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
News: Guest Posts
Oh, how I hate this habit!
July 26 2017
Check out YouTube and you can find an alarming number of videos of dogs chasing the light from a laser pointer, often while people laugh in the background. The reason I use the word “alarming” is that laser pointer chasing can lead to serious behavioral issues. Watching people laugh at a situation that is often distressing to dogs is distressing to me.
Though it’s common for people to be amused by the behavior of a frantic dog pouncing on a moving dot of light, it’s not funny for dogs. Their experience in that situation is often seriously unpleasant and very tense. The movement of the light stimulates dogs to chase, but there is nothing to catch, and that is why the game is bad for dogs. The constant chasing without ever being successful at catching the moving object can frustrate dogs beyond anything they should have to tolerate.
Working dogs who are trained to find things like explosive or drugs become upset if they never have a “find”. These dogs need regular successes, but their work may not provide them. That’s why it is standard practice to set up simulated missions in which working dogs are guaranteed to discover what they have been taught to find. Successful searches keep their skills sharp and prevent psychological problems.
A lot of dogs become obsessive about the light from laser pointers, and there are many cases of dogs who were diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder after (and perhaps partly as a result of) this activity. Dogs become preoccupied with the light, then transfer that interest to similar stimuli, sometimes developing a behavior problem in which they chase lights and shadows. It may look fun and entertaining to people, but it’s usually anything but fun for dogs.
No matter how much dogs respond to them, I recommend against the use of laser pointers. It’s just too likely that the game will negatively affect the dog. If someone is unable to follow this advice, there is a way to minimize the risk of a dog developing behavioral problems and of experiencing psychological damage. The laser light can be used as a decoy that allows the dog to find treats or a new toy. Though the dog does not ever succeed at catching the light, there is the success of discovering other items. Using the light in this way lowers the risk of trouble slightly, but it does not eliminate the danger. I only recommend this as a last resort for clients who are unwilling to stop engaging their dog with the laser light.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Have Blanket, Will Travel
July 24 2017
Security blankets have great value—just ask Linus Van Pelt of Peanuts cartoon fame. His blanket gave him enough confidence to handle whatever life threw at him, especially out in the great big, wide world.
A blanket can help your dog handle adventures away from home, too. If your dog learns that a certain blanket is his, and often lies on it no matter where it is placed around the house, he will likely be more comfortable away from home if the blanket goes, too. It provides many of the advantages of bringing his crate with you wherever you go, but it is more portable. Blankets are lighter, easier to carry and can be taken lots of places that a crate can’t go.
If your dog is used to a particular blanket, it is so much easier to help him feel comfortable in a new place. You can bring it with you to friends’ houses, when you travel, to the park, to the vet, or anywhere else your dog goes. Just place it on the floor where you want your dog to lie down, and it will let your dog know that he has a spot to call his own. That helps your dog relax, and also indicates to him where you want him to go.
Blankets are commonly used in this way with service dogs. Service dogs are regularly asked to lie down and stay in a particular spot, both at home and when out and about. Blankets provide an easy way to show a service dog where you want him to lie down, whether it’s at a restaurant, in an airplane, in a meeting at work, at a conference, on a bus or at any social gathering.Blanket Training Tips
The first step in training a dog to happily lie down and stay on a blanket no matter where you put it is to teach the dog to associate good things with the blanket. Put the blanket on the floor at home, put treats on it and encourage your dog to go get the treats. (Most dogs will need no encouragement.) Move the blanket around to new places in your house and repeat. Once your dog happily goes to the blanket, start asking him to sit and then to lie down on it, frequently moving it to new places in your home and giving lots of treats when he does what you want him to do.
The next step is to ask your dog to do some stays on the blanket, and reinforce that behavior with treats. Again, make sure to move the blanket around to various places so that your dog is learning to stay on the blanket rather than on one particular spot on the floor.
