This blog is for aboriginal breed enthusiasts. It is part of the INDog Project www.indog.co.in. Only INDogs (Indian Pariah) and INDog-mix mongrels are featured here. The two are NOT the same, do please read the text on the right to understand the difference. Our aim: to create awareness about the primitive natural breed called the Indian Pariah Dog/INDog. I sometimes feature other landrace breeds too.
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Bringing home a Pariah dog: Tips from Shirin Merchant, canine behaviour consultant
With dog ownership on the rise, the scope for this “mutual misunderstanding” has increased enormously. On the one hand we assume our beloved pets have exactly the same thought processes, needs and priorities as us (“He’s almost human!” is considered a great compliment…Why?) On the other hand, our dogs often interpret our indulgence and pampering as signs of submission, and write us off as weak-minded wimps.
Miraculously, we may pass a lifetime in this beautiful bubble with no major harm done. But if and when the bubble does burst, and we finally realize that our dog is bringing more stress than joy into our lives, it’s sometimes too late to undo the errors we made.
It’s so much easier to get everything right at the start. Considering the vast body of knowledge now available on the topic of dog behaviour, there is really no excuse for bungling.
As one of the kind-hearted people who adopted a stray dog, you have an additional responsibility: You are now an ambassador for the cause of street dog adoption. Isn’t it great to show off a perfect-mannered Pariah dog or mongrel – and let others see how it is as good a dog as any pure-breed?
Undoubtedly the best person to consult on this topic is Shirin Merchant, India’s only practicing canine behaviour consultant, an associate of John Rogerson (one of the world’s foremost canine behaviour experts), and editor of Woof magazine.
Shirin points out that all new dog owners need to take certain steps to settle their new pets into good habits – whether their dogs are purchased purebreds, or Pariahs and pariah-mixes adopted from the road, or abandoned purebreds adopted from shelters. However, the issues you must tackle in the case of street dog rescue/adoption or abandoned dog rescue/adoption are different from issues in the case of a pup bought from a breeder or a home. We asked Shirin to respond to some of the most common queries that crop up every time a stray is adopted.
Q1. Are there any basic temperamental differences between pariah dogs and mongrels and purebreeds?
A1. No, temperament will depend on a dog’s genetics, the environment it grows up in and its experiences as a pup and through life. All three play a role in the temperament of a dog and you can have a nasty tempered labrador or a wonderfully sweet rottweiler just as you can have a good natured pariah or a hot tempered mongrel.
Q2. What must I expect if I adopt an adult stray dog who has lived a while on the street?
A1. New owners will often feel sorry for a rescued dog and so may initially take time off work to help it settle in, taking it for long walks and spending extra time with the animal. But when they finally go back to work, the dog will get distressed with the abrupt change in routine.
A newly adopted dog is often very insecure in a new environment. It is your job as his new owner to build his confidence and convince him that he and you are here to stay. Dogs find comfort and stability in a fixed routine, so try and keep your and his daily activities as consistent as possible - it will help him adjust quickly to his new home and teach him that he can depend on you. So start as you mean to go on and get the dog used to your lifestyle from Day One.
Q3. Can such a dog be taught to be obedient? Will he accept human direction after being used to an independent life?
A3. Yes, most dogs crave to be part of a social group – it could be a family or people or other dogs – and if trained with kind and reward-based methods, they will happily listen to any person in the house. However, the new owner must keep in mind that these dogs have been used to a life of freedom and can be strongly independent. They will not accept any training method that involves the use of choke chains or force – the dog may then either withdraw into a shell or show aggression to protect himself.
Q4. Up to what age could a dog be trainable? If I adopt an older dog, what are the chances of his grasping house-training for instance?
A4. A dog that is trained with reward-based methods can be trained at any time and point in his life. It is a fallacy that you cannot teach new tricks to an old dog.
However, toilet training is not to be confused with “training of a dog.” It is a separate behaviour. If taught with patience and if there is consistency on the part of the owner, any dog – at any age (as long as there are no medical problems) – can be toilet trained within a week.
Q5. Street dogs are used to passing urine and stools whenever they need to, in a place of their choice. How will they adjust to being taken out only at fixed times? What would be the most humane, healthy way to tackle this problem?
A5. As a matter of fact, street dogs are very particular where they defecate and urinate. They will never dirty their bed or near where they are fed. Adult strays also will quickly get used to a routine and can ‘hold’ their urine for long periods of time, till they are taken out to clean themselves. For those dogs that do mess in the house, they need to be put onto a toilet training schedule – with a bit of consistency and patience, they will soon learn to toilet outdoors.
Q6. Many street dogs seem to dislike chains and leashes. How should we introduce them to being walked on a leash?
A6. You can’t blame a dog that has lived free and walked anywhere he pleases to resent being constrained on a leash. A leash and collar should be introduced slowly to the animal. It is a good idea to teach the dog to accept the collar and leash without the distractions of the outdoors. But don’t just put the dog on a collar and leash and expect it to adjust. Put on the collar and leash just before mealtime and let him eat his meal with the collar on. That way, the he will soon learn to associate the collar and leash to a pleasant experience. In addition, put the collar and leash on and walk the dog about the house, using treats and praise to lure him and distract him away from the restrictions of the leash. Do this for a couple of minutes everyday, then remove the leash. Do not leave it on and let the dog walk about the house with the leash trailing behind; this can lead to the leash being chewed or misconstrued as a toy – which can lead to problems later on.
Also remember never to use the leash to correct the dog for misbehaving, it is kinder to verbally reprimand him than to choke him by yanking on the collar.
It is also advisable to use a simple collar or a half choke. Never use a choke chain on a dog – if used wrongly (if the dog continues to pull on the choke chain or is yanked hard), it can harm the dog mentally and physically.
