A First-Of-Its-Kind Magazine On Environment Which Is For Nature, Of Nature, By Us (RNI No.: UPBIL/2016/66220)

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Mr VK Joshi

TreeTake is a monthly bilingual colour magazine on environment that is fully committed to serving Mother Nature with well researched, interactive and engaging articles and lots of interesting info.

Mr VK Joshi

Mr VK Joshi

Mr VK Joshi

Let the dog be a dog

My dog has become almost a human; my dog understands every word I speak to him; oh, my dog is such a darling that he doesn’t eat, unless I feed him with my own hand; the street dog I had adopted as my child an year ago has suddenly become sick, don’t know how and am scared of touching it. These are the common utterances of ‘doggy people’. Wish dogs also had a spoken language and communicate in words! Yet, some of them owned and converted to human beings (the owners believe so) sometimes do communicate with me and tell me funny stories.

Well, my objective here is not to make fun of either the dog lovers or of the dogs. I just wish to lay down some facts to make you understand my point of view, which, if you follow will do immense good for both of you. Like us, dog is a pack animal. We live in a family, which is like a pack, with our parents as our leaders. Likewise, in a dog’s pack there is a leader who is the unanimous choice of all. When a puppy reaches your home, he selects a leader for him. He begins to obey that leader and does whatever he can to please his leader/master. For him we too are dogs and behave with us, as if we are one of his species!

One of the common traits is to follow the leader. When the pup is about 60 days old, he trots behind his dam, because she is the leader.  This trait is related to hunt for food. When the pup reaches his new home, he starts doing the same. The problem comes when suddenly, one evening the family decides to go to a movie. Leaving him all alone, baffled. On return he whimpers and the entire family cuddles him to sooth him. It is just a chance that that very day the pooch goes off food. The owners feel they are guilty, because they left him alone! And the owner sits on the floor and begins to offer food with his fingers. Dog begins to lick. Gradually this becomes a habit. Without knowing you have taught your dog something you should not have.

Dogs can go off food for various reasons. It could be due to sickness. Yet another reason could be too much of milk in his feed. A pup more than 60 days old does not require milk. Even his dam stops feeding him. What he wants is solid protein plus something added to make the food crunchy. But again you mix up the things. You think (believe) that he is your baby, hence feed him what you would consider good for the baby. A six-month-old human baby has only a few teeth, while a six month old pup has almost fang like teeth. Means he needs food to tear, food to crush between his massive molars.

A recent trend has been the celebration of pooch’s birthday. No harm in that. Guest list sometimes include dogs of friends as well. Please understand dogs are not social animals. They rather need to be socialized during their training phase to make them accept the human society as their society. But it is not necessary to socialize a dog with another dog. Their ways of meeting and greeting are strange. Sniffing, tail wagging, happily moving the body sideways from waist behind are the common signs of happiness. But if the tails are straight or erect or tucked between the hind legs and to make it worse if heckles are raised too, then your party is surly going to be spoiled. Yet another way of understanding each other better with them is to mark the spot with their urine. You will not prefer your lounge to be marked! Plus even after many days of the birthday, your dog may prefer to mark all those spots with his own urine.

Okay, you say that you do not invite dogs, but your doggy friends. Fine as long as you feed them what should be their food-like a piece of birthday cake. But for a dog that soft cake is tasty because of the sweet and aroma, but it is certainly harmful for his health. You might argue, Oh what’s the harm in once in a while. I agree, but have you forgotten that you spoiled your own diabetes by those once in a while pieces of sweets with a much higher frequency! Moreover, dogs have a powerful nose. He will know when you are having an ice cream or a cake and will make such a fuss in front of you, that you will melt and break the line of ‘once in a while.’

Earlier diabetes was not so common or not known in dogs. But now both diabetes and obesity are becoming serious problems for pet dogs.

However, I do not want to dampen your party spirit. Please do party on his birthday, as you will do for your own kid. But instead of cake give him something which will be good for him, like fried liver or chunks of meat or if you are a vegetarian then you may feed him some good quality dog food. But please, for God’s sake, do not serve it to your guests!

There is yet another area where the owners treat the dogs like humans to the extent that they make them wear the choicest of woolens during the winters. Always keep in mind two things. Our normal body temperature is much less than theirs. Hence what is cold for us may be just pleasant for him. Secondly, our children are born without hair, while dogs come to this world with a natural coat, hence they don’t need a coat as such. Some people argue that since our dogs are reared in artificial environment, their immunity goes down. Therefore, they need a coat. Well in the first place who advised you to rear a dog in an artificial environment? Secondly, if a dog is reared in an environment which can be closest to the natural environment, within the premises of your home, he will be as rough and tough as the dog on the street. The following narrative will help you understand the mistake of humanizing a dog.

