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Karen B. London

Bark Columnist and Blogger

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Pet Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 12 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs. Karen writes the training column for The Bark and blogs at Dogbehaviorblog.com. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, teaching a tropical field biology course in Nicaragua. Karen writes an animal column, “The London Zoo,” and is coordinating editor for the “High Country Running” column, both of which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming An Adopted Dog Into Your Home.

From the Olympic Marathon Trials to Dog Names
Putting a canine spin on anything

No matter what the theme of an event is, there’s a high probability that it will end up being about dogs for me. That was true recently at a going away and good luck party for 15 local runners competing in the US Olympic Marathon Trials this Saturday. Our mountain town—Flagstaff, Arizona—is understandably proud of being the home of some of the world’s best runners, and this night, the focus was on that. We were wishing an elite group of athletes good luck and letting them know that we support them.

For me, though, from the moment a dog was first mentioned, my mind was split between running and canines. Though I was still listening to the runners introduce themselves, offer one random fact we don’t know about them and answer the crowd’s questions, I was also thinking about dog names. That’s because runner Nick Hilton’s random fact was about his dog. His Chocolate Labrador Retriever is named Rad, which is (naturally!) short for a wizard, Radagast the Brown, from Lord of the Rings.

Many other dogs clearly have guardians who are Lord of the Rings fans. Arwen, Bilbo and Gandalf were all popular names at one time. I’ve also met an Aragorn, several Sams inspired by Lord of the Rings, a Frodo, a Pippin, a Tolkien, a Lorien, and a few Shires. I’ve only met the one Rad, though.

Do you know of a dog whose name is Tolkien-inspired? Has your mind ever gone to the dogs when something totally different was going on?

Best Super Bowl Ads 2016
Dogs always rule!

Well, the Super Bowl was nearly ruined for me this year. No, I’m not a Carolina Panthers fan, so the fact that they lost is not my issue (although I do feel for them.) The real problem is that there were no Budweiser puppies this year in the commercials. Those ads are always my favorites, and I missed them.

Perhaps I should consider myself lucky, though, because there were some dog commercials that I really loved. I think my favorite was the one featuring Dachshunds. The “Wiener Stampede” shows dogs dressed in hot dog costumes running towards Heinz condiments as we hear the lyric, “I can’t live if living is without you.”

I know it has been criticized for implying that we are going to eat dogs, but I didn’t take it that way. I loved seeing the dogs running, especially because they looked so healthy and energetic. The puppy was beyond adorable, and when one of the dogs runs by looking straight at us, it’s hard to resist. The reunion with the people and the dogs showed real love and joy. In other words, this commercial had a lot of what I look for in canine Super Bowl ads.

I also liked the commercial with dogs trying to outsmart the manager at a grocery store to get themselves some Doritos in “Doritos Dogs.” Though the dogs were tongue flicking and seemed a little anxious, which was unfortunate, I did like the theme of very different dogs working as a team to accomplish their goal.

I’m including in my canine commercial picks Honda’s ad, “A New Truck to Love” even though the sheep are arguably the true stars, singing Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” Since the Border Collie makes several appearances and does some great voice work, I still consider it a dog commercial, and a charming one at that.

Did you have a favorite canine Super Bowl commercial this year, even without an appearance by the Budweiser puppies?

Presidential Candidates and Their Dogs
How much do pets matter to voters?

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said, “You can criticize, me, my wife and my family, but you can’t criticize my little dog.” His little dog was a Scottish Terrier named Fala, and what came to be known as the “Fala Speech” is thought to have helped him secure re-election for a fourth term. His defense of the dog did wonders for FDR’s image.

Lyndon B. Johnson’s image was also affected by his dogs. Pictures of him holding his Beagles, Him and Her, up by their ears upset many citizens. Though the resulting scandal may not have had major effects on his presidency, many people forever thought his treatment of his pets showed his true character, and not in a good way.

Warren Harding certainly treated his Airedale, Laddie Boy, with high esteem. Harding gave his dog a hand-carved chair to sit on during high-level meetings, like a true member of his cabinet. He also celebrated Laddie Boy’s birthday with a party at the White House that included the neighborhood dogs and a birthday cake made from dog biscuits.

Harry S Truman made a major PR mistake when he regifted a Cocker Spaniel he received for Christmas. He gave the dog, Feller, to the White House physician, though the dog became more popularly known as the Unwanted Dog. It’s ironic that Truman did not accept this gift, as he is considered the source of the quote, “You want a friend in Washington? Get a dog.”

