I have loved dogs all my life. When I was born – there was a big German Shepherd in the family who was gifted to my dad by his aunt. He passed away when I was three or four. My own first puppy was “Toffee” – a Spitz – whose breeder was a student of my Grandfather, and had heard me asking my grandfather repeatedly for a puppy. I must have been seven or so at the time. Someone stole Toffee from our house – and this disaster repeated one more time a few years later with Timmy (also a spitz). The way I dealt with the trauma was by rationalizing that I will never keep a small dog ever – and thus eliminate the chance of my furry friends ever getting stolen. That strategy worked out so far – keeping fingers crossed.
Thus entered Betsy into my life, the sweetest and also perhaps the most disobedient dog that ever lived in India 🙂 . She was a yellow Labrador that my dad bought for me ( as a result of significant drama I created at home) from Bangalore. She also was my first show dog – and her very first show she won Best of Breed and CC, and placed in the BIS lineup. I was hooked to dog shows. I bred her only once (I was a mature tenth grader) – and she had one champion from that litter – a black male. Unfortunately the best puppy in that litter died at 4 months . Raising that one litter proved to me beyond any doubt that breeding is way more trouble than I can handle.
Showing in the breed ring seemed way too much fun – and I had several friends who were shy to get into the ring themselves and were happy to let me do the honors. So my handling skills improved rapidly and I won my fair share – including winning BOB at the Nationals and so on. Some of my best friends in India are folks I met in the sport – some my age, but many decades older than me. Some were real princes, senior politicians and bureaucrats, some ran some of the biggest businesses in India at the time. They all treated me like a son – and not only did I learn a lot from them about dogs, I also gained tremendous confidence in dealing with senior people at a very young age – which helped me a lot as I started my career.
I also owe sincere thanks to uncle Radhakrishnan, who is an eminent dog show Judge in India, for talking me out of dropping out of school to be with dogs full time. He was the one who told me “Go finish college and get a job – you can have any dog you want”. Just for reinforcement – he added “And if you do drop out now – I will make sure no judge in India will let you win in the ring” . He denies he ever said the second part 🙂
While breed shows were fun – my heart was always in the obedience ring. My lab was a great teacher . She was the reason I quickly figured everything about how not to train a dog 🙂 . As luck would have it – right when Besty had a litter, I got myself a male German Shepherd puppy. I called him Hitler ( Not in honor of the bad guy – but in honor of the best obedience dog in the country at that time, a male yellow lab who was a working police dog in Railway Protection Force ). We had a grand time – training every day even when I was sick. One of the smartest decisions I made was to teach him commands in Hindi – when every other dog we competed against used English commands. He had laser focus – and we beat every team in India at the time we competed against.
My proudest moment was when Abdul Khadar (the guy who trained the yellow lab Hitler after whom my kiddo was named) watched us in the ring – and told me with tears in his eye that my dog did even better than his dog (who had passed away by then). More than our wins in the obedience ring – he was my heart dog. He was also quite a star in the community . The local newspaper even came out with a Sunday supplement in his honor.
The one skill I acquired training him was that you can solve any problem by breaking it into very small problems that can be easily solved and then put it all together for a grand solution. Best example was that I trained him to pick up a grocery bag and run to the corner store and buy a packet of milk in the morning. It took several months to get there – but he was foolproof once he learned it. That is a principle that has helped me throughout my life – and not just in training dogs. Hitler was almost 10 years old by the time I moved to the US. One of my biggest regrets was that I could not find a way to get him here with me. He passed away a couple of years later – and I will never forgive myself for not being with him when he left this world.
With the first salary I got in US – I bought a German shepherd in Germany . Inka stayed with my buddy Dr. Satish in Bangalore and was his best buddy till she died. Unfortunately we could not get a puppy from her. Since then I have owned or co-owned a lot of dogs across the world. Some in India were even in the name of my little sister Lekshmi – without her knowledge 🙂 . When we got married, my wife was afraid of dogs. But the day we got a puppy in 2005 – she magically transformed to a big dog lover. And then she was instrumental in getting the next two fur kids 🙂
One thing eventually became abundantly clear to me – I could not honestly say any more whether I loved my dogs more than I enjoyed the game of dog shows. I came to the conclusion that its a lot more fulfilling to prioritize my dogs over the game. I still buy purebred pups with show potential. I give them every chance to do well in the show ring. But unlike in the past – I care nothing at all if they win or lose. They all retire from the ring early and enjoy being pampered full time. I still enjoy shows – even if I don’t show myself. I just go hangout with my friends and watch from ringside. Side benefit – I am not affected by dog show politics either 🙂 .
Now life has come full circle again. My youngest dog Ollie is not obedience trained at all – which is not good for any family dog. He is our full time hugs-and-cuddles-machine 🙂 . And I have only myself to blame for that. My 10 year old black lab Hobo could have perhaps been an obedience champion but I completely lost interest in shows and just did not move forward with him. I recently revived connections with my old friends in the German shepherd world. I am itching to get a puppy and start IPO (working dog) training . If only I could make up my mind……and convince my family 🙂