Reflections on the 3rd International Dog Health Workshop, Paris 2017

IPFD_IDHW2017It would be very easy to view this event run by the International Partnership for Dogs as a talking shop for those of us actively involved in breed health improvement work. I’ve not attended the previous two events, so have nothing to compare it with but, overall, it was an impressive example of international and inter-disciplinary collaboration.

By inter-disciplinary I mean not just geneticists, vets and epidemiologists, but also breeders, owners and campaigners. Clearly, they are never all going to see eye to eye but this event majors on collaboration, with clear messages about what actions can be taken, even if it is by sub-groups of interested parties.

Whenever you get dog people in a room, they inevitably want to talk about their breed and their specific issues. They are passionate about their breed and really want to find practical ways to improve things. That’s something of a challenge in this type of workshop because it can probably never deal with specifics like one breed and one health condition. The real value is bringing these knowledgeable people together to share what works and to generate some energy to create new resources for others to use.

I had the privilege of making one of the plenary presentations and that was a nerve-wracking experience in front of an audience such as this. There were representatives of 17 Kennel Clubs, the FCI and world-renowned scientists as well as lay people who “just” own dogs. Judging by the feedback, my session went down well. Quite how I was supposed to encapsulate the work our Dachshund Breed Council team has done in less than 15 minutes I don’t know. Nevertheless, I was able to give a flavour of our approach which combines everyone’s passion for the breed with some good data and some basic change management principles that I bring from my day-job as a management consultant. I am sure many of them found me something of an oddity; talking about my enthusiasm for data combined with ideas on how to enthuse people on health projects and change behaviours.

The main work at the event was done in 6 breakout groups, each of which had its own theme and a team of facilitators to help guide and shape the discussions. I worked in the “Breed-specific health strategies” team which came up with some practical actions that should create a series of resources for breed clubs and kennel clubs around the world.

What was fascinating to me, but probably shouldn’t have been surprising, was the impact of national cultures on which approaches will or will not work. For example, the Nordic countries are well advanced in developing Breed-specific strategies and have a culture where they can achieve high levels of regulation of, and compliance from, breeders. Others, like the Benelux and Southern European nations would risk driving breeders away from their Kennel Club sphere of influence if they were as prescriptive. All this does, however, lead us to the definition of an interesting range of approaches and some understanding of where they might be useful and effective.

What I hope will emerge from this working group is five things:

  • a framework for defining the starting point for an individual breed (e.g. the characteristics that define the issues facing Cavaliers and how they differ from those affecting Bernese Mountain Dogs).
  • a set of templates for breed data collection, covering health, welfare, temperament and conformation. There is a model for this already available via the AKC and we also have a health surveys toolkit available in the UK.
  • a framework for summarising the range of options available to address health issues, together with some understanding of where and when each might be appropriate. This is needed to help give people practical solutions, but also to enable them to see why some may not work or what the unintended consequences might be. At the moment, it’s very easy for people to leap to solutions like “change the Breed Standard” or “do an outcross mating” without having defined the problem adequately.
  • a set of implementation guidelines and case studies which address some of the behavioural change issues many breeds currently face. These need to cover aspects such as education, communication, “nudging behaviour”, recognition and enforcement.
  • finally, some example templates for summarising Breed Improvement Strategies. The Swedish RAS framework is well-proven and, again, our KC has its Breed Health Improvement Strategy Guide.

If we can put all this together, it will be an amazing resource for people to use. We need tools that are practical and which don’t require years of delay while more data is collected or more research is conducted. That’s not to say these won’t be necessary in some cases, but, for many breeds they need well-thought through actions, sooner, rather than later.

My definition of a “strategy” is an action plan with a rationale; this set of resources might just help accelerate the creation and importantly, the implementation, of strategies that benefit the dogs.

I have blogged separately throughout the weekend about what happened at the workshop and the plans developed in each of the 6 workstreams. Time will tell if the energy visible in Paris actually turns into actions.

Brenda Bonnett, CEO of IPFD did a fantastic job of designing this workshop and the French Kennel Club team brought it to life with a real passion. The next International Dog Health Workshop will take place in the UK in 2019. Paris will be a hard act to follow!

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IPFD Workshop 2017 – summary of actions from Day 2

IPFD_IDHW2017

Day 2 of the IPFD Workshop focused on action planning in each of the 6 workstreams. We reconvened mid-morning, after an early start, for a plenary session where each group presented their recommendations. This is a summary of the final reports. The Day 1 summary is here.

