Tryst with Dogs

It was July 1946; I vividly remember my first day in school. I was five and sent to a school run by a European lady, Mrs. Blunt. It was a kind of an elitist Nursery School at the outskirts of the cantonment in Bareilly in the then United Provinces. Being the only child of the parents; I was pampered and as it often happens began to howl on separation from the parents.

The teacher, Mrs. Blunt perhaps knew such kids well! She took me to the backyard. And lo, there was a litter of Fox terrier puppies, playing catch me if you can. Within no time I was one of them and within minutes one particular pup had endeared itself to me. I forgot the school and had stopped missing my mom and home in no time.

Time to go home came too soon. And as expected I clamored for a pup.  The teacher offered me one provided I made a promise that I will not cry the school from the next day and also bring letter of consent from the parents for accepting the pup. The former was not difficult. But later was of course the main hurdle. I knew mom will never give the consent. Not that that she was a dog hater, but she did not like the mess around. But her firmness melted seeing the tears in the eyes of her beloved son.

That is how Peter entered my house and my life too. Peter taught me many things about dogs. He was barely four months old, when he chewed off my dad’s new sandals. Peter was thrashed by my father, but next day he tore another slipper to pieces. My friend, guide and philosopher was our bearded orderly Ramzan Khan, a Pathan, he told me that puppies need to chew at this age, because they cut their teeth. Ramzan had worked with British bureaucrats and knew a lot about dogs and doggy problems. He said dogs need to chew bones to ease their gum irritation. Problem was how a dog in a Brahmin household be given a bone to chew? 

We (me and Ramzan) clandestinely smuggled a large femur (perhaps of a buffalo!) and confined Peter to an off the way study room to chew it under a bed. The rascal in no time was out, carrying the bone gleefully in his mouth and headed straight for the kitchen. Perhaps he wanted to show it to my mom! Thankfully I was around and she wasn’t - else that would have been the end of my company with dogs. 
Soon Peter devised the game of ‘catch me if you can’. He would run 
away with anything I was playing with and kept looking back. The moment I neared him, he would run away fast. If he got tired, he would duck under a bed and give a threatening growl if I tried to pull him out. Soon that phase too was over; Peter gained height and weight and was more keen on chasing squirrels and birds in our compound.

Peter was an adult now, but I was still a kid. For me he was my beloved pet, for him perhaps I was just a playmate! He was three years old now. He began to sneak out at night in early November and would return home early in the morning, often with cuts and wounds. I didn’t know where he went during the nights. Ramzan used to tell that Peter goes out in search of a bride. It was too complicated a matter to understand. Many years later I realized that Peter went out in search of a mate. He was an adult dog and craved to beget his likes.

And during one such foray he went 
missing. We searched him everywhere, all over, but he was not to be found. Perhaps he was crushed by a fast moving truck!  Fortunately we did not find even his mangled remains.

This was a lesson for me. Before the next dog came in I was intelligent enough to ensure that he does not escape the way Peter did. 

After Peter I was gifted with a miniature dachshund bitch puppy. I had named her Mini. She was intelligent, beautiful in her own way. Though she lived only for a few months, I learnt that these ‘sausage dogs’ are difficult to house train. Being low to the ground perhaps they are more prone to infections too! Those were the days when vaccines other than anti-rabies had not been invented or may be they were not easily available in a small town like Bareilly! Mini died of Distemper.

We had moved from Bareilly to Lucknow and in 1956 after class X exams craving for a dog, I chanced upon a person with a pup. He ‘palmed’ me off that ball of fur (Robbie) for Rs 10.00. He assured me that it was an Alsatian. Till then I had no idea what a pure bred dog is. As expected the so called Alsatian turned out to be a pariah. But Robbie was sharp. He learnt fast. Perhaps he had traces of an Alsatian, somewhere in his genes! I did not know even the alphabets of dog training. He was my guru in a way.

example I did not know how to make him Sit. But Robbie would come to me and sit smartly in front, looking at me. Soon he began to understand my gestures and learnt to obey them. We had established a communication with each other, more after I had watched a circus where the trainer made the lions jump from one stool to another and also through rings of fire. Using hand signals I taught Robbie to jump from one chair to another and also taught him to Stay.

