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How to Befriend a Stray Dog?

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Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She writes and makes documentaries and videos.


Stray Dogs in India

Even if you are not taking a stray dog home, which might also be impossible in a country like India where we have hundreds of them on the road and in public spaces, there is a chance that the occasional love and food that you provide keep them away from trouble and being unsociable.

When you approach a stray for the first time, he/she would usually be baffled because as per his/her understanding, that would be unusual behaviour from humans. Unfortunately, we as a nation, do not care or respect our stray dogs much and many people would unnecessarily throw a stone at them out of fear or just for malicious fun. Please don’t think that this is happening for centuries. The villages used to have and still show a dog culture where you feed the strays and are friendly with them. Urbanisation brought in floating populations and a loss of community life. Individualised lifestyle, confined to the congested spaces of a city or town, along with many other changes, strangely triggered a diminutive emotional bonding with animals. There is not enough space for animals anymore in the houses or the minds of the people. The result manifests in stray animals being underfed, hated, and shooed away.

How the Stray Dogs Reacted to This Hostility

In Kerala, the southernmost state of India, where urbanisation is at its highest best, the problem turned into a mass psychosocial reaction. On the one side, the starving stray dogs began to hunt in packs for prey and rarely old people and children were attacked by these packs. How many of these news reports are written in a well-informed manner is another question of debate. Crowds set out on a killing frenzy of stray dogs, exhibiting them on poles as if the remaining dogs would understand and reform their ways! The level of human stupidity involved was mind-hazing. A delayed government action followed by an outcry from outnumbered animal activists and supported by inefficient and outdated laws of the land culminated in a ban on killing stray dogs. In secret, the killing continues. The state government took up some half-hearted animal birth control programmes, and animal activists within their extremely limited resources have set up some shelter homes for strays which are at present overflowing with them. The roadsides are still full of stray dogs who compete for whatever sparse and contaminated food is thrown out from slaughterhouses, restaurants, and meat markets. It is a boon to them that our municipal domestic waste disposal system is almost a hoax. More than 60% of domestic solid waste ends up on the waysides and abandoned public spaces where the stray camp to devour them. Instead of at least giving them credit for this manual scavenging that keeps our surroundings waste-free, whenever there is a chance, many people stone and drive them away; reminding the more rational of us that there is a savage lurking just beneath the disguise of civilisational refinement that we clothe ourselves with. In 2007, the state of Karnataka also witnessed a killing spree of stray dogs.


Befriending Stray Dogs

There have been some minuscule models presented by animal lovers who showed that with some affection and food, the stray dogs can be turned into community dogs. The experiment succeeded in some residence colonies and villages because people consciously took up this cause and benefitted from it. Once befriended, the strays became loyal protectors of their benefactors and stopped barking and chasing whomever they came across. Instead, they kept the strange people and other stray dog packs away from the area. Many researchers have called Indian stray dogs, neighbourhood dogs but the sad truth is that people no more treat them so. I have seen them well-treated only by the poorest of the poor of our society, in the tribal and Dalit communities to be precise.

Indian Stray Breeds

Indian stray dogs mostly are of the Pariah or Pie Dog breed. This is an ancient breed biologically close to the Spitz and Australian Dingo breeds. Supposed to be the oldest dog breed in the world and as on domestication, dating back to about 15000 years ago, they are sharp and intelligent watchdogs. They have a strong body and adaptability to diverse climatic conditions. Another category of strays are crossbreeds, born out of accidental breeding between domestic foreign breeds and the strays. In India, there is a habit of abandoning a female dog so that one does not have to go through the perils of the nearly non-existent spaying infrastructure and facilities. As a dog owner, I still have to travel at least 70 kilometres to reach a good veterinary hospital and get my dogs spayed or neutered. People also abandon dogs for many other reasons- old age, sickness, injury, unwanted birth, neighbour’s complaint, etc.

Politicians Killing Stray Dogs in Kerala as a Reaction to Some Incidents of Stray Dog Attacks

How to Be A Friend to a Stray?

If stray dogs had only bad experiences with humans, they might be both afraid and aggressive. It takes patience and compassion to make them sociable again. The first step will be to approach them, stop a few steps away from them, and then hold out your hand. When you do this, keep your palm in the downward position. Now you will have to repeat this many times, over many days, until the dog comes closer and sniffs your hand. It is even better if you crouch when you hold out your hand. This would make the dog understand that you are not a threat to him/her. One should never push them too much into engaging with us and there should be a choice for them to walk away. Friendly people often call a dog by clicking their tongue against their teeth and the dog also might understand this sound as friendly. You can try making this sound to allay their fears. You can also try talking to them affectionately.

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When the dog approaches you and seems to be at ease in your presence, you can start petting him/her by touching their head. You should not pet them from behind because that may startle them and make them react aggressively. A pretty obvious sign of a dog being aggressive is its tail staying straight up and growling. Wagging the tail shows that the dog is friendly. You have to make sure there are no visible signs of rabies before approaching a stray dog. Frothing mouth and restlessness are two important signs.

Avoiding eye contact for long is another thumb rule to bond with a stray. Dogs see this as a sign of aggression. Food is the best friendship gift that you can give a stray dog. He/she often would be needing that in a bad way. You can also feed them keeping a distance if you feel they are aggressive. After a few rounds of distant feeding, most of them will come around.

Be There for a Stray Dog

All the genocides in history teach us that there is no crueller animal on this planet than humans. Animal activists continue to remind us that most of the dog bites that happen are not from strays but by pet dogs. This is so because the pet dogs feel it as their duty to protect their owner, and his/her family from strangers. When a stranger trespasses their perceived limits of the privacy of the house or the compound, dogs may react aggressively. Stray dogs, attacked and persecuted in every lap of their lives, often do not confront humans but just run away. Sadly, this fact does not deter people from hating the strays. The only way you can prove to the stray dog-hostile society that these are exceptionally lovable and loving animals is by setting examples. Let us try to befriend strays and feed them and create a difference for these much-misunderstood friends of the human race.


How to Befriend a Stray Dog?

Savage Humans and Stray Dogs: A Study in Aggression, Hiranmay Karlekar, 2008.

The Street Dogs of Kerala and My Dog Story

  • The Street Dogs of Kerala and My Dog Story
    It was two years back that I rediscovered my love for dogs. In my childhood, they were around us, owned by us and by the community. They walked around, befriended all of us and were fed by all. Now they are part of a scary propaganda of misinformatio

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2022 Deepa

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