Once your dog is comfortable doing stays on the blanket at home and has learned that his blanket is the place to be, work on teaching him to do the same behavior when he is elsewhere. In a new place, start by tossing treats on the blanket, then ask for sits and downs, and finally stays. Some dogs transfer their knowledge of staying on the blanket easily to new places. Other dogs may seem to be starting over in the learning process when you are away from home.
Always help your dog to succeed by not asking him to do more than he is capable of doing. It may seem odd that your dog sees the blanket at home and immediately heads over to it, but becomes utterly confused about what you want him to do with the blanket at someone else’s house. Some dogs are nervous in a new environment, which affects their performance, and other dogs simply don’t understand that the task is the same even though it’s in a new place. It’s common for dogs to progress through the steps of the process faster in each new place than they did at home when they were first learning about the blanket, no matter how confused they seem the first time you take the blanket on the road.
Once a dogs has been to multiple places and happily goes to lie down and stay on his blanket, it’s typical to be able to put that blanket anywhere and have him feel comfortable. Most dogs who are used to lying down on a particular blanket will immediately feel quite relaxed on it no matter where you are and where on the floor you place it. That’s really the great value of a security blanket for dogs—being able to help your dog feel at home anywhere.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Visible ribs can lead to criticism
July 19 2017
Many dogs struggle with their weight, and we have all become accustomed to seeing dogs whose health is negatively affected by extra pounds. The standard of what is normal for dogs has become skewed toward dogs who would have seemed quite heavy a generation ago. Perhaps because overweight dogs are so very common, skinny dogs are not always favorably regarded. I am dog sitting for an exceptionally lean dog this week, and I’m fascinated by how many people comment on her size.
Saylor is around 22 inches tall at the shoulder and weighs about 45 pounds. She is some kind of mix of who-knows-how-many breeds, but I suspect she has some Whippet (or other sight hound) in her, and if she were bigger, I would swear she is part Great Dane. A naturally lean dog, Saylor eats a couple of cups of food a day, along with an assortment of treats. Even if she eats more on occasion, there is no weight gain. She is in perfect health, maintains her weight and her ribs show. That is apparently her natural state.
Nonetheless, I have been asked, “Do you feed her enough?” multiple times and been told on several occasions that she is too thin. For the record, her vet disagrees, and considers her to be just fine. It irritates me to have strangers give medical advice that I neither want nor have asked for. (Perhaps it grates on me more than it does other people, because I have regularly been asked these same questions about my naturally lean children over the years. I usually reply that I want them to join the American obesity epidemic, but they just haven’t been successful at it yet.) With Saylor, I just reply that her veterinarian thinks she is perfectly healthy at this weight.
If you have a healthy, lean, ribs-showing skinny dog, do you receive comments about it that you wish people wouldn’t offer?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Counting the ways dogs have made people late.
July 17 2017
Dogs add a lot to our lives, but they may take some of it back each morning when we are trying to get ready to go to work. Often, dogs make it even harder than it would otherwise be to get to work on time. There are oh-so-many ways that dogs regularly interfere with their guardian’s good intentions to be punctual. Do any of the following scenarios seem familiar to you?
He messed with your sleep by hogging the bed and the covers or by bumping into you as he was dreaming. You end up oversleeping.
You take him out for his walk and he just won’t poop, causing you to make the walk longer than your schedule can accommodate.
He won’t take his medication, and you absolutely have to get it in him before your leave.
You have trouble getting your dog into the crate. The resistance means that this is more time consuming than you had figured it would be. (Corollary—the dog is hiding to avoid being put in the crate.)
Your walk with your dog was so enjoyable that you took too much extra time. You enjoyed the early morning peacefulness, but now you’re going to have to rush to stay on schedule.
Your dog is in the yard but instead of coming in when you call, he starts a not-so-fun game of catch-me-if-you-can. By the time he decided to come in, it’s too late for you to make it to work on time.
