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
World over postmen and dogs are always at daggers drawn! It appears as if dogs are programmed to hate the postmen and chase them! Ask any postman, he will say ‘I seldom go near the letterbox at the gate of a house that has a dog; instead, I just fling the letters into the compounds from a distance.’ Well, these are the views of postmen who honestly try to perform their duties. The postmen in India I think are lucky because they visit the houses only during major festivals; the rest of the year where your mail goes is anybody’s guess!
But I am supposed to write about dogs here. The postman intruded because there is a link between his cycle and dogs. In fact, there is a link between anything moving and dogs. To understand we have to take our pooch back to the wilderness.
Try to visualize the scenario of the past, a pack of dogs roaming around in search of food. They are carnivores and no dam of a litter goes to a store to buy dog food or get some meat and cook it. Their only method of getting food is to chase a deer or a rabbit or any other small herbivore. The pack encircles the prey. Barking and whining all the time. Once they close in, they just pounce upon the prey and, in no time, it is torn to pieces. Each pack has a pack leader and generally, he/she is the most powerful of all. The pack leader tears open the stomach of the prey and they devour the stomach and entrails. The others try to dislodge a thigh and carry it off to their lair, find a covered spot nearby, dig some ground and bury their meal and return later after it has been putrefied to consume it.
Hunting comes as an instinct to all dogs. It is packed in their genes. Thus, wild or domesticated dogs do like to hunt. Instinct is something that cannot be wished away-specially in animals much lower to humans in the order of evolution. Hunting in wild means a chase and that too a long chase. Thus, dogs are constructed in such a way that they can chase for long distances without getting tired. In case the prey is swift and cunning and tries to vanish behind the bushes he cannot remain hidden for long. Powered with a nose to sniff in parts per billion, they are able to sniff their way to the prey in no time.
But the dog we are talking about is not a wild dog and not even a dog on the street, rather it is your beloved pooch. He gets the best dog food in the world and the choicest snacks without making an effort. In other words, he need not chase a prey to earn his meal. Then why should he chase animals, cycles, bikes, or even cars?
Actually, the instinct to hunt is deep-rooted in a dog’s genes. Remove that instinct and instead of a dog you have a goat or for that matter a rabbit. According to his level of thinking he chases anything that moves or flutters fast because he presumes it is his prey. Poor postman riding a cycle is ignorant about such instincts of your dog. Often, he completes his round with a torn trouser leg! Many bikers end up in the hospital with a broken leg because a dog in a locality believes that the red bike has a strong resemblance to a deer or something like that!
I have noticed another interesting fact. I found that my dogs generally well trained, often growled or looked with cross-eyes at visitors coming to my place in kurta-pyjama. However, people wearing trousers were spared. After observing minutely, I concluded that because a pair of pyjamas often flutters, whereas a pair of trousers or jeans remains still. That slight flutter attracts them and they instinctively think it’s a prey!
Well, an instinct is something that one does without any logic. In the case of animals, instinct plays a larger role, because they mostly live and survive on instinct only. Therefore, despite man’s best attempt to create different breeds or groups of dogs for different purposes it is almost impossible to erase the habit of chasing.
Fortunately, a dog is one animal that learns by experience. Therefore, if he has been trained to stay on command or has been taught to retrieve a ball or any other object the nuisance of a dog chasing a bike or postman can be considerably controlled. Chasing a ball fulfills his desire to chase a prey. If he has been trained to retrieve then it serves a dual purpose -dogs instinct is well served and he gets plenty of much-needed exercise. Above all, it does not strain you at all, because you remain standing on a spot while he does the running about.
Many dog owners find it difficult to teach their adult dogs to retrieve. For them, it is best to teach him to stay on command. This can be easily learned if you go through the back issues of Tree Take carefully. Briefly, feed time is the best time to teach him to stay. Put him on a leash and place his food in front, out of his reach. He will certainly strain to reach his bowl. At that time in a booming voice give the command Stay preceded by his name. Count five and ask him to eat with all the honey in your voice. In the next meal increase the count to six and so on. In no time your dog will wait for your command to eat and he will stay endlessly in the hope of a reward afterward. Never disappoint him though, but use the command before your pooch decides to chase me!