Canine Intervertebral Disc Disease: How much do we know?

This week, Sam Khan and Paul Freeman from Cambridge University Vet School presented a webinar on IVDD and their current research project.

You can watch the webinar here:

Do we need to get MEAN to improve dog health? My November 2020 “Best of Health” article

Last month, the International Partnership for Dogs published its call for collaboration in a paper (Think globally, act locally) that was discussed in the Our Dogs editorial and by David Cavill in his column.

The paper reviews actions and attitudes that influence ongoing developments relative to pedigree dogs. It is a call for open, respectful discussions, within and across stakeholder groups (e.g. dog show enthusiasts, kennel and breed clubs, legislators, dog owners, veterinary and welfare groups), as well as countries and regions. It is a call for everyone to examine how our personal biases, attachments, and beliefs affect these discussions; and a call to work together for what is truly in the best interest of dogs and the people who care for them.

It concludes by saying “There are no quick and easy solutions. IPFD is working with collaborators to help create a roadmap to engage all stakeholders. Those deeply committed to ensuring the survival of all that is good about pedigree dogs need to participate in open and respectful dialogue to identify actions for the benefit of all dogs and people. Each of us should honestly consider how our own attitudes, and our actions – or inaction – have contributed to the current situation. And then, together, let us find a positive way forward.

There is a clear message that each of us can and should take action to improve the health of dogs,, i.e. a “me first” approach. However, it is also evident that some individuals and groups are better placed to take a leadership role that has the potential to accelerate the pace of health improvement. I make no apology for repeating my hobbyhorse theme that what is needed is human behaviour change.

Behavioural Insights Team

In 2010, the Prime Minister’s Office set up the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) as ‘the world’s first government institution dedicated to the application of behavioural science to policy’. The team applies behavioural insights to inform policy and improve public services. One of the first papers describing their work was “MINDSPACE: influencing behaviour through public policy”. It describes ways of “nudging” citizens into new ways of acting by going with the grain of how we think and act. Hence, the BIT was sometimes referred to as the “Nudge Unit”.

MINDSPACE is an acronym for:

Messenger  – we are heavily influenced by who communicates information 

Incentives – our responses to incentives are shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as strongly avoiding losses 

Norms – we are strongly influenced by what others do 

Defaults – we “go with the flow‟ of pre-set options 

Salience – our attention is drawn to what is novel and seems relevant to us 

Priming – our acts are often influenced by subconscious cues 

Affect – our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions 

Commitments – we seek to be consistent with our public promises, and reciprocate acts 

Ego – we act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves 

While all 9 elements of MINDSPACE may be relevant to nudging the desired behavioural changes needed to improve dog health, I want to focus on just 4: MEAN. As an aside, the imposition of legislation to address brachycephalic health is an Incentives intervention; people will generally act to avoid losses (e.g. fines or bans). However, compliance-based approaches don’t have a great track record, particularly in the world of animal welfare.

The Messenger matters

The weight we give to information often depends on the reactions we have to the source of that information. We are affected by the perceived authority of the messenger (whether formal or informal).  One study showed that interventions delivered by health educators were more effective in changing behaviour compared with interventions delivered by either trained facilitators or teachers.

Whilst expertise matters, so do peer effects. Role models from our peer group can be very influential; people often like to be seen to do what the “top people” do. 

We also have to be wary of messengers that people dislike and who are, therefore, not likely to be influential. For example, if breeders have negative views of their governing body (KC), they may be less likely to listen to messages coming from representatives, however expert they may be, from that organisation.

Ego trips

We tend to behave in a way that supports the impression of a positive and consistent self-image. When things go well, we take the credit; when things go wrong, it‟s other people’s fault. We have an inherent drive to protect our ego and to act and think in ways that make us feel better about ourselves and that we’ve made the right decisions for our dogs. 

Legislation may enforce a degree of compliance, through fear, but rewards and recognition can also be used to nudge people in the right direction. The brachycephalic breeds that have Gold-Silver-Bronze Health Award schemes are a good example of a positive approach. Recognition of early adopters and financial incentives such as screening subsidies can also help make people feel better about the actions they are taking to safeguard their breed’s health.