That was the time when per chance I came in contact with Raja 
Saheb Bajrang Bahadur Singh of Bhadri. He was a doyen of the dog game and an ace dog trainer-which I subsequently learnt. He taught me the nuances of dog training and the basic fundament to reward a dog immediately if he obeys and do not hesitate to correct him instantly if he commits a mistake. 

Robbie was the pupil now and I was the teacher to hone my skills. 

Soon he learnt to perform on verbal commands as well. Thereafter there was no looking back. One after another dogs came in my life. They taught me a lot about dogdom. As the coincidence would have been I came in contact with one after another renowned dog lovers of the country-like Raja Saheb Baria, Raja Saheb Rampura, Raja Saheb Shahpura, Mr. R.P. Mitter, Mr. Ashok Mukherjee, Mr. N.K. Brahmachari, Major J.W. Goldsmith and his wife Mrs. Oliver Goldsmith and my schoolmate Raja Chandramanikant Singh of Bhinga. 

All of them taught me some or other facet of the dog game. Above all I learnt the finer points of dog breeding and rearing puppies from Mr. Ramesh Dutt owner of Gem Kennles, Hoshiyarpur.

A special word about Mr Ramesh Dutt. He was a paraplegic yet one of the finest breeders of Labrador Retrievers and Great Danes. Those were the days when communication was only via letters. He used to send me detailed instructions in chaste Urdu script. It used to be translated by my father and at times by late Mrs. Saroj Srivastava, wife of late Mr. Awadh Naraian of Lucknow. Those hand written letters are still treasured with me.

This blog is about dogs what I learnt from them and what they taught me. It is based on my practical experience and guidance received from friends and gurus named in the foregoing. It is primarily meant for dog lovers in India, where obedience training is still a forte of the security forces or a handful of professionals. The love and compassion for dogs is so high that street dogs outnumber the family pets. Dog lovers range from the richest of the rich to the poorest of the poor. They all enjoy a similar companionship with their pets and problems faced by them are also the same.

The blog will give more of an insight of the dog’s mind, how it works and what the dog tries to convey through his body language. 

More By  :  V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

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Comments on this Blog

Comment Thank you Neeraj-but please let me remain a human being, instead of an encyclopaedia.

17-Jul-2010 07:27 AM

Comment I am speechless sir!!!! AS always ur blogs are G8st bloags ever read by me on dogs!! Do upload the Pics of the Letters !! may be they can help few people become like u ! Thanx again for this beautiful blog!!! _@ all odr readers_ Plz dont call him V.K.Joshi ....we call our Vijay sir by his nickname "Walking Encyclo"

Neeraj Trehan
17-Jul-2010 06:42 AM

Comment I was thrilled to read this. I am a dog lover and I love my dog so much that I never ended up having a pet at home! My reasoning is simple. Where do I leave my dog when I am away from town? I have seen the way these marvellous creatures are treated in the kennels and I am so attached to the pet I don't possess that I can't accept the idea of having him tortured at a kennel when I am away.

Dogs know I think how much I love them. Wherever I go, if I am lucky enough to meet one, it turns into a friend instantaneously. Big dogs as well as small ones. The other day, I was at a friend's house where I met an adorable Labrador with a shiny black coat. It was only 3 months old. I don't know enough about their habits of course. But she kept on holding my hands between its teeth. Yet she did not bite. I could feel the sharp edges of the teeth, but being a dog lover, I wasn't bothered at all. As I read your post, I wondered if she was going through the teething problem.

It was great fun playing with this lovely piece of life and I mean to keep visiting her regularly. Three years ago, I had a similar experience with a Golden Retriever in Hong Kong. She did not hold my hand. Instead, she decided to jump on the sofa and lie peacefully with its head resting on my lap.

I always prefer a dog's company over human company. Not that I hate humans. However, I protest strongly to anyone being described as a "dirty dog". A "dirty human" may be, but never a "dirty dog".

I don't know if you read my story . I think you will understand the emotions expressed there more than many other people.

06-May-2010 08:04 AM

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