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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.

Culture: Reviews
Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers
Very Fetching, 2012, 180 pp; $16.99

I’d like to see Barbara Shumannfang’s book Puppy Savvy: The Pocket Guide to Raising Your Dog Without Going Bonkers in the hands of more people with new puppies. It’s upbeat and full of practical wisdom conveyed in an easy-to-read conversational style.

Shumannfang understands normal puppy behavior and offers smart advice for helping puppies behave appropriately in human houses. She focuses on setting puppies up to succeed by considering what we DO want them to do, making that happen and rewarding the puppy for doing it. Her training advice is positive, humane and modern. 

Refreshingly, Shumannfang acknowledges that puppies can be emotionally and physically exhausting. She lets readers know that it’s okay to feel overwhelmed sometimes, while offering information and ideas to prevent that feeling from overriding all others as you raise a puppy. 

This book covers the issues typically facing puppy guardians—house training, puppy biting, jumping up, chewing, grooming concerns, crate training, exercise, play, training basics, interactions with kids, whining and barking, and when to seek additional help. It can be read straight through, but it’s also easy to use as a reference.

Shumannfang uses a lot of humor, so you can look forward to laughing as you read Puppy Savvy, knowing that what you learn will mean you will be laughing more as you raise your puppy than you would without this book.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Behavioral Predictors of Adoption
What dogs do influences potential adopters

We know that millions of shelter pets are available for adoption each year, but that many are never selected. Most previous research into the choices that people make about which dog to adopt has focused on what the dog looks like and the dog’s behavior in the kennel.

The recent study “Adopter-dog interactions at the shelter: Behavioral and contextual predictors of adoption” investigated whether dogs’ behavior during an interaction outside of the kennel had any impact on the likelihood of adoption. (Potential adopters chose which dog or dogs they wanted to spend time with in a session out of the kennel.)

There were only two behaviors that influenced adoption: 1) Dogs who ignored people’s attempts to initiate play were far less likely to be adopted than those dogs who played when people attempted to initiate play with them, and 2) Dogs who spent more time lying down close to potential adopters were fourteen times more likely to be adopted than those who spent less time lying down near the people. Dogs who were adopted spent half as much time ignoring people’s attempts to play and twice as much time lying down near potential adopters than dogs who were not selected for adoption.

This research suggests that even in a short interaction—the average in this study was 8 minutes and did not differ between people who chose to adopt the dog and those who did not adopt the dog—people were making choices based on dogs’ behavior. Specifically, they chose dogs who played with them and who spent time lying down near them. This study suggests that people are selecting dogs who act in certain ways and that training dogs to behave in these ways has the potential to increase their chances of being adopted.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Attention Changes With Age
Dogs and humans follow similar path

If you think that your dog has changed in his tendency to pay attention to you over time, you are probably right. A new study is the first to describe the developmental changes in dogs’ attention over their entire life.

In the study “Lifespan development of attentiveness in domestic dogs: drawing parallels with humans”, scientists studied 145 Border Collies from the ages of 6 months to almost 14 years old. Dogs were placed in 7 groups, reflecting these developmental periods: late puppyhood, adolescence, early adulthood, middle age, late adulthood, senior, and geriatric.

The researchers concluded that dogs (at least of this breed) show predictable changes in attentiveness, which they define as the ability to choose to process some environmental stimuli over others, as they age. Their major findings were:

  • Dogs of all ages attend more to people with objects than to objects alone.
  • Older dogs are less interested in novel objects in the environment than younger dogs are.
  • Dogs between 3 and 6 years of age were fastest to return their attention to a person after finding food on the floor.
  • Adolescent dogs improve their performance at attention tasks more rapidly than other age groups. So, while these young dogs may not give their attention quickly to a person on the first trial, when rewarded for doing so, they get better after just a few repetitions.
  • The changes in attention over time seen in these dogs are similar to the patterns observed in humans, which means that dogs may provide good models for studying the phenomenon.

Have you noticed changes in your dog’s attention habits over time?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Life With Dogs Is Not Glamorous
We all have stories to prove it

The chain of events that led to the dog peeing on me in the middle of the night began with my children’s homework. It was an interesting and worthwhile assignment, which offers me some consolation. I hate to be peed on for no good reason!

The kids were tasked with investigating leaks in our house and making some calculations about how much water was being wasted. They had to check the water meter, make sure no water would be used during the next few hours, and then check the meter again to see if any water was being lost. We thought that it would be easiest to do this overnight when nobody would accidently wash their hands (an unlikely occurrence that only Murphy’s Law could make happen during the crucial period or anytime) or use water in any other way.

