‘You and I in this beautiful world… green grass, blue sky in this beautiful world’. I think most of us would remember that adorable pug, Cheeka, who follows a little boy around in the Hutch ads from 2003. Together, they cross bridges and rivulets, play football and snooze blissfully.
To get your dog to be by your side, without having to leash him—to have him feel comfortable and secure in a mall, a restaurant or even a crowded street, and to get him to leave his favourite toy or food when you ask him to, takes a lot of work.
When we got a Dogo Argentino to our house in Mumbai, from Kochi, the hyper-energetic three-month-old puppy, Khal Dogo, was always doing his own thing, regardless of what we asked him to do. He would pull at the leash and not respond to us in the dog park. He ran out of the park twice onto the main road, would bark uncontrollably on seeing food and even went about finding dead rats (and had eaten two). He clearly wasn’t thinking of me and my husband as his pack. He was taken away from his mother and siblings and sent away to a faraway place. He, of course, had trust issues.
That’s when we sent him for a two-month residential training with Delano Henriques, a dog behaviourist and trainer. The first thing he taught us was to build a bond with our dog and to get him to trust us. “That’s most crucial to raise a confident, secure and disciplined dog,” says Henriques.
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Just as it takes work to gain someone’s trust in a human relationship, it’s the same in the human-animal bond as well. You show the dog, through your actions, that you have his back no matter what—that you won’t expose him to a dangerous situation, that he will get enough food and water, and will be loved and cared for.
That’s it, and he will love you and trust you for life. But how do you do that? “By fulfilling his food drive, play drive and prey drive,” says Henriques. Simply put, use his love for food, for play and to chase and hunt to train him, to tell him he can trust you. Here are some suggestions:
Feeding your dog with your hands is a great way to build a strong bond with him. He will not just learn to recognise you as the one giving him food, but will also associate the human touch as a good touch. This also helps in developing bite inhibition, which is a must for city dogs. It avoids biting and incidents of aggression towards other humans and dogs. “I recommend all dog parents to hand feed their puppies at least for the first six months,” says Henriques. “There can’t be a better way to get him to trust you.”
Even after one-and-a-half years of Khal being with us, we hand-feed him one meal daily, usually his evening fruit. We cut it into small pieces and use them as treats to reinforce what he has learnt in his training—‘sit, down, wait, heel’.
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Dogs are creatures of habit. They love to follow a schedule. If it’s walk time at 6 am, take them every day at the same time without fail. The same goes for their playtime and mealtime. A set schedule makes your furry baby feel secure. When he knows that he will be fed at 8 am in the morning and at 7.30 pm in the evening, he will not misbehave for food. He will also not beg for food or steal your food.
We do not disturb Khal’s schedule, no matter how busy or tired we are. Being disciplined has helped us and the dog immensely. Khal does not urinate or defecate inside the house because he knows he will be taken out to be relieved twice a day. He neither barks for food. In fact, waits patiently until we say the word ‘okay’, even when the food is right in front of him. The biggest plus though is, even if he picks up a stale roti or a biscuit or a dead rat, he will immediately leave it when we ask him to. He knows he will be fed soon after the walk, no matter what.
Whether it’s a tiny, small or an extra-large dog, please train him. It’s just not about disciplining him. Training teaches you to communicate with your dog, to understand his body language and what he is trying to tell you. This helps you build a stronger bond with him. He too knows what is expected of him, making it a healthy and fun relationship.
Often, when two dogs don’t get along, trainers take them for a walk together. Walking is a great bonding exercise. Simply by being there, you are sharing his happiness of being outdoors, of being part of the best part of his day. So, please don’t take it for granted. Don’t get a walker or a house help to walk your dog. Do it yourself. It’s on these walks that the dog will bond with you. “Also, please don’t be on your phone or listen to music while walking your dog,” says Henriques.
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“Socialising your dog means getting him comfortable in different places and with different surfaces,” says Henriques. To do so, don’t just train him at home, but also outdoors where there are many distractions. It’s important that your dog ignores them and focuses on you. This will also improve his recall. He will come to you as soon as you call him, no matter how far he is or what he is doing—another sign that he loves you and trusts you.
Riddhi Doshi is a Mumbai-based independent journalist, Kathak student, and first-time pet parent