This term is one that has been applied erroneously to the range of indigenous pure breeds found in India. It has to be clarified that the term should not include the strays that are commonly found on the streets and lanes of our towns and cities.
There are no set characteristics or traits of the street dog. Having said that, there are behavioural patterns that can be typically ascribed to them. Needless to say strays are street smart and tend to be extremely territorial and tend to protect their geographies with aggression while moving around in packs. It is estimated that there are 3.5 crore street dogs in India.
Local municipalities carry out random sterilisation drives, picking dogs off the street during which they might be mistreated. This may result in unpredictable behaviour: from being aggressive or timid and scared. Sterilised dogs (Animal Birth Control and Rabies or ABCR treated) are easily identified by a portion of their ear being clipped and aren’t rounded up during subsequent drives. However, they aren’t dewormed, nor receive core vaccines for distemper, parvovirus and hepatitis. Make sure that the first stop before bringing these dogs or puppies in, you stop off at a vet first and have a medical history sheet started. Don’t forget to add delousing to the list of “things-to-do”.
Once they are placed in their new home, they display high levels of gratefulness, loyalty and alertness, guarding zealously against all manners of strangers. Be prepared for it to wander off for a day or two and bring home a new “bestie”, in which case, congratulations, you’ve just been adopted! It is best to bring a street dog in at a puppy stage since it can be trained to the ways of the adopters home.
If you’re discerning and pedigree conscious, the list of native Indian breeds to choose from are Rajapalyam, Indian Mastiff, Kombai, Kanni, Rampur Hound, Panikonda, Mudhol Hound, Bakharwal and Chippiparai. These breeds are robust working dogs. Agile, silent and fiercely loyal they are genetically acclimatised to thrive in Indian conditions.
Originated in Tamil Nadu and were bred for hunting and possess a natural instinct for being excellent guard dogs too. They have shorthaired white coats, pink noses, grow to a height of 29 inches, weigh up to 25 kgs and live to a maximum of 10 years. Rajapalayam are one of the more recognisable Indian breeds but are ironically on the verge of extinction and could do well with increased acceptance and adoption.
The Indian Mastiff (Bully Kutta in Pakistan)
The breed has its own wonderful variations and lore of its origins, uses and patrons. Its lineage has not been recorded and documented well enough and even if it were, it would be lost in 3000 years of sub-continent history. Sub-breeds of the Kutta have occurred in Kutch and Sindh giving rise to it being classified as the Sindh Mastiff, in the Kumaon region where it is known as the Kumaon Mastiff. Legend also has it that Alexander the Great took it back with him when returning to Greece, that the Persian king Xerxes deployed them as a part of his army and it is the progenitor of the English Mastiff.
Whatever their origins are The Indian Mastiff is not a dog for a home with little or no physical activity. It is a giant, primarily hunting dog that unscrupulous breeders have used for blood sport and dogfighting. The male can weigh from 75 up to 80 kgs and grow from 29 to 35 inches tall. The ears sit high atop a square face resting on a broad muscular chest and the body tapers into a high rear and curvy tail. Like all large dogs, it is prone to hip dysplasia. This is also a breed that is on the verge of extinction.
Kombai is a hound dog that also originated in the modern day Tamil Nadu region during the 14th and 15th century and was bred for hunting game animals. They can grow up to 25 inches, weigh 25 kilos and live till 15 years. They are stocky and make excellent guard dogs, but not child friendly unless socialised with them at an early age.
Their high levels of energy demand regular and vigorous exercise. Health issues again involve hip dysplasia and other dermatological problems, but are otherwise relatively low on maintenance.
This breed is another contribution to the hound category from Tamil Nadu. Hailing from Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi, they were bred for hunting; make for loyal pets and are alert guard dogs. Their features are like most classic hounds with low slung chests and high tucked abdomens. They come in black and tan colours but can also be found in combinations and variations of shades of white, red and fawn. Their diets, like themselves, are low maintenance and include Indian grains and cereals in addition to protein.
These dogs are not difficult to train and are agile hunters. Bearing a resemblance to the Middle Eastern hunting dog Saluki, they are lightweight (up to 23 kgs) and 29 inches tall, Kannis are nimble on their feet and have a lifespan of till 15 years or so. The Kanni is also on the verge of extinction.
Originated in North India for hunting. Being a “sighthound”, they have an acute and wide range of vision and therefore adept at spotting game quarry. It is thought to have been crossbred using English Greyhounds and Afghan Hounds displaying long triangular snouts, ears set back high on the crown, weigh up to 30 kgs and grow to 30 inches with a life span of 13 years or so.
