The comments our last post received and the hours of research that followed provided us with ample illumination into the utterly self-assured and wildly contradictory world of canine opinions and"expert advice*."
Take, for example, the issue of dog training (which was touched upon in the last post's comments section) -- an issue where everybody has the right opinion and references from the experts to prove it!
If you dislike "punitive*" training methods, it is a cakewalk to find experts on your side, as well as hundreds of examples of dogs who have responded poorly to it. With a decent Internet connection, all your views can be validated in less than 60 seconds. Same thing goes with "positive*" training methods, too: there are plenty of expert critiques to be found, and countless annoyed testimonials of dogs who became little more than manipulative cookie monsters upon exposure to these methods. Again, it's just a game of point, click, and validate.
And it's not just dog training -- I could be describing virtually any pet issue here.
Read enough of this stuff, and your head will start to spin. But read a little more, and a larger, rather disturbing picture begins to emerge: that people's views are being shaped less by facts or years of experience, but rather a process in which they find colleagues and "experts" who feed their own personal beliefs right back to them. Or, to put it more bluntly, not so much educated, conscientious pet owners than consumers of beliefs.
Which is why (and here comes the plug!) we're so excited for the completion of our Dog Population Study in 2011...
For the uninitiated: NAIA is currently undertaking a formal study of of dog population trends, looking in particular at where Americans get their dogs today (where the dogs are born, what kind, where they end up finding homes, etc.), and using current trends to predict where they'll get dogs in the future.
This may sound rather ho-hum, until you realize that we have, at best, a foggy notion as to where our dogs are coming from. Various studies may agree on population levels (give or take several million), but "where do doggies come from" as simple as a question as it may seem, has never been tackled.
Of course, people will always argue, but that isn't a problem. In fact, it's actually something we tend to celebrate here at NAIA. Our goal isn't to end the debate, but to reach a point where people are arguing over their interpretation of honest, hard facts -- not opinions, outdated numbers, or out-and-out falsehoods. With each new set of objective findings we are able to produce (e.g. Dog Population Study), we move closer to that goal.
* Scare quotes deliberate; if John Smith disagrees with you, he's undoubtedly going to tout his "experts" while assailing yours as bought-and-paid for, agenda-driven, and/or incompetent. So really -- how meaningful is the "expert" designation in these debates? And the training debate is contentious to the point where people don't just yell at one another over which techniques to use, but over what even constitutes true punitive or positive training. Yikes!