You had to clean up a huge mess that he made. The two most likely messes are a potty accident or the vestiges of a trash party. Few of us ever add in a safety factor to our morning routine to account for these kinds of events.
Your dog was on the receiving end of a skunk’s spraying, and in order to save your house, you have to clean him up before you can leave him there. (Also, he will likely be a lot happier when he has been de-skunked.)
Along the same lines, he found a way to collect every burr on the property in his fur, and you have to remove them before leaving the house for his comfort and safety as well as to prevent a huge mess in your house.
You just don’t want to leave him for the day, and who can blame you? You prolong the inevitable to spend a bit more time together, and then you end up being late for work.
No matter how much we love our dogs, it can be frustrating when they make it extra challenging to get to work on time. How has your dog made you late for work?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When people don’t recognize evasive actions.
July 12 2017
Out on a walk today with a sweet dog who is a bit fearful, I saw a man with two rambunctious, though also sweet, dogs headed our way. Knowing that the dog with me would be stressed by (and possibly react to) those dogs, I crossed the street. No big deal. Crossing the street while walking dogs to avoid any number of possible triggers—runners, bikers, skateboarders, scary lawn art, plastic window coverings flapping in the wind, children riding in red wagons, other dogs—is second nature to me after two decades of working with dogs with behavioral issues. Most people with dogs realize what I am doing, we pass by one another in peace, and that’s the end of it.
Today, we did not pass by one another in peace, and that was not the end of it. The man crossed the street, as I had, so we were now on the same side. That’s happened before, because occasionally when I am trying to get out of someone’s path, I end up going right where that person was headed. So, I did the obvious thing and crossed back over the side where I had come from, but then he did that, too. At this point, I didn’t know whether to feel annoyed (Is he so unaware that he doesn’t realize I’m trying to avoid his dogs?) or scared (I clearly want to get away, so why doesn’t he want me to get away?)
Here’s how our conversation went, starting with me.
“My dog won’t act well if our dogs greet. I’m trying to give her some space.”
“Oh, don’t worry! My dogs are friendly and love every dog!”
“I’m not worried about your dog. I’m concerned about mine, She’s shy!”
“Oh, they’ll be find! She probably just needs to socialize.”
“No, she needs more distance. I’m going to keep moving away. Please stop following me.”
And then we ran.
Thankfully, the guy with the dogs did not follow us, and we were happy to run for several blocks until he was no longer in sight.
The entire exchange was irritating. I’m trying to increase the distance between the dog with me and other dogs, and I even said so in very direct terms. Why must people insist on trying to close the space? I realize that some people have had the luxury of never knowing a dog who needs some space or tends to react to many aspects of the world, but that is no excuse for ignoring a clear request. I could not have stated my intentions or the needs of the dog any more plainly.
Have you had an issue with someone who refused to give you and your dog the space you wanted and needed?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The challenges of leaving your dog with someone else
July 10 2017
It’s hard for almost everybody to leave a dog behind for travel, whether it is business related or purely recreational. We miss our dogs when we go, even if we are headed off on a grand adventure. Beyond the emotional strain of taking off while our best friend stays behind, there are many roadblocks to feeling comfortable about it. No matter how caring the person is who is taking care of your dog, there is often at least one concern about what the people will (or won’t) do.Here are some common sources of uneasiness.
They will let dogs develop bad habits. It’s common to worry that other people will let them develop bad habits. Perhaps you do not tolerate begging, but you know that the people watching your dog will offer him a tidbit or two from the dinner table. Even though this will not likely cause immediate harm to your dog, you know that you will have to work extra hard to teach your dog that begging is still not going to work in your house, even if the dog sitter gave in to it. The same goes for allowing your dog up on the furniture. It’s a hassle if other people allow your dog to sleep on the bed or rest on the couch and then they try to do this when you are home. Even if your dogs have been forbidden to get on the furniture for years, a few days with a dog sitter can undo a lot of your efforts. (Confession: I have done this as the dog sitter—let a dog up on the furniture at my house when he isn’t allowed to do it at home. What can I say? I was weak and gave in to temptation. I fessed up to the guardian, who was a sport about it.)
