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
A conflict that’s hard to resolve
May 22 2012
If you’ve taken in a lost dog, you’re not alone. Many of us have done so, and then made all attempts to contact the guardian so that the dog could be returned. Sometimes the reunion takes place within hours or days, but other times it can take weeks or months. At some point, many people have abandoned hope of finding the original family and simply accept the dog into their own.
That’s what Jordan Biggs did after months of searching for the guardians of a husky mix who came to her door in April 2011. Attempts to contact the people who had lost the dog she calls Bear through humane societies, animal shelters, craigslist, veterinary offices, posters, and going door to door failed. Once he had been with her for two months, she considered him to be her dog.
Since that time, Bear has become her service dog, having been trained to seek help if her asthma results in a loss of consciousness. They do agility together, which is one way she has invested in him in addition to providing him with veterinary care and having him microchipped and neutered.
Then, earlier this month, Sam Hanson-Fleming saw Bear, who he calls Chase, in the car in front of him, and was ecstatic that he had found the dog who had jumped his fence over a year ago, leaving him and his two young sons deeply saddened by the loss. When his dog was first lost, he posted craigslist ads and filed lost dog reports with several organizations. He wants his dog back, but Biggs refuses to give up her dog.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Good-byes are hard
May 17 2012
Whether a dog who stays with you for just a short while is a foster, a stray or a friend’s dog, it’s easy to become attached to a temporary visitor. We are about to say good-bye to Schultzie, who is spending about 2.5 weeks with us while her family is in Italy, and I’m beginning to feel upset about her impending departure.
I know her family will be ecstatic to see her, and that Schultzie will be just as thrilled, and I’m happy for all of them. It’s just that I am sad to see her go. It has been such a pleasure to share a few weeks of our lives together. She is delightful company and easy to be with.
She is the sort of family dog that I wish were more common. She’s friendly and peppy, but is easily satisfied by a couple of 20-30 minute walks a day. She likes to work and is food-motivated, but not at all pushy for food. She hasn’t chewed on anything in our house that she’s not supposed to. On the one occasion that she took a tissue in her mouth, I simply walked toward her with the idea of trading it for a treat and she backed away at my approach and went over to one of her own toys. She doesn’t pull on the leash or bark to excess, and she sleeps in a bit in the morning—bonus! Although she’s not crazy about the car, she rides in it quite amiably.
Of course, all of these good qualities don’t really explain in full why we’re going to miss her so much. Beyond this list explaining her best traits, there’s that indefinable magic that happens when you grow to love a dog, and that’s what happened with Schultzie. I’ve grown very fond of many dogs who have spent time with us for a short time, but it will be especially hard to say good-bye to this one.
I’m grateful that she lives nearby and that we will still see her from time to time, and we’d definitely be open to dogsitting for her in the future.
As my 7-year son said last night, “When you dogsit a dog, it feels like the dog is yours.” Obviously we fall in love with our own dogs, but sometimes we feel that way about other dogs, too. I’d love to hear your stories of dogs who have just been passing through but took a little piece of your heart anyway.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bronco has become Bronx
May 16 2012
Football player Tim Tebow ‘s every action seems to attract attention, so it’s no surprise that when he changed his Rhodesian Ridgeback’s name recently, it made the news. The name Bronco, which was such a great name when he played for the Denver Broncos, became awkward once they traded him to the New York Jets.
Many sportswriters are discussing how cruel it was to make this name change and claiming that the dog will suffer terribly as a result. Most dog professionals, myself included, think that changing a dog’s name is fine, even if the new name is nothing like the old one.
Bronco to Bronx is a minor change, which makes me suspect that Tebow made a real effort to change his dog’s name to something similar. Most people do think that it’s a big deal for a dog, so this gesture may have been prompted by a thoughtful attempt to minimize any issues for his dog.
Love him or hate him, Tebow’s big news is a sign of many things: his status as a cultural icon, the pattern of naming our dogs after what’s important to us, and the ever-increasing importance of dogs in our culture.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lifesaving information available 24/7
May 11 2012
Imagine coming home and finding a chewed up bottle of your medication with no pills left in it or a houseplant that has clearly been used as a chew toy, or a bottle of cleaning solution that spilled when it was knocked off the counter. How do you determine if this is just a small inconvenience for you, a life-threatening emergency for your dog, or something in between? The new Pet Poison Help app by Pet Poison Helpline can be a great first step. You can use it to reference the specific substance and find out how toxic it is, the symptoms your dog is likely to experience, and what to do. It may suggest that you induce vomiting, encourage eating or drinking, or that you take your dog to an emergency clinic immediately.
