Karen B. London
Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 17 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs, especially aggression. Karen has been writing the behavior column for The Bark since 2012 and wrote The Bark’s training column and various other articles for eight years before that. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, and teaches a tropical field biology course in Costa Rica. Karen writes an animal column, The London Zoo, which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun and is the author of five books on canine training and behavior. She is working on her next book, which she expects to be published in 2017.
News: Karen B. London
A common sense approach that should be more common
October 27 2015
Of course, we all want solutions to our dogs’ behavior issues, but sometimes the best approach is to avoid the problem. There’s generally nothing to be gained by putting our dogs into situations that they cannot handle. In other words, sometimes preventing the problem in the first place is the way to go.
In some areas, we as dog guardians take this for granted. It’s not unusual to put a dog in a crate or in the back room if a toddler play group will be descending on the house. It’s even more common to use a leash when walking a dog on a busy road. Nobody thinks it makes sense to bet a dog’s life on his recall or his ability to refrain from chasing cars.
This seems like basic common sense to me, but there are a lot of barriers to this approach. Using prevention feels like a failure to many people. I wish this weren’t so. To me, a dog being hit by a car or injuring a young child represent failures. Keeping a dog on leash while walking on a busy road or letting a dog chill out in the crate with a stuffed Kong do not.
Halloween offers a very specific opportunity to protect your dog with a commitment to preventing trouble. However dear trick-or-treaters may be to many humans, few dogs feel the same way. Having a tree, a storm trooper or a fully functioning traffic light at your door may prompt you to say, “My, how clever,” but most dogs react in a more, “Ye gads, what is that thing?!” kind of way. Between the doorbell and the monsters (literally!) at the door, the night is far more trick-y than treat-y for most of our beloved canines. Many of them react with fear, excessive exuberance or even aggression.
Since this holiday happens only once a year, it’s hard to give dogs practice with the situations unique to it. It’s true that handling the horrors of Halloween can be step 100 in a program to teach dogs to be able to cope with anything, but most dogs are somewhere between step 20 and step 50. Jumping up too far in the process can be damaging to dogs and actually set them back. I do hate to sound defeatist, but unless your dog is experienced all the way up through step 99, I’m in favor of avoidance for so many dogs who struggle with this holiday.
Avoidance may mean staying in the back room with your dog while another member of the household answers the door and passes out candy. It may mean having your dog spend the evening visiting a friend who gets no visitors on Halloween. Another option is to put candy out on your porch with a note saying, “Take a piece of candy to save my shy dog from listening to the doorbell ring.” If you really want to go to extremes, you can turn your lights out, draw the shades, and pretend you’re not home. None of these options are ideal, but they all have the advantage of protecting your dog from getting overly excited or spooked this Halloween and exhibiting undesirable behavior as a result.
Life can be hard, and for many dogs, that is especially true on Halloween. Let’s not miss out on opportunities to make it easier when we can.
News: Karen B. London
Dogs know how to enjoy the season
October 23 2015
Fall is my favorite season, and I feel a special kinship with dogs who love a good autumn frolic. It is often a playful time of year. Many dogs become more energetic at this time of year because they are not wilting in the heat. Others simply love playing in the leaves.
Stella is one of those dogs who have fun leaping into leaf piles, although my guess is that she finds entertaining ways to indulge her inner puppy in every season. This video shows her happily enjoying a fall ritual.
Many people enjoy the colors of the season by being “Leaf Peepers.” Is your dog one of the ones who have fun at this time of year being Leaf Leapers?
News: Karen B. London
Variable reactions, similar behavior
October 21 2015
Dogs with very different feelings about vacuums can exhibit behavior that is remarkably similar. In the following three videos, all three dogs act somewhat alike, but based on subtle differences, I believe that their emotional reactions to the vacuums are very different.
