About Me

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Mumbai, India
I'm a landrace dog fancier. Founder of the INDog Project (www.indog.co.in) and the INDog Club. Before that, I worked with urban free-ranging dogs of Mumbai from 1993-2007. Also a spider enthusiast and amateur arachnologist.

This blog is for aboriginal dog enthusiasts. It is part of the INDog Project www.indog.co.in. Only INDogs (Indian Pariah Dog) and INDog-mixes (Indies) 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 landrace village dog of the Indian subcontinent. I sometimes feature other landrace breeds too. Also see padsociety.org

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The origin of urban free-ranging dogs

I've been meaning to blog on this topic for some time.

This is about the origin of the urban free-ranging dog, commonly (and questionably) called the "stray." It's my effort to fill in the blank of "where did urban street dogs come from in the first place?"

Though this is not an animal welfare site, I've come across some strange theories about street dogs here and there and want to put across my opinion too.

Mine is based on my reading about free-ranging dogs, aboriginal dogs, dog evolution, and also on my personal experiences and observations of nearly two decades of dog-watching.

I believe that to understand how free-ranging dogs came into being, we have to first understand how dogs came into being. Please don't skip this bit, it's important.

I agree with the theory, brilliantly put forward by the biologists Raymond and Lorna Coppinger, that dogs are NOT the result of intentional domestication by humans: rather they are self-domesticated, like the domestic cat. In a nutshell, when humans started living in settlements, the garbage they created (bones and other edible waste) would have attracted wild carnivores as an easily obtainable source of food. Some species of wild canid, possibly the wolf or some other canid now extinct, took to scavenging rather than hunting as an easy means of survival.

Over generations this canid changed physically until it had perfectly adapted to its new ecological niche: scavenger around humans. It had evolved into what the Coppingers call the Village Dog: a domestic dog of generalized appearance, habituated to proximity to and dependence on humans, in other words no longer wild.

The Coppingers point out that this type of dog is still to be found in some parts of the world today. Never intentionally "bred" or tampered with by humans, but a product of natural selection alone. What PADS and other experts/enthusiasts call the primitive or aboriginal dog.

To many (including me), this is a much more acceptable explanation of dog domestication than the conventional theory we were brought up to believe - that Neolithic Man went forth and captured and domesticated the Wolf, and by some mysterious technique created the Dog. It is much more likely that the dog created itself, and only AFTER that had happened, Man started picking up pups and much much later, selectively breeding them for specific functions. Hunting, guarding livestock, guarding property.

Only in the last 200 years have dogs been bred for their looks and for winning prizes in the show ring. Almost all the "pure" breeds (as we call them) were developed only in the last two centuries.

So what has all this to do with India's free-ranging dogs and the much discussed "stray dog" issue?

Some Indians seem to believe that our street dog population has been created by a large-scale ongoing abandonment of pets. This is a perfect example of how facts and ideas from Europe/USA are unquestioningly accepted and mechanically applied to Asia, without any thought or research into dog populations here. Yes, most feral dog populations in Europe and the USA are descended from abandoned dogs of many breeds. But here?

Zooarchaeology and ancient literature show us that India has had free-ranging scavenging dogs since the earliest times. Such dogs are mentioned in the Panchatantra and the Mahabharata and elsewhere (read Sanskrit scholar Willem Bollee's interesting compilation mentioned below). Was there really such a mindbogglingly large-scale abandonment of pets over 2500 years ago as to result in such flourishing street dog populations? Slightly hard to believe. Where did all those pets come from anyway?

Here's the more realistic explanation for the existence of urban street dogs. Village dogs in the free-ranging scavenger niche have existed for thousands of years, at least 15000 years if not earlier. Many are pet dogs, as anyone who spends time in rural India will have noticed. But they roam unsupervised and also scavenge like ownerless dogs, and to people unfamiliar with village life they would seem like "strays."