Education and Communication

This workstream took antibiotic resistance as its topic through which to focus on education and communication. They agreed to:

  • Set up an AMR Network and identified founder members
  • Create recommendations for Breed Clubs on the use of antibiotics
  • Develop global guidelines for vets and breeders, together with country-specific guidance
  • Establish a project whereby existing data could be collated and a literature review conducted
  • Use the above as a basis for setting out project proposals (possibly for a PhD student) to conduct retrospective and prospective data collection

Socialisation

This group confirmed the need for more positive messaging to the general public regarding pedigree dogs and breeding of dogs. Their action plan included identifying currently available messaging on the importance of socialisation and to develop any new resources that might be needed to fill any gaps. In the longer term, they felt it may be necessary to conduct further research into what might be needed to ensure breeders and owners are aware of effective approaches during pregnancy and early weeks of a puppy’s life.

Exaggerations and conformation

The team focused on Brachycephalics and confirmed an action to revisit FCI Breed Standards to clarify wording and to ensure breed-specific instructions are available for 4 priority breeds. They also agreed sub-groups to exchange data, research and implementation. The latter included media communications and effective ways to change buyer/owner/breeder behaviours.

Breed-specific health strategies

This group had further discussions around EBVs, outcrossing, regulation and data gathering. Several Kennel Clubs already have components available to support the three-step process the team felt was needed: assessment of the current breed situation, development and implementation of breed-specific actions and then, reassessment. Their view was that the available solution options were probably already known but advice was needed on how these might need to be adapted to specific situations. Making case studies available via the dogwellnet website should also be an action and these should include examples of what doesn’t work as well as what does.

The group also emphasised that Kennel Clubs needed to be proactive otherwise they risked governments creating legislation that might superficially seem suitable but which, in practice, might actually make things worse.

Show me the numbers

The team felt that one of the biggest scandals is not mining the available data and the group agreed to work together to catalogue data resources within their network and to coordinate objectives across multiple studies (e.g. breed and disorder). They would aim to publish whatever is possible and look to promote fair-access collaboration internationally and inter-disciplinarily).

They emphasised the importance of asking “why collect this data?” so that it would be clear how the answers could actually make a difference. Picking up on breed trends and eco-epidemiology (recycling of data-sets) could also increase the speed at which improvements could actually be realised.

DNA harmonisation

This project is already well underway with IPFD having appointed a project director and building an early proof of concept on the dogwellnet website. Evaluation of the range of available tests using a template of questions would be a priority and further funding to ensure sustainability of the system would be important, given the rapid rate of change and development in the genetic testing field.

The workshop wrapped-up with thanks to the organisers, hosts and facilitators as well as all the participants who had collaborated over the 2 days.

I really enjoyed the workshop and picked up new ideas to share with Dachshund colleagues and other Breed Health Coordinators. I didn’t really know what to expect as this was the first IDH Workshop I have attended but I made some useful contacts and have a better understanding of what the challenges are around the world as well as some of the good practices that are already available “off the shelf”.

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Ian’s presentation at the IPFD Paris workshop: DBC Health Improvement Strategy 2017

Ian Seath’s presentation at the IPFD International Dog Health Workshop 2017 on the UK Dachshund Breed Council’s Health Improvement Strategy:


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10 ways to screw up your breed health improvement strategy

It’s approaching midnight and I am reflecting on a great first day at the IPFD’s International Dog Health Workshop in Paris.

A long time ago, I developed a Cause and Effect Diagram with one of my clients on how to “create” badly managed change. We did it as part of a senior management workshop while planning the implementation steps for an improvement initiative. It came to mind tonight as I was thinking about some of the challenges different breeds face across the world as they try to develop and implement health improvement strategies. I ended up with a Top 10 list of “screw-ups”.

No doubt, you can think of a few more ways to ensure a breed improvement strategy initiative goes off the rails!

  1. Provide no evidence of the need for change (or create some “alternative facts” to justify the status quo)
  2. Define the solution before defining the problem (adopt evidence-free policy-making)
  3. Hold a mock consultation with those in the breed who will be affected (pretend to seek their views)
  4. Ignore the evidence presented by people in the breed, or specialists elsewhere, who have ideas to offer (because you know better)
  5. Shoot the messenger who brings you data to define the real problem (because that way it’s less likely other people will dare to dissent)
  6. Communicate several different and, preferably contradictory, reasons for needing an improvement strategy, over time (to obscure the lack of rationale for any change)
  7. Ignore any criticism of your plans and wait for the “fuss” to die down (because eventually, they will get used to your idea)
  8. Reassure people by telling them “change is always difficult” (patronising them always helps)
  9. Drag the implementation process out over as long a period as possible, preferably so that “more data” can be gathered (to create as much fear and uncertainty as possible)
  10. Go ahead and implement your (flawed) strategy and actions anyway (because you have the power to do whatever you want)

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IPFD 2017 workshop – summary of Day 1

IPFD_IDHW2017Participating in the International Partnership for Dogs’ 2017 workshop in Paris has been a privilege and has inspired me with ideas to take back to friends and colleagues in the UK.