In the first video, the dog exhibits no discomfort around the vacuum. He moves close to it many times, offers a series of play bows, and seems quite eager to interact with it. When you see his face, his expression is not tense or fearful, but relaxed. Though his aroused barking suggests he might get overly worked up, which is not great for dogs, this one-minute video does not show a dog having a negative experience at all. His body is relaxed, there are a lot of happy tail wags, and the whole experience seems like a playful one for this dog
In the second video, there is a mix of positive and negative reactions to the vacuum by the dog. She is clearly interested in the vacuum and seeks interaction with it. She is sometimes relaxed and playful as she charges at it, but other times she seems nervous and unsure. While there are play bows, there are also nervous tongue flicks and retracting lips, which suggest that she is not enjoying herself. The fact that she runs away from the vacuum is also concerning. This dog seems more serious than the previous dog and also a bit frantic, reminding me of the way some dogs act around laser pointers. She is ambivalent about the vacuum—interested in it and yet not thoroughly comfortable around it.
In the third video, the dog seems distressed by the vacuum. The way he approaches it and bites at it do not look playful, and may be an attempt to get the vacuum to go away. When it moves towards him, he retreats, and I think that he is quite frightened by it. Many dogs run away and hide when afraid, but other dogs (including this one) tend to go on offense, preferring to get the vacuum before it gets them. This dog appears tense and anxious, darting in and out around the vacuum, but running away on multiple occasions.
How do you think your dog feels about the vacuum based on his behavior towards it?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Taking the angst out of canine introductions.
October 16 2015
“We put the new dog into our car with our other dog.”
“I held each of them by the collar and put them nose-to-nose to meet.”
“Our son brought home a stray dog and took her into the back yard with our other dogs. I guess it was too much for an eight-year-old to handle by himself.”
When it comes to dog-dog introductions, I’ve heard it all—usually because the introductions have gone badly, very badly or disastrously, which leads to families coming to see me in varying stages of distress. Some are unsure about keeping the new dog, many are scared and a few are injured. All have learned the hard way that introductions are not to be taken lightly.
People introduce dogs to one another in all kinds of suboptimal ways, including those mentioned previously. Some of the time, it goes just fine, but even so, they’re still gambling with the safety and well-being of both their dogs and themselves
Whether you are introducing a new dog into your own household, setting up a first meeting between your dog and your partner’s, or just want to go for a walk with a friend and her dog, it’s more likely that the new relationship will flourish if the first meeting goes well.
As in all aspects of behavior, knowledge is your ally. It’s important to know that there’s no standard protocol for dog-dog introductions that works best for every dog in every situation, and no introduction is risk-free. That said, there are a few general guidelines and techniques that go a long way toward making the first meeting between dogs a positive experience for everyone. (Don’t feel you have to do it alone. Line up professional help if you have reason to suspect that there will be trouble, or that one or more of the dogs isn’t good with other dogs.)
• Have new dogs meet one-on-one. Group introductions can be a bit challenging even for a well-adjusted dog. For a dog who struggles in social situations, meeting multiple dogs simultaneously can be so overwhelming that it could damage the new relationships.
• Choose the location of the meeting carefully. Off-territory is best so that neither dog feels like the other is the intruder. And conduct the initial meeting outside rather than inside. Often during meetings, a dog will urinate and then walk away, especially if he is feeling overwhelmed. That gives the other dog an opportunity to get to know the stressed dog by sniffing the urine without coming into close contact with its source. If dogs are inside where urinating is a no-no, their options are limited.
• Avoid gates, fences, doorways and other tight spaces. They tend to make dogs tense, and a tense dog is unlikely to be at his best. In general, dogs feel more relaxed and are more likely to exhibit desirable behavior when they don’t feel confined, so do your best to keep both dogs in open space and away from narrow passageways. For example, try to conduct the introduction in the middle of the yard rather than along the edges.
• Don’t crowd the dogs. Like narrow spaces, having people too close can also make dogs feel uncomfortably confined. For many dogs, being crowded by people is worse than being crowded by inanimate objects and tight spaces because it puts a lot of social pressure on them. Resist the urge to lean toward them or hover over them. It’s natural to want to move toward the dogs if you perceive even the slightest sign of tension or trouble, but ironically, it can make things worse. Moving away is far more likely to lower the arousal or tension level and prevent escalation of the situation. If you see tension, use a cheerful voice to say something like, “This way,” or “Let’s go,” then clap your hands and walk away.
• Keep moving. This is a great way to help an introduction go smoothly. It not only prevents you from crowding the dogs, it also keeps their interactions with each other from developing intensity. If humans walk purposefully, dogs will often follow, allowing them to avoid greeting or interacting more closely than they’re comfortable with.
