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
Intimate issues Down Under
April 20 2009
A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in Australia required an expensive life-saving surgery to remove a blockage. The culprit turned out to be a black lacy G-string; the elastic had gotten tied up in his intestines. Naturally, many folks are having a laugh over this embarrassing (to his guardian) discovery now that the dog is okay, but blockages caused by ingesting non-food items are serious and scary because they can be life threatening.
Dogs who like to eat items that are not food are common. Most go for socks and underwear, but ask the average veterinarian, and you are bound to hear stories of towels, ace bandages, stockings, carpets, gravel, pens, knives, spoons and, of course, the proverbial homework. Prevention is the safest path since few dogs give up this habit unless all temptation is removed, and it’s by far the least expensive. If you have a dog who is an “eater” you have excellent motivation to thoroughly dog-proof your home, which includes training all members of the household not to leave clothes or other items of interest to the dog within reach. With practice, the result is an exceptionally clean house and a safe, healthy dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Advice from professional trainers
April 15 2009
With the eyes of the nation on the Obamas’ new dog Bo, many people are interested in what training methods the first family will use. Positive techniques have become increasingly common in recent years, and there is no better way to get the message of their benefits to more people than through the actions of the President and his family with Bo. Most professional dog trainers are hopeful that the Obamas will use these methods, which are more effective and result in a better relationship between people and their dogs than old-fashioned coercion-based techniques. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has posted training advice for the new first dog, which applies, of course, to any new dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Adorable puppy, less-than-ideal name
April 15 2009
President Obama has had many opportunities to comment on his own name. I laughed when he joked that “Barack” means “that one” and when he kidded around that he got the name “Obama” from his Dad, but that “Hussein” came from somebody who obviously thought that he would never run for President. Clearly, he knows that a name is important.
At least he knows that for people. By now, we’ve all read about his new Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, who apparently was named partly as a reference to the fact that his father-in-law had the nickname “Diddley.” Naming new family members with respect to other relatives is charming, and I generally encourage it. However, a side effect of this particular naming is that the poor dog’s name rhymes with “No.”
Dogs are often startled into stopping or at least pausing in undesirable behavior by sudden exclamations of “No!” or “Hey!” which is why I always encourage clients to avoid names that sound too much like either one. It can be quite confusing for a dog to think he hears his name said in an abrupt way, which is the way that “No!” is most often said to puppies. Ideally, puppies should associate their name with feeling good, not with feeling startled.
Barack Obama is thriving in spite of various nomenclature challenges. Let’s hope the same good fortune follows the adorable Bo. Here are some tips on naming a dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
March 11 2009
Question: Shiloh is a six-month-old terrier mix female from the rescue shelter that we brought home February 2. She is terrific and has taken well to our household including our five-year-old terrier mix male. My concern is that no matter when my husband enters a room she barks at him like she has never seen him before even though he talks to her using her name first. The barking is continuous, not just a short bark. He plays with her, even hand-feeds her at times, pets her and does all he can to help her bond with him and she seems willing to let him do this. She seems to be “easy” around females and shies away from most males. Shiloh bonded with me right away.
--Audrey Silberman, Durham, N.C.
Answer: Shiloh seems afraid. Often the scariest situation for dogs is the appearance or approach of a person with whom they are not yet comfortable. Many fearful dogs react more to men than to women, especially men who are tall, have deep voices, broad shoulders, a strong jaw, or facial hair.
To help Shiloh exhibit better behavior when your husband enters the room, it is essential to change the way she feels in that situation. Focus on changing her emotions so the behavior will stop rather than trying to stop the barking directly.
There are two ways your husband can help Shiloh overcome her fear so that she does not bark at him in this context. One technique is to present himself in the least threatening way possible. When he enters a room, he should turn slightly to the side, lean ever so slightly away from the dog, and squat.
The second technique is to teach Shiloh to associate the appearance of your husband with feeling good. The basic idea is to consistently pair up what Shiloh loves best with your husband entering the room. For most dogs, this means steak, chicken or freeze-dried liver (no dry biscuits!), but some dogs adore balls or squeaky toys. Instead of her thinking, in some canine sort of way, “Yikes! He’s here and he’s so imposing!” we want her to think, “Here he is again! Oh boy oh boy oh boy, where are those super treats (or toys)? I’m so happy he’s here with that magical stuff!”
