Some dog professionals use studies and surveys in an attempt to prove that one method, tool, training, activity, and so on is better than another as a whole (whether the study or survey came to their conclusion or not). Some money has been spent, granted or donated to design, create, test, sample, and compile this data. I don't know how helpful these studies ultimately are to the cause they are designed to serve. I do know that they open up useful dialog about dog training, especially amongst dog trainers, dog behaviorists, and veterinarians. Then what happens is that the interested dog professionals turn their conclusions and the advice based on their conclusions to the dog owning public (in other words not professionals in the canine field), who will probably not refer back to the studies or probe to deeply into what they may or may not reveal. Much like if you got to a tax professional, you may not feel the need to research the validity of the tax law a Certified Public Accountant is explaining to you. They are professionals, and their clients pay for their professional opinion so that they do not have to do the research. Many dog owners given information by a dog industry professional in the form of an online article are not going to necessarily second guess that information. Sometimes in order to make the right informed decision, dog owners should investigate more thoroughly what "professionals" may be telling them.
Raw data can be analysed many ways and correctly (or incorrectly) support different conclusions. I do not find results to always be black and white, glass half full, or glass half empty. Unless you are dealing with compounds or chemicals measured exactly the same each time, a reliable and predictable can not be guaranteed when you are talking about living individual beings with varying environments, temperaments, and upbringings. Not every child brought up with a privileged background is going to grow up to have the same career for instance or even have a positive relationship with their parents. Even siblings growing up in the same environment react differently to the circumstances of their upbringing. No study can determine the guaranteed correct way the best way to bring up a happy child that can be predictable among a large sampling of children. Dogs are also living individuals who all have differing needs, temperaments, interests, activity levels, and varying behaviors that may cause problems for their human owners. Surveys or studies do not necessarily and definitively suggest the absolute best path to take for any large population of individuals.
Let's take this study for example:
Made available 1/24/2009 by Meghan E. Herron, Frances S. Shofer, Ilana R. Reisner
The purpose of this study was to "describe the frequency of use, the recommending source, and the owner reported effect on canine behaviour of interventions that owners of dogs with undesired behaviors had used on their dogs"(as quoted from this study linked above).
No conclusions were reached in the study per say. At least after several readings, I could not find a conclusion, and so I believe this means no conclusion was made as to best "interventions" (this document's word for acts made toward a dog to reduce the incidents of undesired behavior, I believe). The result section simply pulled out statistical data of what was sampled, but this was not correlated later on to identify who or what results correlated to things like breed, source of information, and so on that could be linked to the later tables and charts in any kind of meaningful way. That being said, and because of this, I do believe the study supports that differing temperaments, breed characteristics in general, and owners all thrive by the use of the proper method. That being that no one method is the proper method for a whole sample of populations. However, that is my anecdotal conclusion of the results, and the authors came up with much of the same conclusions that were not a result of scientific data analysis alone or in conjunct or with other scientific and/or statistical data study.
Another trainer and behaviorist have pointed out the very obvious flaws in the "study" or survey as follows:
Smartdog's Weblog "That Dogma Won't Hunt"
Smartdog's Weblog "Dogma and Pony Show"
How other articles have reported the findings of this study:
Do Confrontational Dog Training Methods Work? Is That Really The Point? (Surprisingly noticed the same thing I did about the data summary, but did not care that other methods might work for dog…)
This article is not meant so much as to go into the flaws in the study, and there are many. If those interest you, please see the first series of articles linked to above and entitled "Another trainer and behaviorist have pointed out the very obvious flaws in the "study" or survey." There are more flaws than just these, but for the brevity of this article I won't go into the others just now.
What I found far more interesting was the numerical data conclusion (in a biased study or survey) that at least 40% of the population of dogs had been helped by methods that the survey is trying to focus the public away from. By the way, one very obvious flaw in this study is that not one of the lists is a "method". The other term that they use, "intervention" would be more accurate. Training as an art does not use any one particular thing, and in the case of this list most professional dog trainers would not recommend some of these things ever. This point just needed to be made from observing the numerical data results with you in the form of percentages.
Forty six percent of dogs, according to a biased study were helped by so called confrontation interventions (interventions are not methods, a dog training method is a process created and owned by a particular dog trainer sold through seminars and books and includes more than one type of "intervention" or actions). Though even these numbers are curious.
If 74% of reward based interventions worked "positively" (meaning as a method NOT as successful), then why are they involved in a study by behaviorists where these interventions failed? Unfortunately there is no data on what the actual diagnosis thereafter was, or the success level. In other words, were these clients then directed to so-called confrontational interventions? Probably not considering where this study came from, and that the listing of confrontational interventions demonstrates a lack of understanding of basic dog training principles.
So much more I could say about this study, but the attached articles in the boxes above go into much detail about the flaws. I find it particularly disturbing when other trainers, without any though or analysis, hold this study up as proof that it by the study or survey's own words does not prove. This type of action presents to me more of an agenda to retain market share in training, where perhaps performance is a lacking.