After the morning’s short plenary presentations (watch mine here) we split into workshops to explore 6 key themes. This is a summary of the feedback from each theme at the end of Day 1. Day 2 will be about agreeing specific actions and owners.

1. Show me the numbers

Some of the issues flagged by this group included:

  • the need to prioritise data requirements
  • the importance of a unique ID for every dog
  • the potential value of national registration systems to include non-pedigree dogs, although there are clearly cultural issues affecting compliance levels

International collaboration on data collection would be valuable but we should aim for fair access rather than open access as there is the potential for open data to be used inappropriately.

Dogwellnet.com could act as a dating agency, matching research questions with data owners and analysts.

There is always a risk of balancing steering vs. funding; those who fund projects may want particular answers.

The lack of a standard nomenclature also hampers collaboration, with various systems already in place (VeNom, SnoMed, Petscan, Agria). However, there is the potential to establish “jigsaw projects” with linked databases.

Always, it is important to understand the uses and limitations of data and to be clear about what analytical methods are appropriate.

Ultimately, data should be used to enable change and improvement; the focus should be on dissemination, not just on research.

2. Extremes in conformation

This workstream focused on brachycephalics and everyone agreed this is the most severe and significant problem related to extremes of conformation in dogs.

However, there is still a need to gather accurate data to quantify the different sources:KC registered dogs vs. puppy farmed dogs. Whatever the source, increasing popularity means more dogs are suffering even though the evidence suggests many owners don’t realise this. They see the symptoms as “normal for the breed” (or worse, as “cute”).

Buyers need more information in order to make informed choices; vets have a key role to play here in educating their clients. Vets have to work more closely with Kennel Clubs on this.

Campaigns such as CRUFFA have been instrumental in flagging the issues of flat-faced dogs to advertisers and the media. This awareness raising needs to continue as it has the potential to reverse (or, at least slow) the trend in popularity of these at-risk breeds.

Overall, an aim to move the mean “health score” so that the population improves is a valid goal and there are options to consider such as the breeding of new, less extreme, brachy types (retro-pugs) or even cross-breeding. All of this does require a suitable way to measure progress, of course!

3. Education and Communication

This workstream took as its particular focus, the issue of anti-microbial resistance related to the over-prescription of antibiotics.

The establishment of an AMR network could be valuable, together with the development of global guidelines for vets and breeders, based on data to support the utility and achievement of particular approaches. More “stories” about the dangers of over-use of antibiotics are needed, to counter the numerous anecdotes about the importance of prescribing them (e.g. to get bitches in whelp).

As with many such programmes, the challenges are cash, data, geography, politics and buy-in.

4. DNA test harmonisation

There are currently no Quality Assurance processes in place for DNA tests. (Almost) anyone can set up a lab and offer DNA testing. The IPFD harmonisation project will establish a framework to validate providers and tests, and in phase 2 will develop support around genetic counselling.

A web-based resource is under development and will be available via dogwellnet.com

5. Breed-specific health improvement strategies

This is the workstream that I participated in and I will provide more detailed information separately.

Strategies need to be adapted to reflect a range of factors: legal, national, breed, severity weightings, tools, diversity). There is no “one size fits all” solution. What may work in Sweden may not be appropriate in the UK.

There are, however, tools we can share; for example health survey approaches and the resulting data. These could be shared via the dogwellnet.com website.

Recording age and cause of death would be another useful addition to available data but this would need to be done with sensitivity. It may also be valuable to record such information on pedigree certificates so that owners can see the history of their dog’s ancestors.

Of course, all this requires leadership and dedicated resources.

The group also discussed whether the binary concept of “carrot and stick” was too blunt an instrument to be useful in driving the required behavioural changes. A more finessed model might include “enthusing”, “educating”, “engineering” and “enforcing”.

6. Behaviour and welfare

This workstream stated that “socialisation” was a subset of “welfare” and started in utero. They felt there was a need for positive messages and these could be a way to add value to the sale of well-bred dogs. The 5 Freedoms would be a logical framework upon which to base these marketing messages.

Kennel Clubs could include socialisation as part of their breeding requirements, where they have schemes in place.

Because it’s unclear what is already available on socialisation there is probably a need for some survey or audit work and maybe also some longitudinal studies on what works.

As with several of the other workstreams, a lack of data and funding were identified as key barriers. In addition, a challenge here is how to reach the puppy producers, particularly if they lie outside the sphere of influence of Kennel Clubs.

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