What the Dogs Did: Animal Agency in the Soviet Manned Spaceflight Program

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
British Society For The History Of Science

This paper examines the agency of the dogs used to develop the Soviet manned space flight programme by considering what the dogs did as experimental subjects, as dog technologies, and as individual dogs in the context of the historically conditioned practices of Soviet science. Looking at how Soviet space researchers refined Pavlovian behaviourism and integrated it into a complex engineering project helps clarify the conditions under which the dogs worked and the assumptions that guided the human researchers. The paper uses theoretical perspectives that contextualize animal agency in terms of relationships and then looks at those relationships from an ethological perspective. This provides a sense of what the dogs did that distinguishes between how humans understand dogs and what we know about dogs’ cognitive and social capacities. The paper proposes a model of animal agency that looks seriously at the dogs’ relationships with human researchers and suggests that the dogs’ significance as historical subjects depends as much on what they did as dogs as it does on how their contributions to the space race were perceived.