They won’t be giving enough. Will they give my dog enough love? Will they give my dog enough exercise? Will they give my dog enough attention? It’s hard for many people to imagine that another person can do enough for their dog. It’s hard to leave your dog for any reason, but especially so if you have doubts that someone else will care enough about them to make sure that they are happy, whether that means lots of time playing fetch, having a variety of things to chew on or going outside enough to let them burn off some energy.
They won’t manage potential mischief by removing temptation. A lot of people are completely used to making sure the trash can is covered, out of sight, or otherwise dog-proofed. Likewise, it becomes second nature for many guardians to keep the counters clear of food. If the people watching a dog are not accustomed to these basic habits, there is risk of both trash parties and counter surfing incidents. It’s especially important to make sure that the dog can’t get access to things that are certainly dangerous such as medicines or household cleaning products. Many people are used to managing these situations, but know that their friends who take care of the dog are not.
They won’t be cautious enough about bolting out the door. Perhaps the most serious concern for many guardians when others people watch their dogs is making sure that the dog does not run out the door. This is an extremely important issue because a dog who gets out is a dog who may be in danger. The scariest risk in many areas is that the dog will get hit by a car, but lost dogs or dogs who are taken in as a pet by someone else are often dogs who escaped a house. Many guardians are used to minding the door to keep a dog who likes to make a break for it safely inside. However, sometimes dog sitters are not as vigilant about it, especially if they are not used to dogs who try to sneak out the door.
What’s your biggest worry when other people take care of your dog?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
A new approach allows further study
July 6 2017
The influence of genes on personality and behavior is of great interest to people who love dogs as well as to scientists studying the genetics of animal behavior. Since dogs’ personalities play a major role in their ability to function as our companions as well as to carry out a variety of tasks as working dogs, it’s important to understand the contribution of genetics on behavior. It is well established that genetics plays a large role, as evidenced by behavioral differences between breeds. Even substantial differences in behavior within breeds can be accounted for by genetic variation.
One of the challenges to studying behavioral genetics is that large sample sizes are required because there are so many factors that influence behavior (e.g. early environment, training methods, various lifestyle factors). To achieve adequately large sample sizes in research is both expensive and time consuming, sometimes prohibitively so. A recent study called “Genetic Characterization of Dog Personality Traits” took a creative approach to meet this challenge.
The scientists were interested in genetic contributions to personality, defined as “individual consistency in behavioral responsiveness to stimuli and situations”. Researchers took advantage of the substantial knowledge people have about their own dogs’ personalities to explore genetic contributions to personality traits. Their work shows that it is possible to detect genetic variation in dog personality traits by using questionnaires to collect large quantities of useful data.
In this recent study, researchers used the C-BARQ (Canine Behavioral Assessment Research and Questionnaire) as well as a separate questionnaire about demographics to study 1975 UK Kennel Club-registered Labrador Retrievers. The C-BARQ allowed each dog to be scored for the following personality traits—Agitated When Ignored, Attention-Seeking, Barking Tendency, Excitability, Fetching, Fear of Humans and Objects, Fear of Noises, Non-Owner Directed Aggression, Owner-Directed Aggression, Separation Anxiety, Trainability and Unusual Behavior.
The additional questionnaire collected data about the dog’s age, coat color, sex, neuter status, housing, health status, exercise, daily exercise and the role of the dog. (The various roles were gun dog, show dog and pet dog.) To gather genetic information, the study took advantage of the dogs’ pedigrees, which involved 29 generations and 28,943 dogs. Further genetic data on the dogs were obtained as part of a different study using standard genomic methods and genetic markers, with 885 dogs from that study also participating in the C-BARQ portion of the research. In the analysis, the researchers estimated heritability of personality traits based on both the pedigree and on the genomic data.
