What is ‘evidence-based- in ‘Evidence-based dog behaviour therapy practice’?

Blog post about evidence-based dog behaviour therapy. February 2016
Article by Laure-Anne Visele. References and picture credits at the end of the post

About author: certified dog trainer and applied behaviourist in The Hague


Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I am the dog behaviour therapist at Canis bonus, and Head Trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague).

I help people from The Hague, Rijswijk, Delft, Westland and region with their dog behaviour questions.

I studied Zoology, am a certified dog training instructor, and have a Postgraduate in applied animal behaviour (completed Magna cum laude).

If you want dog-friendly and evidence-based tips, drop me a line briefly explaining the problem and I’ll tell you if I think I can help.

Evidence-based dog behaviour practice?

Our dog training school in The Hague (OhMyDog!) has publicly stated its evidence-based standards. That’s fine and dandy, only we’ve found that the general members of the public don’t know what it means. Mmmmh, so much for an effective communication strategy. Worst still, when we explain what it means, some people take it to be an insult, a dogmatic stance, scientific arrogance or worse, an ideological position.

If it’s such an ingrate task, why do we bother promoting the concept? Because dog behaviour is our passion. And it irks us to see it dragged in the mud by con-artists or misguided amateurs, with often devastating consequences to the dogs and the families involved. Dog behaviour advice professions are largely unregulated (to my deepest regret), so we are passionate about protecting the consumer by giving them the tools to critically evaluate the advice they get and do right by their dog.

Skeptical face

Try as I might, it’s hard to make that face look like polite nodding.

The conversation can turn heated when we tackle it with someone with strong vested interests in something that is being criticized by evidence-based practitioners. It can be hard to explain that there are no reasonable grounds for believing that latest celebrity endorsement, alternative treatment, or paranormal intervention without coming across as jerks. But how else do you politely say something is tosh?

I am going to be writing a series of posts about the specific aspects of the evidence-based concept over the next few weeks to clear up some of the misconceptions that often get us in trouble. This will hopefully give evidence-based practitioners some communication tools to educate effectively without insulting. It will also, I hope, give people who are not familiar with the concept handy critical thinking tools. The first post is out: it concerns logical fallacies in dog training.


What OhMyDog and Canis bonus do not condone

As a result of our evidence-based policy, we reject the validity of the following claims and movements:

  • Organic products:
    • Organic farming is not sustainable in that it requires a lot more arable land.
    • It also makes use of pesticides and fertilisers, unlike what many believe.
    • + Organic farming attempts not to use prophylactic antibiotics, which is absolutely commandable.
    • Organic products are demonstrated not to be healthier in any way, and yet pressure people from low income families to spend money they do not have on intangible health benefits.
    • + From an animal welfare perspective, organic farming is marginally more defensible than intensive farming, and there is something to be said about it there.
  • Anti-vaccination movement:
    • A terribly damaging new age movement based on flawed studies and thoroughly decried by qualified public health professionals worldwide.
    • OhMyDog! insists on every dog attending its classes being on schedule with their vaccinations.
  • Anti-GM: Being genetically modified as an umbrella term does not carry any health risks. It is a fear-mongering term.
  • ‘Natural’ and ‘chemical-free’ products:
    • This is empty, fear-mongering, feel-goodery marketing lingo which is not linked to any kind of tangible standard by law.
    • It also appears to a well-known fallacy: the naturalistic by which any form of human progress would be unsound, and any product of nature would be healthy and desirable.
  • Gluten-free product: Being gluten-free confers no tangible health benefit, unless the consumer has a relevant diagnosed medical condition.
  • Tellington Touch: The soundness and benefit of the T-Touch intervention lies in the massage, not in trademarked rituals taught in scandalously overprized workshops.
  • Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine: Homeopathy, acupuncture, reiki, chiropractics, etc. All relying on the placebo effect and wishful thinking. A waste of money and crushed hopes at best, animals not receiving a high standard of care at worse.
  • Animal communication and telepathy: I hope we do not need to elaborate as to why this does not pass even the basic critical thinking test.

Illustration credits

Further reading

  • Canis bonus: Post 2 of the Evidence-based series: Fallacies and biases in dog training.
  • Canis bonus: My Pinterest board on running an evidence-based practice and fighting pseudoscience in the dog behaviour world: Woo Fighters
  • Good Thinking Society: The Good Thinking Society, a UK-based skeptics enquiry foundation, investigate and exposees paranormal and alternative claims.
  • OhMyDog!: OhMyDog!’s blog post on what it means to run an evidence-based dog training school.
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