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.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $26
In a dog book, I look for great information, a wonderful story about the relationship between humans and dogs, and anecdotes that are funny, insightful and memorable. Rarely do all three components come together, but Susannah Charleson’s memoir has the whole package. Beautifully written, informative, charming in every detail that chronicles the life and work of Susannah and her dog Puzzle, and laugh-’til-you-snort funny, it’s a magnificent work.
Charleson reveals the physical, mental and emotional challenges of search and rescue through her relationship with Puzzle, whom she raises from puppyhood to be her partner. People in this line of work must be able to handle challenging physical and emotional situations — think extreme heat, harsh cold, sleep deprivation, enclosed dark spaces, endless waiting, dense thorny vegetation and biting insects. Extensive navigation and orienting skills (which Charleson retains from years of being a pilot) are essential, as is an understanding of the behavior of missing people and the physics of scent. Dog handling skills and knowledge of the differences between distracted behavior, alerts and finds are, of course, necessary. As a biologist and trainer, I find fascinating the subtle yet extensive communication between dog and handler.
Though most of us have not raised and trained a search and rescue dog, it’s easy to relate to Puzzle’s puppy antics, which will amuse anyone who’s ever been exasperated by a puppy’s behavior. Similarly, Charleson’s descriptions of Puzzle’s fears ring true and contain great wisdom. Many readers will also recognize the growth of the relationship between these two main characters. Puzzle’s bond with Charleson is slower to form than she would like.
Many great relationships take time to develop, and this one continues growing to the point that Puzzle’s preference for searching with Charleson, as compared to another handler, becomes obvious to the entire team. Once, when Charleson blacks out on a walk and drops the leash, Puzzle stays with her despite her usual tendency to exploit every opportunity at freedom.
Reading this book is like eating from a delicious buffet. The following is an example of Charleson’s wordsmithing:
“Puzzle, just a few months shy of two, is in that marvelous place where puppy energy and adult strength and coordination intersect. This is a happy time for her, and it shows. After training with the team or after training sessions at home, she is talkative and cheeky, full of dog mutters for me and play-bows for the Poms, tossing toys their direction for a game. Her engagement with the world is a pleasure, her energy a challenge.”
I highly recommend this book to anyone with a fascination for forensic drama. As for dog lovers, none among us will resist a tale with such descriptions as this: “I stroke my newly-certified Golden, who has wasted no time going belly-up beside me in the deep shade of pecan trees. Any celebration worth doing is, apparently, worth doing upside down, unconscious, teeth bared.”
The Experiment; $15.95
Paul McGreevy’s love of dogs shines through in A Modern Dog’s Life: He loves the smell of dogs’ feet (and advises readers to take a sniff), advocates hu-mane training methods and takes an uncompromi s ing l y strong stand against choke chains.
Readers will enjoy McGreevy’s many practical suggestions. To make sure clients positively reinforce their dogs, he tells them to “make your dog’s tail wag.” Included among his points are the importance of novelty in terms of toys and canine playmates, ideas for making visits to the vet more pleasant, and using the possibility of a walk to motivate dogs to perform desirable behaviors.
McGreevy covers many of his topics with attention to the science behind them. For example, he discusses research related to the meaning of barking as well as the importance of physical contact for establishing bonds between people and dogs, and his consideration of current investigations into paw use and canine laterality (“handedness”) was fascinating. I would have liked the names of the scientists who conducted the research and citations of the original work.
He is particularly engaging when he talks about how dogs learn, and his explanations of overshadowing, stimulus control, omission training and secondary reinforcers are excellent, as is his summarization of the current status of many areas of dog training and major changes that have occurred in recent decades.
However, on occasion, McGreevy makes statements without citing evidence. Here are some of the comments that left me with doubts: Dogs don’t get bored eating the same food day after day because they swallow it so quickly. They can’t taste the difference between one snack and another. They are more likely to be aggressive toward male visitors because they anticipate that males are more likely to create trouble and threaten resources. They can’t tell whether or not another dog is intact.
