a happy face and a relaxed body. I took this photo at a dog camp where all over the room on dress up night I saw unhappy dogs in costumes and cheerful dogs in their birthday suits.

If you simply must have your dog participate in this holiday, costumes that don’t impair dogs’ movements are best. Since most dogs are accustomed to wearing collars, small costumes that consist of something around the neck are the most easily tolerated. The key word is “small.” Rather than dress a dog up in a full tuxedo, for example, having him sport just a small bow tie may be easier for your dog to handle. This can be a great compromise that works for both people and dogs.

Costumes that dogs barely notice are great options. My dog was a skunk for Halloween one year. Being all black, the entire costume consisted of baby powder applied in a strip down his back—cute, easy and not bothersome to him. (Some dogs may even object to baby powder, but mine was fine with it.)

Even better is what my aunt used to tell trick-or-treaters about her dog Nellie who was a cross between a Beagle and a Lab: “What do you think of my cat’s costume? Doesn’t she look exactly like a dog?” My aunt could then have her dog take part in the spirit of the holiday without any ill effects. The older kids gave a little laugh, but the littlest kids were awed by Nellie’s “costume.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Reinforcement on the Radio
What will NPR do this time?

Each time KNAU, my local NPR station, has a pledge drive, they try a new combination of reinforcement strategies. As a dog trainer, I am naturally very interested in reinforcement since half of operant conditioning consists of reinforcement. (The other half is punishment, but thankfully, positive punishment is used in dog training less than ever, and never, as far as I know, by any NPR stations.)

Last year, KNAU emphasized negative reinforcement, which is the removal of an aversive stimulus in response to the performance of a certain behavior. (The classic example of negative reinforcement is the cessation of the loud buzzing noise as soon you put your seat belt on.) Specifically, NPR’s pitch was all about shortening the pledge drive. Their refrain was along the lines of “Do your part. If you give early, the pledge drive will end sooner.” Besides being effective for many people (I called right away!) they get points in my book for acknowledging that the pledge drive, however necessary, is annoying, which is one form of being aversive.

This fall, the tactics seem all about positive reinforcement. KNAU’s pledge drive has a theme this year: “Feed Your Mind, Feed a Family.” If you pledge at least $35 dollars, a donation will be made to provide 70 meals for needy families through a local food bank. Since people find feeding hungry people reinforcing, this may be encouraging people to contribute. Other forms of positive reinforcement include (if you donate by a certain date) the chance to win a computer or the chance to stay on a 75-foot luxury houseboat on Lake Powell with 12 friends, and a variety of other smaller prizes.

KNAU is trying to get people to perform a behavior—donating money—and like any desirable behavior, it will be performed more frequently if people get reinforced for doing so. Technically, reinforcement makes a behavior more likely to occur in the future, so if NPR can make us feel good when we donate money this time, the theory says that we will be more likely to contribute again.

Reinforcement in real life. It’s not just for dogs!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Is It Okay To Drink And Bark?
Many wineries welcome dogs

Hotels have become more dog friendly, and so have many businesses. Years ago it was rare to walk into a store to be greeted by a dog, but now it’s unremarkable. More and more people are bringing their dogs to work, and they are more common visitors at hospitals, schools, and rehab centers.

Still, it represents a big advance that so many wineries have resident dogs or welcome visitors with their own dogs in tow. In the October 2009 issue of Diablo Magazine, wineries in Northern California that welcome dogs are highlighted. How much nicer is it to take your dog with you for a relaxing weekend in the wine country than to go alone. When you can bring your dog and drink wine, you have found a place where life is good!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Big Even For a Great Dane
George might be the world’s largest dog.

My sister is about an inch shy of six feet and people regularly tell her that she is tall. A lifetime of handling this rudeness (Would you go up to a woman who is five feet tall and proclaim, “You’re short!”?) has yielded many witty replies, but my favorite is, “Well, I’m definitely not shopping in the petite section.” That’s all I could think of when I read about George, whose owners are trying to get him in the Guiness Book of World Records as the world’s largest dog. At 42 inches tall and 245 pounds, he is most definitely NOT shopping there either.

Great Danes are the dogs of my childhood and I am quite fond of them. I love the way they sit on couches (and laps!) in a posture that few breeds can assume. I enjoy the way they clear the coffee table with one wag of those whip-like tails. I love the galloping gait they have and the specific shapes of their massive paws.

The dogs we know as young children stay with us forever. I cannot help myself—I must go meet every Great Dane I see. (Occasionally I am able to resist meeting dogs of other breeds, but not often. And with Great Danes, never!) Does anybody else feel a particular affinity to a certain breed, even if, like me, you don’t currently have one in your home?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Blessing Animals
An interfaith event

Over the weekend in Flagstaff, Ariz., many people brought their dogs to a blessing of the animals event. Various faiths were represented, including clergy from the Buddist, Muslim, Jewish, Meher Baba, Christian, Muslim and Celtic Pagan faiths. (The breeds present were every bit as diverse as the religions.) Could our dogs lead us to increased interfaith understanding and tolerance? What a blessing THAT would be!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I Love “Wait”
It’s my favorite training cue.

I am so fond of the cue “Wait” that I wrote a column called An Ode to ‘Wait’ to express my enthusiasm about it. This cue tells a dog to pause and not to move forward until given permission to do so. It can literally be a lifesaver at doors to both houses and cars because it can prevent bolting out into traffic. Additionally, it can be a sanity-saver when heading out for a walk because it stops the chaos that naturally results from dogs who are so eager to go out for a walk that they act like they are out of their minds.

Here’s a video of Tyson

, a Pomeranian who stayed with us for a few days when his family was out of town. The video was taken after just one session of teaching Tyson to “wait.” He got better at it over the next couple of days. It was much more fun to take him out for walks when he was calm than when he was leaping and spinning around.

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