My niece is an ardent dog lover. She cannot see a dog in distress or pain. While working for an IT company in Bangalore, she was witness to a gory crushing of a bitch on the street by a Honda City. The hind portion of the bitch was totally crushed. She, with eyes full of tears, wrapped up the six-month-old badly injured, profusely bleeding bitch in her ‘dupatta’ and hailed a cab to rush her to a nearby vet clinic. The vet was a super dog lover, he, meticulously cleaned the wounds and finally told her that her left hind leg will have to be amputated from near the pelvis. Rheumy eyed girl told the vet to go ahead. She took seven days leave to look after the pup at home.

Over a period of time this new family member got used to apartment living, packaged food and all the luxuries a young software engineer can provide. All of sudden she was transferred to Norway. She took another bold step, got the bitch spayed and immediately after the stitches were removed she brought her to her parents’ home in Lucknow. There, she arranged a proper kennel for the bitch on the huge terrace of their first floor. The kennel was placed at a spot where it was safe from cold or hot blasts of wind. There was a huge neem tree which loomed over the terrace and provided the desired shade to the kennel.

Things were fine as long as my niece was there. She fed the bitch dog food, she taught her to use a corner of the terrace as a loo, which was cleaned twice a day and things were smooth. Things were fine for another seven years. One Deewali night the din of the crackers made the eight year old bitch go insane. She never earlier ventured on the stairs. But that night she rushed down and sat in the lap of her mistress. Like the daughter, my sister too is an avid dog lover, but she considers them as human being. She sat all night on the bed with that shivering bitch in her lap.

From that day onwards things changed very fast. The bitch suddenly became a human being and refused dog food. Now she would have only milk and roti and that too had to be fed with fingers only. The bitch started loving the bedroom more than her spacious terrace. She began waking up the master at 2.30 AM, to be taken out. Poor master, despite his bad health unfailingly carried her out for her ‘job’. The bitch would thereafter return and snore till 8 AM. And she had to be as usually fed on my sister’s bed.

My protests went in vain. Now the bitch is nearing 13, though quite strong and fit, has made her owners her servants. From October to March the bitch sleeps in front of the heater in the room, wearing a thick coat. And from March onwards, she howls if the power supply goes off, because then A.C. cannot run. The owners tell me that for eight years their vet’s bills were limited to her annual vaccinations only. Now her medicines cost more than theirs! There is no going back now.

Dear readers, the idea behind this long narrative was to forewarn you that please let your dog remain a dog, love him like your child, but provide him a living condition which is fit for a dog and also feed him his food. Never feed him with hand. A dog normally polishes off his food in three minutes and looks for more. If your dog takes longer time, may be the food is not for him or maybe you better consult a vet, before it is too late.

May 2017

A submissive dog does things to please ‘leader’

The readers are aware now that the dog society like ours consists of packs. All the pack members have their strong allegiance to the leader. The submissive trait is thus derived from a social structure which has a hierarchy in the form of a leader and rests are the members. A pack member type of dog looks up at his leader for a command. A pack leader type of dog likes to be in command. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. If the owner has a submissive nature, a leader type of dog would mean trouble for him. A leader type of dog will need an owner who can really dominate the scene. Domination does not mean physical domination. The dog should hold the master in awe and respect and yet love him immensely. From the viewpoint of a trainer, the pack-leader types of dogs are more intelligent. They apply brains in learning. In reality they are better communicators and are able to express.

Instincts become weaker or stronger according to circumstances. It happens to the leadership instinct as well. A submissive dog tries to please his master all the time. For example, a Labrador retriever though a born retriever has to be trained to retrieve. A submissive specimen would try to fetch something all the time. Many times the fetching game becomes an obsession. In order to keep the instinct at optimum level, it is better to train your dog and also keep on repeating the lessons daily throughout the life. The human child learns through a process of education. After learning and retaining the lessons in one year he gets promoted to the next class to learn more. With age as the brain develops the process of learning goes on. In case of dogs however, the development of the brain is limited to a certain level only. Therefore, the lessons he learns are also limited. But practicing those daily hones the skills and the dog develops a closer association.

 To explain this point I will cite an example. Goldy my Champion Labrador retriever bitch was just trained to Heel and Stand and to be touched by a Judge in the show ring. She was already four years old when I started to train her for obedience work. Normally people have a belief that an older dog cannot be trained. It is not so-a dog can be trained at any age, provided the owner has the will to train and the dog has the aptitude to learn. She picked up the basic lessons of Come, Sit and Down in no time. She was not trained to retrieve, but yes retrieving was engrained in her genes.