Though there are other apps that provide information about pets and poisons, this one is the most comprehensive. It covers over 250 toxins and spans a wide variety of potentially poisonous substances including pesticides, plants, foods and cleaners. You can search by toxin, within categories, or check substances based on whether they are toxic to dogs, cats or both.
Pet Poison Help is a reliable resource from which people can get accurate information and it has a direct dial feature to the Pet Poison Helpline, an animal poison control center that is available 24/7. According to Ahna Brutlag, a veterinarian with an M.S. in toxicology, and the co-creator of the Pet Poison Help app, the consumption of human medications accounts for the largest number of calls to their helpline, but many other toxic substances are consumed by dogs and other pets each year. If you place a call to the Pet Poison Helpline, you can share vital information with a veterinarian about your dog’s age, breed, size and what was eaten, and find out what your next step needs to be to provide the best care for your dog.
The new app is easy to use, full of pictures, and loaded with live-saving information. Pet Poison Help has been available for just a few weeks, and already nearly 2000 people have downloaded it. Have you had a chance to check it out yet?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Photos that amaze and amuse
May 8 2012
Dogs provide a pick-me-up, and they are able to do it in so many different ways. Yesterday, I found myself immensely cheery after watching this video of incredible dog photographs three times in a row.
We know that many dogs plunge into the water to chase toys with enthusiasm, but to see what they actually look like—lips pulled back, teeth showing, eyes wide open, hair all over the place—is extraordinary.
Photographer Seth Casteel creates images of dogs underwater (and above water, too!) that are charming in the extreme, and he has a book coming out later this year called Underwater Dogs. As a great lover of all things marine, two of my favorite images in this video are the one at 10 seconds, in which the dogs’ legs look like sea cucumbers, and the one at 37 seconds, which I adore because the dog displays the essence of its close relative, the sea lion.
I can’t imagine anyone not being charmed by the photo of the dog with what looks like a crooked smile (2:36) and the one in which a dog is licking another dog who looks thoroughly disgusted by the action (2:55). I can literally feel my heart connecting with these dogs.
Please let me know that you’ve watched this video and whether it made you as happy as it made me!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
She helps me find weeds
May 4 2012
Yesterday I was searching for dandelions to yank from my lawn and garden with Schultize, a dog who is staying with us for a couple of weeks. After about 10 minutes of pulling these weeds, Schultize was consistently in my way. Several times, I found myself having to wait for her to move so I could use my weeding tool without risk of hurting her. She just kept sitting right near a dandelion. At first I thought this was a bit of an annoyance, and it reminded me of the futility of trying to read the newspaper on the floor when a cat is present.
Then I started to think that Schultize was finding the dandelions before me. As I searched the lawn methodically and found one, she was already sitting by it. Is this possible? Had she figured out what I was searching for and begun to lend her services? I pulled the one right near her and then waited. Sure enough, she went and sat by a nearby dandelion and looked at me. How cool is this? The worst part of weeding is finding the unwanted plants. Pulling them up just takes a moment.
Schultzie has not been trained to find dandelions. She just seemed to notice that I was looking for them, and did her part to show them to me. Today, when I went into the yard with my weeding tool and began to look down at the ground, Schultzie immediately sat by a dandelion in the grass, and when I pulled it up, she trotted over to another one. Today, there were only a handful of weeds (progress!), but after Schultzie showed them to me, I only found one additional one on my own, which suggests that she wasn’t just randomly sitting by a plant that is common.
In my past experiences, the only part of gardening that dogs in my home have joined in on is the digging. Has your dog ever figured out what you were doing in the garden and actually helped?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The bad guy was caught
May 2 2012
I hope I never outgrow feeling greatly satisfied when bad guys’ evil deeds are thwarted. That feeling showed up this morning when I read about 8-year old Cade and his dog Roscoe, who together alerted the parents to an intruder in the home who was attempting to make off with the purse belonging to Cade’s mother. Cade saw a stranger in his house and called out in a way that told his parents something was really wrong. When they opened the door to the house, Roscoe gave chase to the robber, followed by Cade’s dad.
