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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
See African Wild Dogs on Safari
Let Patricia McConnell be your guide.

When I was first interning as an applied animal behaviorist, I spent months with Patricia McConnell sitting in on all of her cases, reviewing the details, riding to house calls and going to conferences together. During our morning “getting our paws in the ground” tradition, I learned a lot as we shared experiences about our own dogs, training classes and consultations, all while discussing life, the universe and everything.

It’s because I know how lucky I am to have worked with her and talked to her about all creatures great and small that I encourage anyone to try to get that same opportunity. No, she’s not taking on any interns at this time, but she is headed on what will probably be her last African safari, and a lucky few will be able to spend time with her as she guides them on their adventures observing wildlife in both Kenya and Botswana. In addition to providing sightings of wildebeest, elephants, lions and cheetahs in Kenya, this safari will include the opportunity to see African wild dogs in Botswana.

How unique is the opportunity to see these canines? “African wild dogs are the second most endangered carnivore (after Ethiopian wolves) on the African continent,” according to Anne Carlson, PhD, who studied this species when she was a Millenium Postdoctoral Fellow with the Behavioral Biology Division of the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species with the San Diego Zoo.

“Most national parks in Africa are not large enough to accommodate even one wild dog pack, since each family group typically needs between 80 and 800 square miles of land in which to range and hunt,” Carlson says.  “There are currently only a few populations of African wild dogs remaining in the wild.”

There is much to be learned from these simultaneously rare and familiar animals. “African wild dogs live in packs, in which the animals have close social bonds, like human families, and care cooperatively for each litter of pups born to the dominant pair,” Carlson explains. “The extended family groups babysit pups at the den when they are too young to travel with the group, bring food back to them once they have been weaned, protect them against dangerous predators like lions and spotted hyenas, and teach them to hunt as they grow older. African wild dogs are also known to take care of injured and sick family members that would otherwise die without this care.”

Spending time with Trisha McConnell and going on an African safari are both potentially life changing events. The opportunity to do both simultaneously should not be missed!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Do Dogs Feel Regret?
Are they truly sorry for mistakes?

In a recent article in The New York Times, John Tierney discusses recent research indicating that animals may experience feelings of regret. One scientist quoted in the article defines regret as the recognition of a missed opportunity.

Some of the most recent evidence that animals do feel regret includes the brain activity of monkeys who have made a choice that results in NOT receiving a highly prized class of juice and the fact that monkeys who fail to win the prize change their strategy. Does this also apply to canines? Do dogs, for example, feel sorry when they soil or chew on the rug? Do they regret playing so roughly that nobody wants to play with them anymore?

Most scientists now agree that animals are capable of much greater emotional complexity than was previously thought. A strong, longtime proponent of this idea is biologist Marc Bekoff, whose new book, co-authored with philosopher Jessica Pierce, Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals discusses the evidence that animals are complex emotional beings with high moral intelligence. The authors argue that morality is something we share with animals and that it evolves.

It seems that discussions of emotion get repeated over time with the same result: Every time the emotions of animals, including dogs, are investigated with scientific rigor, they are found to be more complex than previously thought. Animal emotions as diverse as fear, jealousy, regret, anger, love and happiness come under discussion and always it seems that increasing evidence leads to greater acceptance that these emotions exists in species beyond just our own. In fact, a great many people now consider the existence of emotions in a variety of species to be quite obvious. It seems that the ongoing investigation of emotions in other animals provides proof of Arthur Schopenhauer’s famous quote: “All truth passes through three stages: First, it is ridiculed; Second, it is violently opposed; and Third, it is accepted as self-evident.”
 
Another great read to check out if you’re interested specifically in canine emotions is Patricia McConnell’s For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sue Sternberg Creates A Dog Ethogram
Videos of dog behavior are interesting and informative.

