Learning with dogs: Human–animal bonds and understandings of relationships and reflexivity in practitioner-research
Keywords:Human–animal bonds, reflexivity, subjectivity, ethnographic observation, LGBTI youth
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.
Baker, K., & Beagan, B. (2014). Making assumptions, making space: An anthropological critique of cultural competency and its relevance to queer patients. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 28(4), 578–598. https://doi.org/10.1111/maq.12129
Briggs, S. (2017). Working with troubled adolescents: Observation as a key skill for practitioners. In H. Hingley- Jones, C. Parkinson, & L. Allain (Eds.), Observation
in health and social care: Applications for learning, research and practice with children and adults (pp. 101-120). Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Brewer, J. D. (2000). Ethnography. Open University Press.
Brown, B. (2015). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. Penguin.
Ceatha, N. (2016). Mastering wellness: LGBT people’s understanding of wellbeing through interest sharing. Journal of Research in Nursing, 21(3), 199–209. https://doi.org/10.1177/1744987116642007
Ceatha N., Bustillo M., Tully L., James, O., & Crowley, D. (2020). What is known about the protective factors that promote LGBTI+ youth wellbeing? A scoping review protocol. HRB Open Research, 3(11). https://doi. org/10.12688/hrbopenres.13018.2
Ceatha, N., Mayock, P., Campbell, J., Noone, C., & Browne, K. (2019). The power of recognition: A qualitative study of social connectedness and wellbeing through LGBT sporting, creative and social groups in Ireland. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(19), 3636. https://doi.org/10.3390/ ijerph16193636
Cooper, A. (2017). Soft eyes: Observation as research. In H. Hingley-Jones, C. Parkinson, & L. Allain (Eds), Observation in health and social care: Applications for learning, research and practice with children and adults. Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Hanrahan, C. (2011). Challenging anthropocentricism in social work through ethics and spirituality: Lessons from studies in human-animal bonds. Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought, 30(3), 272–293. https://doi.org/10.1080/15426432.20 11.587387
Hayes, A. (2017). Dog tales. Gill Books.
Heard, D., Lake, B., & McCluskey, U. (2012). Attachment therapy with adolescents and adults: Theory and practice post Bowlby. Karnac Books.
Horowitz, A. (2010). Inside of a dog: What dogs see, smell, and know. Simon and Schuster.
Kvale, S., & Brinkmann, S. (2009). InterViews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing. Sage Publications.
LaSala, M. C. (2003). When interviewing “family”: Maximizing the insider advantage in the qualitative study of lesbians and gay men. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 15(1–2), 15–30. https://doi. org/10.1300/J041v15n01_02
Levine, P. A. (2010). In an unspoken voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. North Atlantic Books.
Maxwell, J. A. (2009). Designing a qualitative study. In B. Leonard & D. J. Rog (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Applied Social Research Methods. SAGE Publications.
Mertens, D., & Ginsberg, P. (2008). Deep in ethical waters: Transformative perspectives for qualitative social work research. Qualitative Social Work, 7(4), 484–450. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473325008097142
Phillips, J., & Hazelby, D. (2018). Canine assistant teachers for student nurses’ wellbeing. International Journal of Nursing & Clinical Practices. https://doi. org/10.15344/2394-4978/2018/279
Russow, L. M. (2002). Ethical implications of the human- animal bond in the laboratory. ILAR Journal, 43(1), 33–37. https://doi.org/10.1093/ilar.43.1.33
Schaub, J., Willis, P., & Dunk-West, P. (2017). Accounting for self, sex and sexuality in UK social workers’ knowledge base: Findings from an exploratory study. The British Journal of Social Work, 47(2), 427–446. https://doi. org/10.1093/bjsw/bcw015
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2020). The power of showing up. Scribe Publications.
Siegel, D. J. (2020). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are (3rd ed.). Guilford Publications.
Sroufe, A., & Siegel, D. (2011). The verdict is in. Psychotherapy Networker, 35(2), 35–39. Retrieved from http://www.fullyhuman.co.uk/wp-content/ uploads/2020/05/Soufe_Siegel_Attachment-article-1.pdf
Topál, J., Gácsi, M., Miklósi, Á., Virányi, Z., Kubinyi, E., & Csányi, V. (2005). Attachment to humans: A comparative study on hand-reared wolves and differently socialized dog puppies. Animal Behaviour, 70(6), 1367–1375. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2005.03.025
Walsh, F. (2009). Human-animal bonds I: The relational significance of companion animals. Family Process, 48(4), 462–480. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1545- 5300.2009.01296.x
How to Cite
Authors who publish with this journal agree to the following terms:
By completing the online submission process, you confirm you accept this agreement. The following is the entire agreement between you and the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers (ANZASW) and it may be modified only in writing.
You and any co-authors
If you are completing this agreement on behalf of co-authors, you confirm that you are acting on their behalf with their knowledge.
By submitting the work you are:
- granting the ANZASW the right of first publication of this work;
- confirming that the work is original; and
- confirming that the work has not been published in any other form.
Once published, you are free to use the final, accepted version in any way, as outlined below under Copyright.
You assign copyright in the final, accepted version of your article to the ANZASW. You and any co-authors of the article retain the right to be identified as authors of the work.
The ANZASW will publish the final, accepted manuscript under a Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC BY 4.0). This licence allows anyone – including you – to share, copy, distribute, transmit, adapt and make commercial use of the work without needing additional permission, provided appropriate attribution is made to the original author or source.
A human-readable summary of the licence is available from http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, which includes a link to the full licence text.
Under this licence you can use the final, published version of the article freely – such as depositing a copy in your institutional research repository, uploading a copy to your profile on an academic networking site or including it in a different publication, such as a collection of articles on a topic or in conference proceedings – provided that original publication in Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work is acknowledged.
This agreement has no effect on any pre-publication versions or elements, which remain entirely yours, and to which we claim no right.
Reviewers hold copyright in their own comments and should not be further copied in any way without their permission.
The copyright of others
If your article includes the copyright material of others (e.g. graphs, diagrams etc.), you confirm that your use either:
- falls within the limits of fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review or fair use; OR
- that you have gained permission from the rights holder for publication in an open access journal.