Title page for ETD etd-03082006-141754

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Van Heerden, Esti
URN etd-03082006-141754
Document Title The caring relationship: a qualitative study of the interaction between childless married couples and their dogs
Degree M (Research Psychology)
Department Psychology
Advisor Name Title
Prof J B Schoeman
  • relationships
  • human-animal interaction
  • quasi-family
  • attachment
  • ritualisation
  • social constructionism
  • love
  • caring
  • childless
  • need fulfilment
Date 2005-05-08
Availability unrestricted
This qualitative study explores the relationship between a childless married couple and their dog by looking at this phenomenon through a social constructionistic viewpoint. Human animal interaction has been studied in various different research scenarios, where this interaction was seen as enhancing health or well being in both the human and animal.

This study focused on a more “human” role that an animal could play in the lives of people by becoming a family member and how this role affects the family as a whole. The research was conducted to determine whether a childless married couple could experience a fulfilling caring relationship with a dog within this formed family unit.

Four elements that are commonly found in a caring relationship were identified and looked at as to whether they can also be found in the relationship that develops between a childless married couple and their dog. The four elements, love, attachment, need fulfilment and ritualisation also formed the broad predetermined themes investigated in this study. The participants were requested to complete an open-ended questionnaire in which the questions explored the relationship between the married couple and their dog. The data received from these questionnaires was then analysed through content analysis by using the predetermined themes as a framework but also allowing further themes and sub themes to develop from the research data.

The participants indicated that they experienced the fulfilment of various needs in the relationship they have with their dog. This need fulfilment included the need for a family, the need for companionship, the need to be needed and the need for gratitude. Ritualisation occurred in the form of disciplinary methods and various set activities like fixed eating, sleeping and grooming times.

The participants viewed their relationship with their dog as one that is formed out of mutual love and attachment. The feeling of love was expressed through companionship, trust and physical contact as well as the use of nicknames for their dog and by showing pride in their dog.

A strong attachment also existed between the participants and their dogs. This attachment could be seen in the participants’ holiday arrangements that were usually made to accommodate the dog as well as the fact that they missed their dogs and believed their dogs to have also missed them when they were separated. They could become so attached to each other that they might experience separation anxiety and grief at the loss or the thought of losing their dogs.

The four elements of caring were thus found in the relationship between a childless married couple and their dog. The existence of these elements suggests that a caring relationship can be formed between a childless married couple and their dog. This caring relationship can have positive emotional and physical influences on both the people and their dogs.

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