Primitive. Street. Pariah. These are deceptively derogative terms for India’s most common breed of dog. The Indian Pariah Dog (Canus Lupus Familiaris) is every bit as ancient as the subcontinent; their skeletons having been unearthed from the remains of the Indus Valley Civilization.
It’s a lineage that dates back 15,000 years, and perhaps even to the Palaeolithic era. Throughout the ages, the Pariah Dogs have been our best friends in the subcontinent.
Also known as the Indian Native Dog (INDog), they are free-ranging – leading to them being a common site on Indian streets in both villages and cities alike. India’s street dogs are usually mongrel mix-breed of the indigenous Pariah and other pedigree dogs (usually abandoned). You can differentiate a Pariah from a mongrel by its wedge-shaped tail, pointed muzzle and ears, curved tail and its alert nature.
When not mixed with other breeds, the INDog displays a uniform lineage from their ancient types, which is why the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society (PADS) has recognised them as a breed. However, many kennel clubs are yet to do so.
Primitive, in genetic parlance, refers to dogs that have stuck to their original ancestral form, evolving naturally with little human interference. But they have always lived on the peripheries of human settlements, leading to the name “Pariah” – a Tamil term for an outcaste (usually used to refer to the Pariyar community).
Being an outcome of Natural Selection keeps them every bit as sharp as their wolf ancestors. They make for excellent watchdogs, and can actually get ‘bored’ with games like ‘fetch’. What does not bore them is hunting. Moving in packs, they are fiercely territorial – though they occasionally welcome immigrants into their fold.
Nature has equipped and evolved the dog over centuries into its current form. The humble Indian ‘street’ dog is thus a rare example of Natural Selection at its finest. They are hardy, resilient to climate and disease, and are low-maintenance animals who know how to live with and without human beings.
A study conducted in West Bengal observed their interactions with local communities. In the villages, it’s common to mistake these for ‘strays’ as they are left free without any collar, though there is usually a local taking care of them.
The dogs were found only near human habitation and were particularly concentrated near food stalls and small restaurants where they scavenged for food.
Like humans, dogs can vary across geographies. A multi-university study found it likely that domesticated dogs have a Central Asian origin, but also that there is “a clear divergence between East Asia (Vietnam and Island Southeast Asia), Central Asia (Mongolia and Nepal), India, the Middle East (Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, Turkey, and Afghanistan), and sub-Saharan Africa.”
Need for deeper understanding
The increasing urban preference for ‘breed dogs’ has created numerous problems. Unable to take care of expensive and maintenance heavy pedigree imports, owners are casting their pets to the street. Foreign breeds, unlike the INDog, are not naturally attuned to surviving on streets. If forced to compete with the hardier Pariah dog, they fight a losing battle to survive.
The INDog is a common sight, and can easily be found in dog pounds. The rise in the number of street dogs has created a civic problem – with states like Kerala resorting to brutal measures such as distributing subsidized airguns to help cull the dog population.
The rich lineage of India’s everyday ‘stray’ dogs is so far unrecognised by kennel clubs such as the Kennel Club of India or the international Federation Cynologique International, according to PADS. This, despite primitive breeds like the Israeli Canaan and American Carolina being recognised.
The importance of preserving naturally selected animals such as the INDog is key to minimizing mankind’s effect on everyday ecology. When Nature has fine-tuned a species for the sub-continent, and that species has in turn adapted to live with and alongside humans, we owe it to the humble Pariah dog to reciprocate in kindness and understanding.
The common practice in Mumbai of carrying around a packet of biscuits to feed street dogs with is a much-needed urban kindness today. While the “stray dog menace” generates headlines and a climate of fear, learning to live in harmony with your local stray could make you a loyal friend for life.
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