Bark Columnist and Blogger

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Pet Dog Trainer whose clinical work over the last 12 years has focused on the evaluation and treatment of serious behavioral problems in dogs. Karen writes the training column for The Bark and blogs at Dogbehaviorblog.com. She is an adjunct professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, teaching a tropical field biology course in Nicaragua. Karen writes an animal column, “The London Zoo,” and is coordinating editor for the “High Country Running” column, both of which appear in The Arizona Daily Sun. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming An Adopted Dog Into Your Home.

Do You Have a Pup Francis?
Dressing dogs like the pope

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?

“Do As I Do” Dog Training
Evidence that this technique has great promise

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.)

Not on the Hard Floor
Something soft and cozy, please!

Jack does not like to lie down on any hard surfaces. This dog will be with us all weekend, and since our entire downstairs is uncarpeted, it will be littered with sheepskins, towels and blankets. He likes the sheepskin he is on in the picture the most, but he will choose any soft option over a hard one.

I’ve sometimes heard people insist that dogs lie down on a hard floor because of the inconvenience of providing other options even if the dogs are clearly hesitant. Jack’s distaste for lying down on wood or tile floors is not a problem for me. He’s an exceptionally sweet, agreeable dog, and if he feels so strongly about this one thing, I can adjust. Many dogs share Jack’s distaste for lying down without at least a tiny cushioning layer, and I think that’s reasonable. It doesn’t mean that a dog is stubborn, difficult or spoiled, even though you may have heard that it does. There’s probably a good explanation why any particular dog avoids lying down on a bare floor.

Typically, dogs who want a place that’s soft and cozy are either really skinny, on the older side, have very short hair or are in some kind of pain. Basically, that means that lying down on a hard floor hurts them or makes them feel cold. People don’t like to lie down in a spot that causes a chill or pain, either. It makes sense that dogs would similarly resist.

If your dog hates lying on the hard floor, by all means provide a more comfortable spot to rest. If your dog suddenly develops an obvious inclination to seek out the softest place available before lying down and actively resists lying down on a hard surface, it’s a good idea to try to find out why. A good first step is telling your veterinarian about this change and having your dog examined for potential physical explanations.

Does your dog avoid lying down on hard floors?

Helping Fearful Dogs Handle Visitors
One simple tip to try

Trouble when visitors arrive is a common concern of many guardians. I get calls every week because people want help with dogs who react badly to anyone who comes to the house. More often than not, these dogs are afraid, but people rarely call to say that they have a fearful dog. They call to tell me that their dogs are barking and lunging, growling, or even biting visitors.

Comprehensive programs for improving a dog’s emotional state and behavior when visitors arrive must be individually designed for each dog and each situation. Often, the use of treats or favorite toys is involved so that the dog learns that all visitors have something fun and wonderful to offer. When a dog has grasped the strong connection between visitors and good things, happiness can replace fear as the dog’s response to people coming to the house. That’s a very brief and simplified description of what can often be a long and detailed process. Sometimes a little trick can help make visits easier for dogs so that they are in a better state for learning to like having company.

The little trick is to make sure that the dog does not see the visitors enter but only first notices them when they are already settled in the house. It’s a lot easier for a dog to see people already seated in the living room or around the table than it is for the dog to see people arrive and enter. Having visitors show up at the door is a very intense situation for a fearful dog. The sight, smell and sound of someone other than a family member appearing at the door and entering the home is a big deal to a dog who is not comfortable with new people. It sets off all of their alarm bells (“Intruder! Code red, code red!”) I’m all for avoiding this challenging situation whenever possible.<

To avoid that situation takes some planning ahead. Hopefully, you can tell your visitors to call or text right before coming in so that you can make sure you have the situation set up to maximize your chances of success. Before opening the door for your visitors, temporarily put your dog in a place out of sight of the entry such as in a crate in another room, in the back yard or in the laundry room. I’ve even had clients briefly put their dog in the car in the garage if that is where the dog is most comfortable when not with his guardians.

Once the dog is where you want him, let your visitors in, have them sit down and give them whatever treats or toys your dog loves best. Then, bring your dog into the room where the visitors are and have them give the dog those goodies. Depending on the details of the dog’s issues, you may need to have the dog on a leash or behind a gate during this interaction.

Some dogs will be fine with people once they have met them in this way, and if that’s the case, then this may be all you have to do during this particular visit. Other dogs may react as usual if anyone stands up or makes any sudden movements, and may be better off kept separate from the visitors after the initial exposure. Such dogs can benefit from additional work, but this technique can still be a good first step. No single method suits every dog, and extra caution is always advisable with dogs who have bitten. Still, it is easier for almost all fearful dogs to meet visitors who are already in the house sitting down than it is to meet people as they enter the house.

Have you tried this technique with any dogs who react to visitors because they are afraid of them?