Affect – the act of experiencing emotion

Emotional responses to words, images and events can be rapid and automatic, so that people can experience a behavioural reaction before they realise what they are reacting to. I wrote recently that “More data won’t improve dog health” where I argued that beating people over the head with more facts was likely to fail. Of course we need data and evidence but, all too often, we have failed to engage with people on an emotional level. 

We sometimes talk about the Instagram Generation and, perhaps, we should give more thought to the power of images and videos (via YouTube), particularly to encourage behaviour change in dog buyers. Stories from owners and buyers talking about their experiences can be very powerful. Infographics are another useful medium but if they are simply used to present yet more data they won’t really engage at an emotional level. 

Norms and peer-pressure

Awareness of “social norms” – the commonly held views of our peers – can exert pressure on people to conform. If everyone else is using a health screening programme, it’s hard to be one of the few who are not. The reverse also applies, of course. Normative pressure depends on there being visibility of who is exhibiting the desired behaviour, so published lists of screened dogs or Gold Certificate holders, help to reinforce what is wanted.

Social networks (online and offline) are incredibly important in explaining group behavioural norms. It’s the echo chamber effect on Facebook; it’s hard to be a dissenting voice when a group is constantly repeating a particular message. However, in changing behaviours for dog health, there’s not much value in “preaching to the converted”. We will need to have some challenging conversations with different groups!

Different strokes for different folks

One of the really important pieces of work now being done by the IPFD is to develop a “roadmap” of tactics and options to help the various stakeholders act on breed health improvement. There are no simple or one-size-fits-all solutions. The MINDSPACE model might just be a useful checklist to help shape the roadmap and identify creative possibilities. 

Twiglet’s puppies at 4 weeks

The Dachshund Handbook – available now at Amazon

The book that Judy Squires and I edited is now 9 years old, so this new one is totally up-to-date with health information on the breed. We always give permission for people to make use of any of the resources on our Breed Council websites so you may recognise advice from these websites and Dachshund Health UK.
Linda consulted with Helen Kerfoot from our Health Committee, and me, to ensure the UK inputs were as accurate as possible (bearing in mind the book is aimed at a US audience as well). The book also has inputs from 9 UK and 5 US breeders, so it includes a range of personal perspectives and experiences. We all, inevitably, have slightly different views on how to breed, rear, and own a Dachshund, so it’s interesting and valuable to read these, particularly the US differences. This is very much a “Handbook” and probably the most comprehensive guide that a potential owner or new owner could buy.

With over 100 photos, this book, part of the Canine Handbooks, Amazon’s No.1 Dog Breed Series, guides you step-by-step through the best methods for raising & training Miniature & Standard Dachshunds from Day 1 to old age.

  • Where Should Puppy Sleep?
  • What’s The Best Way of Crate Training a Dachshund Puppy?
  • How Do I Socialise My Puppy?
  • Which Training Methods Will My Dachshund Respond To?
  • How Do I Stop Too Much Barking?
  • How Do I Prevent Nipping & Jumping Up?
  • How Long Can I Leave My Puppy For?
  • How Much Exercise Do Puppies Need?
  • Can I Stop My Dachshund Digging?
  • How Often Should I Groom?
  • How To Avoid Back Problems?
  • What Makes My Dachshund Tick?

These & dozens of other questions are answered at length by canine author Linda Whitwam the contributing breeders of Miniature, Standard, Smooth, Wire & Long-Haired Dachshunds.

If you haven’t got your puppy yet, there’s 20 pages on how to spot good & bad breeders & then how to choose a healthy pup with a good temperament.

Three breeders share their experiences of canine activities you & your Dachshund can take part in. And dog trainer Lisa Cole’s chapter explains how to take control & teach your Dachshund The Recall and other commands using the latest positive training techniques.

There are also extensive chapters on: Health, Feeding, Behaviour, Training, Exercise, Socialisation, Grooming, The Facts of Life, Dachshund Rescue & Caring for a Senior Dachshund.

The book is recommended by the Dachshund Breed Council Health Committee.

Dachs Handbook 2020.jpg


I’ve now got a copy of both versions of the book; the colour one is on offer at £20 which is rather expensive, so I expect most people will be happy enough with the B/W version (on offer at £10). Having read all the chapters for Linda during the production stage, it was great to see the finished product. Definitely a worthwhile buy!

First feeds and worming – Twiglet’s pups are 3 weeks old

First feeds and worming – Twiglet’s pups are 3 weeks old.

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