Summer 2009

Working Life

Tom Alexander

KAREN LONDON is a real-life dog whisperer. A certified applied animal behaviorist, she spent four years working with UW-Madison professor Patricia McConnell’s dog-training and consulting business. Now living in Flagstaff, Arizona, she has a private practice to help owners identify and deal with behavior issues, including aggression, in their dogs. She has coauthored four books and writes a regular column on animals called the London Zoo. But what about all those entomology classes? London explains that the leap from wasps to dogs is actually quite natural.

How were you inspired to begin working with wildlife?

Well, I took a field course on tropical field biology during my undergraduate study at UCLA. We went to the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica, where I studied termites for my individual research project. I became fascinated by their amazing social organization and communication!

What did you do next?

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I began pursuing my Ph.D. at UW-Madison. I started out looking at the nesting associations between two different types of social wasps. Discovering how species live together and interact captivated me.

So after spending so much time working with social behavior in insects, how did you start working with dogs? They seem so different.

That’s what everyone asks! But to me, it was a natural transition—I moved from studying defense and aggression in wasps to those same issues in dogs. The basic principles still apply—you need to really know the animal you’re working with to begin understanding their behavior.

But I was really introduced to the idea while serving as a teaching assistant in Trisha McConnell’s class on human-animal relationships and volunteering in her dog-training classes. From those experiences, I became interested in the close relationships people have with all kinds of animals, including their pets.

What are you up to these days?

I mostly write because I try to spend as much time as I can with my two young sons. But I still see some clients. Also I teach a field course on tropical forest insect ecology for Northern Arizona University with my husband, Richard Hofstetter (BS’92, Zoology; MS’96 Entomology). In addition to the classroom component, we take our students to Nicaragua to complete research projects in its tropical forests.

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