 Unlike many other younger dogs this too she picked up much faster. Thereafter, she developed an obsession for retrieving. In the evening when I was back from work, she would wait for me to dress up. The moment I tied the laces of my walking shoes, she would rush to the corner where her leashes were kept and would bring her nylon leash with choke chain, nudging me to take her out. I had never taught her to retrieve the leash. Similarly she would bring the newspaper on her own and place it on my bed without any formal training.

I pondered over this trait for many months and kept thinking ‘why she was retrieving things without any training?’ The answer was simple. Her submissive instinct told her that if she retrieves objects of daily use, the master (leader) will be happy. Soon, she began to associate words like slippers, walking shoes, stick etc. with retrieving followed by the reward of walks. While returning from walks, I began to fold and put the surplus length of her leash in her mouth. She was already trained to ‘Go’ on command. I just had to add Home to that. She began to go home with the folded leash in her mouth and once in the home she would wait for me at the spot where the leashes were kept. But believe me there was neither an extra intelligence involved in this, nor she was becoming an almost human. This was just a part of her submissive instinct which told her ‘keep doing to please the master…’

In wilderness or amongst the street dogs in India the pack leader of course is a dog. He is not a human being acting as a leader-naturally the commands to be obeyed are different. In the street or in the wilderness the objective is only to gather food for survival. Once a kill is made the leader gets the lion’s share in food and if a member tries to have more he is shooed away with one growl. On the other hand a dog under the ‘leadership’ of his master has to cater to different type of commands. Food is no problem; security, health and hygiene are all taken care of. While in the nature these are the things for which a dog has to struggle and strive for.

As already explained the submissive instinct makes a dog perform acts which please the leader/master. In return he gets all the love and affection as a reward. Once a dog is away from his dam and with the new master and his family he looks forward to the leader for issuing orders. To his confusion and dismay the leader is blissfully unaware and takes no initiative in the direction, except correcting him all the time.

One can learn a lot by observing a pack of dogs in the street. They have their well-marked territories and they play, search for food or sleep in that. But as soon as a stranger enters their territory, the leader gives a warning and the pack gets ready to pounce. However, unlike a home in the nature the rule book of dogs does not have superfluous taboos. The leader correcting the pack is rarely seen. Main reason behind this is that in their set up much correction is not required. In the house the pup has to learn not to defecate inside, not to chew the shoes, not to bark at visitors etc. The list of ‘No s’ is longer. The submissive instinct of the dog should be made use of and the owners should rise as leaders to train their dogs.

 Many owners narrate that their dog behaves very well in presence of trainer, obeys all commands willingly. But once the trainer leaves the dog stops obeying or has to be nagged for each command. The reason is that trainer overawes the owners and dog begins to treat him as the leader. The instinct makes dogs pay more attention to their trainer, because the dog treats the trainer as the leader and tries to be submissive to him.

Under normal circumstances the family dog recognizes the husband as the pack leader, wife as second in command and other children as members of the pack. He is submissive to them in the order he establishes the hierarchy. Dog has extremely powerful sense of observation. If the leader is firm, the dog knows it. In case the leader is weak, the dog will either change the allegiance or try to identify the next in command as the leader. This happens especially when the husband is ‘most obedient’.

The instinct of fear is related to the instinct of submission. All animals are scared of the two-legged creature called the man. Dogs are no exception to this fact. However, an animal removed from its nest as a baby and reared by man develops an attachment with him. The fear instinct has a two-way function. On one hand the dog is scared of humans and attacks out of fear. Though, this instinct has been considerably controlled. On the other hand the dogs are able to make out whether the person in question is afraid of them or not?  Have you ever thought why the dogs seldom bite the dog handlers and trainers? Similarly, infants, drunkards and mad persons are spared from their fangs. Just because they do not reflect any fear. Dogs are able to sniff the adrenaline released in the sweat and attack according to the fear shown by you. While training the Police dogs the make believe thieves have to act as if they are scared of the dog, otherwise the dog may avoid ‘catching’ them from their arm.

Experienced dog owners and professional trainers never bully or punish the dog, because they are not afraid of them. A person trying to kick his dog is surely scared of him. Inadvertently, he tries to revive the fear instinct in his dog, which was hitherto subdued. Therefore, hitting a dog will take you no-where, except that a good dog may turn a fear biter. In a natural pack a dog is never scared of his leader. He is submissive to the leader, but not scared. He holds the leader in the highest esteem. While the same dog with a human family develops aberrations. This is because the leader/master tries to dominate all the time. If the master is firm and quick in decision making the dog will obey, as the master desires. In case the master fumbles, remains undecided gets nervous the dog makes out immediately. In turn the dog either tries to take over the leadership or becomes scared due to the physical prowess of the master.