• If you can and it’s safe, drop the leashes and let them drag on the ground so you can easily take hold again if you need to. “Safe” means that the area is securely fenced and both dogs have a history of behaving appropriately around other dogs. If you can’t let go of the leashes, keep them loose to prevent tension from traveling down to the dogs. This is easier with thin, 12-foot lines, but can be done with 6-foot leashes, too.
•Model calm, relaxed behavior and remember to breathe. Our dogs respond to our emotions and behavior, so if you’re holding your breath because you’re tense, or sending out nervous energy (“Oh jeez, oh my, oh no! Yikes, I hope this goes okay!”), the dogs will pick up on that. Focus on breathing evenly, avoiding negative thoughts and keeping your own body relaxed.
• Make the meeting a food-free, toy-free experience. Many wonderful dogs are not at their best in the presence of other dogs when food or toys are around, especially if the toys are their own or the food is held by their people. Eliminate the possibility of possessiveness, which can cause problems.
• Keep the first meeting really short. By “short,” I mean just a few minutes. Many dogs find meeting new dogs fun and exciting, and if both dogs are like that, no harm is done by a short meeting. You leave them wanting more, eager to hang out again, and that’s not a problem. But if one or both dogs find meeting new dogs stressful, upsetting or tiring, a short meeting helps them avoid becoming overwhelmed, and that prevents trouble. The next time they interact, they are not truly “new” to each other, and a longer interaction is not as likely to be as detrimental. For dogs who really struggle in new social settings, a few short sessions may be indicated, but for most dogs, even one short session goes a long way toward a successful introductory experience.
• Make a new dog seem less “new.” Novelty is often exciting to dogs, and the resulting high levels of arousal can work against a smooth meeting. If you can remove some of the novelty from the situation, it helps make introductions easier and less intense. How do you take away some of the “newness”? By getting them used to the sight or smell of each other ahead of time. Then, by the time they meet, much of the novelty will have worn off.
One way to do this is to walk the dogs in the vicinity of one another without allowing them to greet. Continue to move in the same direction, keeping several feet between them, and adjust the distance as needed. Walking in the same direction (rather than facing each other head-on) and exploring smells is one of the normal ways dogs get to know one another—it’s the canine equivalent of “let’s have coffee.”
Having the dogs smell each other’s urine before they actually encounter one another is another way to get them over the “newness.” You can either lead each to a spot the other has used to urinate, or actually collect some urine from each and present it to the other. Oh, the things we do as dog people for the sake of a successful introduction!
And a successful introduction is the whole point. Proper meetings go a long way toward preventing social problems, from minor angst all the way up to and including serious fights. Whether you are adopting a new dog into your household or making the acquaintance of an occasional play buddy, following this advice will make it more likely that the dogs will become friends. That’s especially important when the goal is to have a “blind date” lead to a “together forever” happy ending.
News: Karen B. London
The charming book you have to see
October 16 2015
A man and his Bull Terrier, Jimmy Choo, became famous last year as a result of the art they created together. Rafael Mantesso is the brains behind the operation, Jimmy is the onscreen talent, and the results are captivating. These whimsical photographs are so appealing because the drawings around the dog so clearly take their inspiration from Mantesso’s best friend.
The art in this book records a highly advanced version of those games in which you have to make a drawing from a squiggle someone else makes for you. In this case, the squiggle is replaced by Jimmy Choo, and the man playing the game is as clever as he is talented.
Mantesso started this project on Instagram after his wife left him, leaving him the dog but little else. In his loneliness, the white walls and his dog became a muse to chase away the sadness. He began to draw around his sleeping dog and posted the pictures to Instagram. His following grew into the hundreds of thousands. Though Mantesso and Jimmy live in Brazil, people around the world have become interested in his work.
His book, A Dog Named Jimmy, contains 100 photographs of his work taken by a professional photographer, and they are exquisite. My favorite one shows Jimmy taking a shower, but everyone I know favors a different image. Is there one that you especially adore?
News: Karen B. London
Are they available in your community?
October 14 2015
As Arizona desert dwellers, we’re not too invested in the idea that you can never be too rich or too thin. We’re more likely to assert that you can never be too protected from the sun or too hydrated. Making water available for members of the community is more than a nice gesture—it’s a potentially lifesaving and sensible public policy. That’s why I’m so pleased that a drinking fountain for dogs is present in one of our most used public recreation areas—Buffalo Park.