The researchers found that fetching has a higher heritability rating than any other personality trait. Interestingly, some previous studies have lumped trainability with fetching ability, which results in lower heritability scores for both of them. This study also revealed a considerable genetic component to the fear of noises. Aggression directed towards owners showed no genetic component at all, while aggression towards strangers had a moderate genetic component.
Many behavioral traits are polygenic (influenced by a large number of genes, with each one often having a small effect) and also have significant environmental influences, which means that it is difficult to determine genomic associations. Estimates of heritability are likely to increase with technological advances in genetic work.
The importance of this study is that it shows that genetic variance can be detected and studied with the use of questionnaires filled out by owners. It also reveals that grouping responses into behavioral factors may make it harder to detect the genetic influence on various traits.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A soft mouth can be the difference between life and death for dogs.
July 5 2017
All dogs come equipped with powerful jaws and teeth capable of inflicting injury, but they vary in their willingness to use them as weapons. Most save them for marrow bones, chews or Kongs, a quality that makes for good pets and great friends. The degree to which dogs learn not to use the full force of their mouths on people and other dogs is called “bite inhibition,” and it is the most important part of a dog’s education.
Unfortunately, all dogs are likely to experience unpleasant or stressful incidents, but those with proper bite inhibition will not cause much (if any) damage in response. That’s why bite inhibition is so valuable. If an injured or terrified dog air-snaps or inhibits his bite so effectively that contact with another dog or person causes no pain or injury, that’s a manageable problem by most people’s standards. If a dog with poor bite inhibition is in the same situation and inflicts serious damage, it’s a potentially disastrous problem from a physical, emotional and even legal standpoint.
Consider the following incidents from my own case files.
A visiting child loses his temper when the family dog distracts him during a game of ping pong by yawning and whining. The child hits the dog in the face with the ping-pong paddle, and the dog runs away yelping. A teenager tries to dress up her dog to match her own outfit, and the dog resists. As she continues forcing the clothes on him, he whines and struggles. After several minutes, the dog growls and snaps at her face but makes no contact. An elderly man trips and falls onto his dog while the dog is eating. The dog bites the man on the leg, leaving no mark. A toddler tries to climb on her sleeping dog to ride him like a horse. The dog stands up and begins to walk away, but when she tries once again to get on his back, he bites her on the shoulder, causing a bruise. When a man reaches to pet his friend’s dog, his watch catches on the dog’s collar. He gently tries to disentangle himself, and the dog bites him on the leg, leaving two puncture marks and some bruising. A woman walks into her dining room, sees a dog toy under the table and reaches down to get it. Her dog races in from the living room and bites her arm repeatedly, resulting in multiple punctures along with fractures to her wrist and arm that require several surgeries to fix.
In each instance, it’s easy to see why the dog was distressed. Yet, the seriousness of the responses was not directly related to the injustice or pain suffered by the dog, but rather, to the dog’s ability to exercise proper bite inhibition. It’s no exaggeration to say that bite inhibition can be the difference between success and failure in treating behavior problems, and even between life and death for the dog.
When evaluating risk, it’s reasonable to ask what’s the worst that could happen if for example, a gate is left open, a leash breaks or a person barges in unannounced. If the answer is, “Someone could get really spooked and be furious with us because our dog may bark, lunge or snap,” many people would be willing to take that chance. If instead, the answer is, “Someone could be badly and even permanently injured, require medical care such as surgery or be deeply traumatized,” far fewer would be able to live with that risk. The answer is really important because it will generally determine how willing people are to live with the risk, which in turn influences how committed they are to their dog and working to improve his behavior.
