It’s not child’s play

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Nov 30, 2015, 10.28 PM IST

dog and child
It’s NOT a good idea to allow children to hug dogs. Supervise their interaction at all times!

A friend of mine just had a baby. They also have two lovely dogs. As I sat at the hospital indulging in some baby-talk with the adorable baby, I got to thinking about how the baby might be introduced to the dogs. It then occurred to me that the topic for this week had to be children and dogs.

You know what they say about real estate – location, location, location. Similarly with children and dogs – supervision, supervision supervision. That is the first and the most important thing to remember in this context. If you need to leave the room for a minute either take the dog with you or the baby. Children can quite often be too much for dogs and can overwhelm them unless they are taught how to be around dogs. While we wait for children to grow up enough to understand how to be around dogs, it’s the adult’s job to ensure that all play is supervised.
It’s very important for adults to learn the body language of dogs. This should give very early indication as to what is stressing the dogs out and help adults guide children to avoid stressful actions. Dogs communicate with calming signals such as yawning, licking their lips, turning their head, sitting or lying down. To learn more about calming signals look it up on Wikipedia or get a copy of the book On Talking Terms with Dogs.
When children play with dogs, it’s important to keep the activities nice and calm. Don’t allow rough play. Don’t allow children to pull the dog’s ears, tails or lips. Dogs don’t like to be hugged. Teach children to be gentle when petting dogs and stick to petting a dog on his shoulders. Treat searches, puzzles, storytelling and doing activities together are good ways for children to engage with dogs. Playing tug, fetch and wrestling are not so good and must be discouraged.
I encourage all my clients to also designate a spot that the dog likes as the ‘Safe Zone’. When in this spot, no one is allowed to disturb the dog at any cost – not for petting or walking even. This will teach the dog that when in the ‘Safe Zone’ he can be assured complete privacy. When interacting with children, he can then opt to move to his safe zone if he is feeling overwhelmed. Of course, children in the house as well as children who visit need to be taught that when the dog goes to his safe zone, he is not to be followed or disturbed and that they are to look for another game to play.
As the children grow up, they will be meeting more dogs. Teach the children that the best way to meet a dog is to allow the dog to approach the kid and not the other way around. If the dog chooses to approach the kid, then he needs to be able to examine the kid without interruption. Children need to learn to stay still and allow the dog to examine them. They need to learn to ask the dog’s guardian if the dog is okay with children.
These are general good habits that will keep their interaction with dogs pleasant and build a good association with dogs. I read a quote once that said “Dogs need to learn good habits and so do children”. It’s up to the adults to teach their children good habits, while they can take the help of a behavioural counsellor to teach their dog good habits.

Additional Links and Resources

This is a simple & fun video for parents to watch. While I agree with almost everything in this video, I would not encourage the body language of the girl in this video. I would instead recommend that she not bend over the dog and face the dog. For better body language trips during meet and greet, check out the poster below.


This is a good poster that shows how NOT to greet dogs and polite ways of greeting dogs. Children and adults need to know this and practice it. Adults in particular need to learn this, because children learn by watching what adults do.


Here is another video that is not as fun as the previous video but has very sound advice and I agree with everything in this video 100%


This is another simple article with plenty of useful tips and very sound advice: Be Safe with Dogs from Blue Cross Pets

If you want to get a bit geeky and delve into some “sciency stuff”, check out this article: Educating Children Reduces Risky Behaviour Around Dogs (though I am not sure that the bulk of bites in India come from stray dogs. I’d like to see good research on that).


Letting that love in

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jan 5, 2015, 10.56 PM IST

Happy New Year to all my readers. This year, I wish that each of you experiences love in its purest form. Each person will find that love from as unique a source as the person himself or herself. For us, it has been our dogs. The beauty of love is that our heart knows how to accept love in any means given to us. Is it not fascinating?