Perhaps of greatest value is McGreevy’s coverage of problems that arise because too little emphasis is placed on breeding for temperament. He eloquently discusses medical and behavioral issues that result from the unfortunate combination of closed breed books, breed standards open to interpretation, and breeding for success in the show ring rather than for qualities that are desirable in pets whose main “job” is to be companions.
McGreevy writes in a conversational style that makes for pleasant reading, and clearly wants the best for our canine companions in this crazy modern world. My favorite of McGreevy’s remarks reveals just how charmed he is by dogs: “[M]ost dogs have the true Olympic spirit: taking part being more important than actually winning.”
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
10 ways for improvement.
By just being their furry, adorable, lovable selves, dogs help us feel treasured and joyful. This not only boosts our quality of life, it raises the oh-so-important question: What have we done for them lately? Of course, we provide food, medical care, a home, grooming, toys and other amenities, but what exactly do we do to increase their happiness quotient? Here’s a short list of ways to improve the quality of our dogs’ lives.
1. Turn up dial on the exercise meter. Dogs adore activity — hence, the crazy exuberance most display at the very whisper of a walk. An extra-long hike, joining you on a run, or taking a few short outings in addition to those daily walks will be well received. Look for a place your dog can enjoy a safe off-leash run, which will make the experience even more enjoyable for him.
2. Fight boredom. Give your dog more mental exercise with mind-engaging activities such as enrichment puzzles, new toys, visits to new places, and learning new skills and tricks.
3. Give them a hand. Most dogs learn visual signals faster than verbal ones. When training, communicate more clearly by using hand signals along with words. Your dog will heave a figurative sigh of relief at finally being able to understand you.
4. Rub them the right way. Most dogs, like most people, adore a good massage. It not only promotes relaxation, healing and bonding, it feels sooooo good.
5. Stop and smell the world. Dogs need to be dogs, and that means allowing them time to explore the world’s wonderful odors. Or, engage them in scent work. Using their noses comes naturally, so tracking or playing scent games is fun for dogs. (For more on these activities, see “Nose Work” in the June ’10 issue.)
6. Free them from fashion. Consider removing your dog’s collar at night. Dogs will probably enjoy the freedom just as much as we do when we take off our belts, watches or earrings. Plus, the noise of jingling tags bothers many dogs; to reduce it, tape the tags together or stow them in a pouch designed for that purpose.
7. Feed them well. While the debate about canine nutrition rages, most people agree that a variety of food, especially if it’s healthy and fresh, has many advantages. Carefully consider what you feed your dog, do some research and ask your veterinarian for help in making good choices.
8. Keep them tidy. Good grooming is essential; dogs are most comfortable when their coats are orderly and free of any mats that tug uncomfortably at their skin. Abolishing tangles helps them eliminate more easily — I’ve seen dogs whose hindquarters were so full of mats that this was an issue! — and short toenails allow for easier movement comfortably. And no matter how darling your dog may look with fur hanging over the eyes, or how popular that style is for the breed, a haircut that allows for unobstructed vision is a better (and safer) choice.
9. Play it up. Make play dates for your dog with other nice, well-socialized pups. Most dogs love to play with other dogs, and their exhilaration is palpable as they frolic together. (Does your dog have a BFF? Read more about “Pal Dogs” in the Summer ’10 issue.) Also, add more play to your own interactions with your dog.
10. Sharpen your focus. Dogs value the time we spend focused completely on them, and that’s easiest to do without anyone else present. This quality time is especially valuable and important in multi-dog households. Improving your dog’s quality of life is a gift that keeps on giving: the more wonderful we make life for our dogs, the more ways they enhance our own.
