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
Remember when you came late from school how anxious your mother used to get! Or, when out on a stag party, your wife would start calling you up from 9 PM onwards, asking when will you be back sweetheart!
Anxiety is a common expression among humans. Some people express it more, in the sense that they get too anxious about a person, work, or anything related to their lives. While others do not express it and may keep their anxieties to themselves! Likewise, dogs do have their anxious moments. The only difference is that it takes time to fathom out the reason for their anxiety and longer to cure it and also that their expression of anxiety varies. Many times, the expression is so weird that the owner develops anxiety and hypertension.
Imagine a normal, playful dog well past his age of cutting teeth and also partially trained to obey some commands, suddenly digs your imported sofa in your absence and on return, you find bits of tapestry and foam all over the place. And your pooch sitting on a pile of foam, ears drawn back; tail wagging, and sweeping the bits of foam around. He is keeping an eye on you from the corner of his eye and seeing the anger on your face he is actually bracing up against your reaction.
Similarly, your quiet and placid Labrador Retriever one day starts pacing around restlessly, panting, with a worried look on his face. He may not enjoy his meals. He may eat in courses or may go off the food, leaving you worried. Labradors are quite calm and placid. But I know a particular dog, who is very gentle and loving throughout the day, obeys all commands, etc. But at night, when left all alone in the compound, he would dig large holes in the lawn, flower beds, etc.
Yet another dog begins to scratch unnecessarily. Despite your and your vet’s examination no trace of any external parasite is found on his body. The vet prescribes a deworming course, yet the scratching spree continues. At times it reaches a stage when a dog actually starts bleeding. Some dogs may begin to bite their tails, paws, and even their backs- again often mistaken as a sign of external parasites! And still, there may be others who may start licking their paw till it turns sore and red and ultimately bleeds. There could be dogs who begin to tremble for no reason or begin to pant excessively or whine a lot.
The owner is at a loss to make out what is wrong with the dog. In India commonly for any problem whether physical or behavioural, the owners rush to a vet. One of the reasons is that the owners remain ignorant about the type of problem their dog has and the other reason is the lack of dog behaviour specialists. The vet with all earnestness makes a diagnosis and starts treatment. Many times, dogs are drowsy after the treatment, because they have been given sedatives to cure their anxiety, which is often mistaken as a symptom of a physical problem like parasites.
Yet another anxiety that is generally experienced by toy breeds is that of going out and meeting other dogs or people. One of the reasons is their size! Just lie on a footpath or a public park with your head at the same height as your dog. What do you see? A forest of legs moving around you and the fear of getting crushed under one of them gives you some most anxious moments. All the symptoms described above are usually due to anxiety. Of course, before reaching a conclusion, one must get the other reasons ruled out with the help of a vet.
Now try to understand your dog’s behaviour. Remember when your mom or wife was anxious about you one of the expressions was pacing in the room or verandah! We have a spoken language and we can express our anxiety or concern in words. But the other animals do not have this facility. Dogs being part and parcel of the house express their anxiety through the symptoms described above.
Once you know that your dog is having an anxious time, the next question comes how to find out the reason and how to cure it. This is one of the most difficult tasks. As a dog owner, you should be observant from day one. Observe your dog’s behaviour and reaction to different situations, persons, sounds, smells, and also to climatic changes. Like us, they too have strong likes and dislikes among people. It is a common fact that if a person (for example a visitor) is not welcome to the owner the dog will also not like him to be around. If the visitor persists then the dog may resent by showing his anxiety symptoms because the poor creature has been trained not to bark and attack. Given an opportunity to react normally the dog can always show his dislike by attacking the person.
Dogs have much more powerful hearing and sniffing abilities than us. The rap on the TV or the fragrance of the incense stick may be to our great liking but maybe it is hurting your dog! Since he has no other way of expressing himself, he begins to pant excessively. While you or the vet thinks that the dog may be suffering from a kidney ailment!
Dogs are pack animals and always need the pack around. Their source of entertainment is you or your children. Going to a movie may be our entertainment. When everyone is busy enjoying the movie, the poor lone creature at home is at a loss to think where the pack has vanished! And in his moments of anxiety, he begins to dig your sofa. Soon it becomes a game and good entertainment for him. The poor creature being illiterate didn’t read the price tag!
In reality, you never own a dog, he owns you. Therefore, try to learn what makes him anxious and try to set right the action. Like you used to tell your friends, okay it’s time for me to go back home, before my mom or dad begins pacing the room! And you were off on a bike paddling fast to reach early. Why you did it? Because you knew they loved you and you loved them. Now the situation has reversed-the dog loves you and you have got to return his love by understanding his needs and taking care of his anxieties.