The Telegraph
Sunday , March 30 , 2014
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Canine care goes pro

- Pamper 'n' tutor your pet

Anwesha and mom Swastika’s beagle Chintamoni and dachshund Sherua enjoy weekly grooming sessions

He helps his patients tame their aggression, cope with depression and insecurity, and control their obsessive compulsive disorder.

Abhishek Verma, 33, is a psychologist all right but his patients aren’t the usual stressed-out souls leading hectic lives and obsessing about being perfect at work and play. He calls himself Calcutta’s only “dog whisperer”, a canine behaviour expert who promises to “educate” the most recalcitrant pet to become a disciplined member of the family.

Abhishek’s success — his clientele ranges from middle-class pet owners to celebrities — mirrors the growing demand for pet services that go beyond routine deworming and teaching Tommy to sit still at the snap of a finger. “My day starts at 4 in the morning and ends at 9 at night. In between, I am visiting clients to treat or train their dogs. I am currently training more than 30 pets and in my 10 years in this profession, I have tutored nearly 600 of them,” he says.

Calcuttans may have a long way to go to match the Japanese in pampering their pets — it’s a $10 billion industry in a country where couples ostensibly prefer adopting canines to having kids — but the market is still large enough to make people even switch professions.

Aparajita and Sudip Bhattacharya had jobs in the IT sector that left them with little time to look after their two dogs. “We wanted a one-stop centre where our dogs could be groomed, medically checked and from where we could hire trainers. We didn’t find any that met our requirements; so I decided to leave my job and open a dog creche-cum-pet centre myself!” recalls Aparajita.

Abhishek Verma trains a Labrador to sit still and (below) to fetch. (Arnab Mondal)

Her 10-month-old pet centre in Salt Lake’s BJ Block offers full-fledged creche facilities for Rs 400 a day and grooming for Rs 600 a session. Customers can also hire trainers and dog walkers.

“Salt Lake is home to many senior citizens who can’t always walk their dogs or take care of them. That’s where my trainers come in. Nuclear families and working couples are not at home most of the time. They can keep their pets at my creche. I take in only a few at a time because each pet needs a separate enclosure and individual attention,” says Aparajita.

According to her, the demand for dog trainers is growing at almost 30 per cent every year.

Suneel Nair, a professional working for a mining company, is among those who don’t mind splurging on their pets. Caesar, his Labrador, has had a trainer since he was barely six months old. And he visits a dog spa almost every week for some pampering.

“Good training is necessary even if a dog does not participate in a contest. Thanks to training, my 10-month-old pet is very obedient now and much sober and polite before guests,” says Suneel.

Mumbai-based Shirin Merchant, a canine behaviour specialist and the only one in Asia to have gained an accreditation from the Kennel Club of England’s KCAI scheme for dog trainers and behaviourists, will be in the city to hold a two-day workshop on April 5 and 6 at the Calcutta Kennel Club.

“Right training can be a liberating experience for the dogs. My training is reward-based and very positive. Just like a child, a dog should be treated kindly but firmly. Unlike many trainers in India, I refrain from using choke chains. The dog should be so trained that it can be set free in parks and gardens and will still respond to commands, especially when called back,” Merchant said over phone.

Abhishek tailors his psychology exercises based on the temperament of a dog. “I need to understand a dog’s psyche and find out the reason behind aggression before starting training,” he explains.

The duration of training varies, depending on his analysis of what a pet needs. “I use a set of mental and physical exercise routines to keep the dog fit,” says Abhishek. “Basic training takes four to five months.”

Dogs are not only similar to humans in their love of pampering, they are apparently just as susceptible to lifestyle diseases. “It is a wonder that so many dogs have depression, OCD and insecurity. Many suffer from excessive energy syndrome. Insecurity surfaces in three out of 10 dogs. They often become insecure if they are over-pampered and not well exercised or socialised,” says Abhishek.

