Ruta Saksens Kalmane
It is exciting to be this far into the research of Human-Canine Bond and see the project developing a particular methodological approach. However, it’s an ongoing research process and the methodology is still in its developmental stage.
The methodology that I have developed so far for the Human-Canine Bond project continues to expand at the present moment. It is getting a clearer and better shape. I chose the research subject for a reason that was very personal to me due to my relationship with my own dog, and the broad title Human-Canine Bond was born, but a specific aspect of the investigation wasn’t very clear to me. It is still an ongoing process to find the specific notion of Human-Canine Bond of which I would like to do an in-depth analysis. At the moment a few specific research questions have surfaced which could be important aspects of further research: Can the relationship between a dog owner and the dog be enhanced through the use of photography? Can photography strengthen the bond between a dog owner and the dog? Can photography enhance our understanding of the canine world? It is worth taking a closer look at these questions in further research on the topic and find ways how to answer them. I couldn’t agree more with Patricia B. McConnell (2007: 5) who emphasizes that “many of us try to understand the mental lives of our dogs every day, and we’re not going to give up just because the task is difficult”.
To answer the first question, we should look at what can enhance the relationship between a human and a dog in the first place. Understanding and seeing the world from a dog’s point of you might shed light over things that dogs find important and what they focus on. The use of a pet collar camera offers a glimpse into a dog’s world. While wearing a camera, a video is being recorded. We are offered a chance to see things from a dog’s perspective, which is much different from ours. As adult humans we are used to seeing everything from a level of approximately 150 cm – 190 cm above the ground level. Dogs see everything from a much lower point of view. If we investigate how a dog sees the world, would it help to understand a dog’s world and would it enhance the relationship with the owner?
Fig. 1: Saksens 2021. Dog’s point of view: screenshots from a pet collar camera [photographic screenshot images]
The photographic screenshot images that serve as an outcome from the pet collar camera worn by dogs reveal things that we would perhaps never focus on as humans. For example, a lot of images seem to show legs. Not just legs of humans, but legs of such objects as tables and chairs as well.
Fig. 2: Saksens 2021. Dog’s point of view: legs [screenshots from a pet collar camera]
Although seeing legs in the images might not be a surprise due to the low position of the camera, seeing ceiling lamps came more as a surprise. However, it does make sense: because humans are much taller than dogs, dogs are used to constantly looking up at us while we interact with them, thus they are the ones who would appreciate a good taste in ceiling lamps the most, if they ever could.
Fig. 3: Saksens 2021. Dog’s point of view: ceiling lamps [screenshots from a pet collar camera]
Finding a pattern among the data is a step forward in understanding dogs, but the data should also be properly analysed. At this point it is important to understand what we can learn from the findings and how can it help to enhance the relationship between a dog owner and the dog. In my opinion, it would be beneficial to compare the opinion of a dog owner before the use of a pet collar camera and after the use of it. What does a dog owner believe that a dog would focus on and then compare it with what the dog actually focused on and how the results are perceived by the dog owner?
Analysing the data is not a straightforward task to complete. It’s a difficult process that might not reach an objective result due to our inability as humans to properly understand another species. According to Alexandra Horowitz (2019: 3) “it’s just hard enough to see what’s happening without being a part of what’s happening. Since the tools animal-behaviour researchers use – eyes – are those we use for other means, it can be hard to tune them to see the behaviour in front of us, rather than what we expect to see.”
Not only it is difficult to draw conclusions from analysing the data, it is difficult to understand the whole human-canine relationship in the first place.
“Even if you have never owned a dog, and even if you have only watched Crufts on television, you will know that our relationship with dogs is a rich, diverse, perplexing and complicated one – as rich, diverse, perplexing and complicated indeed as the relationship we have with other humans” (Garfield, 2020: 7).
My photographic practice in the last months focused on looking at the human-canine relationship from three perspectives (the photographer’s, a dog owner’s and the dog’s point of view) with a result of a mixed photomontage. I was suggested by my tutor and my peers to explore how the relationship between a human and a dog develops over time by revisiting the same owner and the dog after a certain period of time and look for relationship aspects that have changed. In my opinion, this approach would be useful to see how such relationship develops over a longer period of time, and perhaps that is something worth investigating further into the research. I believe that a short term investigation will not give proper results, thus at the moment I am not looking at applying this approach over the coming weeks. However, I am strongly considering to return to this idea in the later stages of the research.
Recently I have started to incorporate another feature into photomontages: text. During the interview stage of the meeting with a participant, I ask to write down about 30 words that the person associates with his or her relationship with the dog. This information not only shows the important key words of how the dog owner perceived the co-existence with the dog, but also gives an opportunity to see if these notions surface in the photographic outcome. I have noticed that many words quite often do, but at the same time many are left unseen.
Fig. 4: Saksens 2021. The story of Teddy: in collaboration with Daphne and her dog [audible photomontage]
Furthermore, up until this point I was making only one specific kind of a photomontage for each participant: an owner’s hands holding the head of the dog and the shots from a disposal camera and pet collar camera arranged around this central image. I have started to use more of the collected data and create more than one type of a photomontage, allowing the central image to change depending on the participant’s interaction with the dog.
Fig. 5: Saksens 2021. The story of Teddy: a happy, social and smart friend [photomontage]
In conclusion, the well-developed methodology is continuously improving and there are new features appearing in the images that were previously not looked at. There are also a lot of questions that arise from analysing the collected data, and there’s a lot of room for further improvement. Finally, I would like to end with the following words by Patricia B. McConnel (2007: 21-22):
“Trying to imagine what life is like from the perspective of another animal is one of the abilities that might actually be unique to humans – why should we be ashamed of it? Of course, we’ll never completely know what it is like to be a dog, or a warthog or a grasshopper. We’ll never really know what it is like to be another human either, but surely that shouldn’t stop us from trying.”
LIST OF REFERENCES
GARFIELD, Simon. 2020. Dog's best friend: a brief history of an unbreakable bond. London: The Orion Publishing Group Ltd.
HOROWITZ, Alexandra. 2019. Our Dogs, Ourselves: The Story of a Unique Bond. London: Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.
MCCONNELL, Patricia B. 2007. For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend. New York: Ballantine Books.
LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Dog’s point of view: screenshots from a pet collar camera [photographic screenshot images]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.
Figure 2: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Dog’s point of view: legs [screenshots from a pet collar camera]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.
Figure 3: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Dog’s point of view: ceiling lamps [screenshots from a pet collar camera]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.
Figure 4: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. The story of Teddy: in collaboration with Daphne and her dog [audible photomontage]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.
Figure 5: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. The story of Teddy: a happy, social and smart friend [photomontage]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.