Dogs don’t speak English or Hindi or Kannada or French. Yet they seem to tell us easily that they love us. For the skeptics, I offer a simple test. Let’s start with a small test. Take a dog showered with love, change his diet to a veg diet. Dumpsters are now better sources of protein for a dog. The food you offer is lower grade. Now, will your dog, that you love so much, choose to live with you or turn into a street dog. The answer always is YOU! So if you are a skeptic, just get this into your head already…dogs do experience love and that unjudging, unconditional love is all in your name and your name alone.
See what it feels like to be loved like that. But to do that, you have to first accept your dog as an equal citizen of the world. As important as you are in the grand scheme of things. A dog’s emotional contribution to you should in no way feel less validating than the emotional contribution of a person. Love is love, remember!
Now when you have let go of the skepticism and the prejudice of gradation of love, there appears a fascinating love in all its slobbery glory, tail furiously wagging, fur flying all over the room. A being whose highlight of his entire day, regardless of his basic needs, is that you have come home. No matter how bad a day is, no matter how bad you messed your day at home and work, irrespective of how low you feel about yourself, you know there is one strong-willed animal/person saying “Nothing but love matters. That’s why I love you.

That’s why you will love me. And that’s why it works”. After this profound thought, you wonder who is the animal and who is the person.
You walk in that door and there is that profound message delivered with a punch. Could you ask for more. This message is literally being beaten into you each day. So how are you a skeptic?
So shall we look at this more scientifically. Broad strokes, of course. Wolves chose to walk away from us. Some wolves stayed behind and decided to build on their PR skills with humans. This group called itself the “Cool Dawgz” (joking. They just called it dogs). Then they became better and better at building and managing relationships with us. And thus here they are. Dogs have years and years of experience in making us feel great about ourselves from one of the finest universities – University of Evolution. And their thousands of years of training has taught them that the best ways to set up a great relationship with us is to fall madly, deeply and truly in love with us. So they kept that part of the brain and experience love just the way we do. That’s what dogs do best – fall in love with people.
So Mr Skeptic, believe it or know, the next time you feel no one likes you, you are factually wrong, if you have a dog. But for this time of the year, I wish for you Mr Skeptic and to everyone else around there, a year full of healthy loved ones to lean on and forge forward.

And for those who chose to add dogs to their family, I assure you they have been shaped by thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years to be masters of giving us love and reassurance. Enrich your own lives by letting that love in.

Be a cool pet parent

Nov 04 2014 : Mirror (Bangalore)
Sniffing walks, loose leash walks, bonding with dog
Bond with your dogs over slow walks

I often talk about the responsibility involved in pet parent . And it is a huge responsibility. But often, we get so overwhelmed by this responsibility that we forget to just have fun with our dogs. Today, I want to remind all you pet parents there on some fun ways to spend time with your dog, without getting overwhelmed.

Take very slow walks, to a point where it’s barely a stroll.Walk at quiet times and on quiet streets. Don’t feel pressured to walk in a certain way, at a certain pace or cover a certain distance. A healthy adult dog of most breeds can do with two 15-minute walks in a day and the walk can be as slow as the dog wants. If your dog is walking too fast, it’s perhaps because he has not learned to stop and sniff around. Encourage sniffing by slowing down yourself and getting some professional help with leash training. Walks should be relaxing to both dog and walker.
Talk a lot to your dog. When he follows you around, he does not always want play. He is quite happy with conversation.When you are cooking, you can talk your recipe aloud to him and pretend to be a chef on TV. Or you could read your book aloud to him. Children can find it very helpful to open up to dogs and read to them. Pet your dog or brush your dog in slow long strokes.Unwind this way, talking about the day’s events. Repetitive actions release endorphin in the body and body contact releases oxycontin. The former helps you and your dog feel better while the latter helps you bond.
If you observe, you will notice that sometimes in the evening, your dog gets into a great mood. Celebrate that mood.Giggle like a child. Tell stupid jokes to your dog and to each other. It’s a great family bonding exercise. And your dog will remind you of this like clockwork, every single day.
If you like cooking, forget the readymade food for your dog.Cook instead. Chicken and rice is a healthy bet. In addition, you can add fruits and vegetables. Stick to fruits like banana, papaya, apple and pear. Avoid seeds and pits. Veggies like spinach, pumpkin, carrot and beans are great for dogs. Sesame oil is fantastic. Avoid acidic fruits and vegetables like tomato, citrus fruits, grapes and chocolate. Experiment with herbs, based on your dog’s taste. My husband likes to cook for my dogs and he shows them a few herbs and asks them what they want.They select the herbs that go into the food. They all listen to music as he explains to them what he is cooking for them. And it’s OK to let your dog into the kitchen, if you don’t mind it.He will not take over your world and rule you. Give yourself that luxury.
Another luxury that I am unabashed about giving myself is letting my dogs on the bed. Unlike earlier held beliefs, letting dogs on furniture does not make them dominate you. Au contraire, it’s one of the best ways to bond with your dog. Dogs love the feeling of having bed and sofa access and as long as you don’t mind the fur on the sofa and bed, it’s perfectly fine to let them have that access. Of course, it will require you to clean their paws and brush them more frequently. But it’s absolutely worth it in terms of the joy they get and the joy you get when your dog lays his head on your lap as you watch your favorite movie.
When it comes to having a dog, I say make pet parenting as fun as possible. Relinquish all other self-imposed constraints. The more relaxed and enjoyable pet parenting gets, the less likely pet abandonment gets.