Oxford University Press, 274 pp., 2008; $110
In Dog Behaviour, Evolution, and Cognition, Ádám Miklósi has done what nobody else has even dared to try, and he does it brilliantly. This book is the first to compile and analyze the research that delves into the mysteries of the domestic dog. It provides an excellent and thought-provoking review of the scientific literature in a variety of areas: evolution, domestication, study methodologies, senses, communication, personality and development.
This book will be the reference on these subjects, and more, for years to come, probably until the happy day when the new research it inspires warrants a second edition. The book presents a unification of information and ideas from the diverse fields of ethology, genetics, zoology, psychology, archeozoology and anthrozoology. A great strength of the book is its constant focus on what we actually know as a result of rigorous scientific inquiry as opposed to what we think we know, based on the unsubstantiated beliefs and anecdotes that are prevalent in the world of dogs. The author points out many cases in which current research has revealed information at odds with the common wisdom. In a similar vein, he reports on the paucity of knowledge about agonistic behavior and aggression and calls for more research, which will be surprising, as many people believe that more is known about these subjects than is actually the case.
It is rare to enjoy reading such an information-packed book cover to cover, but that was my experience with this one. English is not the first language of this Hungarian author, but there is no need for concern—quite the contrary, it would be wonderful if all who wrote in our language were so eloquent and clear. Coming from the European tradition of excellence in ethology and ethological writing,Miklósi’s research and perspective emphasize the value of studying dogs in their natural environment.He makes the case that dogs are a wonderful subject for scientific study outside of the laboratory, and encourages both a comparative and an interdisciplinary approach. Scientists and non-scientists alike will take pleasure in perusing not only what is known about the dog, but also, how we came to know what we know from scientific study. The stories of the observations and experiments that have shaped our knowledge make compelling reading and also allow readers to understand the most likely directions for fruitful future research.
The nature of the relationship between people and dogs is a topic that will no doubt continue to lend itself to productive study. The scientific perspective on the roles dogs have in the lives of people —Do they act as friends? As children? As pack members?—is truly fascinating. Similarly, anyone who has ever loved a dog will be riveted by the sections covering attachment issues between our two species, the complex and variable nature of the human-dog relationship throughout history, cooperative behavior by dogs in relation to people, communication between the two species, behavioral differences by dogs in response to perceived attention or inattention from a person, canine social competence, and how humans and dogs interact socially.
Another especially interesting area concerns domestication as an evolutionary process, including the idea that changing views on human evolution inform our understanding of the domestication of dogs. Related to the mutual evolution of our two species is our ability to communicate with one another without specific training. For example, the ability of untrained humans to decode the meaning of dog barks, with or without experience of the individual dogs and breeds in the study. A further subject of great interest was Miklósi’s emphasis on the behavioral flexibility of the members of the genus Canis, both genetically and phenotypically, and the implications of this flexibility for evolutionary processes, including domestication. Using the comparative method —considering the domestic dog as one species within an intriguing group of animals—allows for greater insights into canine evolution.
The one criticism I have is that the index could be more complete. It does not include all of the scientists who are mentioned in the text, nor all of the terms. I hope that this can be improved in future editions, as a more complete index would make the book even more valuable as a reference.
In summary, scholars and anyone else who is serious about understanding dogs will want to read this book. If you haven’t, you’re not up to date on one of our favorite subjects: the behavior, evolution and cognition of the domestic dog.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
By the Numbers
Applied animal behaviorists are constantly developing new techniques, exploring new ideas, considering controversial theories and conducting research. So what is on the minds of the people in this dynamic field? What are behaviorists talking about right now?
1. The prevention of problem behaviors. As behaviorists, we generally deal with serious problems that have been going on for a long time by the time we become involved. For example, when someone whose dog has bitten a child for the sixth time contacts us, we are both glad that they’re looking for help and often saddened as well, since we know that early intervention might have prevented— or at least ameliorated—this problem.Prevention can take many forms, including responsible breeding, good matches between dog and household, proper socialization, effective training, and quick responses to warning signs.
