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
Man and dog's association has been age-old. However, in India, the number of nouveau dog lovers has suddenly increased. No harm in that. Rifts appear in society when one starts loving the street dogs. There are exceptions too, when people adopt a street dog. They adopt and rear it in their home, but that doesn’t cause any problems.
The dog remains an animal whether on the street or in the house and survives on its instincts and senses. In nature when a dog feels cold at night, snuggles deeper in his lair or on a heap of methane-producing urban waste. Look at those dogs and you find a luxuriant, shining coat. Whereas, a dog provided with all the comforts of a woolen coat, a heater, sheds its coat round the year and often develops a dull, shaggy, and patchy coat. The ignorant dog lovers rush him to a vet and he prescribes some medicine. But of no avail. The dog keeps on shedding coat and the bills of his shampoos and hair care applications go on mounting.
Likewise, an adult dog has 42 teeth in total. I won’t go into their details, but a mention of carnassial teeth is important in the context of the lines that follow. Dogs, like many other carnivores, have Carnassial teeth. The fourth upper pre-molars and the first lower molar are modified in dogs to constitute the Carnassial teeth. The term Carnassial means ‘tearing of flesh’ as such these teeth help a dog to tear apart flesh from the thigh of an animal killed or a large chunk of meat provided by the owner.
Many of the readers must be finding this gory, (‘ughh’, we are vegetarian and our dog/s too is/are a vegetarian) but the fact is that being carnivores tearing of flesh for dogs is vital for their survival and fitness, plus for the health of their teeth and mouth. Because we are madly in love with our dogs, we start equating them with us. We provide the best comforts to him, which we ‘think’ are good or required. We forget that nature has specially modified dog’s teeth to eat certain kinds of hard food, which is vital for their entire well-being. But give him the softest possible food, as we will give to our infant. I have come across hundreds of people who believe that ‘doodh and roti’ (milk and chapati) is the only food a dog can and should eat!
As a five-year-old when I acquired my first dog, my mother too taught me to give him milk and chapati. Thereafter, till the age of 15, I kept my dogs on this ‘staple diet’. The mouths of almost all of them, I remember used to emit a fetid odour. I couldn’t make out why. My first guru on dogs, my mom, used to say they smell bad because they eat dirt as well. When I met my second guru- the real teacher- he asked me upon petting one of my dogs: ‘What do you feed him?’ ‘Milk and chapati’, was my prompt reply. Then he gave me a discourse about the teeth of dogs and the type of hard and crunchy food required by them. Since then, I followed the advice to the letter, and believe me none of my dogs ever had that foul-smelling mouth. Instead, their mouths smelt of burnt toast!
Yet another fact that the dog owner remain unaware of is that dogs need to be bathed only once in a blue moon. However, they need to be brushed daily and may be sometimes twice or even a greater number of times. Like our children, some dogs love to bath, and some hate. But people believe that like us dogs need to be bathed daily. The net result is that dogs lose the natural shine of their coats and develop bald patches on the skin which ultimately lead to skin infections. The trick to avoid all such problems is to bathe your dog fortnightly or monthly depending upon the climate. And please remember that after every bath it is most important to completely dry your dog. The wet patches on the skin or moisture in the skin lead to infections.
It is more important that instead of a bath, your dog, irrespective of the breed is brushed daily. Some breeds like Lhasa Apso, or other long-haired dogs, need to be brushed more than once, daily. Dogs like GSD have a double coat and they need a rake to be used on their coats to remove all the dead hair.
Dogs with long hair look very beautiful but to maintain their coat a lot of effort has to be put. Many owners get the coats of their Lhasa trimmed or shaved, especially during summer. Some claim, ‘he had developed a skin infection and to apply the medicine it was necessary’. Agreed, if a dog has a skin infection it is but natural that a vet will prescribe a local application and to make the medicine reach the skin, hair has to be shaven. But one must ponder and try to find out the reason for skin infection. In a large number of cases, it will be due to the moisture left by the daily bathing rituals. But there are many others who are advised by their doggy friends that a long-haired dog like a Lhasa must be shaven during the summers to save them from the heat of the plains. If that was the case, then the Arabs would have discarded their long robes to save them from the excruciating heat there. The long coats of dogs save them from heat and cold both. They are like insulators. Remember, dogs don’t have the sweat glands in their skin.
It is said that love is blind. People fall in love with their pooches like their own kids. One must learn their dogs, I agree. But one must also keep in mind that a dog's average age is around 12 years. Compared to humans it is much less. Thus, parting is inevitable and one must be prepared for that. Some people acquire a dog at a very late age and they go into depression thinking, ‘What will happen to my pooch if I pass away?’ Remember your moods, your anxieties, and your depression get easily transferred to your dog. They have a sixth sense to catch it. Therefore, always be firm and cool. Always maintain a smiling face in front of your pooch. He can clearly observe the minutest movement of your facial muscles and act accordingly. Better know your dog, keeping in mind his natural instincts.