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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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
All My Patients Have Tales
Check out this great new book!
Veterinarian Jeff Wells has written a new book called All My Patients Have Tales about his adventures and misadventures as a mixed-practice vet. The vignettes about the lessons he has learned provide insights into what it takes to become an experienced vet.   The highly amusing adventure of him chasing a client’s feral cat around his office and receiving multiple injuries in the process will ring true to anyone who has ever dealt with a feline escapee. It will also draw understanding from anyone who has ever had on-the-job training. Having to deal with a traveling circus requiring blood tests for its animals, he provides the zinger, “At no time during veterinary school had anyone mentioned how to go about finding a vein on an elephant.”   From dealing with porcupine quills in a horse’s leg to a bizarre blockage in a puppy’s intestines, Wells’ love for animals is the link that ties these stories together. I’m excited about this book and equally excited about sharing it with others. Published about three weeks ago, it is on its way to making a big splash in the animal world.   Wells has been inspired by the writings of both James Herriot and Garrison Keillor. The charm and humor that made these authors so popular also appear in All My Patients Have Tales. When I asked Jeff Wells what he thought of comparisons to the legendary James Herriot, he laughed and replied, “I’ll take that any day of the week.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fighting A Mountain Lion
Dog saves people’s lives—would yours do the same?

Yesterday, Hoagie, a Lab mix, was walking with his guardians in the Santa Ana Mountains when they were attacked by a mountain lion. The dog was seriously injured in his attempts to fight off the large cat. He required surgery to treat his injuries, but is expected to survive.

We all hope that in an emergency our dog would protect and defend us, although obviously nobody wants their dog to be so seriously injured.

Unless a dog has specifically been trained as a guard dog, it’s extremely difficult to predict how a dog will behave in a dangerous situation. (By the way, I recommend against training pet dogs to function as guard dogs. It’s far more likely that the dog will attack your child’s playmate or the UPS driver by mistake instead of the rare dangerous intruder.)

I’ve been asked many times by clients if I think that their dogs would defend them if they were attacked by a person or by another animal. The majority of dogs I work with have aggression issues, so it makes sense that many people wonder whether the dogs would behave aggressively in situations in which that might actually be helpful.

You can only know the answer to this question if the situation presents itself and you observe what happens. Some dogs go hide under the sofa in a bad situation, some will defend you to the death, literally, and some make friends with burglars, perhaps thinking that they will get some treats if they show this nice man where you keep your jewelry and spare cash. You’d think it would be easier to predict than it is. Perhaps you’d expect that dogs who tend to be fearful are members of the hide-under-the-bed set, but sometimes the fearful dogs attack and defend out of panic—and often very effectively. Confident dogs who seem to take all things in stride might be expected to be heroes, but some of those types of dogs are socially savvy dogs who know how things should be, and when things get weird or tense, their alarm bells go off and they become too afraid to act.

Sometimes I know a dog really well and have a strong intuition that if it came down to it, this dog would step up and give his all to defend loved ones, but it’s no more than an intuition. I’ve also known dogs I felt would stand behind the family’s youngest child and hope not to be noticed in a bad situation, but I wouldn’t bet on it. This unpredictability is not surprising. It’s the same for people in that it’s hard to know who will step up in an emergency and who just doesn’t have it in them.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Rip the Dog Has His Day
War hero’s medal fetches big money.

The prestigious Dickin Medal awarded to a British dog in the 1940s has sold at auction for $35,700 (or to be more accurate 24,250 British pounds), which was £10,000 pounds more than expected. The medal had been awarded to Rip, a wiry-haired stray, for his search and rescue work during World War II. He found more than 100 survivors who were trapped in the wreckage resulting from the German bombs of The Blitz.

Prior to his heroics, Rip himself apparently survived a bombing. After losing his home, he was adopted by an air raid warden. He is usually described as “coming from a complex ancestry,” which seems a fancy way of saying that he was a mutt.

The Dickin Medal was established during World War II to recognize the work of animals in war. More pigeons have won the award than any other species, followed by dogs, though one cat and several horses have also received the honor. The medal itself reads “For Gallantry” and “We Also Serve.” Rip wore the medal on his collar for the rest of his life, and the phrase “We Also Serve” appears on his tombstone.

The fact that Rip’s medal sold for an amount that exceeded expectations is yet more tangible evidence of the ever-increasing value people are placing on animals, especially dogs. Sixty years after he won the award, Rip’s accomplishment is still highly valued, and the proof of his recognition is treasured.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New American Humane Endowed Professorship
Bridging the chasm between academics and real world problems.

The American Humane Association has created an endowed chair at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work to focus on research into the human-animal bond and animal-assisted therapies. The professor who will occupy the position is Dr. Frank Ascione, an international leader in researching the bond between people and animals, and also in preventing cruelty to humans and other animals.