Ethologists, those people who study animals’ behavior in their natural habitat, generally feel you need on the order of one thousand hours of observation before you know your study species. No matter how much you read and hear about behavior, there is no substitute for great quantities of time observing members of that species. Sue Sternberg has spent many times the requisite number of hours with dogs, and that is part of the reason that when I was learning how to be a canine behaviorist, she was one of the people from whom I learned the most. Now, the benefits of all those years of learning, observing and interacting with dogs are available to everybody in a whole new format: a video ethogram available from Roundout Valley Animals for Adoption.

An ethogram is a catalog of a species’ entire behavioral repertoire. So, the more a species has been observed, the more complete the list because even rare behavior has been observed. The video ethogram is a great source of information about dog behavior from someone who has spent thousands of hours with dogs and has been diligent about videotaping over the years. Examples of the type of behavior included in the ethogram are the flying shoulder rub, front paw jab and jump with clasp. In a proper ethogram, the names for each behavior are descriptive rather than functional. (That is, a term such as “head turn away” is proper because it’s descriptive, but a term such as “appeasement by avoiding eye contact” is functional and therefore not a proper term for a behavior in an ethogram.) As an ethologist myself, I’m happy to say that Sternberg gets this right: She does a great job describing and documenting the behavior without attributing functions to them.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Kids Interacting With Dogs Safely (KIDS)
American Humane launches new program.

The American Humane Association has a new program called KIDS (Kids Interacting with Dogs Safely). The emphasis is on preventing dogs bites to young children, so the program targets kids ages four to seven years old. Many programs are aimed at kids older than eight, but it’s kids younger than that who so often receive serious bites to the face, head and neck.

The program focuses on getting young kids to think about dogs’ feelings in certain situations, and teaching them not to approach strange or injured dogs. In my experience, most dog bites to children happen when they try to hug dogs, even ones they know, or when they approach dogs who are tethered by a leash or rope. Teaching kids to avoid these behaviors, which many dogs object to, along with all the other educational aspects of the program should allow them to reach their goal of fewer physical and emotional injuries by dogs to young children.

Dogs and kids were also on the minds of readers who commented to our earlier post about Dog Bite Prevention Week.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
You Ought To Be In Pictures
Tips for American Humane Association photo contest.

The American Humane Association is sponsoring a photo contest with prize money up for grabs. There are four categories to choose from: Pets, People & Pets, Down on the Farm and Shelter Life. If you plan to submit a photo of your dog, consider these photographic tips.

A lot of dogs are terrified of cameras, which look like giant eyes pointed directly at them. In the dog world, staring is both rude and threatening. Dogs are usually less frightened by a larger lens far away than by a smaller lens close up, so a portrait lens is a good investment. Concerning the eyes of the dog, they are the most important feature. A photo can survive blurry parts, especially the fur and tail when in motion, but eyes must be sharp!

Many dogs are riveted by motion, so wiggling a finger, waving an arm or shaking a toy will keep many dogs occupied and looking in the right direction. If a dog has a tendency to consider stay optional, a slight lean forward by the photographer is often enough to keep a dog in place.

Most dogs look especially adorable when cocking their heads. The easiest way to get a dog to do so is to make an unfamiliar sound. Try a click, a smooch, a squeak, a woop woop, sing a few bars, imitate a bird or any other sound that’s new to the dog but unlikely to scare him.

Proper perspective can make or break a picture. Getting down to the dog’s level rather than shooting from above will help avoid unflattering photos which show off and enlarge his nose.

To convey the essence of a dog requires incorporating the dog’s personality into the photo. Does the dog love to fetch more than life itself? Put a tennis ball or two in the frame. Is there another toy that is a constant companion? Use it as part of the foreground. Does she often have one ear up and one ear down, her tongue hanging way out, or one paw raised? All photographic and behavioral techniques aside, it’s that sense of having captured what makes a dog unique, not just beautiful, that leads to a picture a photographer can be proud of taking and compelled to share.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Not All Cowering Dogs Have Been Abused
Some dogs are just naturally fearful.

Whenever we don’t know an animal’s full history, we tend to assume the worst. That means we often suspect that a dog who cowers has been abused, when in fact that may not be the case. Sadly, many dogs are abused, but not all the ones who act terrified of new people and new things have suffered in that way. Concerns about past abuse have come up so many times during consultations that I felt compelled to address the issue this week in the blog I co-write with Professor Con Slobodchikoff.