Early on in our history, presidents may not have been concerned about how their dogs influenced people’s view of them. That could explain how President Washington was able to name his dogs Tipsy and Drunkard, for example. That surely would not fly in today’s political climate.

Today, we scrutinize everything about our politicians, including their dogs, and that extends to candidates as well. It’s important to know not just who will replace Obama, but who will follow in the footsteps of Bo and Sunny.

Household Additions
A new dog can affect the behavior of other dogs

Maggie’s “Drop It” used to be perfect, making games of fetch effortless from the human side of things. However, today she was hesitant to let go of the tennis ball. Instead of putting it at my feet instantly, it look her anywhere from five to 30 seconds to release it, and sometimes she grabbed for it when she had just put it down. I wasn’t thrilled to see this change in her behavior, but neither was I surprised. A new puppy had just joined the family, and that can have all sorts of effects on other dogs’ behavior.

The decline in Maggie’s “Drop It” skill was the most obvious change. It interested me because the puppy showed no interest in the ball while Maggie was playing with it or at any other time, and Maggie was resistant to “Drop It” whether the puppy was present during the play session or not. I suspect this was not about having to compete with a new puppy for the ball, but rather about Maggie’s emotional reaction to sharing her home with another dog.

Just because the human members of a household are excited about a new addition to the family doesn’t mean that the dogs who already live there are on board. Changes can be upsetting, and dogs are often taken by surprise when a new dog appears . . . and then stays. Unlike people, they are not part of the decision-making process, and don’t have the benefit of knowing a dog is joining them and preparing themselves ahead of time. It can be hard to predict how a new dog will affect other dogs, but it seems there’s always something that changes when the family goes up a canine in number.

When a puppy is added to a family with a middle-aged or older dog, it’s my experience that two results are the most likely. One is that the older dog becomes more playful, lively and generally younger in outlook and behavior. The other result is the exact opposite—that the older dog becomes crankier and more sullen. It seem that sometimes a puppy breathes new life into an older dog, and sometimes a puppy makes an older dog seem a bit more geriatric when he wasn’t like that before.

Even when it isn’t so dramatic, there are often interesting changes in behavior by the dogs already in the household when a new dog joins. Over the years, I’ve observed dogs act a little differently when a new dog comes to stay. Besides becoming more possessive over toys and chews, I’ve seen dogs become more playful with people or less playful with people. I’ve noticed that some dogs bark much more, whether or not the new dog is prone to vocalizing. It’s common for a dog to become much more affectionate, and especially to be extra snuggly in bed or on the couch. Some dogs seem to go on high alert, and others eat much faster. Some become maternal (or paternal) either with the new dog or towards fleece toys. Some adjust their sleep patterns, and others choose different places to rest.

How did your dog’s behavior change when a new dog joined the family?

Maternal Care of Puppies
It influences adult behavior

“Tell me about your mother.” This phrases, so common in therapy, all but assumes that whatever is going on with someone can be traced back to the mother. Was she a good mother—attentive, patient, nurturing? Was she less than stellar—harsh, uncaring, neglectful? Whatever she does, you can bet her offspring’s behavior will be considered a result of her actions, and that doesn’t just mean in people. It’s old news that maternal care affects primates and rodents, but a new study investigated the phenomenon in dogs.

The authors of “Levels of maternal care in dogs affect adult offspring temperament” investigated the influence of the mothers on the behavior of adult dogs. Researchers looked at 22 litters of German Shepherd Dogs bred to become Military Working Dogs with the Swedish Armed Forces. The 94 puppies in the study were all continuously videotaped with their mothers during the first three weeks after birth. Videotapes were analyzed for many variables, such as the amount of time that the mother had her paws in the box with her puppies, time that she was in physical contact with at least one puppy, time she spent nursing, time she spent licking puppies, and the number of times she sniffed, poked or moved a puppy around using her nose. (Litter size was accounted for in the statistical analysis.)

When the puppies were 18-months old, they were evaluated with the Swedish Armed Forces’ standard temperament test. Dogs were assessed for their reactions to a number of situations, including social and cooperative ones with humans as well as potentially scary stimuli such as loud noises. Not surprisingly, the main result of the study is that researchers found an association between the mothers’ behavior and the behavior of her adult offspring.

