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Sunday, Sep 15, 2019

Canine behaviourist Shirin Merchant on changing the face of dog training in India

Merchant is also the founder of ‘Canines Can Care’, an organisation dedicated to pioneering a variety of animal related activities in India

pune Updated: Mar 24, 2019 14:36 IST
Anjali Shetty
Anjali Shetty
Hindustan Times, Pune
Shirin Merchant, canine behaviourist
Shirin Merchant, canine behaviourist (HT PHOTO)
         

With 23 years of experience, canine behaviourist Shirin Merchant is known for her hard work in changing the way dogs are trained in India, from old methods of intimidation and choke chains to kind and positive teaching. She recently shot a video series ‘Tara and I - Adventures in Puppy Raising’.

The series showcases the story of a puppy and her human friend, and the challenges they face as she grows up. The aim of the series is to educate people on the daunting, but fun task of raising a puppy.

“At times people bring home puppies without a second thought, and then struggle when they realise the time, patience and effort needed to keep the pet. The video aims at helping the puppy owners deal with simple issues and offers them time tested solutions,” Merchant said.

Merchant is also the founder of ‘Canines Can Care’, an organisation dedicated to pioneering a variety of animal related activities in India. For the first time, the organisation is bringing all the canine professionals together under one roof for a star studded ‘Alumni and Awards Night - Dog Trainers That Make A Difference 2019’. The event will celebrate dog trainers across India for the work they do in helping companion dogs be well mannered members of society.

“It will probably be the biggest gathering of dog trainers in the country. The event will include a talk by me on canine aggression, dog body language and how to communicate with dogs, the reasons behind the increase in cases of dog to dog aggression in India and much more. The event will also celebrate trainers and dogs that have made a difference in the lives of others,” she said.

Merchant dispels myths regarding dog training

Myth: You can’t start training a dog until it is six months old.

No dog is too young to learn. Puppies start to learn about the world the moment they leave their mother’s womb. Between the age of six weeks and six months, the puppy is at its most impressionable stage and very receptive to learning new things. A clever owner will take advantage of this crucial period and teach the puppy good behaviour. The dog’s learning process will continue with or without training. Without guidance, it is very likely that the pup will learn more bad behaviour than good. Then at six months, an owner will first have to undo the bad behaviour then teach the good. A young pup need not necessarily be taught complicated commands, but it is advisable to start the socialising, toilet training, recall and the ‘No command’, and most importantly, basic manners. Ideally, the training should begin the day a puppy walks into a new home. Guide dog puppies all over the world start their training as young as six weeks.

Myth: Only an expert trainer can train a dog; an owner is not capable.

A dog is likely to listen only to the person who trains it. Since it is the owner who is going to live with the dog, it is advisable for him to learn how to train the pet. A good trainer will teach the owner the basics of dog training. That way the dog will listen to the owner and the latter will be able to maintain the animal’s good behaviour. Dog training can be a lot of fun and is easy for even children. It also serves to build a bond of trust between owner and dog. The entire family should get involved in the dog’s training, though it is best if one person in the family starts off and the others follow suit after the animal understands the commands. That way, the four-legged family member does not get confused in the early stages of learning.

Myth: Being a dog trainer is a fun career option

Most people who want to take up dog training as a career are those that dislike working with humans and prefer the company of dogs. They think that the profession is all about playing with puppies. In reality, you need to work with the pet parents and teach them how to train their dogs, so do keep that in mind when choosing the profession.

Summer tips for pets

Keep plenty of fresh, cool water for your dog to drink through the day. Avoid walking your dog during the midday hours as hot asphalt and other surfaces can burn your dog’s foot pads. Remember, if it is too hot for you, then it is too hot for the animal to walk. Many dogs do not eat food when it is hot. If your dog has skipped a meal or two and is otherwise healthy, then reducing the meals in summer or shifting them to the cooler parts of the day may help. And if your dog eats a bit less for a few months, it won’t hurt as long as your vet has checked your dog for underlying health issues. Contrary to what most dog owners think, shaving down to the skin, is in fact probably the worst thing you can do for your dog in summer. A dog’s coat protects it from the summer sun. Even longhaired and double-coated dogs can be cool in summer if they are well groomed.

Do and don’ts while training a pup

  • Whenever possible, use your dog’s name positively, rather than using it in conjunction with punishment. Your dog should trust that when he is called, good things happen. His name should always be a word he responds to with enthusiasm and not hesitancy or fear.
  • When giving a command make sure it is clear and distinct, and use the same word for the same behaviour each and every time, especially during the initial stages of training. Everyone involved with the training should use the same commands. For example, it is confusing for a dog if one person calls him Blacky, another Black and a third calls him Blackjack.
  • You can make your training session more fun by breaking it midway to play a game with your dog. If your dog enjoys playing fetch, whip out a toy as a reward for obeying a command and play with it for five minutes before resuming your training. It always works in perking up a dull training session.
  • Never hit a dog during training. Not only does it hurt, but the pain also causes the dog to fear you and can put the dog off training. Over a period of time the dog will lose trust in the owner.
  • Building a relationship with your dog takes effort, just like any other relationship. Try to include your dog into your lifestyle. it’s working together that makes you a team.

First Published: Mar 24, 2019 14:24 IST