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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Wolfie in the Window II: Why behind your dog’s soulful eyes and wagging tails lurks the ghost of the grey wolf

To ensure a civilised pet, the first thing to do is to show them, quite clearly, right from the beginning, that you are the pack leader

Written by Ranjit Lal | New Delhi |
December 7, 2021 11:59:23 am
Dog-Ranjit LalAlpha girl: Our dogs resemble their wolf cousins in more ways than one. (Source: Ranjit Lal)

While dogs may have split from wolves thousands of years ago, and learnt how to communicate by making bug eyes at us, they haven’t entirely forgotten their ancestry. Raise your head to the heavens and howl, and your dog will look at you askance for a moment and then follow suit. Many moons ago, a friend played a flute in front of the Boxer I then had, and Chops gave her a mournful look, raised his muzzle skywards and let loose a long desolate howl. In the wild, the eerie howling of wolves is the way pack members keep in touch, or warn off other packs from their territory.

Every wolf pack is led by an alpha couple, the only ones that breed and whose word is law. Pack discipline and security is maintained by the pair, who decide whether to go into battle with a rival pack or beat a tactical retreat. Every ambitious pup will yearn to become the alpha pack leader of its own pack someday.

Your cute little chihuahua or bug-eyed little pug still nurse the same ambition in their little bottoms, not to mention the big guys — the Rottweilers, German shepherds and Tibetan mastiffs! And, as you and your family are their “pack”, they gun for: To take over leadership of “their” pack (you, your family). At this time, they are young, strong and willful. My Labrador tried showing us he was dada dog even at the age of three months — by daring anyone to clean up the puke he’d deposited on the carpet! They love us unconditionally, but this often means that they see threats everywhere. Out for a walk, with them in the lead, they will lunge at passers-by and other dogs in a misguided attempt to “protect” you. The house is their sacrosanct territory that must be guarded from all comers. They will lay claim to your bedroom and bed. Wag, the aforesaid Labrador would stake claim to the entire garage when his meals were served to him there.

So, the first thing you need to do in order to have a civilised pet and pack-member of the family is to show them, quite clearly right from the beginning, that you are the pack leader. This is the gospel most trainers abide by. It is not achieved by shouting, screaming or, God forbid, beating, but by “socialising” your pet with other dogs, children and adults from an early age, by firm repetitive correction and tapping into their Achilles’ heel: susceptibility to titbit bribery (aka biscuits)! Dogs are past-masters at picking up moods — they’ll catch on in a heartbeat when you lack confidence or are apprehensive and will try to take advantage of the situation.

It’s demeaning to hear owners (who fondly call themselves “pet-parents”) squeal, “good-boy, good girl!” in the lilting singsong tones used on infants, when the dog in question is a full-grown, dignified German shepherd. Treat a mature dog like a baby and it will behave like one — which includes messing up the house, throwing tantrums and holding you to ransom! And, for heaven’s sake, do not dress it up in shades, caps, designer jackets, and booties — nothing could be less mortifying! Bathe it, sure, but not with a shampoo that smells of violets or roses. Even with neutral dog soap, the first thing your dog wants to do after a bath is to roll in the nearest dung heap to get the awful shampoo-soap stench off it! It’s just obeying its ancient wolf instincts. As for all these newfangled doggie “restaurants”, spas and the like, well, the only spa and restaurant a dog really enjoys is a muddy puddle liberally laced with horse-dung followed by a run on the beach!

We’ve selectively bred dogs into hundreds of (often weird) shapes, sizes and specialities, so they can work for us as needed. Some excel as guards, others as trackers and sniffers, and yet others as family clowns. Many, alas, we’ve bred just to look “cute” or to make ourselves feel rich. Some, we work to the bone — as frontier guards, drug trackers or crime busters — and then neglect them when they retire (though there are now retirement homes for some veterans). These days, the mantra is to laud the all-round champions: pie dogs, in India called the “Indies”. So much so, that the “pedigreed” pooches — especially of foreign origin — have been roundly trolled. Rampant inbreeding of expensive breeds has caused health and mental issues in many such dogs — though even the “pies” are equally susceptible to turning out as unpredictable. But behind those soulful, expressive eyes and wagging tails, the ghost of the grey wolf still lurks, and that cute “wolfie in the window” will remind you of it at some point or the other. It’s up to you to show him or her that you’re the most “wolfie” of them all!

At the moment, I would love a Tibetan mastiff — but in Delhi? Also, it would be a little too wolfie for me!

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