As urbanization takes over rural areas, these village dogs become city street dogs. If you've watched Navi Mumbai develop and grow you will have seen this happening, that is if you pay attention to dogs of course. I can see the same process taking place in the small town Alibag as it grows and spreads into the surrounding countryside. It's happened for centuries around the country and it's happening now.

Garbage is much more abundant in cities thanks to the density of human population - and that directly leads to increased numbers of dogs, until the carrying capacity of the neighbourhood has been reached. Although primitive and aboriginal dogs breed only once a year and infant mortality is high, enough pups survive to fill territorial niches vacated by death and dispersal of adult dogs.

Abandoned pets must be adding to this population, but common sense and observation should tell us that they are not the main source. For one thing pet ownership itself is not as common in urban India as in developed countries. An example: only three families in our building own dogs (out of 124 apartment owners), and in the 20 odd flats in the remaining three buildings of our society, only three families own dogs. I'd say this is the pattern in most residential buildings in Mumbai or Kolkata (the other city I know well). This is not comparable to the 39 per cent of people estimated to keep dogs in the US (click here for the source of this figure).

Also compare the type of dogs kept as pets to the ones you see living on the road. If all of us in our housing society were to abandon our pets suddenly, that would put two pekingese, a french poodle, a labrador, a dachshund, a lhasa apso, a boxer and three neutered INDogs on the mean streets of Mumbai. Guess how many would survive let alone breed?
Also, does the street dog population really consist of labradors, german shepherds, pugs, boxers, pekingese and the like? Granted our urban dog population is mongrelized and certainly not pure indigenous dog, but neither are they all solely of "pedigreed" dog descent.

And that's enough from me for now. All other aspects of the "stray dog issue" have been written about at length elsewhere and do not really belong in this blog.

Further reading:

  • Those interested in this topic should read the glossary in the INDog site.
  • Also read the articles in the "Links" section of the site, specially those by Dr Sunil K Pal who has researched the behaviour of free-ranging dogs for many years.
  • Raymond and Lorna Coppinger's "Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behaviour & Evolution" is widely acclaimed and one of the most interesting books I've ever read.
  • Stephen Budiansky's "The Truth About Dogs."
  • Professor Willem Bollee's Indological study "Gone To The Dogs In Ancient India."

Sipho is growing...up

If you've been reading this blog for some time, you will remember the AfriCanis puppy Isipho adopted by Yvonne de Kock a few months ago. Click here for his earlier pictures and story.

He's around 5 months now and rather a large puppy, already bigger than Rishi (who is my little Kimaya's brother if you remember). He's called Sipho now. That's him on the left in the top picture, with Leela in the middle and Rishi on the right.

"He is a really lovely dog," Yvonne writes. "Calm, respectful of his elders Leela and Rishi, but obviously playful and occasionally gets into garden trouble like digging up plants!!"

Thanks to the sweet temperament of all three dogs (and also thanks to Yvonne's considerable knowledge of dog behaviour I'm sure), they have merged smoothly into a pack and live happily together with no friction.

I have to admit with great shame that my three girls may never be able to live together so peacefully without a lot of help from a behaviour consultant. Kimaya has been brought to Mumbai a couple of times since Puppy's adoption in March, and all I can say is it did not go well. But that's another story.

Read about the AfriCanis in this earlier post.

Some earlier posts on Rishi and Leela: Snapshots in the snow, Sea Dogs, Rishi and Leela portraits, The Indi and the cat, Part 6, My Cape Town holiday with Rishi and Leela and The Burial.

This is my post about indigenous dogs of Tanzania.

Photos: Yvonne de Kock
Cape Town,
South Africa

Thursday, October 21, 2010

INDogs of Bangladesh

Lovely INDogs clicked by aboriginal dog enthusiast Adnan Ahmad in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The first three are of an absolutely beautiful and perfect Indi, and the last two are of her daughter from an earlier litter.

Adnan has spent a lot of time and effort recording the INDogs of his area and their behaviour. You can watch his videos on You Tube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bom-eL_TzJw

Here is an earlier post about his pups Frisky and Lallu.

