Know your Pooch
The writer is former director, GSI, and an avid animal lover. His understanding of man's best friend comes from over six decades of dedicated association with it…
In nature, packs of dogs live in lairs. Since it provides them a shelter and gives them a feeling of security, they treat their lair as their home. Unlike our homes with several designated rooms, dogs have only a shallow lair to live in with their families. Being carnivores, they bring large chunks of meat into the lair for consumption. Thus, for them the lair is their kitchen and dining room both. Not only that, the lair is their maternity room as well, because bitches must whelp there only. So many activities within the confines of the lair means cleanliness is vital. The rotten food material and the excreta of the puppies can spread fatal diseases. Therefore, nature has given them an instinct to maintain a clean environment. In fact, they are more conscious about the environment than us in some respect.
The pups and their dam show the cleanliness instinct right from the moment they come into this world. As soon as a puppy is delivered, the bitch cleanses it furiously. She licks the puppy to make it pass urine and stool. Till the puppies are being nursed by her, she keeps on cleaning and consuming all the faecal material produced by them. It sounds hideous, but perhaps that is the best the nature could train them! Initially the muscles required for defecation are not developed in puppies. That is why their dam eases them with her rapid licks. As soon as they learn to defecate even while their eyes are not open, they crawl away from the dam to do their job. Within no time they start going away a few paces to ease them. It is just an irony that the ignorant owners presume that the puppies have come with a degree in environmental science or have a well-developed civic sense and will not soil their homes! The puppy comes packed with the instinct to remain clean and to keep the environs clean. It is only for the owners to understand the phenomenon in totality and make use of it while house training their dog.
All the animals groom themselves or get groomed by their kin. It is a common sight amongst monkeys, birds, cats, and dogs etc. Many times, help of other living beings is also taken, for example birds picking teeth of the Hippos. As compared to dogs, cats have this instinct far better developed. They spend most of their lives licking them clean. Cats are very discrete about passing their excreta. They tend to find a secluded spot and later cover the mess with loose soil. If you rear a dog and a cat together, you will notice that most of the time cat licks the dog. Dogs groom themselves to quite an extent, but the domesticated ones depend for grooming more on their masters. Moreover, except for a few breeds like Dachshund, all cannot reach every nook and corner of their bodies. The Dachshunds have a loose and supple skin. Consequently, they are able to make a 360-degree turn. Naturally they can clean even their backs with their tongue.
The owners should carefully observe the instincts in dogs, as it is useful for many things. For example, the instinct to move away from their lair to excrete can be used for making the dog do his ‘job’ outside the house. For which, you must initially provide him a substitute for a lair, that is a kennel or a pen and then take him out after every meal and after each bout of play or when he gets up from sleep. Praise him a lot, once he has done his job at the spot designated by you. Your house will never get soiled.
Under normal circumstances the dog licks his body parts clean and it should not be discouraged from doing so. An obsession for licking indicates that something is wrong. The spot should be carefully examined to locate the cause. Sometimes instead of licking they start biting and look as if trying to ingest something. This is common if the dog is infected with flea or lice. In an earlier article I have already mentioned that ingestion of flea can cause tapeworm infection. In case fleas are seen effective measures should be taken to make the dog free from them. Since cleaning is an instinct, dogs go on licking any wound on their body. Excess licking can enlarge the wound and may hamper the healing process.
It is difficult to train or stop a dog from doing actions as per his instinct. One can overlook the normal licking for grooming which all dogs do daily. But repeated licking of an infected spot or area cannot be permitted. If the problem persists you may have to get the Vet’s advice. Maybe he prescribes appropriate medicines to comfort the dog and to take care of the infection/allergy. A daily grooming routine established by the owner goes a long way in keeping the dog’s skin healthy and glowing. Regularly groomed dogs lick themselves only if an extraneous matter is on their body. In addition, regular grooming helps in inspecting the dogs’ body for any infection etc. Some breeds such as German Shepherd have an outer harsh coat and an inner woolly coat. Daily grooming with a wire brush is a must for them. Else the amount of hair ingested by a GSD while self-grooming can even cause obstruction in the intestines!
My advice is that one must read a lot before acquiring a puppy.