2. An increasing focus on ethology. Ethology is the study of the behavior of animals in their natural habitat. A trained ethologist working in applied canine behavior has an ability to read a dog’s body language, understanding signs that indicate the dog is stressed, anxious or afraid. Additionally, a skilled ethologist working with dogs is able to interpret the displays and cues dogs use to communicate, and has a deep knowledge of the sensory world, or umwelt (also defined as the “subjective universe”) in which dogs live. An understanding of dogs’ natural history and behavior deserves as much attention as canine learning theory, which has been focused on so much of late.
3. The need for more research. Basic questions such as what information dog scent marks contain, how best to treat dog–dog aggression within a household and the purpose of canine play remain at least partially unanswered.Despite the obvious need, standard funding sources —the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH)—support precious little research in applied animal behavior.
4. Genetic studies that further our understanding of dogs. Findings of the latest research into dog evolution are exciting, and new discoveries are being made all the time. For example, a recent study identified a gene responsible for the tremendous variation in size among dogs. Advances in technology have facilitated a new wave of genetic research into the time and place of dog domestication and the development of breeds.
5. Breeding pet dogs. Regrettably, few breeders focus on breeding companion animals. Many purebred dogs sold as “pet quality”are somehow non-standard: They may be the wrong size, color or general structure to show; they may not have the drive necessary to compete, as in agility; or they may be afraid of the sheep they are supposed to be herding. There is a need for dogs with the behavioral traits required to be the best pets.
6. The need for interdisciplinary collaboration. When people have behavioral problems, psychologists, doctors, clergy, coaches and teachers often collaborate. Similarly, in an ideal scenario within applied animal behavior,we would have regular collaborations between ethologists, psychologists, veterinarians and trainers. When professionals from different disciplines work together, we are all more effective at helping clients with their dogs’ behavioral problems.
7. Reconsidering temperament tests. Some tests are designed to predict the potential for aggression in shelter dogs and to help shelter staff decide which dogs are adoptable. Others are designed to predict the personalities of puppies in order to determine which are best suited to performance homes, companion homes or working homes, and even which specific puppy would be most compatible with which specific household. These are admirable goals, but the problem is that no temperament test has been shown to be reliably predictive of future behavior or personality. Behaviorists talk a lot about the shortcomings of the existing temperament tests, whether or not more predictive tests can be designed, or whether these tests have intrinsic limitations.
8. Upgrading certification programs. Unfortunately, anybody can hang out a sign and call him- or herself a behaviorist, and there are certification programs with alarmingly low standards. The most stringent certification program is the one that leads to the Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) designation. To become a CAAB, a person must have substantial coursework in both ethology and psychology, five years of experience in applied animal behavior practice, and either a PhD in a field related to behavior (such as biology, zoology or psychology), or a DVM, in addition to two years in a university-approved residency program in animal behavior.
9. The demand for more qualified behaviorists. There are very few truly qualified behaviorists, so it is hard for people whose dogs have behavioral issues to get the help they need. Training new behaviorists is a big challenge because the two kinds of experience needed—academic and practical—are not linked by any structured program that helps interested people transition from one to the other. Few opportunities exist in academia to pursue research in applied animal behavior, because most people with expertise in this area are working as applied animal behaviorists, not as professors. Therefore, despite there being many people with advanced degrees in ethology or psychology, few have significant practical experience in applied animal behavior, including the actual experience of working with dogs.
10. The importance of using humane, positive training and treatment methods for dogs.No matter how popular abusive and aversive techniques may be in the media, or how they are marketed to the public as the quick fix everyone wants, they are not the best choice for us or for our dogs. Better, safer options are out there, and behaviorists take very seriously their responsibility to educate the public about the difference between techniques that help dogs and techniques that harm dogs. This list includes some of the hot topics of concern and controversy that we discuss (sometimes heatedly, but always cordially) when we get together at conferences, seminars and workshops. But truth be told, there is a good chance that, at this very moment, your local behaviorist is doing what we all enjoy doing more than anything, which is talking about our own dogs. After all, as dog behaviorists, we are not just experts on canine behavior, but dog lovers of the highest order.