The robber was chased until he was hit by a car. (He is expected to recover.) While I take no pleasure from his injuries, I am glad that he did not get away with his crime. Though it is obviously risky to chase down an intruder (law enforcement recommends calling the police instead), it’s still invigorating when good guys stop the bad guy.
What interested me most about this story is that the dog gave chase at all. Was he chasing for fun because the guy ran and that was enough of a stimulus to trigger the dog’s chasing behavior? Or did Roscoe give chase because he understood, at least to some degree, what was going on?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Okay to play tug?
April 29 2012
Strong opinions exist about the “Do nots” of playing with dogs. I agree with only some of these prohibitions.
I do stand by the ban on rough-and-tumble wrestle play and the teasing that often accompanies it. Though this form of play can be fun, the high emotional arousal that results often leads to a lack of inhibition, and that’s when trouble can happen, even to nice dogs and to nice people. Many actions of play are also used in serious fights and predation. These can create real danger when you (or your nephew or the little girl who lives next door) are down on the ground with your face next to an excited predator with dangerous weapons in her mouth. Serious bites could happen someday, even if she’s never bitten. All too often, I’ve seen shocked and devastated families crying in my office, and I don’t want it to happen to anyone else.
I’m also opposed to people chasing dogs, preferring to let dogs chase people instead. If you play by chasing your dog, you risk teaching her that moving toward her means the game is afoot, making her more likely to run away even when you approach her for another reason. This can ruin your dog’s recall. It can also lead to injury if your dog charges away from you into the street or other unsafe area. There’s no denying that letting a person chase a dog can be a great reinforcement for the dog, but I only approve this game for dogs who are so well-trained that the person can stop the game at any time and successfully call the dog to come.
I disagree with the following play advice:
Don’t mix training and play. Yes, do! It’s actually great to incorporate play into training sessions. The best training occurs when the dog views an activity as a game rather than a lesson. Using chase games to teach recalls, playing follow to build a base for heeling, using tug to practice “take it” and “drop it,” and practicing stays with “find it” games or hideand- seek are all great ways to blend training and play. Additionally, play is reinforcing, so playing with your dog may be better than the best treat.
Only young dogs need to play. No, not true! A small percentage of animal species play at all, and even fewer play beyond childhood. Dogs and people remain playful into adulthood, which may partially explain why we’ve been best friends for thousands of years. Many older dogs stop playing only because they no longer have buddies to play with. Keep playing with your dog well into old age. It’s part of what makes them dogs and us human!
Don’t play tug. Most importantly, I disagree with this prohibition (at least for most dogs). Many people advise against tug, which is a shame because so many dogs adore it. Tug is a great game, and dogs can learn a lot from playing it. Many trainers share this view and actually teach tug in puppy classes. The earlier dogs learn the lessons that tug has to offer such as impulse control, mouth control and cooperation as well as skills like “take it” and “drop it,” the safer and more fun the game becomes.
For a long time, many experts advised against playing tug for fear that it would create or increase aggressiveness in dogs. Later, tug was considered fine for most dogs as long as they were not allowed to “win” by keeping the toy at the end. The concern was that it would have bad consequences for her to feel she had just triumphed over the person.
A scientific study by Rooney and Bradshaw addressed this issue. They found that “winning” the toy in a game of tug had no impact on the relationship of the human-dog pair. Based on their research, though, we should still be thoughtful about letting certain dogs keep the toy after a tug game. The most playful dogs in the study exhibited significantly higher amounts of playful attention-seeking behavior when they were allowed to “win.” Therefore, it may be better not to allow those dogs who become relentlessly pushy about seeking more play time to “win” at tug.
Of course, for a few dogs, tug is a bad idea. Dogs who are prone to aggression induced by high arousal are not good candidates for it. The same warning applies to dogs with poor bite inhibition or poor self-control as well as those who tend to creep up the toy with their mouths during tug. Additionally, it may exacerbate object-guarding behavior in dogs who already exhibit it.
