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.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
They prevent hassles, too
March 16 2016
Equipment can and does fail from time to time. Collars break, leashes slip out of hands and gates fly open. I’m a very responsible person prone to excessive checking and re-checking, yet I have had every one of these things happen to me at some point. It’s part of my general nature to have back-up plans, and these little misfortunes have only made me more aware of their importance.
A good recall, a solid stay and a reliable wait are helpful cues that I use as back-ups in case of an error or simple bad luck. It takes a lot of training for them to work in emergencies, which is when they are needed most. A back-up strategy that works even with no training is a welcome addition to any safety plan, which is the reason I’m a fan of the carabiner.
A carabiner is a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate that can be used to connect components together quickly and easily in a reversible way. Carabiners are used by rock climbers and by other adventure-sport enthusiasts. Sometimes, like it or not, working with dogs, especially the aggressive ones that are my specialty, is an adventure. Paying attention to safety in the way so inherent to successful rock-climbing just makes good sense. With dogs, we often need to attach things, but not in a permanent way, which is why I regularly use carabiners in two ways.
I use them on gates. Even when latched, gates can blow open in high winds. Where I live, we regularly get wind gusts over 50 miles per hour in the spring, and many dogs are accidentally released from their yards during that season. Not only do carabiners prevent latched gates from failing in this way, they also provide an extra safety against a gate being left unlatched. It’s easy for a latch not to fully catch, even if you think you’ve closed it, but if you’re taking the extra step of securing it with a carabiner, you know your gate is closed.
I also use them with leashes, harnesses and collars. By attaching any equipment such as a harness or head collar to your dog’s flat collar, you protect yourself from the failure of any one piece of equipment. Even if your dog slips out of one, it is still attached by the carabiner to something else on your dog’s body. It may not be functioning as it does when it is properly in place, but at least your dog is not free in a situation in which that would be dangerous. The leash can be attached to you with a carabiner by wrapping it around your waist for a hands-free walking experience (only if your dog won’t be trying to pull you over!) or to your backpack or other sturdy accessory.
Make sure that the carabiner you are using is a true weight-bearing and locking carabiner, and not one simply designed to be used as a keychain or to hold something little like a mesh bag to a backpack. Many carabiners are great for casual use with light objects, but are not sufficient for the uses I’ve described here.
Have you used carabiners to help keep your dogs safe?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What puts your dog’s tail in motion?
March 13 2016
When I taught training classes, we often had contests on the last day of a session. Dogs (and their guardians) could win prizes for the most charming trick, the best stay, the slowest heel and other categories. My favorite contest was always the most enthusiastic tail wag. I would tell my students to do whatever they would do to get their dog to wag his tail if someone told them that they could won a million dollars for the best tail wag. (In reality, the prize was a dog toy, a package of dog treats or perhaps a gift certificate to a local pet store.)
Over the years, I saw a range of ways to prompt tail wags. People would praise their dogs, “Who’s my good girl? You’re my good girl!” play with them, show them a ball, or pull out the leash and say, “Do you want to go for a walk?” People told their dogs that dinner was ready or said, “Daddy’s home!” In one memorable instance, a guy left for a minute and then came back so his dog could give him a welcome home greeting. (He won by a wide margin!) Other students fed their dogs handfuls of treats, said, “Do you want to go for a ride?” or headed out the door saying, “You get to go!”
If you were in this contest, what would you do to get your dog to show off his best tail wag?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Make yourself happy and take a look
March 10 2016
Christopher Cline’s photographs of his Goldendoodle Juji are beautiful and funny, and celebrate the emotions of life. These are not amateur photographs that happen to work out. Cline is a trained artist and professional graphic designer. The technical professionalism of his work is obvious, and certainly part of the appeal.
Yet, I think the reason people adore his work goes so much deeper. I love his images because when I see them, I think, “That’s how I feel, too.” He has captured the whimsy, joy and love that dogs bring to our lives. And of course, it’s impossible to ignore the metaphorical point for those of us who love dogs truly, deeply and passionately. Only in Cline’s photos do they appear visually as we experience them viscerally—as larger than life.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Does it reflect something about you?
March 7 2016
Though few dogs wear actual clothes or costumes, a great many of them wear collars, and they are often chosen with great care. The individuality of a dog’s collar is likely to express something about the guardian. It may reflect a particular hobby or interest or may simply be a style choice. The majority of collars mean something to the people who choose them.