Introspection Time

Sep 30 2014 : Mirror (Bangalore)

Today, I want to touch a sensitive topic ­ Our responsibility as pet parents. The first question to address is, do we have responsibilities at all? Yes, we do. We do legal ly and ethically. Legally, we are required to treat our animals well. That means give ample food, provide easy access to toilet, protection from the elements and at least some level of social interaction either with people or with other dogs. If not, by law, we can be fined and the dog can be taken away from us.

The more interesting question is our ethical responsibility.
Today, the mood in India is of “Clean India“. Socially, as pet parents, we take up responsibility by cleaning up after our dogs. Carry a plastic bag or newspaper and when our dogs poop, clean it up. Yes, we still need the social infrastructure of sufficient dustbins in public places. But we don’t need to wait for that to happen to start building a habit of cleaning up after ourselves.
In India, while we believe in living in harmony with our environment and the animals around us, we have an explosion in the number of dogs. This balance needs to return. There are several organisations breaking their backs at spaying and neutering street dogs, not to add more dogs into the scene. We can do our bit by adding no more dogs of our own.
By learning as much as possible about dogs before getting a dog, we are less likely to be taken by surprise with how much of a responsibility a dog is. Seek out help of dog lover friends and behaviourists to know what you are in for. Pick your dog based on realistic estimations of what you are capable of doing. This way you are less likely to feel completely in over your head and less likely to abandon your dog.
To further reduce the likelihood of abandonment is to not create more dogs. So not breeding dogs that you have and spayingneutering your dog at the right age will show your solidarity with pet parents and the animal lovers community.
Adopting a dog is also a very nice gesture of responsible pet parenting. It helps take one more dog off the streets and gives a home to a dog that needs one, instead of adding more to an already unmanageable population.
Part of our diversity is that while some people love dogs, some others just can’t stand them. Figuring out a way to live and let live is the only way to live in peace in such diversity. So it’s critical to keep dogs leashed in public places where people who don’t like dogs are going to be around.Work with local communities to see if there can be a time or space sharing arrangement in a local area for off-leash play for the dog. But not on streets. This is as much a responsibility towards our dogs as it’s towards our fellow citizens around us.
Our streets are not safe for our dogs. They are full of manmade machines called cars that our dogs don’t entirely understand. So it’s important for us to protect them from the perils of speeding cars and not expect them to understand the “norms“ of this world.
Introspection is difficult. One that requires us to put away our sense of entitlement, put ourselves in others’ shoes, in those of our dogs even and ask, “Are we doing right by them?“ It’s a tough question to ask. But I promise you that if we all did it, it will help our own little community of animal lovers. It’s introspection time.

Structure during puppyhood

Jul 01 2014 : Mirror (Bangalore)

We now have a fully functional crèche at our centre.Nishi, our boxer, is being the nanny and a good one too. But I must confess, I am exhausted. Having had only adult dogs for a while, having puppies around floods me back with memories of when Nishi was a pup. One might ask what the big deal about being around puppies is ­ after all it’s all puppy play, is it not? Well, not really. This is a critical period in a dog’s life. Many important lessons are learned during this period and laying the foundation right is critical. The puppy is learning everything from toilet training, bite inhibition, boundaries etc. And the one tool that will help you through all of it is ­ structure.
That’s right ­ structure is critical in a puppy’s day. The puppy should wake up at the same time every day. Have his meal and water at the same time. Have his potty break at the same time. And play too should be at a scheduled time. For example, at our crèche, the puppies come in and are immediately confined in the pee-pen.