Dogs in Obituaries
Included as cherished family members

It’s been a long time since the majority of people with dogs considered them property, but the inclusion of them in the celebrations and events of life associated with family continues to grow. Birthday parties and gifts for dogs have become increasingly common in recent years, and the number of dogs included in family photos or in signatures on greeting cards is bigger than ever. It’s really old news to say that many people consider dogs to be family members, but interesting studies of the ways in which that’s true continue to be published.

Earlier this year, a study called Companion Animals in Obituaries: An Exploratory Study was published in the journal Anthrozoös. The study illuminated the importance of companion animals, including dogs, based on the frequency and manner in which they were mentioned in obituaries.

Authors of the above study read nearly 12,000 obituaries in their local papers for three months, recording how often companion animals were mentioned and also how often donations to animal-related charities were requested in lieu of flowers. The newspapers studied were the Washington Post in Washington, D.C., the Richmond Times Dispatch in Richmond, Virginia and the TagesAnzeiger in Zurich, Switzerland.

They found that 148 obituaries mentioned a pet survivor (over 70 percent of them dogs!), and 130 requested that donations go to an animal-related charity. Many of the pets were described as faithful, loving or loyal, a lot were mentioned by name, and it was often written that they missed the deceased. Sometimes even the pets who predeceased the person were mentioned as in, “Wayne was an avid fisherman and enjoyed time with his beloved dogs, the late Bubba and Boomer, as well as Bear.”

In the United States newspapers, the likelihood of mentioning a surviving pet and requesting donations to animal-related charities were roughly equal. However, in Switzerland, only one pet survivor (a cat) was mentioned, but fifteen obituaries requested donations to animal-related charities. Though it is unusual to mention pets in obituaries, long-term studies may be able to determine if it is a growing trend.

Runaway Dogs
Have you experienced the fear?

We were pet sitting a distinctive-looking mixed breed dog named Peanut when my husband (riding his bike home from work) called and left a message. He said that he had just seen a dog he thought was Peanut running down the street and he wanted to check on the situation.

The situation was that Peanut was safely at home enjoying a snooze and I was on the phone with a client. Even though I was actually looking at Peanut when I listened to my husband’s voice mail, I felt vaguely panicky in response to his words.

We are fortunate that we have never had a dog truly run away, but like most guardians, we have had a couple of whoopsie moments. House guests opening the door without paying attention to the dog, a broken leash, a slipped collar, and a screen door blowing open in the wind are just a few of the “life happens” events that could have meant a dog at risk from traffic and other dangers of the open road. Our dogs have always had good responses to “Wait” and solid recalls, so those little oops moments have never had tragic consequences. They’ve usually just been an opportunity to give our dog a cue and reinforce them for responding in a real-life situation. They were stressful but not terrifying.

If a dog bolts out the door and takes off, it can be a daunting task to get that dog safely back home. It’s a heart-dropping feeling to see a dog head out if you know that he may not come back if called. Even dogs who are very well trained can be in this situation if they bolt out of fear, such as during a thunderstorm that has made them panic or when fireworks are filling the sky.

Have you had a dog take off on you? Were you able to get the dog back and if so, how?

Confrontations with Coyotes
How to avoid them, how to handle them

I often judge trends in the experiences of dogs by what people call to ask me or what my friends casually mention. (Very scientific, I know.) In recent weeks, I have heard about a number of run-ins with coyotes and received just as many phone calls from people who are concerned about the risk of encountering one. The prevalence of coyotes in urban and suburban areas is on the rise and has been for years.

Most coyotes are fearful of people, and generally make an effort to avoid us. They react very differently to dogs, however, taking quite an interest in them. A huge number of interactions between people and coyotes happen when a person is accompanied by a dog. Coyotes may view dogs as a threat, or as potential prey, depending mainly on the size of the dog.

The best way to avoid trouble with a coyote is to avoid coyotes, though that is far from a simple matter. As much as you can, stay away from areas known to have a lot of coyotes. Stick to open trails and paths and stay away from areas with thick vegetation. Walk your dog on a leash (retractable leashes not recommended!), preferably not around sunrise or sunset.

If you do see a coyote, do not run away. Be assertive and attempt to scare the coyote away. If it is possible that pups are around, walk away rather than try to scare the coyote. (It’s hard to know if pups are around, but this is most likely during spring and early summer.) Do not turn your back on the coyote, but rather back up to get away. For more advice on how to handle coyote situations, check out this piece on the subject.

I’ve run into coyotes in Wisconsin and in Arizona. In Arizona, I was out on a trail and saw a coyote in the distance. It moved away from us without my having to do anything. In Wisconsin, I saw one walking right down the middle of the street in my suburban neighborhood while I was walking a dog with aggression issues towards other dogs. The dog stiffened and barked and I knew that no good would come of getting any closer. Not knowing it was the wrong thing to do, I cued the dog to do a U-turn and we scampered out of there. Luckily the coyote did not follow.<

Have you and your dog come across a coyote?