What it means may be very simple. For example, my favorite color is red, and I gravitate towards red collars. One of my best friends uses green collars for the same reason. Many people put far more thought into the collars with which they adorn their pets. Practical choices for collars include ones with the dog’s name and guardian’s phone number embroidered on them or ones that are reflective for extra safety at night.
I have a client whose dog’s collar is by Harley Davidson, which means that the dog matches most of the client’s clothes. Other dogs may wear collars that express support for a professional sports team or a college program. I’ve seen collars that express support for political candidates, breast cancer awareness or say, “Happy Birthday!”
If style is the major consideration, there are plenty of options. Collars can be pink with sparkly gemstones, made of black leather with spikes, or anything in between. There are patriotic collars with flags on them, tartan plaid styles, and those that have flowers or ladybugs on them. Some people change their dog’s collars seasonally with Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Spring, Fourth of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving collars making up an extensive wardrobe.
If your dog has a decorative collar, what made you choose the one he wears?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Short and sweet if given the choice
March 4 2016
I recently attended one of my favorite annual events—the Interdisciplinary Forum on Applied Animal Behavior (IFAAB) conference. This is a small gathering of 30 Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, Veterinary Behaviorists, Academics and Trainers who get together each year for a discussion of all kinds of topics related to Applied Animal Behavior. Every attendee gives a talk, and we discuss everything with enthusiasm from the first talk to the concluding remarks.
This year, fittingly, the first talk was about greetings. Camille Ward, PhD, CAAB, started things off with a talk called “What’s Up? Dog-to-Dog Greetings.” Greetings are a fascinating area of behavior because so much can happen in such a short time, and there are so many possible functions of greetings. Greeting between members of the same species serve a variety of functions from reducing uncertainty, fear and arousal to gathering information. Greetings can involve the signaling of status, increasing tolerance for being close to one another and may play a role in conflict management and reconciliation, which are important areas of behavior in social species though they have been primarily studied in primates.
Ward videotaped greetings between pairs of dogs at a local dog park in Ann Arbor, Michigan and analyzed the behavior that she observed. When she watched the behavior in the greetings, she collected data on a large number of behavioral details. (Videotaping is a common tool in behavioral research that allows scientists to gather more data than is possible when doing it live, and also takes so much time that it prevents scientists from taking over the world or even having a life because it keeps them too busy for such undertakings.)
In this study, 52 dogs were recorded, in 26 greetings. Each dog was only observed in a single greeting. Ward recorded whatever greetings happened to occur at the dog park, although she specifically avoided greetings when a dog first entered the park. She was interested in pairs of dogs greeting and when a dog first arrives, he is often mobbed by other dogs. Pairs of interacting animals are called “dyads” in the animal behavior literature, and the dyad was the unit of study in this project.
For each dyad, Ward noted which dog initiated the greeting or if it was a mutual approach. She noted the relative sizes of the dogs and whether play or aggression followed the greeting. Other data included whether each dog’s overall body posture was high, neutral or low both at the beginning and the end of the greeting, and if both dogs participated in the greeting by sniffing the other dog.
One of the most interesting and practical results from this study was how short the greetings were. When dogs are off leash and free to choose, they don’t hang around interacting for a long time. The greetings Ward observed were typically in the six to eight second range, which is very brief. It’s certainly a lot less time than we spend talking with our human friends when we run into them on dog walks. When that happens and our dogs also greet, they are forced to be in close proximity to the other dog when that is not what would happen if they were doing things their own way. Greetings are naturally short—far shorter than just about all of us experts at this conference would have predicted! We should keep this in mind if we have dogs greet on leash and not allow the interaction to extend beyond that time frame unless the dogs progress into play.
Based on Ward’s study, play is not a highly likely outcome of many greetings. Only six of the 52 greetings (twelve percent) she recorded resulted in play. Perhaps we should consider that many dogs want to meet and greet one another, but don’t want to engage in play as often as many of us expect. None resulted in aggression, which is encouraging, but that rate might be higher in a population of dogs that are not at the dog park as some people wisely choose not to take dogs prone to aggression to the dog park.
