Puppy Buyers: Mismatched expectations and “the panic button”

IMG_2281On the day the UK Covid-19 lockdown was announced, I wrote a Friday Essay for Our Dogs describing some of the potential unanticipated consequences of the pandemic and the government’s response to it. I asked, “what do we think will happen to the current trend in declining registrations of pedigree dogs?”. Even at that point in the pandemic, there was emerging evidence that puppy enquiries were booming and that seems to have continued. Breed Club Secretaries that I have spoken with have seen a massive increase in the number of enquiries. As a consequence, the Kennel Club has been busy providing advice for buyers and breeders to try to head off some of the potential problems that might arise. One of the concerns is that, once life returns to some semblance of normality, many of those dogs may be surrendered to rescue organisations.

We have known for a long time that there is a group of buyers that do virtually no research and appear to buy on impulse. A KC survey in 2017 showed that 1 in 5 people admitted they spent no time researching where to buy a puppy. More than one-third of respondents (34 per cent) admitted they were clueless about how to find a reputable breeder for their puppy and were therefore vulnerable to the scams that should ring alarm bells. Choosing a puppy took 36 per cent of people in the survey 20 minutes or less! It would be surprising if much has changed since 2017 and, with so many people having “time on their hands”, the temptation to buy a puppy on impulse is probably much greater.

Those of you who read my “Best of Health” articles (thank you!), will know that one of my recurring messages is that addressing canine health and welfare problems is actually a human behaviour change (HBC) issue, rather than a veterinary or scientific one. Unless breeders, buyers and owners (and a few others) change their behaviour, we will continue to see dogs suffering.

How hard can a puppy really be?

I’ve recently been speaking with Justine Williams who launched the Our Family Dog website last year. She’s also interested in human behaviour change and has been applying some of the HBC principles and tools in the design and content of her website and a support forum. Her blog recently featured an article titled: “How hard can a puppy really be?” where she describes the mismatch between the expectations and reality of owning a puppy. She says: “The reality of what new puppy owners have let themselves in for only hits home as the sleepless nights, piles of poo and puddles of pee on the carpet, and having to be on puppy watch 24/7, begin to take their toll”.

An Open Access paper published at the end of April discusses some long-term research into the dog-owner relationship. It found that how owners’ expectations and beliefs changed over time depended on whether they had experience with dogs (owning a dog presently, in the past, or never). In the first six months of ownership, especially for people with no prior experience with dogs, the owners had to adapt their expectations and beliefs. In the subsequent year, only a few differences based on dog ownership history were found.

Who are the puppy buyers?

A recent study by a marketing communications company, Pegasus, identified 4 core pet owner “behaviour types”:

  • The Nerdie Newbie – New and eager young pet owners who want to be the best owner they can be. They are proactive in safeguarding the health and wellbeing for their pet
  • The Selfie Sidekick – Pet owners who see their pet as part of their lifestyle aesthetic. Likely to refer to their pet as their “fur baby”, they place higher importance on the appearance of their pet over its health and wellbeing
  • The Good Companion – Older, more experienced pet owners who love and value their pet as another member of the family; health and wellbeing is an absolute priority for their pet and they have an established, organised routine
  • The Practical Caretaker – Pet owners who don’t “anthropomorphise” their pets. Pragmatic in their care, they understand their pet has different health and wellbeing needs to themselves but could have a more reactive approach to health and care

Research by the KC has also identified different buyer profiles and this highlighted attitudes to dog health, in particular.

Hit the “panic button”

Justine, at Our Family Dog, has identified 4 key buyer/owner problem behaviours which she has mapped to the early stages of the dog ownership journey. The behaviours are:

  • People launch into getting a puppy without any preparation
  • People make impulse buying decisions
  • New puppy owners ‘panic’ and access poor quality information on puppy care during the early weeks (8-12)
  • People use unqualified trainers, feed the wrong diet and leave dogs alone for too long (from 12 weeks onwards)

When I was speaking with her, I suggested there must be something we can learn from the challenges faced by first-time human parents. She agreed and said there’s a lot of HBC thinking behind organisations such as NCT (National Childbirth Trust) where, for example, they have resources to support the first 1000 days (from pregnancy to a child’s 2nd birthday). The peer-support offered through Mumsnet is another example. Our Family Dog has worked hard to collect stories from new dog owners and these help other new owners to realise that a puppy is hard work and it’s perfectly normal to panic or despair.