It is important to understand the instincts of your dog and apply them in training your dog. Do you have the time to be a leader?


March-April 2017

From the side of a pup home alone

When both partners are dog lovers and working too, the problem of acquiring a dog is always there. The question, ‘Should we or should we not,’ haunts them all the time. In majority of cases the couples succumb to emotions and go for a pup. Initial two days are a bliss, because a working couple usually brings home the new pup only on a holiday or a long weekend. The pup meets his new ‘pack’, develops a strong bond of friendship and fraternity. The new owners are spell-bound by the antics of the pup, the way he sleeps and the way he indicates his need to go out.

 The Monday morning begins to tell upon the couple, in addition to their hectic schedule for the day, they have to arrange all the meals, comfort and also toys for the new arrival. The mute pup watches everything with curiosity, doses off in between. The couple leaves, the pup being blissfully asleep. He gets up; there is a strong urge to relieve. The bladder control of the puppies is extremely weak. He needs to go out. He wobbles his way towards the door, tries to attract attention by crying, but there is no one to respond. Finally, he can’t hold any longer and does his job near the dinning chair. He manages to retrace few of his steps, still drowsy. A moving cockroach attracts his attention and the pup tries to chase the cunning pest.

Soon the pup forgets everything and begins to look for his pack leader and pack mate. They are nowhere around! He feels completely lost and begins to howl. Tired of crying, he staggers back to his corner. The smell of food there is relieving; he tries to lick it, but feels desolate and scared without any one around. Minutes turn to hours and hours seem to be endless, his throat aches with howling and finally after making several puddles he falls off to sleep under the sofa. He feels more secure there, as the place offers an ideal hiding and shuts off all those scary sounds of cars and vendors on the road.

Long last the masters arrive and make a search for the pup. He hears the footsteps. Chary of the noise and hullabaloo he pokes his head out of the hiding and sees his masters back home. He wriggles out jubilantly, wagging his tail and rushes towards them. He gets all the love and hugs. The pup is happy and so are the masters. No one except the pup knows about the trauma he underwent during the solitary confinement.

Time flies, the pup grows fast. Now he sleeps less and plays more. He being a creature of routine, soon picks up the difference between a working day and a weekend. On a weekend the masters laze around, they have to be virtually pulled out of the bed for his morning requirement and also for a bout of play. While on a working day everything thing is done with clock-work precision. The puppy and the owners wish there was a holiday 24X7! Alas, if wishes were horses beggars would ride!

A growing pup is full of energy; it needs to be released with lots of play, lots of work. Being instinctively of clean habits, no pup wants to soil his lair. He wants to go out. These outings also give him a chance to explore, to find out more about the surroundings, dogs etc. Alas, all that is not possible, his owners need to work to earn enough to buy more toys for him.

The owners fail to understand that no toy can replace the camaraderie with the pack members and the leader. Being a pack animal a pup is genetically not designed to stay alone. He needs to hear the sounds of his owners, feel the smells and also feel their touch on his body. The sounds can be recorded and smells can be apparently transmitted from used clothes, socks etc., but alas, nothing can replace the human touch. A pup brought up in isolation becomes a weird kind of creature. He can become destructive to the extent that he may destroy anything in the house and injure himself. He may become an impulsive chewer first and then a biter.

Such puppies are hardly socialized! They do not know how to behave in presence of other children/dogs/people. The instinct tells him that anything that walks fast or runs; could be a game. Therefore, the moment such a dog finds the neighbor’s five year old daughter romping in the park on the weekend; he goes after her and tries to catch her. Poor girl’s skin is too soft for the brute’s fangs and she begins to bleed. There ensues the trouble for the dog and the owner. For no fault the dog is branded a biter and the owner if he sides with the dog then he had it. Per force the owner starts getting harsh with his dog.

With the daily addition of dog’s mischief the owner begins to reprimand him and even punish him severally more and more. The affectionate bond between the owners and the dog seem to be lost in social milieu. Some friends advise hiring a trainer. A weekend trainer is located and agrees to train the dog against a hefty fee.

The priorities of the owners are their jobs and the dog. Thus a trainer is welcome. Soon the dog seems to be better behaved and begins to respond to commands effectively. Soon his attitude towards the children in the park also changes. Owners heave a sigh of relief. But their relief is short lived.