Some dogs develop the bite inhibition so essential for navigating life’s tricky and unexpected events while others don’t. Both genetics and learning influence the process. Though there’s genetic variation among individual dogs, some types of dogs are famous for soft mouths. It’s not surprising, for example, that dogs bred to retrieve game use their mouths gently to avoid damaging that game. Retrievers are also well known for being “mouthy,” meaning that they use their mouth, including their teeth, often. Though there are cases of dogs who are gentle with their mouths while retrieving but do not have good bite inhibition in social situations, it is more common that dogs who are able to exercise control in one situation are able to behave similarly in others. That does not mean that dogs with good bite inhibition won’t kill squirrels or tear up their chew toys. Bite inhibition is all about exercising control in social situations, but that does not necessarily apply to predatory behavior or to play with objects.
Experience with play biting and mouthing often leads to better bite inhibition, and like anything else, those who practice become the most skilled. Littermates are a puppy’s first teachers, one of several reasons that it’s beneficial for puppies to stay with their litter for about two months. As the young dogs play, they use their mouths to tug or gnaw on their siblings’ ears, tails, paws and loose skin. If one puppy mouths another too hard, the puppy who got hurt will yelp, stop playing and move away. This teaches puppies that hard bites, even if not intended to cause pain, result in an interruption in play. Singleton puppies and those taken from their litter before the age of five or six weeks often lack proper bite inhibition. It seems that puppies need their littermates’ feedback to learn to control the pressure they exert with their mouths.
Once puppies head to new homes, their education needs to continue, and that includes socialization with other puppies and dogs. This does not mean throwing a puppy into the dog-park scrum and hoping it will all work out. In that setting, puppies are far too likely to be overwhelmed and to experience it as we might experience a gladiator pit. Rather, it means supervised play dates with carefully selected and well-behaved canines.
Lessons from people are also useful in teaching bite inhibition. Though using their mouths on our hands, arms, legs, hair and clothes is natural behavior for them, dogs must learn to interact in ways that are appropriate in our world. An effective technique, one based on puppies’ earlier experiences with their littermates, is to startle and then redirect the young offender. If a puppy mouths too hard, yelp with a puppy-like sound (Aaarp! is the closest description of this sound that can be spelled), which often interrupts the puppy’s biting. Take advantage of that pause in the behavior by immediately giving the puppy something appropriate to chew on. Good options include bones, chew toys, Kongs, squeaky toys and stuffed animals.
A common mistake when using this method is to make the yelping sound and then fail to redirect the puppy. In most cases, although the sound will startle the puppy into a break in the mouthing, he or she will go right back to it unless given another, more appropriate object to focus on. Many people begin by doing both steps (startle and redirect), but as time goes on, they switch to startling without bothering to redirect. They then report that the technique doesn’t work.
While more than 90 percent of puppies will respond to this method if it is used correctly and consistently, there are indeed dogs who seem to get worse in response to high-pitched yelps, becoming even mouthier and more revved up. For those dogs, it’s usually effective to startle the dog with a deep-voiced “Hey!” or “Ouch!” Otherwise, the technique of interrupting the behavior and then redirecting the dog to an appropriate object is the same. If the puppy fails to respond to either sound, walk away so that he learns that biting brings an end to the fun.
It’s important to begin by startling and redirecting the puppy only in response to the most forceful bites. Employing this approach with every instance of mouthing can be overwhelming to the puppy, who is, after all, doing what comes naturally and exploring the world by mouth. So, the first goal is to teach the puppy not to mouth so hard rather than not to mouth at all. When the hardest bites have been inhibited, the next step is to startle and redirect after medium-force bites. Finally, once the puppy has learned to mouth people with only the gentlest of pressure, teach him not to do this at all by employing the same technique in response to any occasion in which his teeth touch delicate human skin, hair or clothes.
There are many recommendations out there for stopping puppy mouthing and I advise against most of them because they are inhumane and generally ineffective. For example, do not hold the dog’s muzzle closed, yell at the dog, jam your fingers into the dog’s mouth or swat the dog. Basically, it comes down to one piece of general advice: Don’t do anything that involves any kind of physical punishment that causes pain or frightens the dog.
