Dogs in India: PM Modi gives push to Indian breeds; Here’s what you need to know about indigenous canines

Indian history has found mentions of domestic breeds time and again.

Dogs in India: In his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ address on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke about the brilliance and beauty of domestic breeds of dogs, something that has been appreciated by animal lovers. He also talked about the induction of Indian breeds into the Armed Forces, according to a report in IE, seemingly in an effort to alter the prevalent trend of viewing domestic breeds as inferior to the foreign ones.

Indian history has found mentions of domestic breeds time and again.

A few centuries ago, Indian dog breeds were found to be loyal companions of the royalty, and they were viewed as symbols of stature as well as skilled hunters. In ancient cave paintings, as well, the attachment of Indian dogs and humans have been documented. The report quoted WV Soman’s 1963 book ‘The Indian Dog’ in which Soman wrote about the Indian dog being referred to as ‘Sarama’, or a female dog that belonged to Lord Indra and the Gods’ in the Rig Veda.

Soman also mentioned an excerpt from the epic Mahabharata in which Yudhishthira refused to go to heaven without his dog. In the excerpt, Indra told Yudhishthira to leave his dog behind as people who bring their dogs with them do not get a place in heaven. Indra added that if a dog accompanied a man, all the advantages of charities were erased. To this, Yudhishthira replied that discarding devotees was a great sin, almost akin to killing. He said that he had vowed to never abandon a frightened devotee, even if it cost him his life, and so he would not abandon his dog.

Here’s a look at the numerous native Indian dog breeds.

The report stated that a 2016 study, called ‘A new methodology for characterisation of dog genetic resources of India’ had said that there were several lesser-known breeds or populations of dogs which had not been properly characterised or documented by then.

It added that globally, the breeds of dogs were classified on the basis of their utility, be it protecting or guarding, flocking, mountain, herding, fighting, scent or companion among others. In India, on the other hand, breeds like Caravan Hound, Kanni, Indian Mastiff (Bulli), Chippiparai, Combai, Rampur Hound, Rajapalayam or Bhutia dogs are a part of the domestic animal biodiversity in India, the study added.

The study added that Chippiparai, Rajapalayam, Kanni as well as Combai were native to the southern state of Tamil Nadu. Indigenous dogs, it further said, mainly helped in guarding as well as shepherding the livestock and agricultural farm. Exotic breeds, on the other hand, are reared to be a companion at home. The report quoted the study as saying that the information available on the phenotypic characteristics of indigenous dog breeds and their utility by keepers of livestock was very limited, due to which documentation, registration and characterisation of Indian dog genetics should be undertaken.

Dr KN Raja, who is a senior scientist at the Karnal-based National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) studied the characterisation of domestic dogs in Tamil Nadu between 2013 and 2015. In that study, he stated that native dog breeds Rajapalayam and Chippiparai were used for shepherding and protection. He added that breeders said in the earlier days, Chippiparai dogs were gifted to the family’s daughter at the time of marriage. These dogs bring pride to the breeders, who are very attached to their canines. These native dogs are good hunters, very quick in running and they are loyal as well as obedient. These dogs, Dr Raja said, were even used in battles in ancient times. During the construction of the Periyar dam, it was the Chippiparai dogs who guarded the premises.

Co-Founder of Pune-based RESQ Charitable Trust Tanya Kane said that most of the breeds mentioned by the PM in his address are hunting dogs from South India, while Himalayan sheep dogs as well as Bhutia dogs are from North India. Tanya added that most of the indigenous dogs belong to the hound family, and their ancestors can be traced back to Afghanistan and the Middle East. These dogs have high drive and energy and a keen sense of smell. Physically, they typically have long legs and deep chest cavities, Tanya said.

Talking about the common Indian dogs that are found on the streets, Tanya said that they were a mixed breed, a mix of various indigenous as well as foreign breeds.

In the Indian households, most of the pets belong to foreign breeds, which animal activists believe is due to the mental block that does not let them see Indian dogs as pets. ‘Pet’ to them means ecotic breeds like Shih Tzu, Husky, Beagle, etc.

Rescuers that work to get Indian puppies adopted said that when they put the puppies up for adoption, they were most commonly faced with the question about their breeds, and the enquirers usually would then become silent when they would find out that the puppy was a ‘street dog”, a term that most use to refer to Indian dogs.

Rescuers also stated that Indian households were more accepting of purebred canines, than mixed breed ones, which has led to their work of rescuing Indian dogs and getting them adopted getting more difficult, especially because most of these dogs are rescued from abuse or cruelty or even hit-and-run, and thus are unfit to live on the streets.

As for the adaptability of Indian dogs as household pets, Tanya said that while breeds like Rajapalayam or Mudhol were never really raised as companion animals, they can still be household pets as long as the owners understand their requirements. These breeds require a lot of exercise and they are not the type to “just sit in a room”.

Dr Raja said that these breeds would need space since they are active and are known to move around a lot. He added that these dogs were also easy to train.

Founder of non-profit organization ‘Delhi the Street Dog’ in the US, Jess Brittany works to get Indian rescued dogs adopted abroad. Her own dog, Delhi, had been rescued from the national capital. She said that in Canada and the US, people were drawn to the stories of these Indian dogs and wanted to adopt them to give them the life they deserved. She added that when these canines got proper positive reinforcement training and exercise, they thrived in the two countries. Her organisation has so far been able to place 94 Indian dogs in homes abroad.

The report quoted Delhi veterinarian Dr Premlata Chaudhary as saying that Indian dogs have a strong immunity as well as fewer genetic defects. Moreover, they also live longer, for about 16 to 17 years, are intelligent and are capable of adapting to different climatic conditions.

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