To make the combination of these two techniques most effective, every time your husband enters the room, he should do so calmly, position himself in the non-imposing stance, and immediately (within a second) throw the treats or toys to her. Ideally, he will toss them to her before she reacts, but he should toss them anyway, even if she’s already starting barking. It’s better to toss them as opposed to handing them directly to her. That way, he does not have to approach her, which could set her off. Her special favorite item should be reserved for this situation only to make the pairing with your husband as tight as possible in her mind.
Hopefully, your husband will soon have a special place in Shiloh’s heart. Best wishes and paws crossed for all of you.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Five common misconceptions about dog training and behavior
Since dog training has become so popular that it’s even a form of television entertainment, misconceptions about canine behavior have multiplied. Faulty information entrenched in popular culture means that a lot of what “everybody knows” isn’t actually true. Here are my top picks for myths in need of busting.
1. It’s best to stare down an aggressive dog. To dogs, a direct stare is a threat. Staring at a dog who is already considering an attack is more likely to escalate the confrontation than to diffuse it. Furthermore, fearful dogs who are unlikely to behave aggressively can become so frightened by your threatening stare that they panic and bite in response.
2. Kneeing a dog who likes to jump up on people is a good way to teach him not to do it. Kneeing a dog can cause injury to the dog’s neck or chest even if you don’t use much force. Additionally, when you lift your knee, you automatically lean back a bit, thereby ceding that space to the dog. Dogs respond to the angle of your torso, and when you lean back, they are more likely to jump up on you because you are yielding space to them. Leaning toward exuberant greeters is one way to prevent jumping, and that is the opposite of what happens when you lift your knee into them.
3. Dogs love to be hugged. Putting your arms around a dog’s neck and shoulders may feel loving to humans, but to dogs, this is rude and potentially threatening behavior. Every week, I see pictures in magazines of celebrities hugging their dogs. The human stars look radiant, but the dogs look miserable and display common signs of stress such as tongue flicks, a tightly closed mouth, pulled back ears or a furrowed brow. Hugging is a primate form of affection, but not one that is appreciated by the canine set.
4. Alpha rollovers are a way to teach your dog who’s boss and control his unruly or aggressive behavior. Actually, an alpha rollover, which consists of pinning your dog on his back and staring directly at him, is not a way to discipline your dog or teach him anything. It is, however, a way to terrify your dog and cause him to lose his trust in you completely, possibly inciting rather than preventing aggression. An alpha rollover is an aggressive move that dogs are more likely to interpret as an unpredictable human lunatic picking a fight than as a form of leadership.
5. Fearful dogs should go to classes or the dog park for socialization. Socialization refers specifically to the process that occurs during the sensitive period— between three and 12 weeks—when the puppy is becoming aware of the social world and learning how to behave within it. Proper socialization requires providing a young puppy with many positive interactions during this brief period of development. Taking a fearful dog to training classes or to the dog park is not socialization, and is unlikely to help a fearful dog become less afraid. Many dogs become overwhelmed in a class or at the park, which only confirms how scary it is to be around other dogs and people. A dog who is repeatedly frightened is not learning to like being around people or dogs. Rather, he’s having additional experiences that confirm how scary it is to be around them, which usually makes those fears worse. Neither training class nor the dog park provides a good situation for helping dogs overcome their fears.
Many of the most humane and effective training techniques are not intuitive and may not be the ones most often mentioned. The best information about dog training and behavior comes from people who are highly educated on the subject, few of whom do their work on camera, so when you have questions, seek the advice of a true expert and get the straight scoop!
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Catch one from your dog.
A new study provides the first scientific evidence that dogs yawn in response to human yawns. The contagious nature of yawns has previously only been demonstrated in humans and other primates, but in a recent issue of Biology Letters, scientists Ramiro M. Joly-Mascheroni, Atsushi Senju and Alex J. Shepherd report that dogs can also “catch” human yawns.
