Written by MALAVIKA RANGARAJAN
Moe’s Bed and Biscuits (BnB) in Kalina has already started receiving appointments for the summer. The dog training centre, run by canine behaviourist Moresha Benjamin (35), has been in existence for the past three years.
Living in a 2-BHK apartment, with a doggy gate dividing her house into halves, Benjamin hosts only two dogs at a time.
“There is a strict protocol that I follow. First, I begin with temperament testing. I ask them to come over to my place, which is a neutral environment, with the dog to gauge its behaviour. I identify symptoms of separation anxiety, aggression, territorial nature, nervousness and so on, and then I do a trial stay for a 24-hour period. Once I’m satisfied with that, I host them,” she said.
Describing the nature of her job, the former journalist narrated the case of a well-trained labrador that growled and demonstrated attention-seeking behavior with its owners. On interacting with them, Benjamin discovered that the individuals were dealing with conflicts of their own, which reflected in the dog’s temperamental behaviour around them.
“I have to ask a lot of uncomfortable questions at times, such as ‘Have you shifted houses?’ and ‘Is everything okay between you two?’ A behaviourist doesn’t only mean a canine behaviourist, it has a lot to do with humans and dealing with people. You need to be very patient and avoid drawing conclusions based on the obvious,” she said.
Having dealt with several clients that come to her with complaints about their pet’s erratic behaviour, Benjamin said she believes her job is as good as that of a psychologist. “The pet’s behaviour tells you a lot about the kind of upbringing it has had,” she said.
“We don’t use fear-based methods, because the dog should respect you out of love and not fear. The training ensures that its present behaviour issues go away with positive reinforcement. For instance, if you’re yelling at the dog to correct his behaviour, you need to ensure that when the dog does something right, you praise him ten times more,” Benjamin said.
She is currently training two golden retrievers, Chimaji and Baaji, who excitedly follow her around the living room. Benjamin uses intonations to ensure that they are on their best behaviour.
Benjamin never had dogs of her own, but she said she believes her affinity towards them is something that comes naturally to her. After completing a four-month course with ‘Canines Can Care’ by Shirin Merchant, she is now occupied with two to three training sessions per day, and is busiest on weekends.
“My day starts at 5.00 am and ends at 10.30 pm. I always insist on one session with the entire family, so it’s the weekends that are best suited. While some pets are on dog food already, I also make home-cooked meals for them, which involves chicken, boiled vegetables and so on.”
Benjamin says people are often unaware that she has studied dog behaviour, both in theory and in practice, in order to become a certified professional. “We are made to train dogs of different breeds on the spot. It is very important to respect and understand the breed before you deal with them. For example, a German shepherd’s instinct is to herd. You need to give them that kind of socialisation. Otherwise, they become territorial and overprotective. A beagle likes to lead and not follow. The training for each breed differs completely, and a lot of people don’t get that, which is why speaking to a behaviourist is so important,” she said.
Benjamin says managing the centre, which began with her love for dogs, now helps pay her monthly bills too. She said, “My prices are competitive, because I assure quality. It’s about creating a culture of awareness – you are making people responsible for their pets. In India, it’s a very sorry state of affairs and I need to bridge that gap. I live and breathe this – fur for that matter.”
Her sessions include both indoor and outdoor training activities at clients’ residences, her apartment, gardens, beaches and roads. Spending a minimum of 12 sessions with each dog, the canine behaviourist is all set to train six different breeds later this month.
In the future, Benjamin plans to gain certification in order to deal with cases of aggression and work on making her own dog biscuits. “I come from a family of bakers, so hopefully, I can do justice to that,” she added.