See the Dog, Not the Story
Accept and respect who your dog is

Today a client asked me what the best advice is for a friend who is about to adopt a dog from a rescue organization. So often, such general questions give me great pause. I’m often inclined to hedge and say, “It depends” or “There’s no single response to such a question.” Normally, if I do choose to give a specific answer to a sweeping question, I regret my choice and change my mind later. In this case, though, I do have an answer, thanks to a woman with a rescue dog who posted a comment on Patricia McConnell’s blog The Other End of the Leash.

The blog was a query to readers when we were in the early stages of writing Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog Into Your Home. We already had strong ideas about what we wanted to include in the book, and had even written an outline. Still, we wanted input from other people with experience adopting from shelters and rescue groups or adopting dogs with difficult pasts. In the blog, Trisha asked readers what they wanted to know when they adopted an adult dog and what they thought were the most important things for adopters to know. We were thrilled with the responses to the blog.

Among the many wonderful comments, one reply stood out. Judi, herself a guardian of rescue dogs, said something that we loved so much that we knew immediately that we had to include it in our book. Here’s what she said:

“See the dog, not the story.”

We considered this sentiment so beautiful and profound that we expanded on what it means to us with this paragraph in the book:

See the Dog, Not the Story. This is excellent advice from someone with a rescue dog. What your new dog needs most of all is the same thing a person needs—to be accepted and respected for who they are, to be “heard” and understood, rather than to be labeled. You may have been told a number of stories about your dog’s history, but although it can be valuable to gather information, it’s important not to label your dog for the rest of his life as, for example, “abused” or “neglected.” Your goal, beyond providing your new dog a safe and stable environment, is to honor him by letting him tell you who he is right now, accepting that, and acting accordingly. Just as you are no longer that little girl or boy who got bullied on the playground (or who did the bullying), your dog will grow and change as time goes on. Do all you can to see him for who he is NOW, not who he was years ago or who you think he should be.

Socialization Outside the Household
Meeting the dog at home is not enough

One of the obstacles to proper socialization is a misunderstanding of the details of the process. Specifically, many of my clients have told me that they didn’t worry too much about socializing their new puppy because they have another dog at home, and the puppy and that dog get along great. There is an assumption that if a dog can interact properly with one dog, they can interact with all dogs. Regrettably, this is not true.

Exposure to many dogs in the early months of a puppy’s life teaches the puppy to be comfortable with unfamiliar dogs in addition to teaching him to be comfortable with the particular dogs he has met. While meeting the other dog at home is a great place to start socializing a puppy, it is unwise to stop there. Many dogs grow up behaving beautifully around the other dog in the family but are totally unable to cope with any other dogs. That’s because such dogs only had the opportunity to learn that the dog at home is a friend, but never learned that any other dog can be a friend, too. Judging the dog based only on the behavior around that one dog paints a very incomplete picture of his social skills.

An analogy is to consider a girl who is very relaxed and comfortable around her brother and to assume that she’s comfortable around boys. In reality, she may be shy, tongue-tied or completely awkward around boys. Her behavior around her brother is an exception that is out of step with the real pattern

Many well-meaning dog guardians forego the usual suggestions to socialize a puppy, and they do so because they erroneously believe that one dog at home (or even several) will provide adequate socialization. Not so. Puppies need to meet a lot of dogs in order to be able to interact in a socially appropriate way with unfamiliar dogs throughout their lives and to feel comfortable doing so. If a puppy meets lots of dogs early on, the lesson that all other dogs are potential social partners is more likely to be learned and to be applied to all dogs.

A Dog Named Glacier
Coat color influences choice of name

The color of a dog is often the inspiration when choosing a name, and I enjoy that these names fit the dog. It shows that people made the effort to pick a name specifically for that dog. It’s a rare occurrence when I meet a dog named Shadow (or the Spanish equivalent so common where I live—Sombra) who is not black. I’ve also met my share of black dogs named Raven, Cinder, Midnight, Smoky and Stormy.

Similarly, there are lots of brown dogs, especially Chocolate Labs, named Hershey or Cocoa. Other common names for brown dogs include Mahogany, Mocha, Kahlua, Hickory and Snickers.

A fair number of “redheaded” canines go by Ginger or Rusty. I’ve also met dogs with a red or orange coat color with the names Ruby, Amber, Cinnamon, Penny, Brandy, Chili and Merlot.

Even before meeting a dog, I’m inclined to expect a white dog with a name like Snowball, Coconut, Casper, Beluga, Pearl or Sugar. I recently came upon a Great Dane named Glacier, which I thought was just fantastic! I’ve met plenty of dogs with similarly inspired names like Jack Frost and Iceberg, but Glacier was a new one for me. I especially love that it can refer to both the dog’s white coat and his fantastic size.

Does your dog’s name give a nod to his coat color?

More From The Bark

Karen B. London
Karen B. London
Karen B. London