The hours of loneliness begin to tell upon the dog heavily now and one day while attempting to release his pent up energy in the sitting room of the owner, he begins to dig the sofa. His sharp claws tear the fabric of the tapestry and in no time the chunks of foam are all over the room. The looks attractive and interesting to the dog, and he presumes the chunks of foam to be the chunks of flesh of his ‘kill’! By the time the masters return the dog lies exhausted after a good days hunt. Rest need not be written; the corporal punishment the dog gets is beyond my imagination to pen here!

Question is, should the working couples rear a dog or not? If you ask my frank opinion, the answer is NO. A dog being a pack animal needs the company of the pack throughout the day. Just try to peep in to a dog’s world, you will never find a working dog and a bitch! They all work and play, eat and sleep together. The concept of nuclear family is simply not there in their society. When a pup laves his litter mates and dam for the new home, he takes the new owners as his leader and pack members. As per his genetic makeup, he expects the pack members to be around all through. But the sudden isolation makes him go haywire. Some turn vicious biters and others turn shy. All of them try to vent their wrath on the household goods.

If at all acquiring a dog for a working couple is a must then my advice is to please ensure that the pup/ dog is not left alone for more than two hours at a stretch. For those two hours also, the dog must be trained from the very puppy hood to stay alone and behave. Being a creature of routine and fast learners by experience, it is not difficult to teach a puppy to stay alone. Suitable rewards when he behaves well while left alone makes him soon understand the sanctity of training. However, this does not mean that he will remain the sane even after two hours. As this is usually the maximum limit of his patience to remain away from his pack. In addition to training provide him with toys that keep the dog occupied, playing sound tracks of household sounds, leaving an old sock or two in his kennel are nice ways to keep the dog in good humor while left alone.

In case the couple can phase their jobs in such a way that one leaves two hours before the other and returns likewise and also have a maid or an assistant who remains in the house after the last person has left, minimizes the dog’s trauma. Mind you a traumatized child and or a traumatic pup are unpredictable, therefore, weigh the options before you jump.


Feb 2017

Know your dog’s mind

 Most of us just blindly love dogs and never bother about what goes inside the mind of a dog. We apparently try to give our pooch the maximum comfort, without really trying to find out what is actually comfortable for a dog. For example, we buy the best dog box and the best toys and dog food. We think he is quite comfortable in his new dwelling and leave him alone and go to work. On the contrary in the nature being pack animals, constant interaction between the pack members is important for dogs. It is this interaction or play, which dissipates their energy. Secondly the pack goes out hunting, stalks a prey and makes a kill. Thereafter there is a tussle for the largest share-of course the pack leader gets it; then everyone takes off with his share to devour it or bury it near the lair for ‘bad times’. And that is lot of work for a day. Next day the routine is repeated. In other words in their society dogs go for work (hunting) and remain together and not alone in a ‘comfortable’ kennel.

But problem with you is that you have a dog and he is alone. Because you acquired it at the behest of children or as a status symbol or maybe you love them, but you have other priorities too to cater to. Since you do not have much time, your pup craves for company. At four months, he seems to possess lot more energy that you have! He vents his ire at your costly shoes, or digs holes in your garden or overturns the waste bucket. The list of his deeds in your absence is endless.

 As the pup grows he passes through different phases. Initially, at the age of six to ten weeks a pup can be fruitfully engaged by providing him with a football, with a tiny piece of chocolate pressed in its grooves. Leave this ball with the pup in an enclosed area and the poor guy will go on rolling it whole day in the hope of a lick. However after ten weeks he becomes smart and does not get lured by the chocolate. But even at this age he plays vigorously for some time and then sleeps off. He is now intelligent enough to reject the same toy if given to play with every time. Like your kid you have got to have a variety of toys for your pooch. Get him a set of calcined bones (femur) from a pet shop. The bone will keep him occupied for long. It is likely that after two-three days the pup may reject the bone. While you offer him a fresh one, dip the rejected one in meat soup and let it dry. It would be refreshed for next time. Alternatively you may buy a cong ball for him. Available in the pet shops, it makes nose as it rolls. The noise keeps the pup guessing and out of the curiosity he keeps playing with it. Some breeds like dachshunds are born diggers. It is not a bad idea to allot them a corner of your garden to dig freely, but please make sure that you are around to check him if he begins to dig beyond allotted limits. But if you are an avid garden lover, then dachshund is not the breed for you-the two never seem to go together.