The dogs in the study each spent five minutes with a human stranger. In these trials, the experimenter said the dog’s name; when the dog established eye contact, the experimenter gave a fake yawn, complete with vocalization. The experimenter continued doing this for five minutes, which resulted in 10 to 19 yawns, depending on how long it took to establish eye contact. In the control condition, the experimenter followed the same procedure, except that instead of yawning when the dog established eye contact, non-yawning, mouth-opening actions without vocalization were displayed. Of the 29 dogs in the study, 21 yawned in response to the experimenter’s yawns but none did so in the control condition.
Even reading or thinking about yawning can induce yawns, perhaps most notably among people with high levels of empathy. If you find yourself yawning right about now, take the opportunity to get your dog’s attention, yawn some more and see if your dog catches it.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Play by the Numbers
Many dogs dislike going to the vet. Their objections can take the form of unruly behavior, signs of stress (shaking and salivating), or even aggression.Unfortunately, we can’t point out to our dogs that these medical appointments are highly beneficial and for their own good, or simply explain to them in plain English that even though it might not always seem like it, the vet has their best interests at heart.How then—for the sake of our dogs, ourselves and our veterinarians— can we help our dogs to love (or at least calmly tolerate) a visit to the vet?
1. Choose the right vet. This is obvious, but important. Of course, you want your vet to be up on the latest in the field of veterinary medicine, but equally important is someone who is willing to take time with a skittish, anxious or even just highly exuberant dog. The entire clinic staff should be sensitive to any needs your dog may have. Shop around—if a vet isn’t interested in accommodating you, find one who is.
2. Make vet days “fun days.” Follow every vet visit with a favorite activity, such as a swim, a visit to the park or a walk in the woods.Knowing that a good time will follow the vet visit can help your dog feel better about being there.
4. To alleviate the stress your dog may feel at being physically manipulated, train him to do things that translate to the exam process—for example, to step up onto a small platform when asked, a “trick” that works well for the vet’s scale. Other cross-over tricks include “belly up” for abdominal exams; “shake” to present a paw for blood draws; and “down/stay” for vaccinations, exams and anything else that requires him to remain still. Besides making visits to the vet less stressful, training your dog to perform these behaviors on cue also shortens the visit, which in turn makes them less objectionable for everyone (and may even leave more time for you to discuss your concerns with the vet).
5. Make your first visit to the vet an opportunity to get acquainted—to sniff around the waiting room, meet the vet and the staff, and have a pleasant experience free of pesky exams or shots. If your dog is comfortable getting on the scale, a weigh-in is fine, but if not, skip it. Have everyone your dog meets be a source of the highest-quality treats you can provide—hamburger, chicken, real steak. If your dog is crazy about balls, chew toys or squeaky toys, have the vet and the vet tech each give your dog one while in the exam room. You want your dog to think that this is a place where the most wonderful things happen. I call these appointments “meet and greets” and I advise them for dogs of any age. Simply call the vet and say that you’d like to make (and pay for) an appointment during which your dog is introduced to the facility and the staff. If they’re unwilling, consider looking for another vet.
6. Have everyone at the clinic give your dog lots of top-quality treats at every visit. This is “Love Your Vet 101” advice, but it’s popular for a reason: It works. If a dog learns that he gets the most delicious treats in the world while at the vet, then he is more likely to be cooperative about going there. To be successful, two important aspects of this strategy must be observed: First, use extra-special treats, not the ordinary kind; dry biscuits are just not going to have the same emotional impact. (Which would you find more motivating, a chocolate chip cookie or a cracker?) Second, unless it’s inappropriate for your dog’s health condition, be generous—multiple treats make more of an impression.
8. Finally, maintain a calm frame of mind yourself. Your emotions are contagious— the more cheerful and relaxed you are, the more you can help your dog. So, use whatever works for you— chocolate, relaxing music, deep-breathing exercises—but try not to stress!
Regular vet visits are important to our dogs’ health and well-being, but getting our furry “patients” there is only half the battle.Having them be happy and cooperative is the real victory—which is why I advise making this a fundamental part of every dog’s training and education.
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.
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