This park has miles of great walking and running trails, beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, and plenty of wildlife. Every time I go there, I see tons of people out walking their dogs. It’s a great place to be at any time of year, but it’s easy to get hot and thirsty in the sun and on the hills. Many people bring water for themselves and their dogs, but even those of us who come fully stocked consider the drinking fountains a welcome opportunity for a cool drink and a great place to refill bottles.
Right next to the standard waist-high fountain for humans is a fountain for dogs. It’s low, accessible and easy to use. The bowl easily fills up for dogs who prefer to lap water up from a pool, and the spout is easy to use for dogs who prefer to drink from flowing water. Almost every time I go there, a fellow dog guardian is gushing about how wonderful it is to have a drinking fountain for dogs. I agree, and wish even more of our public parks had them.
Do any parks and recreation areas in your area have a drinking fountain just for dogs?
News: Karen B. London
Dogs vary in their view of the world
October 8 2015
If you think all dogs are cheerful, upbeat and excited about what life has to offer, you’ve either interacted exclusively with optimistic dogs, or you haven’t noticed that some dogs are a little more on the “food bowl half empty” side of the personality spectrum. Not all dogs are quite as happy-go-lucky as we humans generally assume.
The idea of individual personalities in dogs is hardly stop-the-presses news anymore, but studying such differences in dogs is still a fruitful area of research. In a 2014 study published in PLOS, a group of scientists studied judgment bias in dogs to investigate individual tendencies to view the world optimistically or pessimistically.
To study dogs’ expectations of the world, they trained them to associate different sounds with different outcomes. One sound let them know that touching a target would result in receiving the preferred reward of milk. The other sound, two octaves apart from the milk sound, indicated that they would get the less desirable reward of an equal amount of water. The correct response to the water tone was not to touch the target. Once dogs could easily distinguish between these two sounds, the real test of their personalities began.
Trained dogs were given a tone that was between the two trained tones, and their response was observed. Dogs who reacted to the ambiguous tone by pushing the target in anticipation of milk were considered optimists. They expected good things to happen. Dogs who failed to respond to the ambiguous tone were considered pessimists in that they did not have an expectation of good things. They were not filled with the hopefulness of the optimists in the study. This study allowed researchers to determine whether individual dogs have the expectation of positive outcomes or whether they expect negative outcomes.
Some dogs would respond to ambiguous tones even if they were more similar to the water tone than to the milk tone. These dogs were considered extreme optimists. Overall, researchers found that more dogs were optimists than pessimists. I find that reassuring since it matches the way most of us view dogs.
What do you think this test would reveal about your dog?
News: Karen B. London
The number is soaring
October 6 2015
The number of homeless dogs in Greece is on the rise due to the financial crisis in the country. Many people are abandoning pets when they feel as though they can’t afford to keep them. The same issue affects the United States in tough economic times. Our recent Great Recession resulted in an increase in the number of dogs abandoned at shelters or simply dumped on the street.
In Greece, the number of stray dogs has been reported at over a million. Many local citizens are taking them in or feeding them, but there are still so many who need help. Besides the obvious concerns for these unfortunate animals themselves, the spread of disease and potential effects on human health has many people worried. Additionally, a lot of Greek citizens are aware of the damaging effects of hungry stray dogs on tourism in their country.
There are many veterinarians who are doing what they can to care for these stray dogs and tend to their health needs without pay. Some are sterilizing dogs for free to help prevent increases in the stray population. Recently, a group of British veterinarians came to Greece for a week to participate in efforts to spay and neuter stray dogs. Led by veterinarian Hugo Richardson, their work was made possible by client donations to Richardson’s London clinic.
There are so many people as well as dogs who are vulnerable in Europe right now and dependent on the kindness of strangers. Luckily, there are always some strangers who offer that kindness.
News: Karen B. London
Dressing dogs like the pope
October 2 2015
A pope who shares his name with the patron saint of animals, St. Francis de Assisi, is unlikely to be offended by seeing dogs in papal wear. In fact, we can dare to hope that he would find it flattering to see dogs dressed in such costumes. Pope Francis, after all, has thrilled many members of the animal community by discussing an afterlife for many species, including dogs. He has also addressed the importance of kindness towards all living beings. Naturally, many people are dressing their dogs like him as a way to celebrate and honor the pontiff.