Just before bedtime after everybody had filled a water bottle, brushed their teeth and gone to the bathroom, we deactivated the icemaker in our freezer and the kids checked the meter. All we needed to do was go to bed and wait until morning for them to take a second reading of the meter.

Tragically, I awoke at midnight really needing to use the bathroom. Though I could of course have just gone but not flushed, I lacked confidence in myself. I don’t know why, but it is ridiculously hard for me to do this, and the risk that I would go, then flush automatically was too high in my mind.

“I’m up anyway, so I might as well take the dog out to relieve himself, and I can go out there,” was my thought.

Marley and I went outside and he wandered over to his favorite potty spot, and I picked a place for myself by some bushes. Still occupied with my own mission, I failed to notice the dog come around behind me until it was too late. I only became aware of his presence when he had already lifted his leg and I felt the warm stream of dog urine hit me in the lower back.

Unable to shower because of the water leak investigation assignment, I dried my back with paper towels and then used about a pint of hand sanitizer on the area before going back to bed. Though I was a little disgusted, it’s really not that big a deal considering the amount of vomit, pee and poop all of us who spend time with dogs have probably cleaned up over the years.

Besides, I found it interesting that Marley seemed to be over marking my urine with his own. Many dogs pee over other dogs’ pee, and even over the urine of men, but some dogs ignore urine from women and from kids. Unfortunately for me, Marley is not one of them.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What They Might Think During Departures
Putting words into the minds of dogs

As we drove away and saw Marley’s face in the window, watching us drive away, my son said, “I’ll bet he’s thinking, “Please come back! Why are you leaving me?” His woebegone expression did match the words my son had chosen for him.

We began to discuss how different individuals react to the same situations in different ways and express themselves in unique ways, too, and why shouldn’t that apply to dogs as much as to people? From there, we had a lot of fun imagining what some of the other dogs we know would say in the same circumstances.

Watson is super smart, always worried and typically a couple of steps ahead of everyone else, mentally speaking. He’d probably be thinking, “Let’s see, if they are in the car going east at 40 miles per hour for 20 minutes, and spend the usual 35 minutes at their desired location plus or minus 5 minutes, and return by the scenic route to avoid the traffic at rush hour, and travel at 30 miles per hour, they should return by 4 pm, so I will not commence with any serious worrying until that time.

We next discussed our old dog Bugsy, who nobody would ever describe as an intellectual. (A trainer friend of mine once actually described him as a couple of ants short of a picnic.) We decided that even in our imaginations, he never would have mastered standard English grammar and would simply think, “You go. I still here.”

Schultzie is so well-adjusted that she would probably think, “The timing of their departure is very sensible. It’s time for my nap, but I’ll be ready for playtime and a good walk by they time they get home.”

Kiwi might very well have thought something along the lines of, “Sure, I’ll miss them, but they always come back, so this provides a perfect opportunity for me to check to see if the latch on the cabinet holding the garbage can is as loose as it looks. Today could be a trash party day—here’s hoping!”

Super Bee is as fit as she is fast, and her brain is as speedy as her body. If we left her behind, I could imagine her thinking, “If they head out Fremont Avenue going the speed limit and turn right at the light and then go 45 miles per hour on Route 180, and take a right at the light at Humphreys, and drive with traffic until they are downtown, I could leap out this window, head to the urban trail and through the park and still beat them by at least 17 seconds to the coffee shop on San Francisco Street, which I’m sure is where they are going.

Of course, the idea of dogs thinking these things is pure fantasy, but it’s fun to imagine, based on a dog’s personality and behavior, their response to a situation and to put it into words. What can you imagine your dog thinking as you leave the house?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Death By Choke Collar
Puppy died at a training center

Gracie, a 6-month old Boxer-Great Dane mix, died when her choke collar got tangled while playing with another dog at a training center. By the time the staff intervened by cutting the collar off with wire cutters and administering CPR, she was too far gone.

The Humane Society of the United States says that it is best for your dog if you avoid using one and I agree. Choke collars function by causing pain and can injure the esophagus, trachea and neck. They can cause nerve damage as well as damage to the blood vessels in the eyes. To see a dog coughing because of the pressure applied with one is distressing.

Choke collars are an aversive training tool and are not used by trainers who stick with positive reinforcement methods. Other options such as head collars and front-clip harnesses are effective at preventing pulling. Additionally, positive reinforcement techniques are more effective for training dogs since dogs learn what to do rather than learning what not to do through punishment.

Gracie’s guardian did not initially use a choke collar, but the training center had a policy that all dogs had to wear one. They have since changed this policy and use martingale collars instead. If adjusted properly, these limited-slip collars tighten around a dog’s neck but cannot tighten enough to choke a dog.