A pup as it grows is not sent to a play school, unlike our children or later to a regular school. Yet he is supposed to understand each and every word you say and also obey. Poor chap has to sweat and toil a lot to earn his daily bread. Most of us commit the mistake of comparing our minds with that of the dog. We forget that we are at the highest pedestal of evolution hence there can be no comparison between our minds with those of our pets. How does our mind work? We think of the past and have vision about a happy future and curse the day. A dog on the other hand does not remember a thing of his puppy-hood and does not aspire to be head of your family. Poor creature is happy with the present. He is not bothered if you get your salary or not or if your daughter gets admitted to the best school or not, he bothers only for his food at the required time. Dog does not dwell upon the past, but yes sometimes bad memories of extreme punishment are retained. But even then he may not recollect the misdeed for which he was thrashed!

Being more evolved we have laid lots of rules and regulations for ourselves and we expect our dogs also to abide by them. For example, when a dog digs a small hole in a corner of the compound and buries his bone there we wonder at his intelligence. But when the same dog ‘digs’ a hole in the sofa to bury the bone, we thrash him. Poor thing, what he did was perfectly natural-but we go by the rule book we laid for ourselves. In order to make him abide by the rules we constantly nag him. From the day he is weaned away from his dam, the only word which he hears throughout the day is NO. He is nagged so much that he develops a kind of feeling of insecurity. He watches your each move and cringes if you make a sudden move or shout a NO. That is the price he pays for his free boarding and lodging at your place.

Ever watched a litter being reared by the dam? She keeps a tab on all the puppies. She knows which one wants to defecate, which one hasn’t had his milk and which one is missing. She nurses them accordingly. Puppies as they grow and interact with each other and the dam start playing games instinctively. Catch me if you can and mock hunting being their favorites. As long as they play without harming each other or the dam, she appears to be snoozing. But if any one of them misbehaves, tries to pester her, she gives a deep throated growl. And it is enough to control the pup. You may be wondering what is so great about it. Well it is the next part which is the crux of rearing-the moment the pup starts behaving she licks him and makes a lot of fuss over him. It is this ‘reward’ which ‘corrects’ the pup and not the ‘punishment’ she had growled a few moments ago. Please remember the entire dog training revolves around this reward and punishment.

Intelligence of dogs varies from individual to individual and from breed to breed. Some learn fast others take time. A sensible dog maintains a balance of instincts and senses and uses it for his benefit. A balanced dog is never shy. A dog which slinks away on hearing the footsteps of a stranger or barks incessantly but runs away and hides under the bed, is a shy dog. A stupid dog never protests, he meekly submits to your wishes. If you are sluggish and physically not very fit, a stupid dog may be good for you. But mind you, during a crisis like a burglar breaking in your house, he may just wag his tail to welcome him! A nervous dog, on the other hand, is highly strung. He sees a dog on the street, raises his heckles and barks his head out, his master wants to control him but in a fit of nervousness bites his hand. A nervous dog is unpredictable and unsafe, especially in a family.

Understanding a dog’s mind is complex. But once you know your dog’s mind you can make him do wonders. 


Jan 2017

A Pooch to sooth your irritable child

I had a young couple as my neighbor. This couple had a three year old baby boy-- very sweet looking and normally quite a playful kid. But there were times, especially when he was being fed, he would throw tantrums like anything. Once he was off the rocker, it was a job for his parents to calm him down. It was just by chance that one evening I was about to enter my house with my fully trained Labrador Retriever bitch, Goldy, and the child was shrieking as loudly as his lungs would allow without being burst that his eyes fell on my dog. The moment he saw Goldy, he abruptly stop crying. Thereafter, I noticed that as soon as Goldy went out of sight, he began started howling again.

His reaction gave me an idea. I requested the couple to allow me to visit their house when the kid was shrieking and refusing to be calmed. The husband and wife readily agreed, I might add with a sign of relief— after all someone (of-course I) was about to lend a helping hand, even if an experimental one. The next time their baby began howling, the gentleman dutifully rang my bell. I went to their house with Goldy on a leash, walking by my side with a ‘mission’ writ large on her face. I sat on a chair in front of the child with Goldy sat smiling near me, but I kept her on a leash. The child stopped crying and in a moment he came near and initially touched her hesitantly. In a few minutes, he was smiling and laughing and caressing Goldy with his tear-filled plump cheeks and soft hands. Goldy was also very pleased as this abashed display of affection and responded with a wagging tail and melting eyes. It was then that I let her off the leash.

Goldy, to giver her due credit, was a matured bitch that had successfully reared about 22 puppies by then. She was extremely friendly and gentle with children. They both struck an immediate liking for each other. The child forgot his tantrums and began to play ball with Goldy.