With hashtags such as #popedogs, #holyhound and #alldogsgotoheaven, social media has seen many dogs dressed as the pontiff. While claims that pictures of dogs dressed as the pope are taking over the internet are a bit overstated, there’s no denying that dogs in pope costumes are gaining in popularity. There have even been a number of names for these dogs such as Pup Francis, Puppy Pontiff and Pope John Paw II.
What do you think of the trend to dress dogs like Pope Francis?
News: Karen B. London
Evidence that this technique has great promise
September 28 2015
As the recently departed Yogi Berra famously said, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” Our dogs probably understand that as well as anyone can, because dogs are able to learn a new behavior by seeing a person demonstrate it. Imagine being able to teach your dog a new behavior by simply showing him the behavior and having him copy you! That fits in with many dog trainers’ goals of finding additional, better or easier ways to train our dogs.
Learning a new behavior by watching someone else perform it is a type of social learning, and for many years, people thought dogs were not capable of doing so. A natural tendency to assume that only humans are capable of various high-level processes partially explains that, but once various animals were tested, proof of social learning was undeniable. Chimpanzees were the first non-human animals tested and shown to be social learners, but dogs have been in the club for years now. Despite that, social learning has not been used extensively in dog training.
A training technique called “Do As I Do” is becoming increasingly popular, and may make social learning a more common part of dog training. This technique, which is described in detail in creator Claudia Fugazza’s book Do As I Do: Using Social Learning to Train Dogs, shows great promise as a new tool for helping our dogs learn. Dogs first learn to copy humans doing behaviors that they already know how to do when given the proper cue. An early step in the process is teaching dogs to copy a demonstrated known behavior when told, “Do It!” Once the dog has learned that “Do It” means to do what the person did, the dog can learn a new behavior with this technique. Later, a verbal or visual cue can be added so that the person does not always have to perform the behavior to let the dog know what to do.
Fugazza and Adam Miklósi (from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary) recently published a study comparing the effectiveness of two training techniques. In “Social learning in dog training: The effectiveness of the Do as I do method compared to shaping/clicker training,” they report that the Do As I Do technique is more effective for quickly teaching dogs a behavior that involves interacting with an object than Shaping/Clicker training. They chose the behavior of opening a sliding door on a cabinet because it was a novel behavior for all dogs in the study. (All dogs in the study and their guardian-trainers were experienced with the training technique used by the pair in the experiment.) More Do As I Do dogs than Clicker/Shaping Dogs learned the behavior within 30 minutes, and they learned it faster on average, too. The experiment did not find a difference between the two training methods when teaching dogs a body movement—in this case to lift the front paws off the ground.
Dogs who learned with the Do As I Do method were better able to remember the behavior and perform it in response to a verbal cue 24 hours after the original training session. In addition, they were better able to generalize their learning by performing the behavior in a new context.
The authors conclude that this new method, which relies on social learning, is more effective than using a clicker to shape a new behavior, which relies on individual learning (in this case, operant conditioning.) The dogs who learned with the Do As I Do method certainly outperformed the dogs who learned without it, but the comparison is more complex than comparing social learning to individual learning. In the traditional view of social learning, individuals learn a new behavior by observing others and without direct reinforcement. In Do As I Do dog training, dogs do learn by observation, but they are also reinforced for correct responses, meaning that their learning also involves operant conditioning. In other words, these dogs are learning with the benefit of multiple techniques. There is compelling evidence that the use of the Do As I Do technique enhances learning in dogs, but it is not completely fair to say that it is better than using operant conditioning. I think it’s more accurate to say that social learning combined with operant conditioning is more effective than operant conditioning alone.
Either way, I am excited about the Do As I Do technique of training dogs and would encourage everyone to incorporate it into their training. It’s likely that we will look back in a few years and wonder why we didn’t use dogs’ social learning abilities sooner and more often in dog training. That doesn’t mean that Do As I Do dog training will replace other methods, because as Fugazza herself writes, “We should not limit ourselves to using one single training method. The major benefits accrue from the combined use of social learning with other techniques.”
(Editor's note, for demonstations and more on this topic go here.)
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