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
Next time you take your dog out on a walk, watch his nose. You will notice that he either lifts his head up and sniffs the air, ears twitching with a facial expression of apprehending some danger or someone round the bend of the road; or his nose is virtually glued to the ground as he appears to sniff some kind of trail. Their sense of smell is more powerful than their vision. Like most of the animals, dogs survive on the power of their instincts and senses. Amongst the latter, the power to sniff is something to know more about.
Puppy arrives in this world in a bag or ‘caul’ and the moment dam tears it open, his nose starts working. At birth the pup is blind, his eyes develop later, yet immediately on arrival he sniffs around and locates a teat and gets busy. His world revolves around aromas. At the beginning till his eyes open he sniffs his way to his dam and is able to distinguish between the littermates though the world is still dark for him. In short, smell means everything to a dog. He sniffs his food, sniffs your moods, sniffs the fear lurking in the mind of an intruder, sniffs and knows the condition of his mate, and sniffs the world around from the moment he is born till he dies.
Imagine while you stumble upon things on way home during a black out, your dog knows from within the confines of the room/house that you are on way home and his actions convey to other family members too that you are nearby. Similarly, while still locked with you in your bedroom in the darkness of the night your pooch knows that someone is silently trying to intrude in your compound. All these ‘feats’ are possible because of a dog’s greater sniffing power.
We make use of this power of the dogs even during the initial stages of training a pup. For example, you call the pup and as soon as he reaches you each time reward him with a piece of a particular brand of biscuit. He retains the aroma in his computer (brain). Later, when he sniffs the wrapper of the same biscuit in the dustbin, he almost pushes his nose in to retrieve it. But then he realises that peeping in to the dustbin is prohibited in this human society and he recollects something and comes running to you. That aroma tells him that he will get his reward if he goes to you.
Often people say that a dog can make out who loves them. Actually, a dog makes out who is scared of him. You might have noticed that amongst the guests in your sitting room your dog goes and wags his tail in front of some of them, but does not go near some persons. Those individuals may not reflect their fear through words or other expressions, but the increase in traces of adrenalin in their sweat is enough to make your dog know the fear in the mind of particular guests.
Compared to our 5,000,000 smelling cells an Alsatian (GSD) has 22,000,000 cells in his nose. Other breeds too more or less have similar number of cells-may be slightly lower or higher, but certainly much more than ours. Naturally a dog can sniff even traces of old smell. This gift of the nature is best utilized by the dog for his survival and the smelling prowess of dog comes handy to humans as well. Sniffer dogs are well known all over the world. Right from trailing a criminal to detecting bombs concealed in public places, dogs are everywhere for our security.
In England when an eminent personality is addressing a crowd in a public place like Hyde Park, the crowd is not frisked. Instead, lady constables in mufti intermingle with the crowd with a toy dog (like Chihuahua) in their lap. If some person in the crowd is carrying a firearm like a small pistol, the dog in the lap of the constable sniffs it out. He starts nudging the handler’s palm and she in turn alerts her counterparts. In no time the suspect is rounded and escorted out of the area. The traces of smell of cordite in the firearm are powerful enough for even a toy dog to sniff and alert the handler.
The world of dogs revolves around their sense of smell. A dog knows if the bitch within one kilometre radius of your house is in season or not. And he also knows if she is ready for procreation or not-a condition which our vet friends find out after some tests only. Once the puppies are delivered, the dam keeps a count of them through their smell only. She starts looking around if one is missing. The pup on the other hand, if he wanders off and is not able to retrace his steps, locates his dam by her smell only.
The attachment of a pup with his master is also initially via smell only. Thus, in case your dog is too much attached to you and if you have to leave him alone for more than two hours leave your used socks in his box. Your smell around will give him confidence that you are not far. All pups develop attachment with their bedding. They are territorial animals hence the bedding denotes their own territory. They recognize it only through their body odour in the bedding. This trait comes handy, especially for bitch owners while trying to shift her to a separate room when she is expecting her new ones. One has just to pick up the bedding and place it in the desired room/corner of the house. The bitch will accept the place.
Dog’s establish territories not by constructing walls, but through smells only. Thus, his bed is his territory and your bed is your territory. Often dog owners commit the mistake of sharing their territory (bed) with the dog. He enjoys encroaching upon your territory because it is an honour for a dog to share territory with the leader. But alas, sometimes small mistakes on part of ignorant owners can lead to major problems. Suppose the lady of the house is expecting a baby. Till the baby arrives dog is used to share the bed with the couple. One fine morning he is shooed out to make room for the infant. For a dog the infant is an encroacher of his territory and there start the war of territories. Even your lap can be your pooch’s territory. For example, I took my Chihuahua for a dog show. There a breeder had brought a Miniature Pincher puppy for me. While returning home I placed the Chihuahua next to me in the car and the puppy in my lap. I can never forget the ruckus the two created within minutes. I presumed that they are just Toy breeds and they won’t fight. I was wrong. The Min Pin had encroached the Chihuahua’s territory-my lap.
Dogs mark their territories in public places via drops of urine. Take your dog out on a walk and he would like to lift his leg against every lamp post. Ever thought why he prefers a lamp post? Dogs it seems have an uncanny sense of chemistry. Urine of dogs is highly acidic. The metallic lamp post corrodes with drops of urine. The surface of the post there gets kind of etched. The rough surface thus created retains the odour of urine for longer periods. It helps your dog to recollect his past visit and also helps to find out the status of those who visited later. It is because of this instinct of marking territory and highly developed apparatus to sniff and analyse the number, condition and sex of the visitors in the territory marked by a dog, makes him pass only drops or droplets of urine at a time. He always keeps ‘stock reserved’ for marking any unanticipated place. The power of his nose is utilised not only to train a dog as a sniffer dog, but also for basic training like house breaking. In the past issues I have written about that. However, if new readers wish and make a request to the Editor, I will gladly write about ‘How to house train your dog’.