Dogs are not only good to think but good to live and become with. In this study I explored the overarching concerns of interspecific relations among “schutzhund people”: an emerging multispecies sub-culture in South Africa pertaining to a German dog sport called schutzhund. Four predominant areas of investigation developed: dog training philosophy, dog-human communication, interspecies partnership, and multispecies culture. The aim of this study was to conduct an ethnographic enquiry into the culture (i.e. minds and lives) of dog-handler partners in the multispecies total institution of schutzhund. A blend of multiple techniques was used to gather information, including in-depth interviews, participant observation, photography, and kinesics. Data was collected from multiple sites and analysed by means of triangulation. An attempt was made at combatting the “problem of voice” so common in human-animal studies by including dogs in the research process as subjects rather than objects. Primary findings revealed firstly, that dog-training philosophy has a direct impact on how humans perceive dogs. Three key training philosophies were identified, namely: carrots (positive reinforcement), sticks (compulsion), and motivational training (a combination method). Secondly, the components and requirements for dog-human conversations were described in the form of a toolkit. The concept of speaking bodies emerged as dog and human co-created their own “third language” in training. Thirdly, research portrayed the interspecies partnership between dog and handler as a dance; an attempt at synchronized negotiations of power, control, and leadership. Various interactive restrictions were exposed such as ambiguity, inconsistency, and anthropomorphism. I argue here that the relational boundaries between humans and animals are markedly blurred by mutual embodiment. Finally, dogs were characterized as agents of empire who were discovered to be coconstructers of the social and cultural realities humans share with them. Findings also pointed to schutzhund as serious leisure and in conflict with many “real-life” commitments which raised various political and feminist concerns.
Mason N McLary
|Publisher||University of the Free State|
|Location of Publication||Bloemfontein, South Africa|
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