Tips on Animal Behavior
from Karen London, PhD
Choosing a Dog: Guidelines for
Karen B. London, Ph.D., CAAB, CPDT
Picking a dog is a big job. When you
adopt a dog, you are choosing an individual to come into your
home and to join your family. If you get along great, the
transition is smooth, and the relationship develops well, years
of happiness and love result. If a dog doesn't turn out to be
such a good match for you, frustration and regret may be in your
future. With such high stakes, it makes sense to do everything
you can to make the best choice possible. Making a good choice
is easier if you follow a few basic guidelines for adopting a
Choose a dog that fits your lifestyle.
If you never even get around to brushing your own hair, don't
choose a dog who requires daily grooming. If you take daily
runs, an active dog may be great for you, but don't choose a
young energetic dog with the hope that you will then become an
exercise fanatic and finally lose some weight. If you love a lot
of physical contact, choose a loving, cuddly dog rather than one
who tends to be more aloof.
Pick a dog that is right for your living
situation. There are so many ways to go wrong in this way.
People tend to be concerned about getting a big dog if they live
in an apartment, but energy level may be more important than
size. A large, calm, older dog may do far better in limited
space than a small dog who wants to run around for most of the
day and has a hard time settling down. Beware of getting a dog
who was bred to bark at the sight of intruders if you live where
the windows face a bike or walking trail or the local school
yard. Your neighbors won't appreciate it, and after a while,
neither will you.
Choose a dog that is the right age for you.
If you really want a puppy, this means that you are ready and
willing to deal with some accidents in the house, some serious
lack of sleep for at least a few months, some adolescent
behavior such as chewing and perhaps temporary inattentiveness,
and some unknowns about your puppy's eventual size and behavior.
Getting an adult dog will let you bypass some of these stages
and some of the unknowns involved in getting a young animal.
Getting a puppy is a fine thing to do if you are doing it for
the right reasons rather than just because puppies are so
Choose a dog who is social. Make sure
you don't confuse overly aroused behavior for social behavior. A
dog that is leaping up on you, spinning in circles, and barking
frantically is not necessarily friendly, just energetic.
Choosing a dog is best done after giving
some serious thought to what you want in a dog. Consider
exercise requirements, mental activity requirements, and
grooming requirements before selecting a dog. The more you think
about what kind of dog you want ahead of time, the more likely
you are to make a good choice that will lead to happiness for
This planning ahead and thoughtful
consideration of what you want means that you should not get a
dog on a whim, or get two dogs when you planned on only getting
one. Refrain from choosing a dog just because you feel sorry for
the dog. It is unwise to choose a dog just because of what the
dog looks like. For example, many people choose a dog for
reasons as frivolous as the dog having a black eye patch which
makes the dog look like a favorite childhood dog. This is not a
reliable way to successfully pick a companion for life.
The thoughtful consideration and planning you
put in ahead of time will serve you well as you add a canine
member to your family. Best of luck in choosing a dog who is
just right for you and who brings love and joy to your family
for many years.
"The Six Things Everyone
About Dog Training and Behavior"
by Karen B. London, Ph.D.
1. Anyone can learn the nearly lost art of
dog training. An important component
of success is understanding canine ethology, which is the
natural behavior of dogs. For example, it helps to know that
moving away from a dog is likely to make a dog follow you
whereas walking towards a dog may make that dog run away from
you. That can be very helpful when working on a reliable recall.
Another example is that if your dog is jumping up on you,
pushing him away with your hands may make things worse, not
better. For dogs, batting at another individual with your
forelimbs (paws or hands) is a signal that you want to play.
That's why so many dogs get even more excited and jumpy when
their owners try to push them away after the first jump.
2. Dog training takes practice.
One of the best clients I ever had was not naturally a truly
gifted dog trainer with a Dr. Doolittle-esqe way with the
animals. She was a dance teacher who understood, like few people
do, that any new skill takes practice and lots of it. She
practiced her timing, her movements, and the way to use her
voice a little every day, focusing on one aspect of her skills
at a time. She was patient with herself and her dog, not
expecting miracles, but celebrating each bit of progress as the
success that it was. Over time, she became an excellent trainer,
well rewarded for her diligence.
3. There are many intermediate steps in all
parts of dog training. For example,
calling your dog to come when you are at the front door holding
his leash and a dog biscuit is step one. Calling your dog to
come when he is chasing a deer is step 100. A common mistake is
working really hard at steps one through five such that your dog
can come anywhere in the house or yard when nothing else is
going on, and then assuming your dog knows what come means well
enough to do it at step 85, when the a visitor is entering your
house holding hamburgers for the barbecue. Skipping steps is a
recipe for failure, and the best dog trainers work methodically
step by step, which sets the dog (and human!) up for success.
4. The relationship between the dog and the
human is critical for successful dog training.
Of course, there are some well-trained dogs without great
relationships with their humans, but these are the exceptions.
If you want your dog to respond to any cues, commands, or
requests that you give, developing a strong relationship with
her will serve you well. How do you develop a good relationship?
Kindness, fairness, and fun are the keys. Be affectionate and
loving with your dog, not letting your temper get the best of
you. Let your dog know what you expect and be consistent in your
responses to both her best and worst behavior so she can learn
the rules and follow them. Share activities with your dog every
day, including training, play, and going on outdoor adventures.
5. Every dog is different and needs to be
treated as such. Dogs have different
likes, dislikes, and personalities, which means that training
needs to be customized for each dog. Many dogs love to work for
food, whereas others like to work for toys and chances to play.
Some dogs like to do the same task over and over, and some dogs
do best with more variety in their training routine. There are
dogs who respond well to loud noises when they are learning not
to go up onto the counters or into the nursery, and dogs who
panic or wilt in response to even moderate noises.
Individualizing your training program may mean using bits and
pieces of advice from many different trainers. It also means
keeping in mind that nobody knows your dog as well as you do,
and your decisions about what's right for your dog are
6. Behavior problems should not be blamed
on their owners. Sure, we can all
probably do a little better in the area of raising polite canine
citizens and teaching our dogs the very best social skills.
However, so many serious behavioral problems have a genetic
component to them, including separation anxiety, fearfulness
(including aggression that stems for fear), and the tendency to
be reactive and easily aroused. It is not fair to assume that
people caused their dogs to have behavior problems, and until
that truth is grasped by more people, we will continue to have
people feeling too ashamed of their dog to seek the help that
they need and deserve.
Karen London, PhD
Karen London is a Certified Applied
Animal Behaviorist and also a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT)
specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior
problems, including aggression, in dogs. Karen was trained by Dr. Patricia McConnell at
Dog’s Best Friend, LtD., and worked there for four years as a
Behavioralist and Trainer. She then worked as a Certified Applied
Animal Behavioralist and taught training classes at the Upper
Valley Humane Society in New Hampshire. Karen is the author (with
Patricia B. McConnell, Ph.D.) of "Feisty Fido: Help for the
Leash-Aggressive Dog," "Feeling Outnumbered: How to Manage and
Enjoy your Multi-Dog Household," and "Way to Go! How to House
Train a Dog of Any Age." She is currently a columnist for the BARk
Magazine, has served for three years on the Animal Behavior
Society’s Board of Professional Certification, and is busy writing
her next book (also to be co-authored with Patricia B. McConnell),
which will be on canine play.
Dog training has so
many variables that any questions about it can be answered with
the phrase, "It depends!"