Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Christy Pontcelli, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Spencer Cahill, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Margarethe Kusenbach, Ph.D.


Companion animal, Human-animal, Interaction, Relationships, Dogs, Family


According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, there are currently more than 60 million pet dogs in the United States. This is an increase of nearly eighteen percent since 1991, coinciding with a growing area of research on human’s relationships with companion animals and companion animals’ place in society.

For years dogs have been thought of as “man’s best friend” because of their loyalty and faithfulness. The increasing popularity of activities such as canine daycare and puppy school suggests that dogs have become more than a best friend to some and even an integral part of the American family unit. The bond and emotional connection between humans and canines is a unique relationship, yet the depth of that relationship is not fully understood academically.

In order to contribute to our understanding of this special bond, I conducted seven in-depth interviews with canine companions. My research allowed me to explore how contemporary Americans understand their relationship with their companion dogs. Not only was I able to shed more light on how people think about and treat their canine companions, but I also investigated what benefits are reaped from relationships with dogs. Based on my informants’ reflections and stories, it became clear that their canines were more than just pets. The people in my study described dogs as their best friends, babies and even sons. My interviewees described canine companions who are active participants in their families and in human social life in general. Those who hope to understand this life cannot afford to ignore the canine companion’s changing and important contributions to society.