Thinking about the dog ownership journey as a series of discrete stages is a really helpful way of identifying the problem behaviours that owners make and for developing practical tools and tips to get them through to the next stage.

The reality is that it’s extremely hard to overcome the impulse-buyer problem but we can make sure that good quality advice and support is available when novice owners “hit the panic button”.

[Justine Williams’ blog post is here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-hard-can-puppy-really-expectations-versus-reality-williams/]

The Dachshund Breed Council’s Advice for Buyers and Tips for New Owners

Breed Health: leading in the “new normal” – my May 2020 “Best of Health” article

Best of HealthWe are living in strange times. I don’t want to say “unprecedented” as this has become rather over-used of late. People (mostly, irritating journalists) keep asking when it will end and why hasn’t enough been done. There’s a huge amount of uncertainty about the future and that’s largely driven by the complexity of the situation we find ourselves in. Yet, despite all this, we can’t drop the ball in our work on breed health improvement.

I’ve said many times that one of our biggest challenges is that too many people are looking for “simple” solutions to complex problems, such as:

  • A DNA test for Hip Dysplasia or Cancer
  • A change to Breed Standards to eliminate BOAS or IVDD
  • Mandatory “health testing” for puppy registrations (please re-read my article explaining why health testing does not mean healthy)

I sometimes use Dave Snowden’s Cynefin model to help my clients understand the different types of environment in which they have to make decisions. It’s also useful in the context of breed health improvement. Snowden described 4 main decision-making environments:

  • Simple (and he later renamed this as Obvious)
  • Complicated
  • Complex 
  • Chaotic

Cynefin.png

Rules and Good Practices

Hopefully, the work we are doing to improve breed health these days does not exist in a Chaotic environment. Looking back to 2008 when Pedigree Dogs Exposed was broadcast, we almost certainly found ourselves in a state of chaos and what was required was a rapid response. 

The Simple/Obvious world is the world of known-knowns. Here, we can create rules and follow procedures whenever we have to make a decision. In the world of dogs’ health and welfare, for example, the Kennel Club sets rules on the upper age (8) for breeding from a bitch and that owners consent to any caesarean operation being reported by their vet. Similarly, any Breed Watch Category 3 (formerly “High Profile Breeds”) have to be vet-checked and passed before being allowed to compete in Group competitions or have Champion status confirmed.

Some decisions are Complicated. We are dealing with known-unknowns but it’s an area where we can apply good practices. This is the domain of experts where we can analyse data and there’s usually at least one “right answer”. The development and application of Estimated Breeding Values would be a good example. Most of us have no idea how quantitative geneticists come up with EBVs but we can easily learn how to use the tools provided on the KC website. Another example is the analysis of breed health surveys which is often done by Breed Health Coordinators (or their statistician friends). Breeders and owners don’t need to know how the statistics are worked out; their interest is in the prevalence of certain health conditions or the associations between lifestyle factors and breed health. 

There are few “right answers”

The Complex world is characterised by many unknown-unknowns. In my very first “Best of Health” article in March 2014, I described these as “Wicked Problems” where we face a range of challenges that are both scientific/technical and cultural. There’s very rarely a definitive cause and effect linkage, there are few “right answers” and quite often changes result in unanticipated consequences elsewhere in the system. For example, introducing a new DNA test will almost certainly enable breeders to avoid producing puppies that will be clinically affected, but if they all flock to use a few Clear stud dogs or decide not to breed (safely) from Carriers, it’s inevitable that genetic diversity will be compromised. The end result could well be that new recessive mutations causing new health problems (surprisingly) appear and a breed ends up worse off than before the new DNA test was launched.