I’m thrilled about the creation of this chair because it has the potential to help bridge the absurd chasm between academics and applied work with animals. There is tremendous need for a greater understanding of the relationships between people and animals, including the way that those relationships can benefit members of the species, but there are few opportunities for research and training in these areas in our colleges and universities. The creation of this position signals the growing trend towards greater respect for the value of work that aims to prevent cruelty and violence to both people and animals and work that involves animals in helping people.

I am equally pleased about the choice of Ascione. His 2005 book Children & Animals: Exploring the Roots of Kindness and Cruelty was great, and it is regrettable that while read by many academics, it did not make as big a splash in the larger world as I would have liked. He has studied the links between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence, and has even written guidelines for creating safe havens for pets of battered women.

Ascione is committed to improving the world for both animals and humans, and has long campaigned for a greater societal effort to halt cruelty to people and members of other species, too. An advocate of increased humane education for kids, he has long expressed the view that we need to actively teach kids HOW to treat animals kindly and to feel compassion towards them, in addition to education that simply addresses the importance of not being cruel. His new position is likely to increase the prominence of his work, to the benefit of our whole society.
 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
FDA Investigates Nutro Dog Food
Illnesses may be linked to food. UPDATED.

[Editor's Note: ConsumerAffairs.com has reported that the FDA is denying reports of an investigation into Nutro, contradicting individuals who say they have been contacted about Nutro by FDA investigators, as well as others in the FDA. We'll keep following this story. Meanwhile, readers have posted some interesting comments including an inside perspective from someone who claims to be a former employee.]

 

There has long been talk that Nutro Dog Food may be responsible for illnesses in many dogs, but the company has denied these claims and maintained that their food is safe. It may be some time before the truth is sorted out, but we do now know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the company.

Food safety continues to be a huge issue for both people and our pets, and we must be cautious about everything we feed our dogs. It may be a long time before we know whether or not Nutro Dog Food is causing these problems, but the fact that an investigation is underway to determine the truth is a good thing.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Survives Eating Underwear
Intimate issues Down Under

A Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in Australia required an expensive life-saving surgery to remove a blockage. The culprit turned out to be a black lacy G-string; the elastic had gotten tied up in his intestines. Naturally, many folks are having a laugh over this embarrassing (to his guardian) discovery now that the dog is okay, but blockages caused by ingesting non-food items are serious and scary because they can be life threatening.

Dogs who like to eat items that are not food are common. Most go for socks and underwear, but ask the average veterinarian, and you are bound to hear stories of towels, ace bandages, stockings, carpets, gravel, pens, knives, spoons and, of course, the proverbial homework. Prevention is the safest path since few dogs give up this habit unless all temptation is removed, and it’s by far the least expensive. If you have a dog who is an “eater” you have excellent motivation to thoroughly dog-proof your home, which includes training all members of the household not to leave clothes or other items of interest to the dog within reach. With practice, the result is an exceptionally clean house and a safe, healthy dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Training Tips for The First Dog
Advice from professional trainers

With the eyes of the nation on the Obamas’ new dog Bo, many people are interested in what training methods the first family will use. Positive techniques have become increasingly common in recent years, and there is no better way to get the message of their benefits to more people than through the actions of the President and his family with Bo. Most professional dog trainers are hopeful that the Obamas will use these methods, which are more effective and result in a better relationship between people and their dogs than old-fashioned coercion-based techniques. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has posted training advice for the new first dog, which applies, of course, to any new dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bo Obama
Adorable puppy, less-than-ideal name

President Obama has had many opportunities to comment on his own name. I laughed when he joked that “Barack” means “that one” and when he kidded around that he got the name “Obama” from his Dad, but that “Hussein” came from somebody who obviously thought that he would never run for President. Clearly, he knows that a name is important.

At least he knows that for people. By now, we’ve all read about his new Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, who apparently was named partly as a reference to the fact that his father-in-law had the nickname “Diddley.” Naming new family members with respect to other relatives is charming, and I generally encourage it. However, a side effect of this particular naming is that the poor dog’s name rhymes with “No.”

Dogs are often startled into stopping or at least pausing in undesirable behavior by sudden exclamations of “No!” or “Hey!” which is why I always encourage clients to avoid names that sound too much like either one. It can be quite confusing for a dog to think he hears his name said in an abrupt way, which is the way that “No!” is most often said to puppies. Ideally, puppies should associate their name with feeling good, not with feeling startled.

Barack Obama is thriving in spite of various nomenclature challenges. Let’s hope the same good fortune follows the adorable Bo. Here are some tips on naming a dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Behavior: When New Puppy Barks at Men

Question: Shiloh is a six-month-old terrier mix female from the rescue shelter that we brought home February 2. She is terrific and has taken well to our household including our five-year-old terrier mix male. My concern is that no matter when my husband enters a room she barks at him like she has never seen him before even though he talks to her using her name first. The barking is continuous, not just a short bark. He plays with her, even hand-feeds her at times, pets her and does all he can to help her bond with him and she seems willing to let him do this.  She seems to be “easy” around females and shies away from most males. Shiloh bonded with me right away.
 
