Keeping a pet is not an easy task. And if you have a dog, it is even more difficult is to comprehend and tackle their behaviour. But Shirin Merchant, a canine behaviourist and trainer since 1995, took it upon herself to understand these four-legged beings.
Moreover, she conducts workshops across India to change the way people understand their dogs. In these 23 years, Merchant has worked with over 6,000 dogs, their breeds ranging from the feisty Belgian Malino is to the shy Samoyed.
Merchant was born into a dog-loving family. “Throughout my childhood, I had dogs and I loved them. But it was in my early 20s when I first met my mentor John Rogerson [world renowned canine behaviourist and trainer] when he came to India from England for a small course. I enjoyed his training and it very naturally took off in this direction. I think the profession chose me rather than me choosing it.”
Merchant says the encounter changed the way she perceived dogs. It made her go to England and learn from the best trainers there for four years.
But coming back to India wasn’t favourable initially as the profession was so new. “It wasn’t a respectable field and definitely not for a woman to be in. There were no female trainers then, forget animal behaviourists.
The men practicing this career didn’t like me doing the same. There were times when people would be surprised to see me as they would be expecting someone older. Also, the pet parents were reluctant to do the training because the idea of a trainer doing it for you was still very much there. But I let my work to speak for itself.”
Merchant believes Internet and TV, along with India’s changing economy and thereby afford and train a pet dog, has made people aware. But had also led to carelessness. “Earlier, people knew what they were getting into.
Today, people think if I can afford one then why not. Nobody thinks that the dog is going to share the space with you for 14-16 years,” says Merchant, who in January 2018 was felicitated by the President of India Shri Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Maneka Gandhi from the Union Ministry of Women and Children at the First Ladies Awards – for women who have transcended barriers to achieve a milestone and are declared to be the ‘first’ in their respective fields.
So, when buying or adopting a dog, Merchant says your size of the house or the bank balance does not matter.
“What matters is how much time can you give to your dog. With people so busy with their work, one has no time to play or to train their dogs. If you are only feeding the dog, then they are like prisoners in your house.”