Caring to paws

Caring to paws

Canine world

Caring to paws

Nishi, a boxer, was 11 months old when she was run over by a car (to be more precise, it ran over her face). “She was in and out of surgery for a year,” says her parent, Sindhoor Pangal. Realising the emotional trauma Nishi would suffer because of the accident, Sindhoor began looking for help. “I didn’t want just a trainer. I wanted someone who could understand and help her deal with the trauma,” she explains. When she couldn’t find such a person, she decided to become a dog behaviour counsellor herself. 

Unlike pet trainers, who are found in plenty, dog behaviour counsellors are hard to come by in the City. (However, in recent times, they have become more popular.) The ones who go into the field emphasise on the difference between ‘training’ a dog and understanding it. They challenge the traditional norms set by pet trainers and highlight the equality of a human-pet relationship. Devisri Sarkar, founder of ‘The Urban Dawg’, a pet counselling centre in the City, puts it bluntly, “Behaviour counsellors allow dogs to make their own decisions; they aren’t treated like slaves. It’s a more holistic approach to understanding them.” 

But a lack of awareness pushes people towards pet trainers, who are known to use harsh methods to gain control. Madhurima, who owns a bullmastiff, recalls her experience, “When Zorro was a puppy, we hired a trainer but he was rough with him, which I didn’t like. At the time (this was about five years back), there weren’t any behaviour counsellors in the City so I decided to do it myself.” 

Sindhoor, who now runs ‘Bangalore Hundeskole’, a centre for studying and understanding canine behaviour, mentions the importance of an understanding pet owner. “Dogs, by themselves, are never challenging to work with. It depends on how they are treated at home. There are old ideas, like humans have to dominate their pets, that are in circulation and these cause problems.” Although partially blind and unable to open her mouth fully, Nishi is a happy dog who has put the past behind her because of the emotional support she got from her parents. “You need to diagnose the problem before you can treat it,” Sindhoor adds. A largely unregulated profession in India, pet counselling often becomes synonymous with pet training. This means there’s a lot of unlearning pet enthusiasts have to do, as Anusha, a certified canine counsellor trainer, explains, “When a dog barks, it’s important to see why it’s doing so, and not just quieten it. There are many factors you have to look at — the breed of the dog, its age, diet, physical and mental health, home environment and more.” And just like parenting humans, one should make sure not to force their expectations on to a dog. “You can’t take your expectations of the dog and get them trained accordingly, like circus animals. A pet parent needs to earn its trust, which takes time,” she adds. 

Each dog is unique though they have some characteristic traits, and both these aspects need to be addressed. And Anusha, who uses the ‘reward method’ to bond with dogs, says that the younger the pet, the easier it is to work with. “There are some breeds, like labradors and beagles, that are more trusting than others like dobermans, rottweilers and German shepherds. But with the right understanding, any dog can be trained.” 

However, there can be some hiccoughs as many breeds, like St Bernards and huskies, are raised in unsuitable environments. “People might have the means to manage such breeds but even then, the dogs will get frustrated. Instead of sniffing around outside, they are expected to sit in air-conditioned rooms for 20 hours a day, which can make them aggressive or grumpy,” explains Sindhoor. 

And when it comes to Indian mongrels, it gets a bit more complicated as Anusha says, “They are very social and like to be on their own. While they beautifully capture any training thrown at them, it won’t be permanent.” Even Devisri mentions that it’s difficult to predict their behaviour. 

Socialisation is an important step in understanding pet behaviour. But, as Shiva Natraj explains, the socialisation process should be with the dog’s family and not necessarily other dogs. “You can’t treat them like humans, they should be allowed to live their own life.” Devisri adds, “Pet parents need to understand how to co-exist with their pets. Each dog is unique so understanding the trigger for their behaviour is essential.” Once a dog is stress and anxiety free, it will be more forthcoming towards the parent and there will be no need to command it. “My golden retriever, Caesar, understands 70 words now. When I’m talking, he listens to what I’m saying. When I ask him to do something, he responds, but only if he wants to,” she says. Whatever method they use, dog behaviour counsellors all agree that fear-based training is not the way to go and freedom and trust are the key to good communication.