Deciphering Evidence: A Pet Owner’s Perspective

lack of evidence is not evidence of absence

October 3, 2023

Have you ever come across the saying, “lack of evidence is not evidence of absence”? It’s a phrase often used to emphasize that the absence of proof for something does not necessarily mean that it does not exist. But let’s delve a bit deeper into this concept, especially when it comes to our loyal canine companions. From my perspective as a dog trainer who loves dogs, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing remarkable transformations in their behaviour. However, there’s one particular aspect that continues to amaze me about these amazing animals: the innate drive of a dog to chase, catch, and potentially harm other animals.


The Challenge at Hand

Picture this scenario: a dog, fully and intrinsically committed to the primal instincts of chasing, catching, and potentially harming another animal. It’s a behaviour deeply ingrained in their DNA, harking back to their ancestors’ days in the wild. Can such a dog be trained using positive reinforcement methods to redirect this instinct, preventing them from causing harm, and even recalling them when they’re fully immersed in the chase?


My Experience and the Lack of Evidence

In my journey as a dog trainer, I’ve seen countless dogs respond positively to reinforcement-based training. They learn to sit, stay, fetch, and perform an array of tricks, all through positive interactions and rewards. It’s a testament to the power of positive reinforcement in shaping a dog’s behaviour.

Yet, there’s a question that’s loomed over the dog training community: If it’s possible to train a dog with a fierce prey drive to redirect their instincts through positive reinforcement, and to reliably recall them in the most intense moments, why haven’t we seen this done consistently, without a shadow of a doubt?

The Quest for Proof

For me, this challenge has become a quest for evidence. I’ve worked with dogs of all breeds and temperaments, and while I’ve witnessed incredible progress and transformations, I’ve also encountered moments where the innate drive to chase and catch prevails over even the most well-trained dogs.

If I could conclusively prove that a dog with such primal instincts can be reliably redirected and recalled using positive reinforcement, I would shout it from the rooftops. I’d share it with fellow trainers, pet owners, and anyone who loves dogs. I am sure any trainer who is so would convince you to use positive reinforcement ONLY training because it is more ethical – would do the same, right?

But here’s the perplexing part: despite numerous efforts, the concrete evidence that many seek has remained elusive. But who am I to say such a thing? I mean I only work with a super small percentage of the dogs in the world!


The Challenge By Jamie Penrith on September 20, 2021

In September 2021, Jamie Penrith and Danny Wells introduced an unusual challenge related to dog training to the entire world. This challenge has stirred up a lot of discussion within the dog training community.

What’s the Challenge About?

The challenge essentially tests the effectiveness of using only positive reinforcement in dog training. It aims to demonstrate whether this approach can reliably change a dog’s behaviour, particularly when it comes to their instinctual desire to chase and potentially harm other animals, like livestock. A significant financial incentive for the successful applicant/s has been pledged by industry professionals and those with an interest in observing and ensuring the integrity of the procedure. Presently, this figure sits around £40,000 – £45,000.

Why Was This Challenge Proposed?

One reason behind this challenge is to question the widespread belief that positive reinforcement training alone is always sufficient to resolve even deeply ingrained behaviours in dogs. It’s also a response to the English government’s stance on dog training methods and the use of electronic training collars.

How Will the Challenge Work?

Professional dog trainers who strictly adhere to positive reinforcement methods are invited to participate. They’ll be given a dog with a history of chasing and harming livestock. Over a six-week period, trainers will work with the dog, and all sessions will be live-streamed on social media. The challenge includes a test to see if the dog’s behaviour has truly changed.

What’s Not Allowed?

Trainers can only use positive reinforcement methods during the challenge. Negative reinforcement, positive and negative punishment, or aversive interventions are prohibited. Any use of equipment or actions intended to physically or verbally interrupt the dog’s behaviour towards prey animals is also not allowed.

How Will the Challenge Ensure Ethical and Legal Compliance?

All terms and conditions will be legally binding and agreed upon by the participants. The welfare of the animals involved is of utmost importance, and every precaution will be taken to ensure their well-being.

What Can We Learn from This Challenge?

The challenge aims to raise questions and gather evidence-based results to influence dog training practices in the future. This challenge has generated significant interest and debate within the dog training community and aims to provide a platform for testing the effectiveness of purely positive reinforcement training methods for addressing innate behaviours in dogs.

Why not ask your dog trainer to do this challenge to prove their claims to you about how they can help with positive reinforcement-only training? An added bonus is they can even earn around £40,000 – £45,000 for just 6 weeks of work!


As we explore the saying “lack of evidence is not evidence of absence” in the world of dog training, it’s crucial to recognize that every dog is unique, and their responses to training methods can vary widely. While positive reinforcement has proven to be a powerful tool, some aspects of a dog’s nature remain deeply rooted.

My commitment as a dog trainer is unwavering, and I’ll continue to explore, experiment, and strive for a better understanding of our furry companions. The quest for proof in the world of dog training is ongoing, driven by the shared love and dedication we have for our four-legged friends.

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