America loves doga! (Or, a brief meditation on the dubious trend story)
It’s a kind of yoga. You do it with your dog. No, seriously. Together with your pooch you stretch, you meditate, you pose. The New York Times reported on this recently. Maybe you’d already heard about it, but probably not. (More on that in a minute.) For an hour or so on the evening of April 8 the story was featured, replete with large photo, atop the leading news site. It was number one on the Times’ list of most e-mailed stories for a couple days thereafter. Apparently doga is a rising trend in America, worthy of much attention.
Or is it? Indeed, there’s a bit of a journalism issue here, but first things first: Sure, the pictures of the dogs were pretty cute and/or pretty funny, and who doesn’t love cute-funny dogs, and who wouldn’t click gleefully on a slide show with additional pictures of cute-funny dogs, thereby contributing to what certainly must’ve been a big spike in page views for nytimes.com.
There’s probably not much reason to add that partner yoga with your dog may sound like one of the more inane things you’ve ever heard of, because others are likely to say that (yogis among them), as well as to suggest that the dogs involved may well be feeling less than enlightened by the activity, and anyway, the photos (by Michael Nagle) from the Times’ slide show really do speak for themselves:
There is good reason to add, however, that claims about doga’s growing popularity across the land seem howlingly suspect. Behold the all too common trend story that offers no real evidence of a trend.
After a brief opening anecdote about a few people in Chicago, New York and Seattle variously contorting with their Jack Russell terriers and Shih Tzus, the Times report says this of doga (emphasis mine):
Ludicrous? Possibly. Grist for anyone who thinks that dog-owners have taken yoga too far? Perhaps. But nationwide, classes of doga — yoga with dogs, as it is called — are increasing in number and popularity. Since Ms. Caliendo, a certified yoga instructor in Chicago, began to teach doga less than one year ago, her classes have doubled in size.
That’s it, folks. The rest of the article contains no further quantitative information about the purported legions of spiritually enlightened pet owners caught up in the craze.
Perhaps the Times reporter spotted some sort of trend in other stories about the alleged trend: The Associated Press covered it back in 2007, and ABC News published a story on April 1 (whose date apparently was a coincidence, although you could be forgiven for thinking the story was fake.) ABC included San Francisco and Jacksonville, Fla., on the list of locales and described a few doga accessories being sold. But no hard numbers there, either. Instead, the story leaned on “pet trend expert” Maggie Gallant to claim that doga “has the potential to be a very widespread trend.” As Gallant panted, “There are 75 million homes in America that have dogs and about 13 million people practicing yoga.”
Kudos to Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich for sniffing out the truth. With a little follow-up reporting, she discovered that the Chicago locale cited in the Times article — the one where classes “have doubled in size” — now offers one doga class a week, with three to 12 students in each.
Aside from whatever benefits may lie in store for dog owners who team up with their beloved furry ones for stretching and meditation, it seems that America’s big embrace of doga turns out to be, well, a particular kind of scoop indeed.