Greeting were either reciprocated or unreciprocated. In a reciprocated greeting, both dogs were involved in the interaction and showed similar behavior—e.g., both dogs sniffed each other. With an unreciprocated greeting, only one of the dogs sniffed or investigated. The other dog ignored or showed little attention to the greeter.
Large weight differences usually involved the heavier dog initiating the greeting. When weights were closer between the two dogs, involvement by both dogs was more common. Over 80 percent of the greetings were initiated by only one of the dogs. This pattern suggests that dogs are using greetings as a way to assess other dogs.
If you have observed your own dog greeting other dogs, does his behavior match up with what Camille Ward documented in her study?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
How does the idea of leaving your dog behind matter?
March 1 2016
Traveling with dogs has become much more common in recent years, but there is no doubt that it’s a challenge to include our best friends on all excursions. Whether there are restrictions at hotels, restaurants or spas, or if the transportation on trains, buses or planes is the deal breaker, there are issues related to traveling with our dogs. Sometimes it’s as simple as them not being welcome at the friend or family member’s house where you will stay. Perhaps there’s a wedding that is a human only event or another person is bringing a dog who is not compatible with yours. There are countless reasons that can prevent us from bringing a dog along on our travel adventures.
Sometimes, the issues that come up if you must leave your dog behind are compelling enough reasons NOT to make the trip at all:
Many people take their dogs on most of their vacations, perhaps limiting themselves to trips that involve driving instead of flying. Other people don’t travel much or at all because that would require them to leave their dogs back home. Does having to leave your dog behind inhibit your travel or prevent you from taking certain types of trips?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
This animated short features a dog
February 25 2016
The animated short film “The Present” by Jacob Frey tells the story of a boy who doesn’t want to play outside. He stays inside by himself and plays video games, but he is hardly content. That looks to improve when his mom brings him a dog as a present. The dog has to be persistent to engage with the boy, but eventually the dog’s enthusiasm wins out and the two do head outside to play.
The animated short is based on Fabio Coala’s comic, which contains such lines as, “Wait, what kind of a puppy doesn’t have a leg?!” “You can’t play. You’re only there for people to feel sorry for you. Don’t pretend you’re happy.” and “ You don’t care about your leg. You’re happy anyway.” The film has experienced a remarkable amount of success for a thesis project, winning over 50 awards.
We all have traits that we share with certain dogs, and sometimes that makes us perfect for each other. In this story, it’s not so much that the boy and the dog are each missing part of a leg that bonds them together. It’s more that they both have the desire to be social, to play and to be happy.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
It was a happy accident of sorts
February 23 2016
I was in graduate school studying animal behavior in the University of Wisconsin’s Zoology Department. I had already gotten my Master’s degree studying a nesting association between two species of tropical social wasps that live together. My PhD work was on the defensive behavior of tropical social wasps. These topics may seem very different than my work with dogs, but they are actually not as different as it may seem at first glance. The wasp projects I designed came from my interest in social behavior in general and from particularly strong interests in species that live together and in aggressive and defensive behavior.
Dogs and humans are two species that live together and have done so for thousands of years. Despite the generally good relationship between our two species, there certainly exists some aggression. My interest in dogs, besides coming from a tremendous love for them, stems from my broader scientific interests in species living together and in aggression. It is amazing to me that individuals living together rarely, on the whole, physically hurt one another. Sure, it does happen, but considering how many interactions occur, only a tiny percentage of them are aggressive in nature. The inhibition exhibited the vast majority of the time is quite remarkable, and even more so when this inhibition functions in situations involving more than one species.
In graduate school, I was assigned to be the teaching assistant for a class called “Human/Animal Relationships: Biological and Philosophical Issues” taught by the well-known Applied Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell. Of all the fascinating topics in the class, there was one that captivated my scientific curiosity the most. That was the biological miracle of the complex relationships between humans and domestic animals, including the dog. Here was the sort of relationship between species that I was always interested in, and lo and behold it involved my own species!
I began to volunteer at the local dog training classes run by Patricia McConnell with her business, Dog’s Best Friend. I spent one evening each week assisting trainers as they trained people to train their dogs using a combination of ethology, learning theory and great coaching skills. I learned so much about how people and dogs interact and how best to teach both species new skills.