Mothers were consistent over the course of the study regarding the time they spent interacting with their young.  The amount of interactions that mothers had with their puppies was a really important factor associated with the behavior of these individuals as adult dogs. Specifically, puppies whose mothers had a large number of interactions with them were more socially engaged with humans as adults, more physically engaged with them, and scored higher on tests for aggression. Based on the paper, it's not clear what is meant by "aggression" or whether the association with maternal care is a positive or a negative one. (It's also not clear whether "aggression" was considered a desirable trait for these working dogs.) Confidence of the adult dogs was the fourth category of behavior measured, but no association was found between confidence and level of maternal care.

There are many factors to consider when choosing which dogs to breed in any situation, including working dog programs. This study suggests that there are benefits to paying attention to maternal care behavior when choosing which females to breed. That is, more attentive mothers are an important piece of successfully breeding dogs with desirable traits, and females who are good mothers should be considered an asset to any breeding program.

EcoTraction
Pet safe way to prevent slipping on snow and ice

As so much of the eastern part of the United States is dealing with near record levels of snowfall, I celebrate for the kids who have snow days and sympathize with the people whose days (and backs) will be ruined by hours of shoveling. I also worry about the dogs who must deal with their playground (and bathroom) being covered in snow and ice. It’s bad enough to have to wade up to the belly or beyond to visit the potty. What’s even worse is the danger posed by many products that people put on their sidewalks to melt the snow or to provide traction in it.

Dogs’ paws can be injured by salt and many de-icing products, and ingesting them can be even more hazardous as so many are toxic. I don’t have a perfect solution, but I can say that there is a product I like because it is pet safe and does prevent slipping for dogs and humans alike. It’s called EcoTraction and may help you and your pet have a better winter experience. It is made out of a non-toxic volcanic material.

At the top of the list of good features of EcoTraction is that it is pet and child safe. Additionally, it does not damage lawns, it can be swept up and used again once the snow and ice melt, and a little of it goes a long way. I also like that it works instantly. The moment you put it on top of snow and ice, those surfaces are far less slippery and you can feel the traction under your shoes.

On the down side, just so you know, it does not actually melt the ice and snow—it just provides traction. If more snow falls and buries the EcoTraction, more of it needs to be applied. Also, if it is stuck to your shoes, it can scratch delicate floors, so shoe removal and a quick toweling of dogs’ paws is in order once you come inside.

I love getting out in the snow, and heaven knows that almost all dogs feel the same way. However, slipping on ice or having paws damaged by salt and snow melting products can ruin all the fun. I hope all the people in the snow zone are able to minimize the hassle and maximize the fun of this storm—for themselves and their dogs!

Football Playoffs—All About the Dogs
Governors’ wager on NFL football game is personal

Football playoffs often involve trash talking and betting, but this year, there are dogs involved, so it’s obviously getting serious. In the NFC Championship game this Sunday, there’s a trip to the Super Bowl on the line for the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers, but for the governors of Arizona and North Carolina, their dogs’ honor is at stake.

Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona and Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina have made a friendly wager. If Arizona wins, McCrory’s Lab mix Moe will have to wear a Cardinals’ jersey. If Carolina wins, then Ducey’s Golden Retriever Woody will be sporting a Panther’s jersey. Luckily, these handsome dogs will look great in anything, so they are unlikely to suffer no matter what happens.

Either governor, on the other hand, would no doubt be distressed to see a beloved dog wearing the other team’s jersey. As close as we are to our dogs, it just feels wrong to have our dogs wearing enemy colors.

Ducey has tweeted, “AZ Cardinals, we can’t let Woody wear a Panthers jersey! Let’s get this done” and McCrory has said, I am confident that our Carolina Panthers are going to be victorious on Sunday, so that our beloved rescue dog Moe doesn’t have to suffer wearing a Cardinals jersey.”

I don’t care all that much about the game’s outcome. Yes, I live in Arizona, but I have family in North Carolina and I’m a Packers fan anyway. I’m just happy to see two governors expressing affection for their dogs.

Fur Kid, Pet, Family Member, Best Friend, Dog
How do you refer to your canine companion?

The way that we refer to our associates says a lot about the relationship. Several decades ago, there was a very awkward period when many couples began to live together without being married, and boyfriend/girlfriend seemed inadequate. Partner and life partner became more common. The very cumbersome term coined by the United States Census Bureau “POSSLQ” (Person of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters) never achieved widespread use. The change in relationships—serious and not married—gave rise to a number of new ways to refer to each other.

Now, I think we are in the middle of a similar period of trying out terms with our dogs as our view of human-canine relationship changes. We already switched the way we refer to ourselves in relation to our dogs. The antiquated term “master” is (thankfully) hardly ever seen, and owner is also less common. The terms guardian and pet parent seem to be on the rise.