Proper bite inhibition is incredibly important, and developing it requires lessons early in life. The normal process of learning bite inhibition is linked with puppy development and it can’t usually be learned later in life with the same degree of success. Dogs without this essential skill may cause severe damage—punctures, painful bruising and even broken bones on occasion. Learning bite inhibition is one of the first and most essential lessons for puppies, because it is about safety as well as being a well-behaved, polite member of society.
News: Guest Posts
Stray attends Vienna Chamber Orchestra concert
July 4 2017
Music lovers in Turkey were already enjoying an outdoor performance by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra when a stray dog came onstage and made the concert even more entertaining. The dog calmly wandered into view and stood right in front of the first violin, which could certainly have been a random selection. However, I’m intrigued by the idea that the dog was able to pick up on subtle cues that this was the person worth attending to out of all the members of the orchestra.
The dog did not appear to be too upset by the delighted laughter of the crowd, though he does yawn and give a tongue flick—signs of mild anxiety—at the very end of the video. He settled himself in his position by the concertmaster, lying down and looking out peacefully at those in attendance. His efforts were rewarded with hearty applause.
Every bit as captivating as this dear dog was the delight of the musicians. Though typically serious while playing, many of the violin players near the dog were clearly amused by their new fan. Quite a few seemed in danger of laughing out loud, but as professionals, they were able to keep their focus on the music.
While I was watching the dog in this video for the first time, my husband looked up from his work and cheerfully commented that the piece sounds like Mendelssohn. (And indeed it is.) Apparently both canines and humans are destined to be happy when hearing Mendelssohn’s Symphony #4 (commonly known as The Italian). This would probably please the composer, who described it in a letter to his sister as “the jolliest piece I have ever done”.
Does your dog appreciate orchestral music in general, and this composition in particular?
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Adults don’t always understand dogs’ behavior around kids
June 30 2017
Supervising children and dogs when they are together is an important part of preventing dog bites as well as of protecting the well-being of both kids and canines. However, even carefully monitoring the interactions will do little to prevent trouble if the adults watching aren’t knowledgeable about dog behavior. Research has shown that adults often underestimate the risks of dog bites to children, and that children tend to engage in riskier behavior around dogs when an adult is present.
According to a study called "Adults' Ability to Interpret Canine Body Language during a Dog-Child Interaction", misinterpreting the body language of dogs during interactions with children is quite common. Three videos of young children and dogs interacting were used in this study to assess adults’ ability to understand canine body language. A panel of behavior experts considered the dogs in all three videos to be fearful and anxious, emotionally conflicted, and lacking in confidence. However, approximately two-thirds of the subjects in the study considered the dogs to be relaxed and a similar percentage thought their behavior indicated confidence.
The subjects of the study came from four different groups: 1. People with dogs and with children, 2. People with dogs but no children, 3. People with children but no dogs, and 4. People without dogs or children. Interestingly, people without dogs were more successful at interpreting the emotional states of dogs than people who are dog guardians. Dog guardians were more likely to think the dogs were relaxed than people without dogs and less likely to label their emotional state as conflicted. Parents and non-parents did not differ in their ability to interpret the emotional states of the dogs in the video, to determine the dogs’ response to the situation, or to categorize the predominant behavior of the dog (e.g. play, friendly behavior).
Previous work has yielded conflicting results about whether people with dogs are better or worse at interpreting canine body language and emotional expressions. This study suggests that experience with dogs without any theoretical knowledge of dog behavior may not enhance people’s ability to recognize signs of trouble in interactions between young children and dogs. Perhaps people with dogs are more likely to give dogs the benefit of the doubt and assume they are friendly. Similarly, people without dogs may be more cautious when observing dogs, especially around young children, and may therefore be more receptive to the possibility of danger.
The general conclusions of the study are that people have great difficulty interpreting the signs of fear and anxiety in dogs who are interacting with young children and that it is important to educate people about dog body language in order to minimize problems when dogs are interacting with young children.
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