On 5th March 2019 I attended a fantastic workshop, organised by the Leverhulme Trust funded Interspecies Connectedness project at the University of Warwick. This project focuses on dog training cultures as a way of exploring different forms of human-animal connectedness. The aim of the March workshop was to discuss some emerging findings with stakeholders such as dog trainers and welfare charities, and to jointly consider how best to maximise the overall impact of the research. My self-defined role was to act as critical observer, and to identify examples of ‘connectedness’ between this programme of work, and another large research programme concerned with animals, the Animal Research Nexus funded by the Wellcome Trust. The task here is to ask, what can we gain by looking across research programmes, and across the domains in which we connect with non-humans?
Do More with Your Dog, the title of Kyra Sundance’s popular manual for teaching dogs tricks, has also become the motto for many humans who share their lives with companion dogs. And indeed, contemporary dog guardians are heeding this advice and engaging in scores of semi-formal activities that are viewed as contributing to the dog’s intellectual development and to mutual human-canine pleasure and enjoyment. We are encouraged to practice Tricks for a Better Bond (the title of one of Silvia Trkman’s popular videos) and to Gamify Your Training (the title of Terry Ryan’s 2016 manual). Agility handlers know very well that “Agility is Fun,” but it is not coincidental that this phrase was also the title of one of the first training manuals for this sport, published in 1989 and authored by Ruth Hobday. Fun has only gained importance in the decades since Hobday’s book first appeared. Supper Sniffer Scent Games, a manual for nosework training for the pet owner, is subtitled: A Guide to Having Fun with Your Dog. There’s even a book about Finding Your Fun in Competitive Obedience. The sport of obedience, which does have a marketing problem in the contemporary world, is trying to redefine itself as not really about enforcing obedience, but as a fun bonding activity for handler and dog.