Q7. A dog who is used to life on the street experiences a lot of freedom and variety. Won't he get bored living in a flat? How can we prevent that?
A7. In the same way that you would for any dog – play games, take it for outings, walks, treks and give it plenty of love and care.
Q8. We already have a dog and we want to adopt a second dog from a shelter. Do you think they may fight?
A8. A lot depends on the temperament, age and sex of the two dogs and whether either dog comes with a preconceived hatred of other dogs. The kennel staff will be the best people to advise you on which dog to adopt. There are ways in which you can correctly introduce two dogs, making sure few problems, if at all, will occur in the long run.
Q9. Adult street dogs don't play with toys or have possessions. What toys would be best for them?
A9. All dogs play –they may not play with the fancy toys you buy them, but they will play with any object they deem fun – it could be an empty toilet paper roll or a plastic bottle or even your TV remote control. Scientists have long known that play is an integral part of a living creature’s well being. Even adult strays can be seen playing tag with one another or play-wrestling or chasing. The games you allow your dog to play must be appropriate and not encourage any kind of aggression. Encourage the dog to satisfy his instinct to chase by throwing a ball – do not allow him to chase birds or cats or other small animals – if allowed, he could even start to chase children one day.
Discourage tugging games that involve a lot of growling – stop the game when it gets out of hand. It is also noticed that men prefer to pit their strength against their dogs by playing rough and tumble wrestling games. These games should be strongly discouraged as they encourage aggression in a dog. The dog will then expect your grandmother or your niece to play the same game. Encourage your dog to find hidden objects or chase a ball.
It may be difficult to get a former stray to play initially, but do see what kind of game he prefers and work in that direction. Some dogs like to use their nose – play scenting games with them. Some like to chase – throw a ball for such dogs. Some love to explore – take him for a hike. That way your dog will be kept happy and out of trouble.
Q10. Will they be more territorial or aggressive than purebreds? Are they likely to attack guests for instance?
A10. The dog’s temperament and attitude towards people will depend on the life it has led on the streets. If it has had friendly and pleasant experiences with people, it will probably be a friendly dog to live with. However, if it has been abused, chased or hit, it will probably attack people or even family members if it feels threatened or fear at any time. A purebred dog is more likely to turn out to be aggressive or territorial if its parents were so, or it was brought up in that manner. Lack of socialising and training a dog to be aggressive can also play a part in a dog attacking people.
Stray dogs tend to be territorial when living on the streets, because their survival depends on it. But it is often seen that some of them when rehomed, tend to have a diminished territorial drive since they no longer have the need to protect resources as they are in abundance (food, shelter, water, etc.)
Q11. Children are often cruel to strays. Are rescued/adopted dogs likely to be scared of children? Will they be aggressive with them?
A11. It really depends on their previous experiences with children. Some dogs, who have faced no abuse may be okay with kids. Dogs who have suffered any kind of abuse will probably show aggression in self defence. In any case a child and dog should never be left unsupervised or alone.
A good shelter will carry out temperament tests on a dog before placing it in a home with children.
An adult dog that resents children or is suspicious of them will probably never come around to liking kids, so new owners have to keep that in mind and not be foolish and think that if the dog is exposed to kids long enough, it will learn to appreciate them.
Q12. What are the advantages and disadvantages of adopting an adult dog, as opposed to a puppy?
A12. Puppies can be appealing and great fun, but they also require a lot of care and running around. A pup needs to be taught manners, will need to be housebroken, exercised and will chew up everything he can get his little teeth into.
You can bypass the struggle with a dog that has outgrown the aggravations of adolescence. An older dog is calmer, requires moderate exercise and can even be left alone at home for short periods of time. If you lack the time, energy and commitment to bring up a pup, an adult dog may be a better choice.
However, whilst a puppy’s character can be moulded from the beginning, with an older dog, what you see is what you get. He will be pretty much set in his ways. If you do opt for an older dog, make your choice carefully; you can teach an old dog new tricks, but it is almost impossible to teach him to forget his old tricks.
Q13. Do street dogs have a greater hunting instinct? Can they be trusted around smaller animals or birds?
A13. It would depend on the environment the dog has been brought up in. If a dog has lived alongside a cat, it is very likely he will be OK with the animal. But a dog that has chased cats or hasn’t been exposed to them may end up chasing the animal.
Q14. What about rehoming an abandoned purebred? Will the dog have behaviour problems?
A14. Most purebred dogs are abandoned when they get too expensive to maintain, when they fall ill, get old, get chronic skin infections or when they develop behaviour problems. A good looking, otherwise healthy purebred dog that is abandoned is sure to have behaviour problems. Unfortunately, the behaviour may not surface in the kennel or until the dog has been in its new home for over a fortnight. Temperament testing an abandoned dog will reveal a lot about the dog and where he came from. The kennel can then accordingly rehome the dog keeping in mind its needs and temperament.
Q15. Does inbreeding make some purebreds unpredictable and nervous? Would street dogs be more or less free from this problem?
A15. Inbreeding does not make a dog nervous or aggressive – poor breeding does. If either the sire or dam have a nervous or aggressive temperament, it is highly likely that all the puppies in the litter will grow up to be of similar temperament. Potential owners should therefore carefully check the parents, before purchasing a puppy.
The same will go for street dogs – pups born from parents with a poor temperament will grow up to be nervous or aggressive. However, in our society, an aggressive dog is less likely to get fed by people and is likely to be killed or removed by people. This kind of ensures that most of the dogs on the streets, other than the odd exception, are even- tempered and even quite friendly towards people who are friendly and kind to them.
You can ask Shirin Merchant questions on dog behaviour on this blog (mail the questions to firstname.lastname@example.org). If you wish to consult her directly, write to Canines Can Care on email@example.com