About a year later, I moved to New Hampshire with my fiancé (now husband) because he was starting his PhD at Dartmouth College. I investigated ways to work with dogs to continue to expand my skills in that area, and found that my options were limited. I spent the year learning about dogs in the most unexpected of ways—by grooming them! I am not a natural at grooming in any species, but I learned so very, very much about dogs. I encourage anyone interested in dog behavior to find some way to get hands-on experience with dogs to complement whatever knowledge they are getting from reading or course work. Volunteering at a local shelter or with a veterinarian are other options besides grooming. Toward the end of my first year in New Hampshire, I began to teach my own classes, which were called Play Training and emphasized the use of play when interacting with our dogs, motivating them, and reinforcing them.
After a year in New Hampshire, I accepted a job offer as a behavioral intern back in Wisconsin at Patricia McConnell’s Dog’s Best Friend. It was a tough decision to take this dream job because it meant that I would live 1300 miles away from my husband for four years. I literally flew home from my Alaskan honeymoon to New Hampshire, packed up to move to Wisconsin, and said good-bye to my husband of three weeks. Opportunities to intern in the field of applied animal behavior are so rare that it was worth the sacrifice, hard as it was. I love the work I do and would not have been able to do it without the proper training and education.
Sometimes people assume that I must be thrilled to have gotten out of the world of stinging insects. The fact of the matter is that I love wasps and miss my social insect days. Still, I also love dogs, and I can’t help but enjoy the switch from wasps to dogs because dogs are less aggressive and much easier to work with.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Act like this dog, or at least watch him
February 20 2016
Continuing to play into adulthood is a rare trait across the animal kingdom, but humans share this oddity with dogs. Being playful throughout our lives makes us unusual, but it bonds us together. It’s hard to imagine the relationships with our dogs being as strong without sharing play.
Whether we play together or watch each other play, we can relate to one another’s fun and find that it inspires playfulness in each of us. That might be what happened with this dog who went sledding after taking inspiration from the boy who was originally on the sled.
I like this dog. In 17 seconds, I see evidence of a great many admirable characteristics. He is a problem solver who takes initiative. It’s likely that he knows what the sled is for from prior experience, so he’s pretty smart. He’s obviously physically coordinated since he stays balanced on the sled, leaps on it at high speed, and uses it like a scooter by pushing with his feet. He’s fast enough to chase down a sled, and he is certainly very playful. It’s hard to watch this video without imagining what a glorious time he is having.
All I know about this dog is what I see in this short clip, but his playfulness is endearing enough to serve as a reminder to have more fun in life. If he had a motto, I suspect it would be “Carpe diem—Seize the day” (unless he is very literal in which case he might choose “Seize the sled.”) Either way, message received, little buddy. Message received.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Boredom Be Gone!
February 19 2016
If you feel guilty about leaving your dogs home by themselves while you go to work, join the club. Most of us dislike it, though, truth be told, the majority of dogs do just fine. Many of them simply relax and sleep for a good part of the day while we stress out at work.
I say “many of them” because I’m absolutely not including dogs who are too young to handle a lot of time alone, or those who are struggling with separation anxiety or some other condition that makes being at home without you truly traumatic, somewhat upsetting or even just unpleasant. I’m talking about typical, behaviorally healthy dogs who really don’t mind the daily rhythm that includes your regular workday absence (though obviously, they would rather you stayed home).
Along with making sure that their basic needs are met, what do we owe the dogs who hold down the fort while we’re gone? Some dogs are fine with a cozy place to snooze, and some may be satisfied with a compatible dog buddy or some toys. Others need a little help in finding interesting ways to stay occupied while we go out and earn the money to support them in the style to which they have become accustomed. A great way to help these dogs is to provide them with multiple activity stations around the house.
Activity stations are just what they sound like: places for dogs to engage in activities that can be done alone. Setting up different activity stations in distinct areas of the house allows dogs to make good choices and to have fun even when they’re on their own.
This kind of enrichment won’t cure separation anxiety or help a dog overcome a fear of traffic, airplanes, passersby or the sound of sirens, and it’s not a cure for excessive barking or destructive chewing. What it can do, however, is make being alone more fun.
Deciding what sorts of activity stations will work best for your dog requires you to give some thought to your home’s layout and your dog’s interests and abilities. But basically, they are really only limited by safety concerns and your creativity.