St. Martin’s Press, 226 pp., 2009; $24.95
If you've always loved the stories of James Herriot, get ready to be excited by Jeff Wells’ All My Patients Have Tales. It sounds too good to be true, but here is another veterinarian who loves both people and animals, understands small pets and farm animals alike, and tells a good story.
Wells’ stories involve many species. Among the lively characters are dogs, cats, cows, turkeys, elephants, porcupines, donkeys, yaks and pigs; people have their part to play, too. His observations about the interactions between humans and animals, and of humans with each, other are nicely balanced between cleverly insightful and respectfully amused.Wells has a nice appreciation of the ridiculous, and he shares this with his readers.
Most charming of all, he sees the absurdity of his own role in these adventures and is able to laugh at himself. Whether chasing an escaped (and semiferal) cat around his office, getting kicked where no man wishes to be kicked by a cantankerous horse, running from wild turkeys or doing some on-the-job learning in how to draw blood from an elephant (in front of an audience), his sense of humor lets us enjoy his adventures.
The book covers the uphill battle of getting into veterinary school and the rigors of the course of study. It also highlights the many ways in which the job of veterinarian requires so much more skill and experience than can be gained in school, no matter how good the instruction and no matter how diligently one studies. It is the process of becoming an “experienced veterinarian” that Wells documents through the many escapades chronicled in this lively book. He confirms that his chosen career is never boring, that there is always more to learn and that checking your ego at the door is a requirement of the job.
Anyone looking for a fun read about both animals and people who are real characters will enjoy All My Patients Have Tales. I loved this book and know it’s one I’ll be reading again.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Make downtime productive
Question: My extremely active five-year-old dog injured her leg, and I’m supposed to prevent her from exercising for about the next six weeks. Frankly, I don’t see how either of us will survive if she can’t run off her extra energy. What can we do?
Answer: Vets will often advise that you restrict your dog’s activity following surgery or while she recuperates from muscle or joint injuries. The prospect of living with an underexercised dog who chews, whines, barks or develops some other equally unacceptable habit to pass the time can be more alarming than the original medical problem. The devil really does find work for idle paws.
First, ask your vet to tell you exactly what your dog can and cannot do. Clearly, two-hour romps through the woods with her dog buddies will have to wait until she has recovered, but is a daily 10-minute leash walk allowed? Can she swim? Are stairs completely off-limits?
Without being able to give your dog the physical exercise to which she is accustomed, the key to keeping you both sane lies in exercising her mind. Mental exercise can take many forms. Time spent doing simple obedience is great for dog brains, plus you reap the benefits of having a better-trained dog. Ask your dog to sit, stay, lie down or anything else she knows how to do to earn treats, toys, a trip outside or a belly rub. A weekly class to learn new skills is a great motivator and can provide stimulation for your dog during her exercise quarantine.
Tricks are another way to get your dog thinking, and can be a playful diversion for both of you. Learning tricks challenges the mind and makes many dogs tired even without physical exercise— remember the overwhelming exhaustion of final exams? Some of my favorites are crawl, spin, beg, rollover, wave, shake and high-five. (Of course, choose tricks that do not compromise your dog’s recuperation.) For example, if she likes to retrieve and is into toys, teach her the names of all her toys so that you can tell her to go get a specific one. Or, teach her to bring you a tissue when you sneeze. A flashy trick is to teach your dog to clean up by putting each of her toys, one at a time, into a toy basket.
