An IIPM Initiative
Saturday, May 30, 2020

Look Before You Leash


Tags : Dogs | German shepherd dog | Dobermann | Labrador |

Friendly, good looking, healthy, playful and great with the kids. And yet, Sophie couldn’t keep her family happy. Within six months of being adopted, the happy go lucky Dalmatian - yeah, those oh so cute spotty dogs – was returned to the breeder by the Guptas. Now I know this family rather well. They are good neighbours and definitely are a good home for the ‘right pet’. And that’s the key word – the right pet, or in this instance, the right breed.

Most people in most countries have a very shallow decision making process when it comes to picking up a dog. My friends who want to look macho, and don’t really have the time to build a strong body or character would usually want one of those macho breeds like the Rottweiler or bull mastiff or pit bull, while those with money  in their banks and jewels in their cabinets would want a ‘good guard dog’ like a German shepherd dog or a Dobermann to protect their high walled homes. On the other hand, every home that’s ready for a pet thinks that they are good enough to home a Labrador retriever, ‘because they are so lovable and cute and every one has them so could go wrong with ours…?’

And those who think that ‘everyone has a lab so I want something similar, but different, ummm… like a…’, usually end up with a Dalmatian or a boxer or sin of sins, a Saint Bernard.

In most such homes, if they are lucky, it is the dog that ends up distraught, unhappy, unhealthily fat and sad, and not the owners. Such owners usually end up with chewed up furniture and bedsteads while the unlucky ones might end up with a chewed up limb or two, but in most cases if not all, the fault is always YOURS!

Dogs are creatures of instinct, not reason. And so the choices we make for them are the seeds we sow in this unique relationship between man and beast, and the fruits, whether sour or sweet, are all a consequence of our own labours, or lack thereof…

Look at the Guptas and their Dalmatian. If they chose the dog after their daughter squealed with joy while watching 101 dalmatians or because the local vet recommended it as a smarter leaner Labrador in a spotted coat, it really isn’t Sophie’s fault that they didn’t do their homework on the breed.

Dalmatians were bred in the days of the stage coach. While the stage-coach and the horses would run between cities and towns, ferrying passengers, the Dalmatian would run alongside the coach to guard the passengers from highwaymen and the horses from stray dogs that could chase or spook the steeds. Now that would need a dog that could pretty much run all day and still have energy to spare. And the dog didn’t choose to become this extreme endurance athlete.

We bred them to be this way.

Now imagine bringing Mo Farah home and then telling him he can only walk with you till the park and back. What is he going to do with all those extra buttons in his system that you never touch or acknowledge? Well, if its mighty Mo, he’ll find some walls to climb and someone else to touch his buttons for him while your back is turned. And what would a Dalmatian do if a 20 minute walk till the poop point and back is all he got? He ain’t no Mo, so he will literally try and climb your walls and chew through your furniture while you’re not looking, for he is like a soul possessed by his own unfulfilled instinctive urges. We know some people like that too, don’t we?  After a few such episodes, the dog, if lucky, would be rehomed, and if not, will spend the rest of its 14 odd years at the end of a short chain outside the house, barking and whining its way to an unhappy end.

And look at the ubiquitous Labrador. Nine out of 10 of these admittedly wonderful dogs are overweight. They look more like pigs than the sturdy and athletic hunting dogs that they were bred to be. Labrador ‘retreivers’ were bred to retrieve downed game birds from lakes and rivers. Their highly intelligent canine brains need a job that stimulates both mind and body. A long game of fetch, tracking, doing water rescues, searches or at the very least, a long hike more than a few kilometers long is what these dogs need to be happy and the wonderful companions they are meant to be. If all they get are two short walks morning and evening and a little bit of play time in the house, their wonderful temperaments will usually stop them from being a pest in the house once they’ve learnt the rules but their unused energy will come out in some form of neurotic behavior or the other. And their general unhappiness might also result in weak immune systems, weight issues, resulting bone problems, premature ageing and death.

The truth is most of us are just too busy, and too ignorant to really provide a good home for any of these sporting or working breeds. (For the uninitiated, all breeds of dog have been categorized by the breed founders for our convenience – hounds (hunters that hunt by sight like the greyhound or those that hunt by chasing a scent, like the coonhounds), sporting dogs (also assist on the hunt, but instead of taking down the quarry, they usually if not always set – like the Irish setter, point – like the German short-haired pointer, flush – like the cocker spaniel, or retriever – like the lab, in partnership with a human hunter with a gun), herders (like the collie, German shepherd and the bouvier des flandres have been bred to herd sheep and cattle on farms and take commands and directions from a shepherd – a heritage which makes them ideal breeds for working in close partnership with man in the areas of police-work and with the armed forces), general working breeds (a collection of mostly guardian breeds bred to protect livestock, property and person from both four and two-legged intruders like the Anatolian shepherd and the Dobermann), terriers (feisty vermin hunters), the spitz breeds  and finally the non-sporting group, which with the exception of the Dalmatian, mostly comprises of the dogs that most of us should take home – the companion breeds, bred specifically to serve as accommodating pals who are just as happy going for a short walk as they are sharing your couch. Pugs, Chihuahuas and the Pekingese and the modern English bulldog are all dogs that have had the whole wolf bred right out of them and only the wagging tail remains. Nor do these breeds have any strong working instincts or high energy drives that need to be worked off so they would happily laze and snooze while you’re busy and then be ready for their little walk soon as you are…

So if you like one of the working breeds like the German or heaven forbid, a Belgian shepherd, or even the seemingly easy to manage labs or golden retrievers, please do research the breeds and the commitments you would need to make to train, yes train, these powerful animals and the amount of exercise thy need to stay happy and healthy. If you don’t have the time to work, train or exercise your dog and only want something to love, pick one of the companion breeds instead.

But if all you want is a big beast to tie to the gate to keep intruders and just impress the neighbors and don’t really have the time to give attention or affection to the animal, may I suggest a snapping turtle, an alligator or a python… that’s because these guys, unlike dogs who are rather forgiving, would have the good sense to bite the hand that feeds it because honestly, you really don’t deserve to keep a pet… well maybe goldfish, but really, that’s about all.

Now that brings us to an important discussion – why do some dogs become apparently dangerous and why do they bite – some even their owners and why do some dogs become killers? And what can we do to prevent such incidents… Saving that for next week. Until then, keep it wagging!                                                                    

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017