Throwing away your dog

by Gautam Raja

The number of abandoned dogs in Bangalore is growing all the time. A chapter of an animal welfare organisation I know gets five calls a week about abandoned Labrador retrievers alone. And there are so many stories like this: The expat who was going back to Germany and found a home for his German shepherd dogs, but left the two mongrels to fend for themselves. The Lab that was found whining in an empty garage at an upscale gated community after the family simply got up and left the country. The dog that was thrown out of the house because it playfully nipped at a child.

Given the number of big, friendly dogs that are being abandoned (and Labs would be the poster puppies of this), it’s clear that many of these rejections are because of love. Traditionally, Bangaloreans have gone for smaller dog breeds such as Pomeranians and Lhasa apsos, and so when parenting fails, the misbehaving mutt can always been picked up and taken away. But when you have working breeds that are over 30kg, some of which can barely be wrestled to the ground by a person one and a half times their weight (I know this firsthand), then the whole removing the dog from the situation thing doesn’t work any more. You now need the dog to listen to voice commands, or at least respond to body language.

While abuse and neglect are obvious things to get annoyed about, something that really angers me is when people love big dogs to death. Some owners have the idea that their dogs are poor, innocent beings who must never be scolded or controlled. Misbehaviour is cute in a puppy, but a full-grown dog that jumps on people and furniture, grabs food from plates and hands, and nips at play is annoying, and can become dangerous. And so, once the family tires of the bad behaviour they have encouraged all the dog’s life, off Rover goes for a one-way ride down the highway.

Dogs are not fluffy dolls, they are animals. And they are intelligent social creatures that need structure and rules in their lives, right from the start. Have you ever seen how a mother dog scolds a puppy that has done something wrong? A loud high-pitched bark and nip that makes them yelp and cower in fear—it’s not pretty. When your dog is climbing all over you and grabbing food from your hands, you are not doing it a favour by smiling indulgently and saying, “Oh poor innocent animal, this is all he knows. Let him be a dog.”

Six months later, when you’re being driven crazy—you can’t sit on your sofa, you can’t eat in peace, you child is being terrorised—what are you going to say when you drive him out of town and push him out of the car? “He’s an animal, he can fend for himself”? Suddenly the poor innocent being is able to make it in the world?

And discipline doesn’t mean hitting. The most effective methods of training instill discipline by giving the dog treats. Learning to adopt a commanding tone, and if needed, posture, gets immediate results. Dogs always know who to listen to and who not to—if you don’t command doggy respect, you rarely get it. If commands are not delivered in a firm, confident tone, they simply get ignored.

The point here is that there are many ways to get discipline right, but what’s always true is that discipline itself is essential. Just indulgent love by itself is cruelty, and we’re seeing the results of that all over this city.

First published in Gulf News, July 23, 2013