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How does your dog feel about training? A new research project aims to find out

Lunar New Year PosterOn the first day of the Year of the Dog 2018, researchers at the Universities of Warwick and Cardiff, and Scotland’s Rural College, are launching a new website introducing an innovative research project that will study dog training as a means to explore how different training cultures shape the animal-human relationship, from the animal’s point of view as well as the human’s.

Traditional obedience-based training methods have often taken an authoritarian, master-servant view of the relationship between human and animal. More recently, positive training methods have evolved, based on a more equal partnership, where both dog and human are expected to enjoy the experience and have their needs met.

This is part of a broader change in human-animal relations, where pets are increasingly seen as part of the family, and there are strong emotional bonds between people and their pets. Training is one of the ways in which these bonds are formed and maintained.

The research team will use research methods from both social and natural sciences to study a range of training environments including assistance, companion and working dogs. They will spend up to three months immersed in each training environment, and use an innovative natural science method of assessing a dog’s emotional state to understand how different training cultures are experienced by both the human and animal participants.

The team is led by Professor Nickie Charles of Warwick’s Department of Sociology and includes Professor Mara Miele and Dr Harriet Smith from Cardiff University, Prof Francoise Wemelsfelder from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), and Dr Rebekah Fox from Warwick.

The dog is one of the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac. In Chinese tradition, people who are born in the year of the dog have the characteristics of loyalty and agility. They invest a lot in their job without complaining and enjoy employment stability. Dog-people are warm-hearted and passionate with an agile mind that makes them alert and sensitive.

One of the most famous dogs in Chinese tradition is the Xiaotian Dog, who helped their master, the god Erlang Shen, to fight with the Monkey King in a famous battle. This story is told in the epic novel, Journey to the West.

Professor Charles said: “Our research brings together a range of approaches from the social and natural sciences in order to develop an inter-disciplinary way of approaching the study of human-animal connectedness.

“We will carry out multi-species ethnographies in different dog-training cultures. As well as exploring how humans and dogs engage with each other we will be able to combine social scientific analysis of dog-human interaction with an innovative natural science method of assessing a dog’s emotional state.

“One of the most important benefits of this is that, as far as is possible, it allows the relationship to be explored from the dog’s as well as the human’s perspective. We hope to be able to make a real contribution to how we understand different forms of human-animal connectedness, the cultural practices through which they are created, and whether they are changing in line with the broader changes in human-animal relations identified by social theorists.”

16 February 2018


The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. 





Sheila Kiggins

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Social Science

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