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From Predator to Pet: Social Relationships of the Saami Reindeer-Herding Dog

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Abstract

The Saami culture crystallizes around the image of the reindeer and the activities of reindeer herding and husbandry. Crucial to this livelihood, and to the hunting culture which preceded it, is the reindeer-herding dog. This essential partner in herding and domestic chores is not trained but rather, like the child, matures with a unique constellation of traits. Saami women breed, cull, and distribute the dogs, and again shelter them in their retirement, but it is the dog's partner, likely an active male herder, whose reputation is bound up with that of the dog. The dog, with a known matriline, may be referred to a putative sire or even to an extensive canine clan. Actual dog-dog relations shape interpersonal and working relationships, insofar as belligerent dog pairs preclude their partners' cooperation. In sum, Saami actively project their own prized autonomy and individuality onto these partners, and to a lesser extent onto the reindeer as well. In Saami society, these dogs are not pets, though they have become registered show commodities outside Lapland.

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