Experts have an exciting new anxiety reduction protocol.  Discussed since 2003, P.H.T., otherwise known as eMDR, this revolutionary treatment plan has spawned reviews and discussions about its ability to bring success. With a few slight changes, P.H.T. helps trainers and owners to treat anxiety and behaviour problems in pets better.

P.H.T. stands for Purple Hat Therapy.  The authors go to great lengths detailing the importance of colour selection, most likely due to greater understanding of the influence that colour plays on our emotional state.  Where dogs are concerned, their limited colour vision makes these distinctions less important.   In an effort to avoid any proprietary infringement, I have simply started referring to this treatment as H.A.T. (Heuristic Anxiety Treatment.)

Briefly, H.A.T. is a desensitization and counter conditioning protocol, with one added feature and benefit.  With the use of a novel item – a hat – dogs learn a contextual safety cue.  Examples from the literature and reviews detail its effectiveness in treating driving anxiety.  This specific application, it is eMDR (electro magnetic desensitization and remobilization) as it helps people remobilize in various social contexts

H.A.T. is an extremely important and critical advancement in anxiety treatment.  I am excited to bring it to you….even if it only exists in the mind of Rosen and Davison.  They created the hat protocol.  Everything I stated above is true.  Despite being fake, it is important.  P.H.T. or eMDR is an example used to illustrate that you can add bells and whistles to standard therapies and the program might still work.  People will sing the praises of a silly little hat.  Chances are, if you test H.A.T. therapy, scientific testing will probably show that it works better than doing nothing.  Perhaps it does not work better than a placebo.  It will work for some.


The eMDR (electro Magnetic DESENSITIZATION!!!! and Remobilization) therapy uses desensitization – a well-established treatment. Hat or no hat, the desensitization part is going to have an effect.

Jim Morrison and The Doors were right.  People are strange.  We are strange because we are biased.  When we add bells and whistles, we often credit the bells and whistles.  We are so biased that there is a bias for thinking we are not biased.

The one that applies here is illusionary correlation.  We assume flawed associations.  Someone bitten by a particular breed of dog assumes that all dogs of that breed are aggressive.  Add a new sound, gesture or movement to a training plan and we credit the sound, gesture or movement.  Put in a twist and it’s new and improved….ready for sale.

However, a twist on the words of psychologist Richard McNally points out the critical lesson.

What is effective in certain therapies is not new, and what is new is not effective.
HAT copy
Many fads incorporate tried and true elements that work in the background.  According to the Rosen and Davison report, “proprietary, trademarked therapies can receive recognition without regard to any meaningful principle of change.”  We need to be cautious that our desire to find a helpful protocol does not create an environment where “any treatment innovator or savvy charlatan who puts a novel method through a single randomized controlled trial with a no-treatment comparison,” thrives despite the lack of scientific testing.

Personally, I have a difficult time asking clients to hop from one expensive fad to another when the meaningful processes of change are well documented and readily available.  I have an even bigger problem crediting the silly proverbial “hat” when I know that results come to those that apply techniques and work diligently.  The majority of my clients are awesome.  It is not the hat or any other silly gimmick.

We need to arm ourselves against blind faith and desperation, without becoming too skeptical.  According to the book Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology, the following warning signs are warnings that someone might be trying to peddle pseudoscience.

Ad Hoc Claims:  Problems are dismissed in a way that cannot be falsified.  There is no way to show the objection is incorrect..

Absence of Self-Correction:  While both science and pseudoscience can be wrong, science seeks to find errors and fix them.

Avoiding peer review:  Expert review can sting.  Avoiding critical review by independent sources looking to poke holes is a problem.  Watch out for those that try to avoid scrutiny by claiming that science is wrong, biased or not yet ready to examine a new discovery or strategy.

Accentuates the positive:  Pseudoscience looks for proof.  Science looks for flaws.   Yes, it does come across as negative and critical.  It is possibly the one time “positive” trainers should be “negative.”  Poke holes.  It is what science is supposed to do.

Burden of Proof:  It lies on the one making the claim (the one selling the product.)  Period.  End of Story.  The person questioning should NEVER feel guilty about asking for it, or asked to wait for some distant point in time to get it.

Lack of Connectivity:  Anything that claims to exist above, beyond or outside of current scientific knowledge is highly suspect.  While radical new discoveries may exist, any claims of such require strong scientific evidence to support it.

Testimonials and anecdotes:  Every dog trainer on the planet has stories and testimonials.  (Mom, brother, aunt, friend, boyfriend….)  Don’t mistake stories for proof.

Technical language:  Big words sound fancy.  If you do not understand the jargon, ask a third party (unbiased) to explain it.  Big words make things sound all sciencey.

Holism:  Dismissing lack of scientific evidence because research fails to focus on the whole or holistic picture. For example, “My protocol can’t be tested because you can’t replicate this in a lab with any accuracy.  I do real life therapy.”

At the end of the day, Rosen and Davison point out that, “Principles of behaviour change, after all, cannot be trademarked, for they belong to science.”  The rest is just a bell…a whistle…a hat – until put through the ringer of empirical testing.