Some stations are extremely simple, involving nothing more than a tug toy attached to the wall with a carabiner and a sturdy hook. Dogs who love to tug often do best if the toy is a little stretchy to compensate for the fact that nobody is on the other end giving it life and motion. The toy must be safe—no chance of the dog choking on it, becoming entangled in it or shredding it. A tug station is not suitable for dogs who would either become obsessive about it or frustrated by it. To interest your dog in it, shake the toy a little to make it move; once your dog has hold of it, let him tug on his own. Putting peanut butter on the toy makes it more enticing and helps many dogs engage.
A related activity station is for dogs who like to bat at toys rather than tug them. As long as the dog won’t become entangled in the toy or attempt to ingest it, this sort of station can occupy those who love to use their paws in play. Toys with multiple hanging parts often appeal to dogs who like to play this way.
Another activity station with simplicity in its favor consists of providing your dog with something safe to chew or eat. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to buy hundreds of new items. Rotating your dog’s durable favorites, supplemented by an occasional new treat, keeps this from costing a fortune. You can also use stuffable toys such as Kongs, or toys that the dog has to chase around or otherwise manipulate for the food to be dispensed —for example, the PetMate Wobbling Treatball, Kong Wobbler, West Paw Design Toppl or Buster Cube.
Make sure you are not giving your dog anything that poses a choking hazard or other dangers. Avoid rawhides and rope toys, and check with your vet about what else may be dangerous for an unsupervised dog. All dogs need to learn to enjoy an activity station is that it provides good things. For safety and convenience, site the station away from areas that are off limits to the dog, such as the counter or where kids store their toys.
On a related note, you can also keep your dog occupied by making the whole house (or at least a room or two) a place for food-searching activity. Hide treats while your dog is in another room, say “find your treats” and then head out for the day. (If your dog is sure to follow you, tell him/her to stay, or close a gate or door while you hide the treats.) Teaching your dog to search for food in response to the cue “find your treats” is not hard, but it’s critical to start by making it easy and gradually working up to greater challenges. Start with the food in full view and point to it or tap your toe by each treat until your dog gets the hang of it. You can also hide treats in canine puzzle toys that are specifically designed for this purpose.
A basket of toys is a great activity station, but for most dogs, it’s only appealing if the contents change frequently. To maintain your dog’s interest, rotate toys in and out and add new ones regularly. That way, your dog will never know which toys will be available on a given day. If your dog has a couple of favorites, make sure they’re always on hand. The purpose of rotating toys is to prevent your dog from becoming bored, not to take away toys just for the sake of removing them periodically.
For dogs who like to fetch, independent play may seem harder to provide. However, some dogs can be taught to fetch on their own using a ball and a ramp or an iFetch. There needs to be enough space for them to chase after the ball without injury to themselves or to your furnishings. It takes practice and patience, but once dogs get it, they are able to play on their own.
To teach dogs to use a ramp at a fetching station, start by placing the ball on the ramp and letting it roll away. This accustoms dogs to fetching a ball that has been “thrown” by the ramp. Then, teach them to drop the ball at the top of the ramp themselves. Once dogs realize that they can make the ramp work for them, many really enjoy the activity, though I’ve yet to meet a dog who didn’t prefer fetch played as a social game outdoors. (Caution: this activity station is not suitable for dogs who are so obsessive about fetch that they would play all day and drive themselves mad.)
Again, the safety of the stations and their elements is critical. Don’t use anything that could in any way strangle or trap a dog. Only use toys that can handle serious chewing, the level of which varies from dog to dog. Avoid rawhide or rope toys that a dog can choke on. If in doubt, put the toy away before you leave.
Don’t expect dogs to automatically be interested in activity stations just because you’ve set them up, however lovingly. The statement “If you build it, they will come” rarely applies. Dogs have to be taught what to do and to understand that the stations have entertainment value before they will engage on their own.
Activity stations can be antidotes to the boredom dogs may experience when left home alone. Providing them with something constructive to do can improve their quality of life, even though they may be fine with being alone. The stations can also help us fulfill our responsibility to make sure our dogs are happy, stimulated and entertained (not to mention relieve our guilt!) when we leave the house without our dogs, as most of us must do daily. Above all, they’re a wonderful way to change our dogs’ daily alone time from “fine” to “fun”!
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