2. Citizen Science: Finding what you need

(This video can be downloaded from Media Hopper Create.)

How do people get involved in the Dogslife project?

People get involved through a variety of means. The main method of recruiting participants is through electronic communications and letters that are sent to owners of newly registered Labrador Retrievers at the kennel club. When owners receive those letters or communications they can choose whether they wish to participate or not. Dogslife tries to advertise the project through various media sources such as their publications and through the Kennel Club website. However, their experience is that most people come when they have received an email. So that is the primary route to finding the website.

Why do dog owners participate in the project?

Dogslife were intrigued about what motivates participants to take part, so asked them why they participate.  Interestingly, the vast majority of owners do so for purely altruistic reasons. Owners often feel that they wish to contribute to the health of their dogs breed, and they wish to contribute to the research and to preventing other dogs from getting diseases. So in most cases, dogs start at Dogslife, when they don’t have any diseases at all. There are no real incentives to participate, no monetary rewards or gifts for participating. So, the team is incredibly grateful for the time dog owners take to detail this valuable information to them.

When people first obtain a dog their knowledge can be highly variable depending on whether they have had a dog or whether this is the first time they have owned any type of pet.  People are very often hungry for this type of information. Simple questions like ‘how much exercise should my dog have’ or ‘how much should I feed my dog’ are very common. With these types of questions there are very few scientific answers that can say accurately what you should do. This is of course one of the motivations for doing this study. The Dogslife team understood that when they set up the project. So what they have done is to provide links on their website to a variety of different health care information sources, so that owners have a choice of different sources they can go to. The team will obviously only engage reputable sources for that information. They also felt that it was important that they did not alter the behaviour of the participants unless they really knew there was a risk to developing a particular disease, which could be avoided by doing something specific. They feel it is important not to moderate the behaviour of different participants, and to let them make their own choices about where they look for information.

How do owners receive information from Dogslife?

Dog owners get information from the project in a variety of ways. There are the web links for health information. Then there is the newsletter, which is incredibly popular and always has a few very short readily digestible articles about health concerns for dog-owners, findings from other studies and findings from the Doglife project itself. Dogslife also provides graphical representations of the data they collect. For instance there is a graph showing the average dogs height and weight, so that they can see how their dog is developing in comparison to other dogs, over time.

What findings from Dogslife were of interest to owners?

After they had run the project for the first four years, Doglife took a snapshot of the height and weight data they had collected. They found that on average dogs gained just under a kilogram of weight every year after skeletal maturity. Previous to this, it had been anticipated that when dogs were a year old they would have reached their adult weight. However, that was not the finding. Instead they found that as dogs grew older they were gradually increasing weight over time.

The scientists looked at what might contribute to that, to identify what might increase or decrease the risk of weight gain as they aged. They found that if dogs were exercised off the lead they tended to gain less weight. Similarly if dogs were fed less they gained less weight. While these two things might seem very obvious to the casual observer, it was another matter to prove this scientifically. So Dogslife did manage to prove this by analysing the data from thousands of dogs. So they know that dog owners can modulate their dog’s environment to affect how they gain weight over time.

Is there any information that is not shared with participants?

Dogslife hoped to follow all the dogs participating over their whole life, and capture information from when their owners first obtain them right through to their end of life. Some of the dogs in the project are about half way through their lifecycle now. So, it is only now that the project is at a point where the dogs are developing health issues and diseases.

Dogslife do not know if the findings from the project will impact on the dogs health in the long-term. Of course they will tell dog owners if they identify anything that they know is likely to make them more or less healthy, as dog owners need to be able to act on that information.

Doglife hope to follow the dogs throughout their whole lifecycle to analyse how their environment contributes to their health. For example, Dogslife do not know if dogs that gain weight in early adult hood, go on to develop obesity. They also do not know what other factors might contribute to obesity in later life. This, of course, is the purpose of running the study over this length of time. In this time they aim to identify the risks and where it is possible to impact dog health by telling owners to modify their dogs behaviour, then that information will be shared.

Activity, Finding Open Research Via a Citizen Science Project

Watch the accompanying demo video where Dylan gives a tour of the website.

Find out what articles are in the latest newsletter, and see if you can click through to the original article.

  1. What are the findings of the latest research that Dogslife are showcasing?
  2. Who did the research?
  3. Is the research article open? If not can you find an open version?

Looking at another Citizen Science project

  1. Where, how and how often do you get access to the findings of the project?
  2. What would the findings mean to you as a participant?
  3. What are the latest research findings for the project?

Find out more