In addition to adding mental exercise to your daily interactions, incorporate it into her mealtimes. Rather than just plunking a bowl down in front of her, give your dog her food in a way that keeps her busy. Putting her food into Kongs, Goodie Balls, Roll-a-Treat Balls or Buster Cubes so she has to work to get it out can keep her occupied for a long time. Learning how to get the food out is mentally engaging, and if you use different items and pack the food into them in different ways, your dog will get the maximum benefit. Even freezing her food inside a Kong or Goodie Ball will make eating a longer-lasting, more challenging endeavor.
Boredom is the enemy of the well-behaved dog. As long as your dog is using her mind, whether it’s to play, eat or work, she is getting the mental exercise that helps her sleep on the rug in front of the fire instead of chewing it up.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Living with blind and deaf dogs
Jordan was blind and deaf, and he was fetching (in both senses of the word)! Quality of life was not an issue for this dog, and I was thrilled about it. His guardians were following my fundamental rule for dogs with challenges: Decide that this dog is going to have a full and happy life, just as you would with any dog. With this family, I was truly preaching to the choir.
Most dogs have a cue to go fetch: the sight of you throwing the ball, or maybe the sound of you saying, “Go get it! Go get your ball!” Jordan’s cue to fetch was two strokes with a ball down the length of his body. He then moved in the general direction that he was facing and tracked a scented ball. The backyard where he played had grass surrounded by a border of bark chips, and then gravel-sized rocks around that and next to the patio and the fence. The grass and the patio were his playground, while the bark chips and rocks served as a warning track. He had a good idea where he was by what his feet were touching.
Jordan played tug, too, which was the same for him as any dog, except that he smelled the tug toy rather than seeing it, and sometimes it took him a couple of tries to grab it with his mouth. He even played with the other dogs in his household by leaping, chasing and wrestling, including using play bows. The other dogs didn’t play bow to him much, apparently having learned that Jordan didn’t respond to them. Instead, they initiated play with him by mouthing at his legs or leaping onto him—signals many dogs use. If he got carried away, the cue for him to stop playing was to touch him just above his tail and squeeze gently. His exuberance was probably a combination of youth, a naturally effervescent personality and an inability to understand the other dogs’ signals to back off.
Over the years, I have met dozens of deaf dogs, quite a few blind dogs, and three dogs who were both blind and deaf. Simple adjustments allow them to do most of what other dogs can, but for some issues, living with such dogs requires special techniques.
Clear vocal signals are even more important with blind dogs than with sighted dogs. Blind dogs can’t see any of the cues other dogs sometimes use to figure out what you want—like turning your body toward the house when you call “come” or tilting your head when you say “sit.”
Because dogs primarily use visual cues in their social interactions, protect your dog from making any “faux paws” that can lead to awkwardness or even aggression from another dog who may misinterpret your dog’s inappropriate response. Let blind dogs play with very social dogs who are nonreactive even to dogs doing odd things. Teach your dog to do a play bow on cue so she can tell the other dog she’s interested in playing. Also, teach her to back off on cue to help remove her from awkward situations gracefully. Many dogs will naturally perform these behaviors in response to other dogs’ visual cues.
Scent toys for blind dogs so that they can find them, or use toys that make noise, though they do not need to be loud. Toys that rattle, ring or squeak are often fun, but a lot depends on the individual dogs. Blind Terriers, for example, are just as apt to love squeaky toys as Terriers who can see, but there are always exceptions, and some blind dogs may be too sound-sensitive to enjoy noisy toys.
Use a flash of light as a marker when training a deaf dog, just as you would use a clicker. You can use a different light signal as a cue for the dog to give you her attention. Once you have it, you can be more specific about what you want. Obviously, using visual signals rather than vocal ones is the only way to go with a deaf dog. Many people still use the vocal cue for their own benefit, and that’s fine as long as you don’t expect the dog to respond to the cue, which she cannot perceive.
Dogs who are blind, deaf or both are more likely to be fearful because to them, the world is less predictable. Specifically, dogs without one or more senses are more likely to be surprised when approached or touched than dogs who can see and hear. Though they learn to depend on their existing senses more than other dogs, they are still surprised sometimes. These surprises can be scary, and dogs often react badly out of fear. Reacting badly can mean mild behavior such as yelping and hiding, or more troublesome reactions such as defecating or biting.
