Some dogs are revered or pampered, with fancy clothes and loads of affection; others work for a living. David Blouin, a cultural sociologist at Indiana University South Bend, said relationships between dogs and their owners generally fall into three distinct categories, with some bestowing more canine benefits than others.
And while some dogs may live the high life, serving as surrogate children to their humans, their circumstances can change depending on their owner's life course and experiences.
"I found it interesting that there are different ways to relate to and think about animals and that people are able to switch and latch onto a different way of thinking about and treating animals when other things happen in their lives, like having children," said Blouin, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
Blouin conducted 28 in-depth interviews with dog owners from a Midwestern county. Dog ownership attitudes fell into three categories: Humanist, where dogs were highly valued and considered close companions, like pseudo people; protectionists might be vegetarians and they greatly valued animals in general, not just as pets; dominionists saw animals as separate and less important than people, often using the dogs for hunting and pest control and requiring them to live outdoors.
Blouin said the distinct orientations toward animals were informed by multiple, competing cultural logics as well as personal experiences, demographic characteristics and family structure. Rural dog owners were more likely to leave their pets outside, for example. Empty-nesters seemed to be the most attached to their pets.
"People don't make this stuff up themselves," Blouin said. "They learn how animals should be treated. There are different ideas out there and these ideas exist in little packages, which are promoted by different groups, like the Humane Society or kennel clubs."
Blouin is presenting his findings at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.
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