Navigating the complex world of canine health improvement requires great leadership. It’s no use having leaders who create rules and regulations, and then expect people to follow them, perhaps supported by a bit of education. These leaders need to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. They need to be able to see the bigger picture and how to “join the dots”. Their role is to wrangle the various different groups of interested individuals to take action. That might mean there need to be lots of different actions which, cumulatively, will make a difference to dog health. For most breed health issues, that means a series of actions designed to change buyer and breeder behaviours. It may also require behavioural changes by vets, judges, exhibitors, and even welfare campaigners.

Another challenge facing leaders is that, in some situations, there may simply not be a right answer (and certainly not a single, simple, answer). That will be difficult for some people to accept; they are usually the ones saying “all you need to do is…” or “the Kennel Club should just…”.

I summed up the role of breed health strategy leaders in an article last year as being a “choreographer”. I said: He or she was typically a “uniquely skilled and passionate individual” who was able to use their cross-cutting position and ability to see the bigger picture to help shape effective ways of working. They are often “door-openers” who can bring in, and connect, new skills and resources to help solve a complex problem.

The new “normal”

The value of the Cynefin Model is that it encourages leaders to recognise that there are no hard and fast rules for making decisions. Instead, we need to recognise the different environments within which those decisions need to be made. Currently, we are facing huge amounts of uncertainty and that’s something most people handle really badly. One study even showed that we probably hate uncertainty even more than we dislike crises and chaos. 

Uncertainty can lead to decision-paralysis and we have seen far too many examples of breed health decisions being “kicked down the road” with the excuse that we need more research data and evidence.

Whatever the new “normal” turns out to be, we will still need to keep focused on dealing with the complex world of canine health and welfare and coming up with practical solutions that genuinely make a difference for dogs.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

Online Fun Dog Show for Dachshunds

SDA Online Fun Dog Show

Moving from information and collaboration to action: report from the 4th international dog health workshop

12 months after the 4th International Dog Health Workshop, our paper on the event has been published (Open Access):

CGE_Journal

Moving from information and collaboration to action: report from the 4th international dog health workshop, Windsor in May 2019

The workshop included 126 decision-leaders from 16 countries and was structured around five key themes identified as needing international, multi-stakeholder attention. These included the concept of “breed”, supply and demand, breed-specific strategies for health and breeding, genetic testing and extreme conformations. The review of progress made since the 3rd IDHW 2017 and the comprehensive lists of actions agreed upon during the current meeting suggest that movement from information and collaboration to action has been achieved. Working groups with specific tasks were identified and many plan to continue to communicate through forum communities on DogWellNet.com.

Conclusions

The IDHW provides a forum for formal and informal discussion between relevant groups so that key dog health and welfare issues can be identified and defined, and plans can be agreed for effective actions to address them. The 3rd IDHW 2017 resulted in a number of significant outcomes. New and continuing actions were laid down at the 4th IDHW 2019, which will be re-evaluated at the 5th IDHW facilitating continual progress.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

75th Anniversary of VE Day: Kennel Club memories of Mayfair

This is reproduced from the KC Staff Newsletter, with permission:

Mayfair BlitzAs the nation prepares for the 75th anniversary VE Day commemorations, here is a stark reminder of the reality of war.

During the Second World War, many parts of London were bombed including Mayfair. The photograph shows the destruction of 1, 2 and 3 Clarges Street on 11 May 1941, four years before the end of the war.

The destruction of parts of Clarges Street marked the final day of what the tabloid press termed at the time ‘The Blitz’.

At the time, the Kennel Club was sited at 84 Piccadilly (in the background) where remarkably it sustained only minor damage.

A most distinctive landmark on Piccadilly during this period was the Kennel Club Hound, a life-size bronze of a Foxhound known as ‘Forager’ which was located on top of the porch of the Kennel Club’s headquarters from where he gazed across Piccadilly and into Green Park.

On the day of the bombing of Mayfair, Kennel Club officials were amazed when they arrived at the scene to find Forager standing triumphantly, if a little charred, in his usual vantage point. He now graces the foyer of the current Kennel Club building at 10 Clarges Street, looking as good as new.

In the ’50s, the Kennel Club actually bought the bomb-damaged area in the photograph for the site of its new headquarters, but it’s rather sobering to reflect that this piece of good fortune for the governing body came as a result of the thoroughly rotten luck which rained down upon the previous owners one day in Mayfair during the war.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: