The Kennel Club: ‘We have to think from a dog’s point of view’

Shirin Merchant, dog trainer and behaviorist. Pic: Shan Rambukwella
Shirin Merchant, dog trainer and behaviorist. Pic: Shan Rambukwella

The Kennel Club was formed in 1899 in the house called Temple Trees which was then owned by a Britisher, and which is now the Prime Minister’s residence. At that time, British businessmen and planters brought down lots of dogs such as Beagles, Harriers, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and blood hounds for the purpose of hunting which the British were famous for. It was more like a sport, and subsequently they formed the Kennel Club.

The Club was initially affiliated to the British Kennel Club. The Kennel Club has a long history, and Sir John Kotelawala was a President of the Club, and every head of state is a Patron. Formerly, the Governor General or now the President is the Patron.

Imports

Lucille Dahanayake, President of the Kennel Club says, “We are having our 117th year and 117th show in May. We could have had more shows but in between we could not have shows for some time because dog imports were stopped due to a shortage of foreign exchange.

So there was no point in running a club and during that time we didn’t have shows. Subsequently, we re-started having dog shows after the government implemented the open economy. The important thing is that at the time we stopped operations, the club was not closed except from show point of view.”

Today, the Kennel Club is linked with Shirin Merchant, a dog trainer and behaviorist from Bombay, India. The Club is conducting dog shows with her dog behaviorist staff. Dahanayake says, “We are explaining to the people of this country who do not know much about dogs.

People buy dogs for emotional reasons because they love dogs, but they don’t know whether the dog’s temperament is suitable for them and where the dog lived. There are so many angles to purchasing an animal because he becomes a part of your family. So we are in the process of getting it into people’s heads that you don’t bring a dog and tie it or cage it which is still very much there in people’s heads.

They just don’t understand. Some people just buy dogs for the sake of breeding, which is alright. We have come to a stage of teaching people. Just having dog shows is very nice and beautiful. But then because you don’t know much about breeding, it might not end up being such a good dog ultimately.

A lot of people do not know that you should not be breeding off the female dog twice a year. It is important from the consumer’s point of view because if you want to buy a dog and you don’t know the background of the animal, then how do you deal with it? If you end up with a pup that is born in the second litter within a year, the pup could have many defects.

These are the things that we are bringing out on a day to day basis in our programs such as, registration, having talks, seminars, having dog shows and also giving them a proper training at a show, and to teach your dog to be obedient and calm, not only at a show but wherever he is.

These are all aspects that we have to train to make people understand. So this is the stage we are in. We have gone beyond just a show dog Club. We are moving forward all these aspects, micro chipping the dog so that the history of the dog can be traced.

People think that micro chipping is only for when you lose the dog. We are going to have a database and through that we will have the whole history of the animal.

Magazine

Such things are very important and this is what we are keenly doing and spending a lot of time and money of the Club because we are developing that side. We are also looking at producing a magazine and improving our website. We are trying not just to have the pedigree shows but we are also trying to instil obedience and are looking after and supporting dogs that do not have a pedigree but are pure bred. That is the job of our Club.”

The most popular dog breed in Sri Lanka is the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever. After that, the German Shepherd and then the Bullmastiff. Sri Lankans strangely are not very keen about the smaller breeds such as, the poodles and the pugs and the number of Beagles, Bassets and hounds are less.

Dahanayke says, “Shirin Merchant of Unleash has been invited for the purpose of training the dogs because we don’t have proper certified trainers. I would like people to know that Sri Lanka should have properly trained and licensed people to train dogs.

That is when a trainer comes to train your dog, he or she should have a piece of paper saying that he is a licensed trainer. In other parts of the world, that is how it is. It is something which Sri Lanka lacks. Even as a part time job, for instance, in other parts of the world, even to walk a dog you have to have approval unless it is your own dog.

To walk a dog on the street you have got to have a piece of paper saying that you know how to manage him, because otherwise when the dog is walking it could harm someone. These are all very precautionary measures which are planned to train and make people understand and know. “

The next dog show of the Kennel Club will be held in May. It is a championship show which is the 117th show in the 117th year. Dahanayake explains, that firstly, prior to a dog show, the Club has to always register the dogs and their pedigrees. Some have been registered long before, and they are second and third generations. Pedigree has to have a minimum of four generations.

In other parts of the world, an export pedigree has to be five generations. After these dogs are registered, they are entered into the show. There are many categories such as, the Nursery class, Puppy class, Junior class and Open class. Depending on the age of the dog, it can be entered into any of those classes. The Club gives dog owners about a month to prepare their dogs. They prepare a catalogue and regulate all the dogs and around seven o’clock the dogs are checked by vets and all the documentation is checked again and by nine the show begins. In the first part of the show, each breed is shown according to their category, and there are seven categories of dogs and many breeds within each category, and once each category is over the overall winner is selected.

There are five different breeds and the winners come into the finals from each category. The winner of each category enters the last ring, and the winner is then chosen from the best seven of each category. It depends on the number of dogs and most of the time there are about 180 to 200 dogs at a show.

They would love to have more dogs, but there are not so many dogs entering into shows because there are no proper trainers. Dahanayke says, “That is the main problem, we are short of trainers, and most of the owners do not know how to handle a dog in a show ring.

They spoil their dogs, and pet them but in a show ring it is totally different. They must know how to demonstrate the dog to its maximum. There are so many aspects. All of this is part of the show. Everybody enjoys the show, but there is a lot of work prior to it. We want to have agility show in the future.”

Responsibility

Regarding dog behavior, Merchant is of the view that if your dog runs out of your personal property and bites someone on the road, there should be some sort of penalty, because it is irresponsible ownership. She says, It’s not just your dog biting someone, he could bite even another animal, he could hurt himself, or he could be stolen if he is a pedigree dog. In my opinion it is irresponsible pet ownership. So there should be a penalty and probably a very high fine.

It adds to the street dog problems and sometimes your dog may never come back as well. When we take in a dog as pets, it becomes a part of our family, we are then responsible for their actions. Dahanayake adds, “having a penalty makes people think before they do something. Otherwise, nobody thinks about it. Now dogs are roaming the streets and it is very dangerous because they could have rabies. It is the job of the Municipality to control the stray dog population in Colombo.”

Merchant explains that the methods which they use for training dogs are not like the olden day methods which involved choke chains, intimidating the dog, shouting at it, putting it in physical pain or even mental trauma to make it do something.

Now they have reward based methods. She says, “It’s a nicer way, a kinder way. In a way you are communicating to the animal by using food treats, toys, facial emotion and you become your dog’s best friend, and then get the behavior you want out of the dog, whether it is to tell it to stop doing something or to sit down, or any of that.

When we keep a dog, we have to also start thinking from a dog’s point of view. Always we think of it from a human point of view. We have stopped listening to what animals say to us. Sometimes it is not from a human point of view that we want our dogs to live their lives. We have to see it from their point of view as well.”  

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