Meet the farmies!
This is the start of a series. An ethnography, if you will, of Cheeru and the free-living dogs around my farm - Chaita, Dude, Its, Yaya, Elvis, Rita and Biscuit. I have a lot to tell about my observations, but for now, I just want to introduce all of you to the protagonists.
Cheeru : my companion and family - a complicated politician, to say the least. She has fan moments around some dogs but is indifferent or mean to a few others. I am still trying to understand what her criteria are for these different reactions. So far, it seems like she luuuuurves dogs who don’t like her, bullies dogs who are polite and nice to her and gets annoyed with ultra happy dogs and puppies. I know some people like that. So no judgement here. I don’t try to “correct” or change her, but observe her in fascination.
Chaita : sweet sweet teen mum of Iti and Yaya. She loves me and I love her. She lives two streets away from my construction site with her daughters and Dude, her mate for last season. She is sweet as sugar in my presence and is almost obsequious around Cheeru. Cheeru HATES Chaita. Chaita is enemy no #1 on the farm now. Cheeru alerts if she hears me mention Chaita. Chaita works through Cheeru’s hate to give herself access to my affection.
Dude : shy guy! After all this time, he will not let me touch him, though he is clearly excited by our arrival on site. I suspect he and Chaita have had a monogamous relationship thus far. If Cheeru had not been spayed, that may have changed, because Dude and Cheeru seem to “have a thing” for each other. It started when he first growled at her and she swooned. She has now won him over and he has been enticing her to go to “his house”. I’ve prevented that from happening…thus far.
Iti (the one sitting upright): Teenagers are teenagers, regardless of the species, says my mentor and nowhere do I see it more than with these pups. They are an embodiment of puppy development in the care of a canine biological parent. They are so full of courage and teenage recklessness and mirth. They do not take themselves seriously and can come across as feisty. At first, Cheeru tried to bully them. Then grew wary of them. But now is plain annoyed with them.
Yaya : absolutely the naughtiest, funniest, bravest, stupidest and most annoying puppy I have ever run into - everything a healthy juvenile needs to be. These are all just traits of this phase of development and species rely on this…but the science is for another day. These two pups are a source of much information for me…IF I manage to focus around their crazy energy and keep them from pulling down my pants. Yaya has discovered that pulling down my pants is the most effective way to get my attention.
Elvis (standing in the image) : The boy next door and a singer. He was one of the first to visit me on my farm. Once he gets past his initial barriers, he starts singing when you put him or make him happy. He started out by growling at Cheeru. She swooned. He sang. She lost interest He has three girlfriends…well…not exactly friends. They seem to be more of emotionally disconnected sexual partners that hang out together… I don’t know why they hang out together. Chaita seems to have a mild crush on Elvis and a mild dislike of his mates.
Rita (dog sitting with the white body and tan face) : I don’t know much about Rita, except that she is one of Elvis’ mates, but does not really like him. Chaita and her pups seemed to hate her at first. But they are now friends. I did not get to see what happened there.
Biscuit : I know very little about her. She is another of Elvis’ mates. I have not observed much of her interactions because she is an infrequent visitor to my site.
Get to know them all. Soon, there will be more stories from them, as we watch their social lives unfold. Every day, these dogs do something that flies in the face of what I have been told about dog behaviour. Every day I learn something new and become more humble. You can join me on this journey only if you are prepared to do the same.
Also, please remember that their world is rich with social interaction that I barely understand. It does not fit into movie-based ideas of all dogs having brain-dead silly play sessions in the park. They do not behave like live versions of happily stuffed toys. They are social beings with complex social relationships that can get quite messy. Their politics seem important to them. Cheeru is finding her place in all of this. For me, this has two implications - Firstly, I am committed to parking aside judgement of any kind as I observe and document. Secondly, observing and interfering in the lives of free-living animals is an ethical grey area, one that I can only navigate if I permit myself to make mistakes and am kind to myself. Kindness towards myself gives me the strength to be reflexive and also be a harsh critic. (Yep, harsh self-critique is born out of kindness towards self…who knew huh?) I will recommend those who follow this series to do the same, if you are to make most of this learning opportuniy. Don’t judge too quickly. Just stay with their stories and immerse yourselves into their lives with genuine curiosity. Magic happens in that zone…I promise!
To summarize, the rules of this exercise are :
Park aside your knowledge and hubris.
Suspend judgement towards the dogs
Be brave to confront yourself, your understanding and beliefs
Join me as we explore the dramatic entagled lives of a free-living dogs, a companion dog and a curious human animal (aka me).
So, ready to dive into the lives of my farmies (free-living dogs on my farm), Cheeru and I?
About the author
Sindhoor is a canine behaviour consultant, a canine myotherapist and an engineer by qualification. She is a TEDx speaker, the author of the book, Dog Knows and an independent ethology researcher studying the free-living dogs in India. Her studies have been published by IAABC and PPG blog in the US, were presented at the PDTE summit in the UK and were mentioned in the book Canine Confidential by Dr. Marc Bekoff and a National Geographic Bookazine called the Genius of dogs. She is currently pursuing her master's in Anthrozoology from Exeter University (UK) and is the principal and director of BHARCS. BHARCS offers a one of its kind, UK accredited level 4 diploma on canine behaviour and ethology and boasts of students from all parts of India and across the globe. Sindhoor is also the country representative forPet Dog Trainers of Europe (PDTE)