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Epidemiology: a canine intervention  Dear Human Scientists,    I am 2.5 year old bull terrier named Dino the 6th Burstyn and I perused with great  interest your  article on “Understanding how dogs encourage and motivate walking:  cross-sectional findings  from RESIDE” (link to open access article for those with  opposable thumbs).  As a terrier, you  can imagine I have a great admiration for  epidemiology, and you can imagine my excitement  when I saw your study involved  dogs! Your intriguing findings triggered some reflections of my  own and, given that  you did not interview any dogs in your investigation (not even the famed  Lassie of  your native land), I thought that you may benefit from canine perspective.  Your study investigates the important question of which demographic and behavioral  factors  contribute a strong sense of encouragement and motivation (of humans) to  walk with us, dogs. I  have to say I was flabbergasted that what I consider to be my  main ”human behavioural change  technique”, was not mentioned in your study at  all!   So how do we, dogs, motivate humans?  My favorite is pooping/peeing/vomiting on  to the living  room carpet.  Few actions get you outdoors faster for a nice little jog.   But there is a hazard of  being either in a metaphorical “dog house” later on, or,  worse still, -- the vet.  So, a more  ingenious approach I use (plan A* so you will) is  whine, squeak, and nuzzle your human as they  attempt to ignore you; lick their  laptop/iPad only as the last resort.  If you are allowed on the  furniture – jump on  that and get their attention, otherwise – trying to put your paws on your  human’s  lap does the trick.  After a while they decide that it is simpler to take you outside to   chase squirrels (or whatever you fancy, I do not judge). There is also a very curious phenomenon that affects how often my humans walk  me, and which  I can only imagine you accidentally forgot to add to your important  study.  Humans seem to be  leaving us to ourselves for large parts of the day to go to  a place they call a “job”. They do joke  that this is what pays for my kibbles but  surely these are just in the cupboard?! They always  are….  So, when they “job” a  lot, I get walked less. (An important note to my colleague canines:  chewing up the  sofa does not make your human come back early and take you for a walk.)    However, when my humans are happy about doing really well at the “job”, they  sometimes bring  home with them a delightful person called a “dog-walker” (am I a  “human-walker” by  symmetry’s sake?).  These “dog-walkers” take me outside  regularly when my human pack is  away.  This is a wonderful arrangement: although  I get less time with my owners outside, I am  tired when they return from a “job”  and simply sleep next to them as they do what humans do  (mysterious things called  “television”, “internet” and “homework with the kids”) or they let me  sleep in my  cage as they “go out” (presumably to play with those unfortunate dogs who do not   have humans with nice “jobs” and “dog-walkers”).    Did I mention that I am bull terrier?  Do you know that this means that I am extra-  cute and  wonderful with children?  Do you also know that I am both the clown of  canine world and the  gladiator?  That is right: cute and fun, but deadly!     So, try not to walk me and I will destroy the house even though I am just 50 lb and a  runt of my  breed.  Also, if the bearded human who walks me most often does not  do so well enough, I can  complain to the smaller two human pack members, who  seem to have great sway with the  bearded one: any notion that I, the “kids’  puppy”, am mistreated is taken very seriously, and is  remedied right away (Chop  chop!!! On the double!!!).  I know how to manipulate my pack  though clearly they  do not let me be the alpha. Interestingly, I noted that this behavioural  change  technique I believe is called ”emotional blackmail”, was also absent in your study!  Let us also not claim too hastily that we motivate humans to walk all of the time.   There are  times when I wish they did not walk me. Like when it is either too cold,  too hot, or too rainy  (Especially rainy! You go out with just a short-fur coat!).  I  know Lassie is different and likes to  be out there in every weather, but like many  prized athletes, I am a bit of a princess.  So, unless  I am taken for a walk by the  “bearded one” or the “pretty lady”, there is no way anyone can get me off the  porch in foul weather!  Yes, those two can be mean, but I do not bite them as they   likely simply do not understand the complexities of dog’s life, poor simple souls (so  loving, so  misguided). I would imagine this may be very different down under,  where I have heard the  weather is always great, but this may just be a rumour…    I noted in passing that you think that the risk of one’s dog attacking others  discourages walking.   This seems odd… This has never happened to me, though I do  love trying to hunt the fluffy little  mutts.  