All the Information, All the Time: The Importance of Informed Consent

January 16, 2020 - 4 minutes read

At the Dog Aging Project, our participants are full partners in our scientific endeavors. The scope of our work is very ambitious. We want to understand the factors that affect healthy aging and longevity in dogs. To do this, we will follow the lives of tens of thousands of companion dogs and engage their owners in a variety of focused studies. Some may be asked to take a saliva sample from their dog so that we can study their genetics. Others might be asked to have their dog wear an activity monitor so we can study their activity levels over time.

As dogs are invited into various studies, the team at the Dog Aging Project will be providing their owners with a lot of information about the purpose and activities of the study through a document known as an informed consent form. This document details the following information:

  • The purpose, benefits, and risks of the research
  • Details about the study the researchers are conducting
  • The procedures and activities participants will experience
  • How we maintain participant privacy
  • What we do with the data we collect
  • The rights of research participants

Our partnership, like any successful partnership, depends on clear communication and a shared understanding of expectations. This is why we provide owners with so much detailed information up front. We ask owners who agree to participate to sign an informed consent form to demonstrate that they have read and understood the requirements of the study.

Unlike other forms we sign in daily life, an informed consent form for research participation is NOT a contract with the project. This is because participation in research, including the Dog Aging Project, is an entirely voluntary venture that any participant can decide to walk away from at any time. (Of course, we hope to continue on this path together for as long as possible!)

There is another important difference between an informed consent form and other paperwork you may be familiar with. An informed consent form is NOT a waiver of liability or responsibility. We, as researchers, are responsible for the safe and ethical conduct of the research. In fact, informed consent is part of our accountability structure. Obtaining informed consent is a requirement of sponsoring institutions and demonstrates that the safety and comfort of our participants is a top priority.

The first consent form that participants will encounter is for the Health and Life Experiences Survey. If a dog is invited to future studies, there will be new consent forms to read and sign for those studies as well. Participation is always voluntary. We understand that research is not for everyone, nor may the time commitment fit every dog owner’s schedule. Declining to participate in one study does not preclude being invited into others.

While we hope the informed consent forms we provide are crystal clear, sometimes it’s hard to explain scientific procedures in a brief form. Informed consent is a process, and a dialog is sometimes needed to get all the points clarified so that a participant feels they’ve made a truly informed decision. Our team is always available to answer questions and provide more details to participants.

We are grateful to the tens of thousands of owners who have nominated their dogs and are joining us in this partnership. We are committed to building a strong and transparent relationship with all of our participants so that we can continue to work together for many years. Informed consent is part of that relationship. You can count on us to provide all the information, all the time!