Murdoch University Research Repository

Welcome to the Murdoch University Research Repository

The Murdoch University Research Repository is an open access digital collection of research
created by Murdoch University staff, researchers and postgraduate students.

Learn more

The bio-sociological relationship between Western Australian Aboriginals and their dogs

Howe, Margaret Lillian (1993) The bio-sociological relationship between Western Australian Aboriginals and their dogs. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

PDF - Front Pages
Download (1MB)
PDF - Whole Thesis
Download (25MB)


The hypothesis central to this study is that distinctly Aboriginal patterns of relationship between humans and dogs are still evident in contemporary Aboriginal groups. The relationship's sociological characteristics in traditional and contemporary settings and its implications for canine and human health are also investigated.

Field research employing survey, quantitative observation and specimen analysis techniques was conducted in 9 Western Australian Aboriginal groups of various backgrounds and settings. Results were compared to historic-traditional accounts and dog ownership studies in non-Aboriginal groups.

Traditionally dogs served Aboriginals most importantly for supernatural protection and to assist the collection of small game by women. In non-isolated groups, traditional utilitarian motives were superseded by the Western concept of dogs as companions.

Demographically, the Aboriginal dog populations surveyed were relatively large, and most dogs were classified as medium sized non-descript cross-breds.

Dogs were more commonly owned by adult and aged individuals, rather than by family units as is the Western cultural norm. Most dogs remained with their original owner and retained their original name for life.

Traditional values of respect towards dogs were compromised to the discriminatory care of higher status animals only, effecting selection pressure against undesirable dogs, particularly females. Similarly, while many aged people were opposed to culling, most respondents regarded community pup production as excessive and accepted culling as necessary. Nevertheless prevention was the preferred option, with strong support for the previously unfamiliar concept of ovariohysterectomy.

Pups were raised in some respects like children in the traditional manner, indulgence giving way in adulthood to expectations of self-reliance rather than obedience. Most dogs were in good physical and psychological condition, though more likely to be afflicted by sarcoptic mange than other Australian dogs. Other parasites occurred at or below expected frequencies.

Close physical contact with dogs coupled with favourable microclimates allowed ample opportunity for transmission of canine zoonoses, but the actual risk to human health remains poorly documented.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary Studies
Supervisor(s): Clark, William
Item Control Page Item Control Page


Downloads per month over past year