Thinking fast and slow – my “Best of Health” article for February 2020

Best of HealthLast month, I ended with a quote from Dr Dan O’Neill at the 4th International Dog Health Workshop (IDHW4): “We need to stop saying it’s all about the dogs. It is clear that it is really all about the people”. While it’s important to understand canine health and genetics, it’s become apparent that many of the successes and failures of health improvement initiatives are down to human motivation, behaviour, and thinking. One of the underlying themes at the IDHW4 event was “human behaviour change” and, in previous articles, I’ve written about some of the ways this can be influenced. Studying fields such as psychology that are concerned with how people think, behave and make decisions can give us some useful insights into why canine health improvement can be so difficult.

My Christmas reading was Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking fast and slow”. Kahneman is a psychologist and economist who won a Nobel Prize for his work on behavioural economics in 2002. Thinking fast and slow is all about why people think what they do and why they make the decisions they make. Kahneman calls “thinking fast”, System 1, and “thinking slow”, System 2.  System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little effort and without voluntary control. System 2 requires mental effort and concentration.

For example, if you told most dog breeders that 2 of the 3 genotypes from a DNA test are “Clear” and “Carrier”, they would instantly know that the 3rd genotype is “Affected”. System 1 gives us the answer automatically because it’s something we’ve learned through practice and repetition. If, however, I asked you what is the expected proportion of Carrier puppies from mating a Clear and Carrier together, you’d probably have to think more carefully or draw a punnett square. Kahneman claims that we all like to believe we think in a System 2 way; i.e. rationally, and we use that ability to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens in practice.

System 1 is fine because it uses what we have learned in order to react quickly and lowers the mental load we have to cope with. System 1 often uses “rules of thumb” to make decisions quickly and usually these lead to good decisions. Occasionally, it can also lead to mistakes. Try this: A bat and a ball cost £1.10 between them. The bat costs £1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?

Most people answer 10p but the correct answer is 5p. If the ball cost 10p and the bat cost £1 more, it would cost £1.10, making the total cost £1.20. System 1 thinking evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing and wrong! System 1 causes people to be overconfident and to place too much faith in intuition. Our brains are inherently lazy and we default to System 1 decision-making and with that comes cognitive biases. Only if we come across something unusual or if we make a conscious effort, do we engage System 2.

WYSIATI: What you see is all there is

System 1 is a “machine for jumping to conclusions” on the basis of limited information. Try this:

Jo is 30 years old, outspoken and has tattoos. Jo lives in a Northern city and works as a car mechanic. Which of these statements is more probable?

1: Jo owns a Gundog

2: Jo owns a Terrier

Based on registration statistics it is actually 4 times more likely that 1 is correct, yet some people will jump to conclusions because of their inherent biases or will assume the (irrelevant) storyline is of some significance and outweighs the statistical evidence. It takes more mental effort to apply System 2 thinking and come up with the right answer.

If you’re a breeder and you had 4 out of 5 litters born by caesarean, System 1 could lead you to conclude that most bitches need caesareans and you might be inclined to go for elective caesars rather than wait. Similarly, if you’re a breeder who has never had a dog with a condition that is known to be prevalent in your breed, System 1 may lead you to conclude that “it’s the way everyone else rears theirs”, despite there being no evidence and your experience is based only on your own small sample of dogs.

When you bring individuals with their own supposedly rational views into a group, you can end up with a whole group coming up with completely irrational rejections of robust scientific evidence. System 1 thinking has little understanding of logic and statistics, which is why we all need to be aware of this risk and become more careful and reflective users of breed health data. 

Recognising bias

System 1 takes shortcuts to make decisions; for example, confirmation bias means you tend to agree with information that supports something you already believe. If you’ve heard about a few cases of epilepsy in a breed, you’re more likely to agree with research studies that also found epilepsy, even if they only involved very small sample sizes.

There is also an “availability” bias, where you overestimate the probability of something that you have heard often or that you find easy to remember. This is a particular danger in the world of health improvement where a few cases of a disease might get discussed widely, or a DNA test is developed and people then rush to use that test, while completely ignoring the low incidence of the condition or the fact that other conditions are much more important to address.

Kahneman discusses the “availability cascade”. This is a self-sustaining chain of events that may start with a few media reports of a problem that lead to widespread public panic and eventually result in policy changes by legislators. Often, the emotional reaction (e.g. dogs dying) becomes a story in itself and the story can be accelerated by media headlines, social media groups and campaigning individuals who work to ensure a continuous supply of bad news cases. Scientists who try to try to use data to dampen the fears sometimes face hostility or are accused of a cover-up and we simply don’t get to hear of the 99.9% of dogs that haven’t been affected.

Hindsight bias occurs when people reconstruct a story to exaggerate the probability they knew an event was going to happen. I can’t think of any canine health examples but it’s regularly heard around the ringside just after the Challenge Certificate has been awarded!

