Indian Pariah Dog

Peter Richards
Peter Richards (BVSc, MRCVS, University of Bristol)
 
Photo of adult Indian Pariah Dog

"It should be remembered… that he owes little or nothing to a cruelly indifferent humanity, and that he preserves, as we shall presently see, an innate friendliness which no neglect can quite eradicate." So wrote Rudyard Kipling in his 1891 book, Beast and Man in India. Over the past century, the relationship between man and Indian Pariah Dog has changed. They are becoming more popular as pets owing to their loving and friendly attitudes to their owners. They are intelligent dogs with excellent social skills and intuitive abilities. However, the centuries on the streets have also left them with a territorial streak. They will bark at and, possibly, show aggression towards strangers or unfamiliar dogs that enter their territory. Socialisation is especially important for this breed to overcome these issues.

The Indian Pariah Dog has been shaped by natural rather than human selection. They are classed as a Primitive breed like Canaan Dogs and Basenji. They are healthy dogs with a good appetite for exercise. Indian Pariah Dogs do best in a stimulating and social environment where they can feel part of the pack, spending plenty of time out and about with their owners.

About & History

The term “pariah dog” was initially used to describe any stray or feral dogs. The word “pariah” comes from a Tamil word, paraiyar, which was used to describe the lowest class of people with the Indian caste system. In modern English, the term is used to describe a social outcast, but was also used to refer to pariah-type dogs. So, Indian Pariah Dog refers specifically to the dogs who lived alongside humans, sometimes scavenging on the edges of society in the Indian subcontinent. India is a linguistically diverse place, so the Indian Pariah Dog has many regional names. In some areas they are known as Pye-Dog (from the Hindi word pahi for “outsider”), while others refer to them as Desi (native) dogs. Many Kennel Clubs now prefer to use the word 'Primitive', referring to the fact that these dogs closely resemble early domesticated dogs to refer to pariah-type dogs. The Indian Pariah Dog is not recognised by any official kennel club, but is by the Primitive and Aboriginal Dogs Society who have shed the word “pariah” in favour of the term INDog, which will use henceforth in this article.

As an aboriginal landrace breed, the INDog has no recorded origin. They evolved alongside humans in the Indian subcontinent without interference and selective breeding from the people who lived alongside them. The clues to their origin can be unmasked using genetic analysis and archaeological evidence. Whilst neither approach is perfect, they can give us a good idea of where INDogs came from. The physical features of the INDog are very similar to fossil remains that have been found around the world, including China and even those buried in lava at Pompeii. This leads us to believe that the INDog is one of the few modern examples of what an early domesticated dog would have looked like.

The INDog has not spread much outside of the Indian subcontinent. Instead, the breed and its features are more at risk from interbreeding with European breeds were brought to India. The result is that a large portion of street dogs in the urban centres of India will be examples of interbreeding between these two populations. However, INDogs are preserved in rural areas of India. The only instance of the breed travelling was their appearance in the Andaman Islands in the early 19th century where the British established a penal colony at Port Blair.

INDogs were not bred for a specific purpose. Instead, their features and behaviour are the result of natural selection. It’s likely that they have lived for centuries, even thousands of years, on the fringes of human populations. In some communities, they would have been treated like pets and maybe used for hunting or guarding. Like other pariah dogs, the INDog is a sighthound with excellent hunting and scavenging traits that allow them to survive without human intervention. However, the breed is just as happy occupying the niche of a self-sufficient scavenger. The relationship between INDogs and the people they live with varies greatly. In some areas, they are neighbourhood dogs whilst in others they will be free roaming but associated with a specific person who feeds them and usually gives them a name. In recent years, particularly in affluent urban areas and often spurred by animal adoption charities, they have entered people’s homes as more domestic pets.

Appearance

Indian Pariah Dog Large Photo
Ryan.virgo / Wikipedia.org

INDogs are medium-sized dogs, although compared to other breeds they have quite a lot of variability in size. Their height ranges from 51 to 64cm at the shoulder and they weigh between 12 and 20kg. INDogs have wedge-shaped heads topped with relatively large, erect ears. They have lean, muscular bodies with a slight abdominal tuck. The tail normally hangs down and curls slightly at the tip, but when they are excited, the tail is held high.

The INDog’s coat is short with a coarse upper coat covering a softer undercoat. Coat colour varies from a light fawn to a darker reddish-brown. In general, the coat is a uniform colour with white markings on the face, chest and limb extremities. Other colourings do occur, but are much rarer. Some INDogs are uniformly black whilst others are pied.

Character & Temperament

An INDog is generally a cheerful soul. They are a highly social breed since their usual day-to-day life in India would involve interacting with a variety of other dogs and people. They enjoy being around people and dogs, which they consider to be in their family group. In the instances where they have a specific owner, they have been known to develop a strong bond of loyalty and preference to them.

INDogs are known for being territorial to dogs outside of their group. This trait makes them good watchdogs, but introducing strange dogs on their home turf might make them defensive. They are a very alert breed and tend to be cautious in new situations, weighing up whether there is an immediate threat. This tendency for caution and territorial behaviour is often expressed as barking, they are a noisy breed!

As their place in Indian society often made them rely on their own wits for survival, the INDog is an intelligent breed. While other breeds will happily chase and fetch a ball to exhaustion, an INDog will quickly get bored and require something else to do. They thrive in a diverse and stimulating environment that meets their need for a family group and regular exercise.

INDogs differ from other domestic dogs in another crucial and surprising way. Rather than sporadic oestrus every 6 months, INDogs have an annual breeding season between August and January. During this time, their territorial nature is heightened and some dogs may become aggressive to other males, especially during the evening and late at night. During this period, male INDogs will be on high alert for intruders and may show aggression to strangers or visitors.

Trainability

Photo of Indian Pariah Dog puppy

Some say that INDogs cannot be trained, however, this is not true. INDogs are an intelligent breed, which take well to training. They are keen to work with their owners to accomplish tasks. Training should start early and be tailored to the dog’s personality. Most INDogs will quickly become bored with repetitive training exercises, so it’s important to keep sessions interesting.

Taking them to new places to experience new sights and smells will help keep them fresh and responsive. Socialisation is also particularly important for INDogs. As a territorial breed, they may react with aggression to unknown dogs or people as adults. Exposure to as many different dogs and people in puppy-hood will help them to react in an appropriate way when confronted by new situations as adults.

Health

INDogs are a generally healthy breed with an average life expectancy of 15 years. Since they were not selectively bred for looks but relied on natural selection to define their characteristics, they are not plagued by genetic conditions as in some European breeds. There is very little data about causes of death in INDogs. If they avoid road traffic accidents and infectious disease, the cause of mortality is likely to be tumours or cardiac disease. However, they don’t have a predisposition to certain tumour types.

Exercise and Activity Levels

INDogs are active dogs that love exercise. In India, they would normally live in a stimulating and varied environment, so it’s important to replicate that as much as possible. They will enjoy long walks and it would be preferable to give them outdoor access in a well-fenced garden.

Grooming

INDogs are very low maintenance when it comes to grooming. They shed very little so a weekly brush should be enough to keep their coats in good condition.

Famous Indian Pariah Dogs

INDogs are more likely to be the subject of academic papers rather than public adoration. Recently, they featured in a National Geographic documentary film Search for the First Dog that covers the early history of domestic dogs.

Cross-Breeds

There are no modern cross-breeds that have utilised the INDog, also known as the Indian Pariah Dog.

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