I always feel the dogs in Eastern India seem less mongrelized than the ones in North or Western India, and from Adnan's pictures it seems the ones in Bangladesh are not mongrelized at all, or very rarely. Apart from the fact that West Asian dogs were not taken to the east, I would put this down to more responsible pet ownership - owners not letting their Eurobreed pets roam unsupervised or breed with free-ranging dogs. When I was a child in Kolkata (very very long ago!) owners restricted their pets' movements and breeding, but that doesn't seem to be universally true any more judging by the look of many Kolkata street dogs today.

Thanks for the pictures Adnan!

Photos: Adnan Ahmad

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Free-ranging dogs of Bali

This month we've had a virtual pariah dog world tour!

Here's a lovely picture taken recently by a dog-lover friend Rucha Chitnis, who has just returned from Bali:

"So we went to the Mother Temple in Bali called Besakih, which is the most important temple for the Hindu Balinese. And I noticed that dogs are allowed inside the temple complex. Here's one happy fellow sleeping right next to the priest!

Also, it seemed that dogs are quite loved (the indigenous variety) across Thailand and Bali and they looked quite healthy and happy."

Thanks Rucha!

While on this subject, click here for an interesting article sent to me by Lisa Warden, on the genetics of Bali street dogs. These dogs have been found to be closely related to the Chow Chow, the Australian Dingo and the Akita. The authors conclude that "a viable and diverse population of dogs existed on the island of Bali prior to its geographic isolation approximately 12,000 years ago and has been little influenced by domesticated European dogs since that time."

Photo: Rucha Chitnis

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Cheshire Dog

Raju has done it again: bared his teeth in a maniacal grin for the camera. It put a huge grin on my face too, just what I needed after a week of hectic work.

Check this post for an earlier grin from Raju! That story links back to earlier puppy posts about Raju and his pretty "sibling" Deepa. Lots of smiles guaranteed.

Photo: Tina and Godfrey D'Souza
Aldona, Bardez

Sunday, October 10, 2010

AfriCanis: Indigenous dog of Southern Africa

By now I'm hoping readers will have visited the INDog website and in particular seen the map "Aboriginal and Primitive Breeds Around the World."

In southern Africa you'll find the handsome AfriCanis, native dog of the same aboriginal type that once existed around the world and still exists in many countries including of course India.

That image and these were kindly contributed for the INDog site by Johan and Edith Gallant, who have worked tirelessly for years to win for these indigenous dogs the respect they deserve. Johan Gallant is an inspired photographer and I want to thank the Gallants again for allowing me to use these beautiful pictures. Read all about this remarkable dog in the AfriCanis website.

There are also two books by Johan Gallant that I am eager to read: "The Story of the African Dog" and "SOS Dog: The Purebred Dog Hobby Re-examined," which is co-authored by Edith.

An incident I want to share: last week at a safari camp in Botswana my husband brought up the topic of native dogs while we were having dinner. Two of the camp managers were South Africans, and I was really pleased when they started telling me about the AfriCanis, how they'd heard it had the best temperament of all breeds, and how dogs with the same appearance could be found in different parts of the world. A clear sign that the hard work of the Gallants and other AfriCanis supporters has paid off! It made me hope that one day knowledge about the INDog will also be widespread among Indians, instead of being restricted to a few enthusiasts.

Some earlier posts from this blog about African native dogs:
Isipho, Africanis pup,
Avuvi of Ghana,
Africa Snapshots (the last has pictures taken by me in Tanzania last year).

Photos: Johan Gallant
The AfriCanis Society of Southern Africa

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Batman and friends

Several years ago I read an article called "The Red Dog of the Nilgiris" in the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society newsletter. The author was Dr Michael W Fox, a well-known ethologist, vet, writer of over 40 books on canine behaviour and other topics, and a former Vice President of Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International.

I had just started the Indian Pariah Dog Club and I was delighted to find Dr Fox was a pariah dog fan and had even written about them! You'll find an excerpt from his article in the INDog website (in the Articles section), reproduced with his permission.