It seems that my humans use walks and  play games during walks to teach me not to try  to hunt my own species. Moreover, I  am yet to meet such a dog…I mean, I know some mean  ones, but to be honest, they  usually remain on the leash. Serves them right!  Did you remember that I am 2.5 years old now?  Did I also mention that I am a male?   The reason I mention this, is that the bearded member of my pack often mumbles  about age and sex being important to how humans behave  (Some people call him  “epiddeddemologist”, whatever that means – maybe this tidbit will help you  understand what this is all about).  This got me thinking: what where the ages of  dogs and people in your study?  What where their genders or any other  behavioral/physical things, like maybe the whole “job” situation matters or their  level of fitness… Like I really enjoy how my family can run around with me, unlike  some poor pups out there with slow-walking humans.  And the reverse is also true: I  sometimes see these ancient dogs plodding along slowly alongside a human who is  just rearing to run-around.  So glad my family and I are a great match! But I do  worry what will happen as I age or maybe the bearded one starts to slow down while  I am still ready to run 10 miles at a drop of a hat.   So, I am not sure just how things are fixed up (ha, ha) Down Under, but here we  have some special ways to motivate our humans.  Hope you find these insights  useful.  As for me, I shall try to heed your Figure 2 and will try to remain healthy (although  this is not as easy as it sounds, given that my human controls my food supply) and  young (Oh boy, I hope I will not be replaced by a younger version of me when I get a  bit ugly!). I will also continue to behave like the biggest dog in the ‘hood, will let  my humans know that I enjoy walks (except in the rain, heat, cold), and will also do  my best not to get fat (again, I need to have a word with my human about where  the food is stored. I still cannot open the cupboard). I also solemnly promise I will  do my utmost best to encourage my humans to continue to live in a space that is  dog- supportive (not like the nasty suburbs that ban even the nicest of bull terriers  and pit bulls), and will also encourage my family to walk with me as a pack (no  sense for anyone to miss-out on walks because a child or spouse wants to walk me).  Thank you for being so clever in a human way with your math.  But maybe you can  consult a few of us in the canine world next time you design your work.  I hear that  Mr. Peabody has recently been tenured and promoted to Professor…. He is one clever one and I hear that he walks humans other than the other way around. I am off to another nap so that I am ready for what walks may come…   Gooday, mates, Dino the 6th (bull terrier, did I say this already?)  PS:  I was surprised by the intuition of my puppy that captured the problems with  the paper: lack of measurement of predictors that matter as could have been  identified by any dog-owner and complete lack of predictors that can be modified  by any policy.  This is a common problem in social sciences and epidemiology:  studying of "others" and has been refuted by movement towards community-based  participatory research (though is slow to be applied as the paper illustrates).  To the  list of problems with the paper, I would also add inadequate statistical analysis.  As  one reviewer pointed out, Fig 2 implies that mediation analysis via structural  equation models was performed whereas in truth only logistic regression was  applied.  The same reviewer asked for conceptual model of how authors think the  world works and that would have helped a great deal, though not as much as talking  to people who own dogs or perusing website that help people select dogs as  companions in urban settings (e.g. inactive people opt for docile dogs, active  families opt for high-energy dogs, etc.).  One must also note that ability and  willingness to walk precedes getting a dog on the causal pathway, so one cannot  make a person who is too poorly walk more for their health by giving them a puppy.   This would be cruel to the puppy that would end up suffering or being given away to  pound. In summary, the a-theoretical correlation analysis that this paper presents  does nothing to advance the cause of dogs who want to be walked more and likewise does nothing to encourage walking among humans (people who do not want to walk  or are too ill to walk do not get dogs in the first place).   --- The Bearded One 
The below Fun Police post is largely, if  not almost entirely, written by Dr Igor  Burstyn from Drexel University (who did a  guest post on here before: link). In this  particular case, we wanted to co-write  this, but...well....I do not have a dog. In  fact, the burden in my life is from the  feline persuasion (see proof of this to the  right, which is a photo of his happier  mood). As everyone familiar with cats will  know, they could not give a toss about  walking, helping their owner (or servant,  more precisely) in any way, shape or  form. And they definitely could not be  *rsed to write a letter to comment on an  epidemiological study, as Igor’s dog did...   
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