The couple realized that if it got a dog and raised it along with the child, it will help in controlling the child’s tantrums. The parents were right, but there was a hitch. Their child was, as I had observed, a slightly hyper on. A puppy is generally playful, but like a child he too can be hyper or even snippy. What they needed was a matured dog, preferably a bitch who could tolerate the child’s pranks!

The problem with children is that they feel the world around with their fingers. A dog’s tail always attracts them. May be they think that the wagging tail is some other creature that is attached to the dog’s body or a toy to snatch! In other words, they are always after the tail. Whereas, a dog on his own never likes his tail to be touched and on the contrary always wants to lick the child’s face to show his affection. Children hate being licked. Such contradictory situations occur in every home where the parents want a pet as a companion for their kid. The purpose of today’s story is to educate such parents.

The first question that comes to mind is ‘which are the safe breeds hat can be adopted for a child?’ Like children, some individual dogs are shy or hyper, barring such puppies; the puppies of breeds like, Basset Hound, Beagle, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever are generally safe. Moreover, the adults of these breeds are quite calm and well balanced. Of course some Basset Hounds often have a bad temper. Tibetan Mastiff is another breed, which if properly trained is safe with small kids. However, none of the above breeds are safe, unless the pup is trained properly and well socialized.

When you bring home a puppy, you separate him from his original pack and introduce him to a ‘new pack’ (of humans). I have deliberately used the term pack, because in the eyes of a dog we are also dogs (of perhaps a more intelligent variety). Once in the new home, the pup builds his own hierarchy. One of the family members becomes his leader. But once the pup goes out, he hears different sounds, faces the traffic and above all meets ‘strange packs’ and may often get bewildered. Thus, the idea of socialization is to acclimatize the dog to various situations, sounds and people. My Guru used to tell me that if your puppy eats fish out of your hand in a fish market, he can be taken as socialized. A well socialized pup always remains calm. How to go about socializing a pup can be the subject matter of another article, but here I wish to emphasize that if you bring home a pup as a companion for your kid, he should be partially trained, well socialized and fully vaccinated.

In my experience I have found that in order of suitability and temperament, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever puppies learn enough to be with tiny tots. The puppies of these breeds are strong enough to withstand the pranks of a kid. Personally, I prefer bitches over dogs, because they have maternal instinct and they are instinctively protective towards children,

Initially a pup faces two problems. One is sudden pulling of his tail by the tiny tot or the sudden shriek of a baby. A child feels the world and people around him by his hands. Give your finger to an infant, he will instinctively clutch it in his fist, because that is the only way he can feel it. Likewise, a pup explores the world with his mouth. If a dog mouths the soft hand of an infant, then you had it. Therefore, it is pertinent to teach your pup from very beginning not to mouth things just like that. Then the pup must have perseverance to bear the tweaking of his ears by the baby. All such things are difficult to teach, but a slight effort and the pup learns pretty fast. Side by side, teach your child to be kind towards the pup, tell him if anyone was to pull his ears how would he feel, thus he should refrain from pulling the dog’s tail. Let him know animals feel the same pain as human beings. Make him love the playfulness of pets rather than their painful howling. Never encourage your child to kick or punch the pup even playfully.

If the baby is unwell, and cries because of stomach ache or any other physical problem, then it is a matter to be tackled by a child specialist. But if the baby has some psychological fear and throws tantrums, then a pup or an adult dog as a companion is the ideal thing to calm him down and teach him some sensitivity into the bargain. These days it is common to see well-trained large breeds like Golden Retriever being used to sooth the children in a crèche or a Play School. Many times such dogs are also used to provide companionship to differently-abled persons too. Dogs provide a useful diversion and help in settling down the children.

In the next issue you will read about ‘Dilemma of a Working Couple.’ It will deal with the problems faced by their pooch, when he is alone.


Dec 2016

Oh, my greedy dog!

Imagine a scene; you have guests with you in your sitting room, with varieties of delicacies placed on the center table. While you are offering plates to the guests, your eight-month-old Alsatian appears from nowhere and, to the horror of everyone, starts slurping the sweet juice from the bowl full of rasogollas! It is most embarrassing moment for you and you hold the dog by his collar and drag him away and lock him up in a room. Before bolting the room, you give a loud kick to the dog, guests do hear his howl, but the matter is ignored.

Sometimes especially during festivals, for example Holi, sweets like ghujhiyas are prepared and stored in the open trays in the dining room or the kitchen. Your dachshund quietly sneaks in, when you are not around and to your horror, makes a good meal of all the ghujhiyas. In addition to stealing food, many dogs sneak in to the kitchen at night and forage in the garbage bin. In the morning you find the kitchen messed up and littered.