Rottweilers and golden retrievers are the most obedient and easy to train. “A Chinese Shar-Pei, boxer or Great Dane is ideal for households with children and a German Shepherd is perfect for a family willing to take it for a 3-4km walk daily,” advises Abhishek.

While a German Shepherd is intelligent and loyal, it needs regular exercise in the open and space, which makes it a difficult breed to keep in the average Calcutta apartment. But that apparently doesn’t prevent families from choosing larger breeds of dogs as pets.

Abhishek has some don’ts for “dog parents”, which include sharing beds and meals and fawning over them at all times. “Dogs need to be made to work for the affection. If you want to remove aggression from your dog, you have to make him work and that includes working for your love. A dog needs to exercise the body, heart and mind. It needs mental, physical as well as psychological exercise. That is what a dog whisperer aims at giving a canine pet.”

Not too long ago, keeping a dog as a pet meant providing regular meals and a daily walk in the company of a family member or a domestic help. Many pet owners now hire specialists to walk their dogs and give them the right kind of exercise, depending on their size and energy levels. The trend is to not just own a dog but also keep it fit, well-groomed and versed in social etiquette.

Extra mile

“Walking a dog is part of my training module. Walking a dog in the right manner is a skill. The pace of the dog and walker should be constant throughout. Obedience training should not stop. For a dog’s mental and physical well-being, it needs practice and training all the time,” says trainer Proloy Kumar Das, who has been providing obedience training for the past 18 years.

Proloy, who currently handles around 15 dogs, prefers to train them twice or thrice a week. “An intelligent and hardworking dog is not always breed-specific. An obese dog, irrespective of the breed, tends to be lazy. A trainer has to give it more attention and make it slog straightaway. Pet owners and teachers need to work in tandem to make their dogs happy. It’s like training and educating a child,” he says.

A dog walker at work in Salt Lake. (Arnab Mondal)

Meet and greet

Some kennels and clinics double as centres for grooming. Some also supply walkers and trainers. Kashika Arora, who owns a creche and pet store in Kasba, has 12 dog walkers on her roster. “The walkers charge Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 a month, depending on the dog’s size. Most of them walk the dogs five or six days a week. A pet dog is usually so homebound that it is nervous outside its known turf. A skilled walker helps remove a dog’s fear of roads,” she says.

Kashika’s centre also offers “socialising” opportunities for pets along with grooming and spa treatment. There are a few more like hers in other parts of the city.

For Anindya Bhaduri and his wife, such services are a blessing. “We have had a walker-cum-trainer for our Alsatian, Mowgli, since he was eight months old. He is five now. Thanks to the trainer, we can be at peace that our dog is getting a good walk twice a week. I and my wife have busy schedules, so Mowgli’s exercise would have been irregular if we didn’t have a walker-cum-trainer,” says Anindya.

Pooch pamper

Techie Suvarghya Dutta pampers his pets Portia and Martini with dog vests, deodorants and fancy collars bought from accessory stores in the city and abroad. The dogs have had a trainer since they were six months old and a handler to look after them when he and his wife are away at work. “I would not want my dogs to get bored when my wife and I are away. The trainer and handler helps calm the dogs down and keep them entertained,” he says.

Businesswoman Gitali Bhattacharya, a resident of Howrah, wouldn’t have known how to handle her St Bernard had she not hired trainers when the puppy was just 42 days old. “Today, my dog is a two-year-old and quite obedient, thanks to the training. There is also a walker to take it for regular exercise. I give my pet a spa treat sometimes and buy it lots of accessories,” she says.

Star treatment

Actress Swastika Mukherjee’s dogs have walked the ramp on three occasions, besides attending doggy parties. “I bought so many toys and accessories for them from the UK recently that I had to pay extra duty at the airport. My dogs are loaded with toys and toiletries such as shampoos and deos, besides fancy collars that they love to chew. Every week, a professional comes home to groom them (give them a bath, cut their nails, the works),” she smiles.

Whoever coined the idiom “It’s a dog’s life” was surely talking about a different era.