Though I’m not a fan of choke collars, I understand that there are people who will still choose to use them. Two important safety tips can save the life of a dog who wears one: 1) Never allow a dog to play with other dogs while wearing a choke collar. 2) Never leave a choke collar on an unattended dog. There is some disagreement over whether Gracie and the other dogs involved were unattended when the incident occurred, but certainly unattended dogs are at greater risk of an accident than those who are under human supervision.

Accidents can happen with collars of any type, but choke collars are particularly risky. Choke collars are true to their name—designed to tighten around a dog’s neck with no mechanism to limit how tight they can become—and unfortunately, being choked by one is what happened to Gracie.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog Helps Elderly Man With Alzheimer’s
Speech returns in presence of dog

The man in this video has Alzhemier’s, and according to the daughter who posted it, he has lost almost all of his speech. However, when he is with the dog, he talks in a clear voice and makes perfect sense.

It’s not clear why his speech abilities return in the presence of the dog, but it’s well known that dogs are helpful to people with dementia. The benefits go beyond the usual health benefits provided by dogs such as lowered blood pressure and alleviating depression. In people with Alzheimer’s the presence of a dog lowers anxiety, decreases outbursts and increases social interactions.

No matter what the reason for this man’s behavior when with this dog, it is beautiful to watch. That is partly because we’re seeing a part of a man that was thought to be lost. It’s also because the healthy, powerful dog in the video is so calm and attentive around this elderly gentleman. I found myself absently saying, “Good dog, good dog,” while I watched.

I haven’t reacted so emotionally to a video since the 2014 Budweiser Super Bowl Commercial. Did it similarly affect you?

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Baby Named After Dog Who Saved Her Life
Jade found the abandoned baby in a park

When Jade the German Shepherd sprinted into the bushes during a walk, lay down and refused to return to her guardian, her behavior was literally life-saving. When Roger Wilday came over to his dog, he discovered that Jade was lying next to an abandoned newborn baby. According to doctors, she would not have survived more than a couple of hours longer on her own. The baby, who hospital workers named Jade in honor of the dog who saved her, is doing well, and efforts to find her parents are underway.

Naturally, it makes us feel good to know that a dog’s keen ears or nose led her to a baby in desperate need of help, which saved her life. What I find most interesting about this story, though, is that the dog took the initiative to head toward the baby and wouldn’t leave. She refused even though the guardian presumably wasn’t initially thrilled that his dog ran off and wouldn’t come when called.

Jade was apparently eager to communicate with her guardian that he needed to come investigate, and she behaved in a way that caused him to do exactly that. This is a dog who is very fond of children, as many dogs are, yet her understanding of the situation seems to extend beyond a simple, “This is a baby and I like to be near babies.” Her behavior suggests that she wanted her guardian to find the baby, too.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dog Waits Outside Hospital For 8 Days
Reunion with homeless guardian worth it

Lauri da Costa, a homeless man in Brazil who stumbled to the hospital after being hit in the face by a rock, has a priceless friend in his dog Seco. When da Costa went inside the hospital, neither he nor his dog could have known that it would be more than a week before he came out again.

Luckily, the injuries from the attack were not incredibly serious. However, during the exam, doctors discovered that he had melanoma, which required an operation right away. So, it was 8 days until da Costa emerged from the building for a reunion with Seco, who had waited outside in the parking lot the whole time. During their separation, members of the hospital staff fed Seco and gave him water.

Many dogs do wait for their guardians, although such behavior is not universal. Do you think your dog would wait for you?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Dogs Comfort in Boston
Therapy dogs attend marathon festivities

After the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, therapy dogs from the Lutheran Church Charities K-9 Comfort Dog Ministries were there within 24 hours. The group consists of 70 therapy dogs (all Golden Retrievers) from 10 states. Small groups of the dogs visit churches, schools, hospitals and disaster areas, offering the soothing, healing presence that only dogs can provide. Many survivors and first responders in Boston benefited from spending time with these highly trained and lovable dogs.

This year at the Boston Marathon and associated events, four dogs from this group will again be in attendance. Ruthie, Hannah, Luther and Rufus have traveled from Illinois to offer support and lots of opportunities for petting and loving. They are making appearances throughout the four days of events that conclude with the race on Monday, April 21, 2014. It’s the fourth visit of “Comfort Dogs” to the area since the events at last year’s race.

Every year, runners and fans of the sport watch the Boston Marathon. This year the audience is bigger because the whole world is watching.  I’m so glad that these therapy dogs are a part of the celebration and that they have been part of the healing all year. They are contributing to making Boston strong.

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