How to choose a pet dog that suits your home and lifestyle

The recent case of a child in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad needing 150 stitches to treat a ferocious bite by a pitbull draws attention to the debate over whether some breeds of dogs tend to be angrier than others. Stay away from a rottweiler or a doberman but don’t hesitate to pet and pat a labrador or golden retriever—we have often heard myths like these being repeated. But animal behaviorists reject these stereotypes and say that every dog ​​breed has its own distinct characteristics, behavior and temperament.

“Every breed comes with a certain background because these were made by humans for a specific purpose thousands of years ago. So, if some breeds were created for hunting, others were guard dogs and some meant to be retrievers. Apart from the basic temperament of a breed, other factors, such as training and the environment at home, also make a difference,” says Pooja Sathe Gawande, a Mumbai-based dog behaviorist and trainer, and founder of Crazy K9 Campers, which specializes in agility training and conducts weekend getaways involving pets. Bringing home a pet is a commitment for the next 10 or 12 years at least. While adopting a pet, be mindful of whether all members of the family want the dog at home. Sometimes, children want a pet to play with, but the dog is neglected once the initial excitement is over. This happened rampantly during the Covid lockdown, with the dogs initially getting a lot of attention but later being neglected or even abandoned once Covid cases dropped and socializing resumed.

If you do want to keep a dog, a consultation session with an animal behaviorist will help choose a breed that is suitable for your family, home, lifestyle as well as the weather in your city. A classic example is that of the husky, which was bred for cold weather and to pull sleds through the snow. The dog has energy and needs to channelize it in a correct way. If you merely keep such dogs in an air-conditioned room all day with no exercise, they will get bored and start destroying things around them. “In cities, dogs are confined to the house and get a maximum of two walks. Some high-energy breeds need more exercise and then start destructive behavior out of boredom. The breed or the puppy isn’t wrong; it just doesn’t have the avenues to expend its energy,” says Gawande.

Here are a few must-dos if keeping a dog at home:

* Training: This is the most important. Every puppy should be trained from a very early age. There’s no need to use force or punishment. A routine needs to be set and the family must follow the same. “No dog breed is meant to be born aggressive. Even guard dogs are to be trained to be watchful and alert, but you don’t want them to be biting the owner. How a dog behaves is dependent on how it has been raised. An image has been built that big bulky dogs are aggressive but that’s not true,” says Gawande.

* Mental stimulation: Just as physical exercise is essential, dogs need mental stimulation too. Toys and games are important to keep the dog mentally occupied and alert.

* Debunk the myths: People think labradors are friendly, but not all may be so. Or not all rotweilers are aggressive. “A rotweiler can be an excellent family pet if trained well,” says Gawande.

* Keep distance: While interacting with a new dog for the first time, it is essential to wait at a distance, ask the pet parents for permission, and then allow the dog to warm up to you or sniff you. “If you touch a dog suddenly, he might get startled or intimidated. Let the dog approach you. Once you get the permission, it is appropriate to approach a dog from the side or on the back. Dogs usually don’t like their heads, ears or tails being touched suddenly by strangers,” says Gawande.

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