To avoid surprises and fearful reactions, use a cue meaning “I am about to touch you.” Cues can be vocal or visual depending on which sense the dog has, or two taps on the floor near the dog for those lacking both hearing and sight. If dogs are alerted that a touch is coming, they are protected from being startled. I also recommend counterconditioning dogs to being touched. Basically, teach your dog that a treat follows being touched unexpectedly. With enough repetitions of this lesson, the dog’s response to a surprise touch will be more of “Oh boy, that means I get a treat! Fun!” and less of, “Aaack! What was that? Scary!”
Lots of tactile contact can be beneficial for your relationship and for your dog’s well-being. When missing the use of one or more senses, communication can be compromised despite your best efforts to work around the issue, and that can cause stress. Physical contact such as TTouch or other forms of canine massage can help your dog feel less stressed, repair any damage to the relationship and make you feel closer to each other. (Even for dogs without these challenges, massage and touching tends to be a good thing as long as they enjoy it—there is, however, the rare dog who doesn’t.)
I urge everyone who has a dog with challenges to remember that the most important aspect of living with, loving and training these dogs is remembering that they are dogs just like any other dogs. It’s easy to remember that they are blind, deaf or both, but it’s essential, whatever abilities they may or may not possess, that we never forget their true essence. Five senses or fewer, they are dogs.
Woof and Word Press (Dist. by Dogwise), 346 pp., 2008; $49.95
Math pop quiz: If a picture is worth a thousand words, then how valuable is Barbara Handelman’s Canine Behavior: A Photo Illustrated Handbook with its thousand pictures? The answer is “too valuable to put a figure on it.” Nothing else out there captures so much diverse canine behavior in photographs, or has close to the quantity of photos. Handelman’s training as a photographer is clear—the composition, clarity and perspective of her dog photos are wonderful. (Though it would have been lovely if all of them could’ve been reproduced in color, nonetheless, the photos illustrate their points despite the fading and loss of contrast that results when color photos are printed in black and white.) As a bonus, the book includes many of Monty Sloan’s extraordinary photos of wolves.
If the photographs are the great strength of this book, the weakness lies in the fact that, though Handelman writes from an ethological perspective, she is not a trained ethologist. Consequently, she has regrettably absorbed and passed on ethological information that, though erroneous, is often considered correct by many dog trainers. For example, there are errors in her description and identification of fixed-action patterns, and she has a tendency to combine fear and submission into a single concept. Regardless, I’m impressed by her thorough coverage; she has capably synthesized a great deal of information, and her knowledge, which is considerable, gives strength to this wonderful book.
Handelman has done a real service to the field of canine behavior by using the comparative approach so common among ethologists. As she notes, “Prior to discovering Monty Sloan’s Wolf Park photos and the ‘Wolf Ethogram’ … [I] had not considered that there might be very close similarities between the communication signals, displays and expressions conveyed by the various canine cousins.” It is impressive that she took this idea, a staple among ethologists, and ran with it. I hope her perspective spreads through the dog world. There is much to be gained from a comparative approach to canid behavior, yet many trainers take a foolish pride in confining their interest to the domestic dog.
The book is organized and laid out in a manner that makes it a pleasure to read; it is also well indexed, which adds to its value. I like this book and appreciate what it offers: descriptions of an extensive array of canine behavior considered across multiple species, and the best collection of canine photographs I’ve ever seen assembled in one place.