The special canines in our lives have long been called “my dog” or “my best friend” but these are hardly the only options any more. I hear people refer to dogs as their fur kids, their four-legged kids, or just as their family members.

Personally, I lean towards saying “my dog” because I like the benefit of the simple description without the opportunity for unwanted connotation. To me, it seems that there is great love and respect in the term “dog,” as it is one of my very favorite species. I understand why many people prefer terms that more directly take note of the familial relationship, and I think there is great value in that. I also realize that many people consider the possessive “my” problematic with dogs as it suggests ownership, but I also say, “my sons” and “my husband” without suggesting that I own them.

How do you refer to the dogs in your life, and why? Has your terminology changed over time?

Do You Need Some More Personal Space?
No, thanks, I have a dog so I’m used to being crowded

I don’t have a large personal space, which works out great given the amount of time I spend with dogs. Many dogs choose to be right next to or on top of others in their social circles. Some only act this way with their best friends, but for others, anybody nearby will do.

Personal preferences vary among the canine set, just as they do within our own species. There are certainly dogs who really need space and don’t care for a lot of physical contact. Such dogs never try to sit on your head. However, there are lots of dogs who consider any space between themselves and others to be too much distance.

It may not always be pleasant to live with dogs who violate your personal space, but the photographs of them doing it can be pretty hilarious. Here are some excellent examples of such pictures.

Do you have a dog who would rather be on top of (or right next to) you, another dog or even the family cat?

CleverPet Game Console For Dogs
The electronics world loves it, but will the dog world embrace it, too?

At the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) start up competition last week in Las Vegas, a game console for dogs called CleverPet took first place, beating out accessories for virtual reality experiences and a number of smart home products. The prize was a free booth at the evening’s ShowStopper Event, guaranteeing more press for this product.

There are already plenty of digital products for dog guardians, such as pet trackers and health monitors, but this product aims to serve the needs of the dog directly, not the needs of the people. CleverPet is a digital entertainment device that can help dogs who are bored and lack mental stimulation. There are several games available, and they update automatically by Wi-fi. In one game, dogs must remember and correctly respond to patterns of lights and sounds. Puzzles start out simple and progressively get harder. In another game, they must respond to words such as “left” and “right” to hit the correct touch pad. In the squirrel game, the dog must properly respond to catch the squirrel as the light (the squirrel) darts from pad to pad at increasing speeds. In all games, correct responses lead to food rewards. Videos of dogs engaged with the device look promising.

Many people may be put off by the thought of their dogs learning how to respond to this device, but as the inventors point out, it’s not really a new concept. Mice and rats have been asked to perform similar tasks in the interests of scientific research for years. CleverPet is simply bringing this concept directly to consumers for the benefit of our dogs.

The benefits of mental stimulation and the relief of boredom are obvious. Additionally, I think dogs benefit by being successful which makes them feel good. I’m not one to underestimate the advantage of earning food by making choices and being right to dogs’ self esteem and happiness. On the other hand, there could be drawbacks to this product.

It can become a digital pet sitter, meaning that people could use it to keep their dogs busy instead of engaging with them directly. If people find that their dogs are entertained by CleverPet, they could use it as an excuse not to walk them or to play with them. Lack of exercise and a decrease in social interactions can make for less social dogs who are more prone to weight gain. As long as people limit the amount of time that their dogs spend having fun with it, there’s not a problem.

I’m curious about the physiological affects on dogs of this product. Will the lights influence their sleep as screen time does to us? Will they become frustrated if they do not succeed often enough or if the device is turned off? Can dogs become addicted to digital play as so many human gamers have?

Even with the possible drawbacks to having dogs play with CleverPet, I’m enthusiastic about the potential it has to be a positive experience. People can track a dog’s progress, game levels and food intake throughout the day on their phones. They can set CleverPet to be on at only a certain time of day, or turn it on and off remotely.

It’s no surprise to me that this product is already making such a splash in the electronics world. After all, in addition to videos of dogs using CleverPet, the inventors had an exceptionally clever pitch to the judges: “Our users literally have nothing better to do with their time.” (You can argue whether or not that statement is true, but it’s hard to argue that it’s not a good sales pitch.)

CleverPet will be available in April 2016, and like game consoles for people, it’s pricey, going for $269. Are you interested?

More From The Bark

By
Karen B. London
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Karen B. London
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Karen B. London