System 1 thinking is intuitive and makes our lives easier by reducing the amount of mental effort we need to expend when making decisions. Being aware of this helps us to understand why it’s so hard to change the behaviour of breeders, judges, buyers, and owners. It’s helpful to be aware of these lessons from Thinking fast and slow because, otherwise, we will continue to make the same mistakes and will not see the improvements in canine health and welfare that we all want to see.

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Miniature Dachshund Club Championship Show 9/2/20 – BIS Critique

Best In Show

Best In Show – Metcalfe-Bilgin’s Metadale Legacy To The Lark

Beautifully balanced clear red Miniature Smooth bitch of 15 months. Pleasing head and expression with dark eye and strong jaw. Good reach of neck, flowing into well laid shoulders. Well bodied with firm topline and flowing underline. Stands absolutely true in front and behind. Good spring and length of rib. Well angulated hindquarters complete the picture. She held her shape at all times both on the move and in stance. Free-flowing movement viewed in profile and parallel action coming and going. Pleased to hear later that she became a well-deserved Champion today.

Reserve Best In Show – Wood’s Ch. Wildstar Wrobinson

Elegant dark red Miniature Longhaired dog. Another with a well balanced, eye-catching outline in stance. Particularly admired his excellent head and correctly shaped, dark, oval eye. Well constructed at both ends with correctly placed shoulders and well angulated hindquarters. Well boned with good substance. Excellent presentation. Moved steadily and held his topline in profile. Displayed sound up and back action.

Best Puppy In Show

Best Puppy In Show – Jones’ Bimini Chasing Moonbeams

Caught my attention on entering the ring. Outstanding brindle Miniature Wire bitch with super outline and effortless free movement. Beautifully proportioned with attractive head, dark, oval eye and keen expression. Reachy neck flows into well laid and correctly placed shoulders. Firm, level topline held at all times both on the move and in stance. Good spring and length of rib and flowing underline. Well angulated quarters complete the picture. Firm, level topline displayed in profile movement and was parallel moving up and back. Royally bred from two homebred Champions, I see. Her breeder should be justly proud of this exciting puppy.

Reserve Best Puppy In Show – Worswick’s Dollyharp Sonatina

Attractive cream Miniature Longhaired bitch. A little bit unsure on the table, but held her well-balanced outline in stance and on the move. Well constructed throughout with good bone and substance and well sprung ribs. Loved her correctly proportioned head and dark, almond-shaped eye. Just needs to gain in confidence to make the best of herself.

Best Veteran In Show

This was my most difficult decision of the day and I was completely torn between these two lovely dogs of completely different type!

Best Veteran – Rose’s Ch. Ridanflight Ricardo

Compact and chunky brindle Miniature Wirehaired male. Eye-catching outline in stance with bold, alert expression and shows himself off well on the move. Attractive head, good length of neck, flowing seamlessly into well placed shoulders and good length of upper arm to complement. Well-bodied with good spring of rib, level topline and sweeping underline. Stands true at both ends and has parallel action up and back. Holds his outline in profile movement.

Reserve Best Veteran – Daykin’s Ch. Barratini Jonny Cash

Elegant dark red Miniature Smooth dog I have previously awarded a Reserve CC to when he was a youngster. He still appeals to me greatly. Completely different type to the Min Wire, being longer in body. Beautiful head and expression, super length of neck, well laid shoulders, firm and level topline and hind angulation in balance with forequarter construction. Flows round the ring in profile, with proud head carriage and keeps his lovely outline at all times. Just not quite as firm behind in stance and going away action as my winner and this was the deciding factor.

SUE SEATH (Judge)

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Opal’s puppies are 5 weeks old and exploring the big, wide, world!

 

This is how it all started, 40 years ago

In February 1980, Sue and I bought our first Dachshunds. They were a pair of Mini Longs who we called Copper and Bracken. The breeder we bought them from said they had fantastic pedigrees and encouraged Sue to show them.

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Needless to say, they weren’t actually that great as show dogs but Sue was bitten by the showing bug and, as they say, the rest is history. 2 years later, having seen some amazing Wires at shows, we bought our first Standard Wire (Pudding – photo below).

IMAG0492.jpgShe turned out not to be that great either but we all have to start somewhere and, with support from some great mentors and friends, we bought and showed a better quality Wire (Beryl) who was the dam of our first CC winner (Flint – registered name: Sunsong Boy – photo below).

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Opal’s puppies are 4 weeks old

The pups are now 4 weeks old (1 dog and 1 bitch). Opal is very devoted to them and they are feeding well. They started on solid food about a week ago and are on 3 meals a day, now (plus plenty of top-ups from Mum). They had their first trip outside yesterday, to experience the patio and begin to see the outside world. Here are the latest photos.

Opal Pups 4 weeks (2)Opal Pups 4 weeks (1)Opal Pups 3 Weeks (2)Opal Pups 3 Weeks (1)Opal Pups 4 weeks (4)Opal Pups 4 weeks (3)

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