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Research Context

Scholars argue that since the 1970s new, post-human forms of human-animal relationship are emerging which involve greater empathy on the part of humans. Alongside this there has been an increase in pet keeping, with many people regarding their pets as important family members, and a recognition that engaging with animals contributes to human well-being. It is also accepted that there are strong emotional bonds between people and their pets and that, in many cases, these bonds can be shaped by animal training which has itself been undergoing change.

Newer training cultures increasingly draw on scientific understandings of animal learning and rely on positive, reward-based methods. They often challenge more ‘traditional’ modes of training which originated in early 20th century institutions, such as the police and armed forces, and tend to rely more heavily on punishment. This shift from more to less authoritarian training practices has been linked to a recognition that animals engage actively in the training process and that their needs, as well as those of their human companions, should shape the human-animal interaction.

Evidence shows that different training practices have varying effects on both human and animal welfare. It has been observed that dogs trained with the newer, positive methods seem to be ‘happier’ and less subdued than those trained using more traditional authoritarian training methods. This indicates that different training practices and the cultures in which they are embedded assume and facilitate different forms of human-animal connectedness.