Built for speed, they turn out to be excellent companions and guard dogs too. Possessing a highly developed sense of loyalty the Rampur Greyhound can almost be considered “one man dogs”. Rampurs do not socialise well with other dogs, especially the smaller ones. Needless to say this is another example of an Indian breed that requires brisk to vigorous exercise, are low on grooming needs and visits to the vet. Diets are also adapted to Indian food grains. Since they are highly active dogs, they tend to get friskier than normal after a meal and suffer from bloating.
Originated in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh and is yet another Indian breed close to extinction. They are independent hunting dogs and are wary of confinement, which if they are, require generous exercise. Highly territorial and difficult to train, they are fierce guard dogs and keep other strays out of the locality. Short haired and hardy they have very little need for grooming or specialised diets. Extreme heat does not have too many adverse effects on them.
Males can grow up to 26 inches, weigh 32 kgs and live till 15 years old. Health problems include hip dysplasia, bloating and some dermatological problems. Appearance is muscular, pointed ears, a curved tail and has a variety of coat colours. These are not easy dogs to have. Only a very determined household should think about one of these and even then consider themselves lucky to find a well bred one, which the locals might be inclined to part with. Sadly, this is another Indie breed that is dying out.
The breed stands out as a shining example of Indian pure breeds revival. Its fierce loyalty, trainability and field of vision similar to the Rampur Hound have prompted the Indian Army to take them in their ranks on border patrol duty. Together the Canine Research & Information Center in Bagalkot, Karnataka and Indian Army Remount And Veterinary Corps have been responsible for researching and breeding this immaculate hound.
Mudhols have the classic appearances of most hounds. Sleek, lithe with the usual long snout and ears pinned back, the animal is native to Karnataka and Maharashtra. It is believed to be another descendent of the Saluki and arrived in India from the Middle East on nomadic caravans (hence also sometimes referred to as a Karawani or Caravan Hound). Being a sight hound with an acute field of vision, they are excellent coursing dogs and are not necessarily tolerant of smaller dog breeds and strangers if not socialised from an early age.
Males grow to 28 inches, weigh 26-28 kgs and live to 14 years of age. Their grooming requirements are minimal and like the Pandikona, extremely robust in health. The only ailments to be aware of are liver failure and skin problems on account of its lean build. Fortunately this breed has a promising future.
Bakarwals are mountain dogs that originated in North India (Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh) and were bred for herding by the Gujjar and Bakerwal communities. They were engineered by probably crossing Molossus' (another one of Alexander the Great’s favourite canine) with Tibetan Mastiffs and/or the Indian Pariah. Their gene pool is a matter of some debate, along with the Indian Mastiff.
This is yet another Indian native breed that is on the verge of extinction. The lack of awareness of rabies vaccinations and militancy in the region are responsible for its current situation. The latter cause for their declining numbers, as you might guess is that they are used by the Indian armed forces as guard dogs and sensitive to intrusion.
These are large dogs and males can weigh up to 70 kgs, grow to 30 inches and have a life span up to 12 years. Its furry coat does not make it a suitable dog for the arid and semi-arid regions of India. They require lots of physical activity without which they grow bored and listless leading to disruptive behaviour.
These breeds are thought to be the country cousins to the Kombai and share many physical and behavioural traits with them. The principal differentiator is the colour of the coat, which is usually white. As a sight hound their chief patron was the royalty of Madurai, was used to hunt small game and are considered “one man dogs”. Their immense reach has to be walled in on large open spaces or they can easily escape low fenced areas.
Males can weigh as little as 20 kgs, grow to 38 inches, making them the taller of Indian breeds and live to 14 years. They are sturdy and can take easily to harsh Indian summers, but are not recommended for Northern India owing to cold winters. They require regular exercise and must be socialised at an early stage with smaller dogs and children. Chippiparais have uncomplicated grooming and dietary needs. Care should be taken to include some amount of non-animal fats in their diet to help prevent skin disorders. Owing to their size, hip dysplasia and luxating patella are common skeletal disorders. Staying true to the declining numbers of Indian breeds, the Chippiparai also finds a place on that list.
Now that you have made it till here you now know that there is a richness and diversity of Indian native breeds that exists beyond the street and stray varieties of our towns. It most certainly is the humane thing to do to feed those and take them home, even if stray is the new cool. But it is imperative that we wake up to the loud howls and cries for the rescue and survival of the entire breeds.