Dog's Life: Humane
Academia and humane interests converge at University of Denver
Frank Ascione, PhD, is the first professor to serve as the new American Humane Endowed Chair and executive director of the Institute for Human-Animal Connection in the Graduate School of Social Work at the University of Denver (DU). This position is significant because it is a collaboration between a major academic institution and a major animal welfare agency—the American Humane Association—made possible through donor and university support. And it’s rare in that it is not in a veterinary school, a psychology department or a child-development program, but rather, in a graduate school of social work, where PhDs as well as clinicians are trained. During our interview, I was delighted, but not surprised, to learn that Dr. Ascione combines rigorous scientific inquiry with a passion for people and animals, which makes for the best sort of caring: the informed kind. He is a positive, energetic person with a lot of gratitude to go around. One of his first comments during our interview was, “I have high enthusiasm for this change in my career and great appreciation for those who made it possible.” He is sincerely interested in learning about domestic violence, animal cruelty and the links between them so that he can use that information to develop effective prevention and intervention programs. Expect more great work from Professor Ascione and his collaborators in the near future.
Bark: Why did you decide to accept the offer to occupy the new endowed chair?
Frank Ascione: I didn’t want to leave Utah at the time the position first opened, but I spent half a semester at DU and they effectively romanced me. It’s a great place with so much respect for students and for scholarly activity. The university is vibrant and Denver is a fantastic city. The faculty, students and staff at DU were so affirming of my work.
B: What are your primary goals in your new position?
FA: I’m a child psychologist by training, but I am moving to a graduate school of social work. My interests are in animal abuse, child abuse, domestic violence and elder abuse, and those all involve social work. I expect to have a great deal in common with my new colleagues. The potential is there for an amazing amount of collaboration, and my goal is to foster collaboration between those interested in animal welfare and groups working with and studying family violence, child abuse and elders.
B: What initially made you investigate the links between domestic violence, child abuse and animal abuse?
FA: I was developing an assessment instrument for measuring abuse by children to animals or positive interactions with animals. When I began to interview children who abuse animals, about 5 percent in the community reported abusing animals and about 10 to 15 percent of kids with mental health issues reported it, so it was not a common behavior. I decided to look at areas where there was a higher frequency of violence. I interviewed women in domestic violence shelters and found that 54 percent of women in shelters reported that their abusers hurt or killed one or more of their pets. In a control group with no violence in the home, 5 percent of the partners hurt or killed a pet.
B: How do you label yourself professionally? Professor? Author? Social Worker?
FA: I’m a child psychologist, though I’m not a clinician. I’ve never conducted therapy nor am I trained or qualified to do so. I realized mid-career that my profession had ignored the role of animals in the lives of children. I worked on the role of animals in children’s lives, then into issues of who abuses.
B: What ways have you seen academia change in recent years in terms of attitudes towards the practical issues of interest to you?
FA: One of the hopes I’ve had in my work is I want to focus on the kind of research that has some socially valuable component to it. There’s a term, “urgent knowing,” which means that there is a need in society and not enough information about it. For example, there was this idea that people in situations of domestic violence delay leaving because they are afraid to leave their pets behind, but until you put a number on it, information that was needed to deal with it or to pass legislation about it was not available.
B: What countries do you consider role models for the sort of programs you’d like to see established in this country?
FA: Both the UK and Australia are a bit ahead of us with animal welfare programs and respect for the human-animal bond. The UK, which originated these programs, has one national animal protection agency (the RSPCA), so they have a commonality of laws across the whole country. We have 50 different laws.
B: Are you generally encouraged or discouraged with the state of the human-animal bond?
FA: I am encouraged partly because we have programs developing where this is being taken seriously academically and we’re also seeing people seriously evaluating programs in which people are engaged. There are many programs that incorporate interactions with animals, but they are not routinely being evaluated. It is essential that we sift good from bad, and we need studies of what’s working and what’s not so we can focus on the most effective programs.
B: How has the economic recession affected the relationship between people and their pets?
FA: I’m not an economist, but I’m aware of the issues. Foreclosures lead to pet abandonment in increased numbers. Financial trouble means that we tend to see more problems with child abuse and domestic violence. In the aftermath of disasters, we do see an increase in violence.
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