For most dogs, tug has many benefits. It is interactive and requires cooperation between humans and dogs. It can give dogs exercise and help them stretch their bodies prior to other activities such as running or agility. Tug can effectively rev up an agility dog for maximum success on the course. It helps many dogs learn better mouth control in general.
With so many “Do nots” out there in the world of play, the most important may be this: “Do not spend so much time worrying about playing with your dog that you don’t have time to actually play with her.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pounds shed relates to less pain, more energy
April 26 2012
Being overweight affects our dogs’ health and longevity, and a recent study has examined the effect it has on quality of life. In a study in Great Britain, where it is estimated that a third of all dogs are obese, researchers investigated the change in quality of life of dogs who have lost weight.
They found that dogs who lose weight had a corresponding increase in their quality of life. They showed greater vitality and experienced less pain. The more weight they lost, the greater the improvement was in these measures of quality of life. Interestingly, those dogs who did not lose weight over the course of the study had lower quality of life scores at the start of the study compared with those dogs who were able to shed some excess pounds.
If you have a dog who has successfully lost weight, what changes did you notice in your dog’s quality of life?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Your dog may be saying “Ouch!”
April 25 2012
For the first couple of weeks, our dog Bugsy enjoyed playing with our foster puppy. Then he changed, tiring of her quickly and often avoiding her, even growling if she approached him while he was on his bed. He stopped playing in the snow with her, and would go to his bed rather than lie next to her on the rug. We figured that when she left, he would stop being sulky and return to his usual upbeat, playful self.
When Bugsy remained grumpy after her departure, we suspected that something was wrong. And it was. The veterinarian determined that he had a partial tear in his anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL (a knee ligament), and was probably in considerable pain. The way Bugsy was acting should have told me that he was hurting, because although most dogs are not obvious about it, there are many behavioral signs of pain.
1. Changes in behavior. Any change can mean something is wrong. If your dog is less energetic or less cheerful than usual, doesn’t engage in the activities he usually enjoys, acts restless, becomes unusually clingy, or stops socializing as much or as happily as he used to, he may be experiencing discomfort.
2. Nighttime grouchiness. Even minor injuries or maladies can be exacerbated by the day’s activities, resulting in a cranky pup in the evening, when things slow down.
3. Good days and bad days. If your dog acts like his normal self some days but is grumpy, aggressive or otherwise different on other days, pain may be the cause.
4. Unusual behavior after strenuous activity. Dogs who exhibit unexpected behavior after they have had more exercise than usual may be in pain. An injury or any kind of soreness may become worse with additional exercise, so if your dog is predictably out of sorts on such days, pain may be the culprit.
5. Suddenly behaving aggressively. If a fully mature dog suddenly exhibits aggressive behavior, it may be because he’s in pain. I’m especially alert to the sudden onset of aggression in a dog over the age of four, because dogs that age (or older) with no history of aggression rarely behave this way unless something is wrong. There are exceptions, of course, but out-of-the-blue aggression in an older dog can often be linked to pain, in my experience.
6. Unwilling to play. If a dog who usually takes any opportunity to play with reckless abandon ceases to be interested in playtime, it could be a sign that something hurts.
7. Avoiding other dogs. Sometimes when dogs are in pain, they don’t want other dogs near them, especially if those dogs are young, bouncy or exuberant. If it is inconsistent with a dog’s personality to shy away from other dogs, doing so might mean he’s protecting an alreadytender area.
8. Loss of appetite. A dog’s refusal to eat, which can have many causes, will almost always result in a trip to the veterinarian. Though sometimes the diagnosis is serious—liver failure or cancer, for example—not eating can also be a sign of pain from other less-alarming conditions.
9. Reacting badly to being touched. If your dog reacts negatively to a touch that he would normally like (or ignore), that reaction may be due to pain. Typical negative reactions include yelping, leaping, whining, licking your hand, pulling away or even growling. A painbased reaction will usually only be displayed when a specific spot is touched.
If you have any reason to suspect that your dog may be in pain, make an appointment to see your vet right away, as we did with Bugsy. It was a relief to know exactly what was going on with him, and to be able to ease his misery. Only a veterinarian can diagnose a medical condition, but with astute observations of the behavioral warning signs, you can help save your dog from unnecessary suffering by seeking speedy medical help.
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