Canine behaviourist Shirin Merchant often meets young people who are enthusiastic about becoming pet parents. However, the transition isn't always seamless. "They seldom get any time for themselves, so they can't spend any quality time with their dogs. Dogs need to be taken care of as one looks after their kids," she says.
Shirin has become known for changing the way dogs are treated in the country. She is also the founder of Canines Can Care, an organisation dedicated to pioneering a variety of animal-related activities in India. Shirin will be in Hyderabad this weekend to hold a workshop for pet parents in the city, where she will be educating them on common canine behavioural traits and simple remedies to correct imbalances in the dog-human relationship.
TNM caught up with Shirin to discuss why it is important to dispel dog-related myths and how to be a better pet parent.
What should people know before adopting a dog?
With dogs, mostly people do not do any proper research. They just go, bring the dog home and then suddenly realise it’s not for them. I really think the only way out of the situation is to educate people. People need to understand what it means to own a dog — the responsibility, time and commitment. They must research about the breed of dog that they are going to bring home. Because this animal is going to live with you for the next 14-15 years.
If two people do not have time, it is best that you don’t adopt a dog. Nothing else can compensate for time. If you still love dogs, you can visit a shelter and give the canines some company.
What are some of the common myths associated with dogs?
One of the most common myths is that you cannot train an older dog. Obviously, it wouldn’t be as easy as training a puppy, but it’s never too late. Another myth is that you can’t train a dog until its six months old. This is also not true. Guide dog puppies all over the world start their training as young as six weeks.
One of the main myths about dog is the food they eat. People believe if he/she eats meat, they would turn vicious or that if an animal tastes blood, it can kill people. But these are things that one can only watch in movies. Any balanced diet that suits the breed of your dog is always welcome.
A myth we really need to bust is that only trainers are capable of training canines. A trainer can show you what to do, but it’s the pet parent who needs to do the actual training. A pet parent needs to be involved in the training process from Day 1. Dog training can be a lot of fun and is easy, even for children. A young pup need not necessarily be taught complicated commands, but it is advisable to start socialising, toilet training, the recall and ‘no' command, and most importantly, basic manners.
What are the most common breeds of dogs in Indian homes?
Labradors and golden retrievers remain the most popular. But our country has changing trends. Rottweilers are popular and German Shepherds are also preferred. Indian breeds are equally good, but foreign ones are more fancied.
How is being a canine behaviourist viewed upon as a profession?
If you had asked me the same question 20 years ago, I would have said that being a canine behaviourist doesn’t even qualify as a career option. But today, the industry has evolved so much that there are lawyers, doctors and architects who quit their full-time jobs to pursue a career in dog training. It isn’t very strenuous and it is a highly rewarding profession. For example, most of my talks at our workshops come as a revelation to the audience. Most of them go back wanting to start a new chapter with their pet, because all this while they were doing the wrong things with their dogs. So basically, being a behaviourist, you are helping people to bridge the gap between the human species and the canine species.
Is it alright to have dogs in apartments?
A dog can live in a flat. The size of the house also doesn’t really matter if your dog has an exercise routine outdoors. It becomes unhealthy when parents restrict their dogs to the balcony of their apartments. So as long as your pet gets its exercise outside your house, breeding dogs in apartments is absolutely fine.
What is a common myth about dogs that you have been able to dispel through your work?
It was a common belief when I started off as a trainer that behaviourists would take away the dogs and would train the pets to perfection. But today, fortunately, people are more invested in the well-being of their pets. Today, pet parents are well-read and will question your practices. Also, people do not resort to choke chains and methods of intimidation to train their dogs, which I think are big steps towards proper pet parenting in our country.