Please, any suggestions would be appreciated as it is making my husband increasingly uncomfortable. Thank you.

--Audrey Silberman, Durham, N.C.

Answer: Shiloh seems afraid. Often the scariest situation for dogs is the appearance or approach of a person with whom they are not yet comfortable. Many fearful dogs react more to men than to women, especially men who are tall, have deep voices, broad shoulders, a strong jaw, or facial hair.

To help Shiloh exhibit better behavior when your husband enters the room, it is essential to change the way she feels in that situation. Focus on changing her emotions so the behavior will stop rather than trying to stop the barking directly.

There are two ways your husband can help Shiloh overcome her fear so that she does not bark at him in this context. One technique is to present himself in the least threatening way possible. When he enters a room, he should turn slightly to the side, lean ever so slightly away from the dog, and squat.

The second technique is to teach Shiloh to associate the appearance of your husband with feeling good. The basic idea is to consistently pair up what Shiloh loves best with your husband entering the room. For most dogs, this means steak, chicken or freeze-dried liver (no dry biscuits!), but some dogs adore balls or squeaky toys. Instead of her thinking, in some canine sort of way, “Yikes! He’s here and he’s so imposing!” we want her to think, “Here he is again! Oh boy oh boy oh boy, where are those super treats (or toys)? I’m so happy he’s here with that magical stuff!”

To make the combination of these two techniques most effective, every time your husband enters the room, he should do so calmly, position himself in the non-imposing stance, and immediately (within a second) throw the treats or toys to her. Ideally, he will toss them to her before she reacts, but he should toss them anyway, even if she’s already starting barking. It’s better to toss them as opposed to handing them directly to her. That way, he does not have to approach her, which could set her off. Her special favorite item should be reserved for this situation only to make the pairing with your husband as tight as possible in her mind.

Hopefully, your husband will soon have a special place in Shiloh’s heart. Best wishes and paws crossed for all of you.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Don’t Try This at Home!
Five common misconceptions about dog training and behavior

Since dog training has become so popular that it’s even a form of television entertainment, misconceptions about canine behavior have multiplied. Faulty information entrenched in popular culture means that a lot of what “everybody knows” isn’t actually true. Here are my top picks for myths in need of busting.

1. It’s best to stare down an aggressive dog. To dogs, a direct stare is a threat. Staring at a dog who is already considering an attack is more likely to escalate the confrontation than to diffuse it. Furthermore, fearful dogs who are unlikely to behave aggressively can become so frightened by your threatening stare that they panic and bite in response.

2. Kneeing a dog who likes to jump up on people is a good way to teach him not to do it. Kneeing a dog can cause injury to the dog’s neck or chest even if you don’t use much force. Additionally, when you lift your knee, you automatically lean back a bit, thereby ceding that space to the dog. Dogs respond to the angle of your torso, and when you lean back, they are more likely to jump up on you because you are yielding space to them. Leaning toward exuberant greeters is one way to prevent jumping, and that is the opposite of what happens when you lift your knee into them.

3. Dogs love to be hugged. Putting your arms around a dog’s neck and shoulders may feel loving to humans, but to dogs, this is rude and potentially threatening behavior. Every week, I see pictures in magazines of celebrities hugging their dogs. The human stars look radiant, but the dogs look miserable and display common signs of stress such as tongue flicks, a tightly closed mouth, pulled back ears or a furrowed brow. Hugging is a primate form of affection, but not one that is appreciated by the canine set.

4. Alpha rollovers are a way to teach your dog who’s boss and control his unruly or aggressive behavior. Actually, an alpha rollover, which consists of pinning your dog on his back and staring directly at him, is not a way to discipline your dog or teach him anything. It is, however, a way to terrify your dog and cause him to lose his trust in you completely, possibly inciting rather than preventing aggression. An alpha rollover is an aggressive move that dogs are more likely to interpret as an unpredictable human lunatic picking a fight than as a form of leadership.

5. Fearful dogs should go to classes or the dog park for socialization. Socialization refers specifically to the process that occurs during the sensitive period— between three and 12 weeks—when the puppy is becoming aware of the social world and learning how to behave within it. Proper socialization requires providing a young puppy with many positive interactions during this brief period of development. Taking a fearful dog to training classes or to the dog park is not socialization, and is unlikely to help a fearful dog become less afraid. Many dogs become overwhelmed in a class or at the park, which only confirms how scary it is to be around other dogs and people. A dog who is repeatedly frightened is not learning to like being around people or dogs. Rather, he’s having additional experiences that confirm how scary it is to be around them, which usually makes those fears worse. Neither training class nor the dog park provides a good situation for helping dogs overcome their fears.

Many of the most humane and effective training techniques are not intuitive and may not be the ones most often mentioned. The best information about dog training and behavior comes from people who are highly educated on the subject, few of whom do their work on camera, so when you have questions, seek the advice of a true expert and get the straight scoop!

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