I think there are many animals who people suspect have been abused that luckily did not suffer that fate. I wish it were true of all the cowering animals out there. I’m hugely in support of working to prevent animal abuse and of helping the animals who have been so badly treated. Do you have a pet you think shows signs of having been abused? If so, does it lighten your heart to consider that your beloved family member may not have endured such mistreatment?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Rescue At A Shelter
Suspected cruelty case in Wisconsin.

Hundreds of animals, mostly dogs and horses, have been seized from the Thyme and Sage Ranch in Cazenovia Wisconsin in a suspected cruelty case. The facility is supposed to re-home and rehabilitate animals, but authorities are investigating charges of cruelty and neglect.

How could this happen at a place that is supposed to help and protect animals and then place them in loving homes?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Puppy You Can Drive My Car
Connie Townsend paints dogs with charm and humor.
Yesterday afternoon, I was introduced to the art of Connie Townsend, an artist who, like me, lives in Flagstaff, Ariz. Since then, I have talked to a number of friends, all of whom were literally shocked that this discovery was new to me. First of all, her art is all over town. Second of all, I work with dogs. And third, a big article about Connie and her work just came out in a local publication this spring. Sigh. I’ve got to get out more! Now that I know of her work, I don’t want anyone else to miss out.   Many of her images show dogs riding around in or driving cars, and all of them are filled with fun. What really caught my attention was the realistic way that she depicts their faces. When a dog leans out the window and the wind is hitting his face, the relaxed face, open mouth, flapping ears and shiny eyes look so authentic, as do the expressions of all her canine characters. It’s that emotional realism in scenes of great imagination and humor that combine to make her paintings memorable.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Little Buddy
Bob Dylan’s copy of a poem about a dog is up for auction.
The need for funds has prompted Herzl Camp in Wisconsin to auction off a handwritten poem by a former camper. Robert Zimmerman wrote down the poem “Little Buddy” for the camp newspaper in 1957, when he was 16. Zimmerman has written many songs and poems since, using his better-known name of Bob Dylan.   Though the poem was thought to be an original Dylan creation, it is now known to be a song written by the late Canadian country singer, Hank Snow. The disturbing lyrics tell of a little boy whose dog has died because a drunken man beat him in response to his joyful barks. Although the poem is not an original Dylan creation, the poem is one of the earliest known handwritten lyrics by the singer-songwriter and is expected to sell in the range of $10,000 to $15,000.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Keeping an Eye on Your Pets
Surveillance isn’t just for the government anymore.

If you want to keep track of your pets via a live online video feed, you can now do that. The Vue personal video network lets guardians watch their animals at home while they’re at work, or anywhere else with Internet access. If you worry about your pets when you’re away from them, this system will allow you to see with your own eyes that they’re okay.

The system uses small wireless cameras that can be put anywhere in your home, and the batteries last up to a year. By logging onto a secure website, guardians can ease their minds by seeing how their pets are doing. You can even set it to record for short times, so that you can watch past events, too.

Of course, cameras with a live feed can be used for a variety of purposes, and the company is not just marketing this product for pet watching. A traveler can watch a family member blow out the candles on a birthday cake, employers can check up on their telecommuting employees, parents can track their kids---the possibilities for suspicious spouses are endless. The company considers these options among the many features and benefits of their system, which costs just under $300.

As a behaviorist, I’m intrigued that this system could reveal more about what is going on when there are behavior problems. For example, if I wanted to know which dog in a multi-dog household is soiling the carpet or chewing the couch, The Vue could help. In cases of possible separation anxiety, it’s useful to know when the associated problem behavior starts. When the barking, destructive chewing or eliminating happens immediately after the guardian leaves, that’s consistent with separation anxiety. If the problem behavior starts hours later, a more likely reason for the trouble may be boredom, inadequate house training, or a reaction to some other stimulus.

I will be curious to hear about anyone’s experience with this system. Would you consider buying it, and if so, what is it you hope to see?

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