Learning with dogs: Human–animal bonds and understandings of relationships and reflexivity in practitioner-research

Nerilee Ceatha


INTRODUCTION: This article highlights the importance of ethnographic observations of human–animal bonds (HAB) to inform social work practice and applied social research. It explores the relationship between the author and Bruno, a rescue dog, through conventional ideas on attachment theory, connectedness and containment.

METHODS: These perspectives are applied to the author’s experiences of undertaking a PhD on the protective factors that promote LGBTI+ youth wellbeing. This emphasises reflexivity as an integral component of practitioner research, with the potential to explore the complexities and subjectivities of our emotional lives.

FINDINGS: Through recognition of the dynamics of attachment, our roles as companion-carers prompt help-seeking to ensure reflective practice and effective caregiving. Our relationships with companion-animals resonate with the process of undertaking a PhD, through prioritising self-care and seeking work–life balance. These ideas are also relevant for collaborative studies underpinned by an iterative research process, described by a Consulting, Conducting, Collaborating and Checking cycle.

CONCLUSION: The article concludes with an appeal to social work practitioners and practitioner- researchers to discover ways in which concepts of HAB, and our interconnectedness with all living beings, can be applied to policy, practice and research with those whom we work with, their families and within our broader communities.


Human–animal bonds; reflexivity; subjectivity; ethnographic observation; LGBTI+ youth

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol32iss4id795


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