As soon as they are done, they all get to play for half an hour. They get to drink water at this time. The play is supervised closely.This is important as not all puppies have the same appetite for rough play.Some pups might need to gain confidence at their own pace and might want to hide behind you till they are ready to head out for play. It’s important to give that protec tion to the pup and let him venture out at their own pace. This gives the pup confidence that if at any point he wants to back out of the play, he has a choice. “Choices“ are key in confidencebuilding exercises. As a puppy explores the sounds and shapes around his world, some things may scare him. But to have the choice to run indoors or into his crate and venture out when he feels like it is the best way to give your pup the space to build his confidence and personality.

After half an hour of play, all the pups are forced to have naps. Pups need a lot of sleep. Grown adult healthy dogs need about sixteen hours of sleep a day. Puppies need a lot more.Being in the company of other pups excites them too much and they don’t sleep enough. It’s important to impose structure ­ mandatory nap time.

Mandatory nap times also give them alone time. A puppy needs to start learning this early, as there will come a day that you will have to leave the pup alone at home for a few hours.You don’t want the puppy to completely freak out. So start by walking away during nap time. Take short breaks ­ starting with perhaps taking a shower or going into the kitchen. Then step out for 15 minutes or so. Slowly increase that. Soon enough, your puppy will be more than happy to be left home alone during nap time.

At our crèche, the puppies are all fed at the same time.Once they are fed, about twenty minutes after their meal, they will need to relieve themselves. Back to the pee-pen. Free play is a privilege for puppies at this point. They are given only after they have relieved themselves. Most of the other time, the pups have to be confined, to avoid accidents all over the house.

During play, it’s important to mix puppy-puppy play and puppy-dog play. An older dog is a good mentor. Older dogs teach pups boundaries, bite inhibition, dog language and dog manners. All of this is next to impossible for humans to teach dogs. As my teacher puts it, no human can raise a perfect dog.Only a dog can raise a perfect dog. So having a mature, gentle adult around teaches the puppy several life lessons.

As you can see, raising a puppy needs constant supervision for the first few months, even during play. The puppy needs gradual exposure to many new situations ­ dealing with people, dogs, pups, sounds and sights. The puppy needs reassurance when he asks for it. And he needs structure to reduce confusion on what is expected of him during the day.

Thinking of being a pet parent? Be prepared!

Publication: Bangalore Mirror; Date: Mar 11, 2014; Section: City; Page:4

When adding a new dog to your family, a big part of the plan has to be to give space and time to the dog. While some dogs may take it all in their stride, others might take time. If your new dog is stressed, it will show through a host of symptoms— indigestion, lack of appetite and/or enthusiasm. Don’t be surprised if your new dog is having trouble trusting you. When Tigger, our second dog, entered our lives, she refused to enter the house for two days, not even to sleep at night. Today she cuddles on my lap. All they need of you is understanding and patience.

Your plan for the first few days may vary based on the age of the dog and his little quirks. A puppy may need to be fed four times a day. A dog or pup with no toilet training may need 24×7 supervision for a week or so. The dog may need to be taught to be home alone, starting with a few minutes at a time. Accordingly you will need to plan to have someone at home at all times. In our case, we saved our annual leave, so we could take turns to be with our new dog.

Apart from all the time planning, there is the budget planning. Visit a good pet store to get an idea of how

much different pet products cost. Factor in pet food, toys, treats, shampoos, conditioners, towels and other grooming products. Buy few products like age-appropriate foods, few toys of different textures and sizes, a good absorbent towel, a couple of chews and treats, at least two non-slip bowls for water and food, and a good coat-friendly brush. Don’t forget to pick up poop bags. Responsible pet-parents clean up after their pets.

Find a vet closest to your home (you might have to meet a couple of vets to find one that you are comfortable with), and while you are at it, also find out the consultation cost. Talk to the vet about the dog you are getting and ask about the kind of care he/she will need. Put your vet’s number on speed dial. You might want a behaviourist, family coach, trainer, dog walker and/or a groomer too. Factor all that into your budget as well.

Back home, plan your boundaries. Keep them simple and clear. Where can the dog go. What’s not OK? Where does the dog sleep, eat, poop, pee etc. Is sofa, bed, kitchen off limits or not…. These are all questions to which there are no right or wrong answers. It depends on your household. But it’s important that there is consensus and consistency.

When we got our first dog Nishi home, it was turbulent to say the least. We had given up our vacation, worked odd hours, killed our social lives, had constant fights about rules and so on.But the love she brought into my life is indescribable. That’s why I call it pet parenting and not pet ownership.