Here are some lovely dogs from the Nilgiris, photographed by Dr Fox. They were all rescued by his wife Deanna Krantz, founder of IPAN (India Project for Animals and Nature).

Below: Beautiful Batman! He and Xylo emigrated to the US with Dr Fox and his wife. They live in Minnesota. Batman is now 11 years old.

Above: Batman with Dr Fox
Below: Batman giving an upside-down lick-kiss!

Above: Xylo

Above: A smile from Dean, a typical red Pariah Dog of the Nilgiris

Above: A villager feeding dogs in Masinagudi, circa 1976.

Photos: Dr Michael W Fox
India Project for Animals and Nature

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Canaan Dogs of Israel

Meet the beautiful Canaan Dog, pariah dog of Israel, long recognized as a pure breed.

The dog first won recognition thanks to the path-breaking work of Professor Rudolphina Menzel. Her efforts were continued by the Shaar Hagai Kennels, which breed, train and exhibit these dogs according to her guidelines. Read the article on Canaan Dogs by Myrna Shiboleth, the leading authority on this breed: "The Canaan Dog - Preserving a Biblical Dog in Modern Times." You'll find it in the INDog website in the "Articles" section.

"The Canaan Dog holds a special and unique position in today's cynological world," writes Myrna in the article. "On the one hand, this breed is fully recognized by all of the world's kennel clubs and is gaining more and more popularity as a pet and family dog in various parts of the world. On the other hand, in its land of origin, Israel, this breed also still exists as a wild or semi wild dog that must fight for its survival."

Myrna had also sent me some lovely pictures for the website world map. We used one of them there and I'm sharing the rest of them here. The top two pictures show Canaans living among the Bedouins as livestock guardian dogs, a role they've played for centuries.

Read all about Canaans in the Shaar Hagai website, and also check the Facebook group Canaan Dogs.

Thanks Myrna!

Photos: Myrna Shiboleth
Shaar Hagai Kennels

Puppy in Ipoh

This cute little pup was clicked by dog lover Lam Chun See while on a visit to relatives in the small town Ipoh in Malaysia:

"One day, my son and I were exploring a remote area in the outskirts of Ipoh when this cute little fella came up to us; probably looking for food. Unfortunately we didn’t have any with us. I sure am glad that I took these photos of him. He looked sad to see us go."

I came across Chun See's blog Good Morning Yesterday while searching for references to Kampong Dogs. It's so interesting to see indigenous dogs of other countries, specially when they are of the pariah type like ours. Click on these links to read Chun See's blogs about dogs of Singapore and Kampong dogs.

Thanks Chun See!

Photos: Lam Chun See
Ipoh, Malaysia


This beautiful INDog-mix belongs to Kumar Rao and his wife. He's just over ten months old now.

Kumar tells us how he adopted him:

"My wife and I went for the movie '3 Idiots' and the very next day we found him yelping in our compound. He was stuck in some boulders and was calling for help. We picked him up and fed him some milk. He was quite happy to be in our company. He was so cute, there was no way we could leave him there and we decided to keep him.

He was so smart that he did not ever mess our house, he used to go out to relieve himself. Every behavior of his made us realize he was such an intelligent pup...so we decided to name him after Rancho, the smart guy from '3 Idiots.' Since then he has been with me for 10 months, and is now a part of my family. He is so intelligent that he leaves us dumbstruck at times. I have had Alsatians previously and none of them have been as smart as him.

Rancho is a very lively, high energy dog. He understands Kannada so well!"

Text, photos: Kumar Rao

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New Indian Pariah Dog Club logo

Something new again - the Club logo. The idea is to show people what the "pariah morph" actually looks like, so I decided to use the silhouette of a real INDog instead of a line drawing or a cartoon.

The model for the logo is Robin, owned by Aditya Panda. I have to thank Sunil of chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy for designing the lovely logo, and of course special thanks to Aditya and Robin.

Click here to see more images of the pariah morph.

Logo: Sunil Kanawaje, chlorophyll brand and communications consultancy
Photo: Aditya Panda, Bhubaneswar