All such dogs are labelled as thieves and are often tortured, thrashed and punished. Many times I wonder if really a dog is to be blamed or the onus rests with the owner. If you ask me, it is the owner who is to be blamed!

Let us find out in detail, how a dog’s mind works keeping in mind, the above quoted examples. You already know that dogs are carnivores. Their digestive system is meant to synthesize animal protein hence, they thrive on animal protein. To facilitate digestion, they have much stronger acids in their stomach. Dogs are carrion eaters and love rotten meat, or any food. It is in their genes. What is rotten for us is a delicacy for them. Dogs have an uncanny power of smell. Hide any food stuff that a dog loves anywhere; he will locate it in no time. I have often repeated dogs are creatures of routine. This last trait helps in forming good and bad habits.

With this background information, we further try to analyze how and why a dog becomes a food thief? You might say, ‘As a puppy he was perfect, he never even came near the kitchen door’ or ‘He never climbed up the dining chair.’ Yes, you are right to a great extent.

A well fed puppy needs his hours of sleep and play and that is all. But things start going wrong, as you start permitting him in the dining room, while you are having meals. He is able to sniff the food on the table and sometimes may even drool. Out of sheer sympathy, you pick up a morsel and offer him. There starts the down the hill journey. As a creature of routine, his brain tells him, ‘hey they are having food, go and watch them.’ He comes and sits smartly. Your daughter says, ‘Oh, mama look at him, how cutely he is begging for food.’ You forget that your dog has had food about half an hour ago! Again a morsel is given. Gradually, it becomes a routine and he waits for the table to be laid.

Children and old people are to be blamed more for teaching this habit of begging for food. They do it either deliberately or accidentally. A piece of cheese falls on the floor. Dog goes through the maze of legs, under table and gulps it. Then sits and begs for more. The cycle is unending.

Dogs are carrion eaters and just love to gulp any quantity of rotten food, especially meat. Most of them are intelligent enough to weed out plastic and other stuff from the trash basket. Exploring for food is also a natural trait in them. And lastly they do not have fingers to hold and explore. Everything has to be explored with mouth. If it has an odor to the liking of the dog, it goes down under.

So far, I wrote about well-fed dogs. Ill fed dogs or hungry dogs were not discussed. A dog needs lot of protein and an adult dog needs 95% of food as solid, dry crunchy stuff. But in India it is a notion that a dog needs only milk and roti. It is wrong. If you can’t give meat to your dog, you may try to feed him whatever you can, but certainly not that milk and roti. An ill-fed or hungry dog ventures out in search of food and often lands on a trash can or a garbage bin or at times even a garbage dump on the road. Garbage as such does not harm a dog’s system but he develops a bad habit of exploring for food all the time.

After having known the reasons why a dog steals food, let us see how to correct him, but before that how to ensure that he never develops such habits.

Always feed the dog at a particular time, in his bowl, which should be cleaned and kept out of his reach, after he has had his meal. Timing is important. I have already said somewhere in this column that a dog’s biological clock is more precise than any Swiss clock. You should ensure your convenience first. It is convenient for you to feed him at five in the morning then do so, but never change the time just like that. Being carnivore, he needs smaller quantities of nourishing food initially five times, then with growth four times, with further growth, three times and finally twice daily for the life. Stick to this practice.

Train your dog to eat only on command. If you have a strong desire to feed him a morsel from your food or anything that he loves, save it and give it to him as a reward and always feed him on the flat of your palm. If you are scared to do so, then tuck it away and mix it with his meal later.

Never ever allow dog to be near the dining table when you are having your meal and never permit him to enter the kitchen from the day one. These two places should be sort of out of bound for him. Dog is a pack animal and in the nature the pack leader has his meal and the members fight for the left over. But here, though he is a pack member and you are the leader, the rules are different. He is not supposed to grapple for food. Before you have your meal, he should be fed and tucked in his cage/kennel/box after his usual short walk.

If you are disciplined on this ground and strict on yourself, there is no reason why your dog should steal food! A well trained dog never eats food without command. If he is never allowed to pick food from ground, he will never eat dirt lying on the road. Also remember one last tip. If by chance your dog comes in the dining room, during your meal time, shoo him out, make him sit and stay in his bed and reward him with a tidbit on your palm. Let him understand that lurking in the dining room is wrong and waiting in his own bed is right. Follow my advice seriously and you will be able to place all the ghujhiyas and rasogollas anywhere in the house without any fear of their being gulped down by ‘that greedy dog’!

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