Thursday, January 28, 2010

My love for stray dogs!

My favorite kind of dog(s) are stray and homeless dogs. I absolutely love these kinds of dogs as I believe they still hold true to what most of us look for in our own canine companions "man's best friend."

If I could, I would travel the world documenting the human - dog relationship between locals and stray dogs on a much bigger scale that what I have done up to now.

In all my travels so far, I have never ever seen a stray or homeless dog that barks as a nuisance or threatening manner towards a human being. I have never ever seen these types of dogs to be pushy, demanding, so fearful that they are reactive towards the human and also as importantly to aggression towards one another (dog to dog).

Take for example my trip to India a couple years ago. I was out on the streets, with a zip lock bag of milk bone biscuits, so excited to share them with any dog I was going to encounter. Very quickly I was hit with a bit of disappointment and my first lesson about these dogs, and that was "what in the heck are is that? You want me to eat that???" It never occurred to me that these dogs were not familiar to being fed hard, processed, dried, tasteless "treats," nor were they familiar to being fed by random strangers, nor were they pushy and disrespectful of space.

I bent down to feed the dog, and he crept up close enough to me only to check out what I had, but then just looked at me and kindly denied it. I was in "aw." I turned around to look for the locals (which by the way are everywhere, and starring at me, like what is that tourist doing?"

So, I call over the group standing closest to me to ask them why the dog declined my biscuit. One guy in particular steps forward and asks me what I was trying to feed him. So I show him the milk bone biscuit. He talks one feel for it and chuckles, and politely tells me "our dogs are not used to eating hard things like this. Is this vegetarian?"

As many of you know, I am Indian, I am Gujarati, so I am well aware that especially in the State of Gujarat, people do not eat meat... but heck, I did not even think that the stray dogs were vegetarian as well.... Think about it, they are scavengers, they eat left overs from the humans, and for the most part they have never tasted meat. Well, so that was another lesson.

Back to my story, so as I stood their talking to the man, the dog increased his distance between him and the man. That was pretty interesting... to me it was a sign of respect, definitely not fear. I cut him short off our discussion about the treat, and asked him, if this dog was his. His reply was (one that I knew, but wanted to confirm), "he is all of ours. Just like we live here (pointing to his shack on the side of the street), so does he and a few others."

I asked him to call him over, and so he called him by a name I have no idea how to spell or pronounce, and the dog immediately came over and sat by the man's left side. All I could think of, is DAMN! Here we are teaching classes on sit, stay, boundary control, heel work, and all this other stuff, while this dog based on his relationship with the man responded out of respect for the man. How in the world do I teach that?

Slight diversion here: it is since than, I changed my own philosophy of dog training as a trainer. Now I start off every class by saying "I will not be teaching you or your dog to do something he/she can not do naturally, such as to fly. Your dogs naturally know how to sit, down, stay, come, walk properly on a leash, I will teach you how to have a relationship with them that will foster these behaviors."

Back to my dog in India: So the man, asks the dog if he wants the treat.... now granted this may have been an unfamiliar item, the more important lesson here was trust. The dog has no idea who I was... I mean I was not dressed like the locals, in the dogs mind, I didn't act like them, I was carrying this big camera thing, that looked weird... I was just kinda odd looking. But when the man gave him the milkbone, he gently accepted it and walked off to lie down somewhere to check it out. This was absolutely amazing... the dog did not trust me, but trusted this man enough to give it a try.

Granted, the dog was unable to eat it or just was not fond of it, I don't know, left it by the road and walked off.

My mum suggested I try to soak them in water overnight and give it the dogs the next day.... great idea, but that did not work for the adult dogs either. They don't drink water their, many of them get milk.

I was born in Kenya, East Africa, so stray dogs was not foreign to me. The relationship with dogs in our world here in the US was foreign initially. Over the course of the week I was there, I learnt so much about the human-dog relationship, but I also was reminded of the most valuable lesson that I had almost forgotten while living in FL.

We have all heard the terms of socialization... I am sure if I were to take a survey amongst our blog readers, we could come up with an entire page full of definitions. In the same manner, we know think we know what the term "exercise" means as well.

The reason why I love stray and homeless dogs so much, is that those dogs are so well socialized amongst people and to different sounds, chaos, commotion, living, life, and that they have the FREEDOM to walk, run, sprawl, lay in the dry dirt while basking in the sun, splashing through rain puddles, hiding from monsoons, that these dogs lead a very balanced life and is why they are so stable.

These dogs still practice scavenging behaviors, they still rely on humans for their food, they are free to learn the world as they know how, and sometimes there may be a tough lesson along the way; such as getting hit by a rickshaw or bicycle, but they carry on. Resources are scarce, meaning food is not of abundance. The dogs respect that, value that, and appreciate that. Our dogs don't.

They are out and about amongst all kinds of people, all kinds of animals, all kinds of life, that they learn to co-exist. Its a beautiful thing.

Here you may find the same type of relationship amongst the homeless and their dogs. It is a beautiful relationship. When have you ever seen a homeless person dragged down the street by their dog. They walk in sync to each other step by step, they lay curled up to one another behind a Publix store, and if you happen to walk by the dog, he will may look up at you with the whites of his eyes showing, and as you walk away, close his eyes again.....

If you know anyone who is afraid of dogs, ask them if they have ever been afraid walking by a homeless person who has a dog, I bet you will be surprised to learn the answer. Most often, they recognize the presence of the dog, but the thought to be afraid, does not even occur in their mind... they just walk on by. However, on the other hand, these same people will do ANYTHING to avoid a dog that is owned by a person with a home. It is fascinating.

I guess both scenarios do have their faults after all though. Those dogs could do with a little bit of medical help, and our dogs could do with a whole lot more understanding and respect.

Hope you enjoyed my end of the leash.

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