Q&A with Nidhi Sanghrajka, Canine Behaviourist
Is your pup a fussy eater? Or are you having trouble getting Fido to walk without dragging you along the sidewalk? Or is your canine buddy gotten very aggressive recently? What do you do? Well, if you live in Ahmedabad, then the Go-To person is most definitely Nidhi Sanghrajka. After doing a certification course under the well known behaviourist Shirin Merchant, Nidhi has been a trainer and a behaviourist for the past five years. We recently had a chat with Nidhi and picked her brains about her journey so far in this industry. Here are a few excerpts.
What drew you to this field?
Well, the most obvious response is definitely wanting to interact with different dogs. Having completed my M.Sc in Bioinformatics and having worked in the field for a year and a half as a Junior Research Fellow, I realised that I could never be a 9 to 5 desk job person. I wanted to do something that was different as well as exciting at the same time. I have been passionate about all things dogs since childhood, so working in this field seemed like the perfect option. Five years ago, when I first started off, I had seen very little positive reinforcement based training. My then fiancé and now husband encouraged me to get into this male dominated field, where no woman in Gujarat had ventured into before. Thus began my journey of becoming a canine trainer and behaviourist.
What is more difficult? Training the dogs or training the humans?
I have a very straightforward answer for that! It’s most definitely the humans! The canine way of learning is very simple – they learn what you teach and how you teach it. The most challenging part about this job is to teach or train the pet parents. At times you need to break the predefined mindset regarding the dog’s behaviour. Then to get all the members of the family to follow the same training module. The main objective is for the dog to get the same behaviour and training from all members of the family so that she/ he doesn’t get confused.
What are the biggest misconceptions people have about training?
There are a number of funny as well as risky myths in the dog training world. Many wrong techniques are used which at times does more harm to the dog.
- For toilet training: Rubbing the nose in the potty will teach the pup faster is a complete misconception! Many of my clients have done this before starting off with proper training. All this does is creates a traumatic situation for the pup who has no clue what is happening to him.
- Dogs learn only if taught for longer periods of time. This is another myth. Studies have proved that dogs learn faster if taught for shorter spans of time (5 to 10 mins).
- Another issue is that when pet parents have a puppy, they allow them all sorts of liberties such as climbing on the furniture and feeding table scraps. Once the puppy is five times the size and all grown up, suddenly all these habits start to become issues. The dog will still want to jump and beg for food and the sudden change in behaviour from the pet parents is completely bewildering. So the bottom line here is to set rules right from the beginning and follow them. It’s easier for the dog to understand and follow.
What are the most common issues pet parents come to you with?
Most common issues are:
- Pulling at the leash during walks
- Jumping on strangers and family
- Toilet training
- Fussy eating
- Separation anxiety
What is the main difference between basic training and behaviour training?
Basic training is all about introducing manners and teaching house rules. This also includes commands such as Come and Stay that can potentially be life savers in certain situations.
Behaviour modification deals with the psychology of the dogs. When you are trying to modify behaviour, you need to get to the root of the cause that triggered the behaviour. I ask the pet parents lots of questions about the behaviour and the history of the dog involved. In behaviour training I am basically teaching the pet parents how to deal with in a particular way in a given situation. And gradually they will see the difference. For example, if your dog is a fussy eater, then it is a behavioural issue, where as teaching to eat out of a training ball is just part of training.
What is your training mantra?
Well, I define my training mantra in one word “DogSpective”. I train both my dogs and my pet parents solely from the pet’s perspective.
The canine training industry in India is extremely unregulated. When pet parents need to find someone trustworthy and reliable, how should they go about it? As in, what makes a trainer or a behaviourist a good one?
That’s true. The canine training field is in a very nascent stage here. Unlike many western countries where only certified trainers are allowed to train, here anyone can call themselves a trainer. Finding a certified dog trainer is not an easy task. However, once you get hold of one, you must keep a few things in mind:
- Firstly, it is crucial to have the pet parents present during the sessions. Even if a trainer suggests boarding and training, the trainer should allow you to have regular visits and make you practice with your dog.
- You need to observe how the trainer interacts with your dog and how comfortable your dog is in their presence. Read your dog’s body language. With every visit, if your dog is hiding or is running away or has to be pulled for the session, then something is wrong! Your dog is trying to tell you how uncomfortable she/he is in their presence.
- Only positive reinforcement has to be made use of. No harsh methods or beating the dog should be tolerated.
- No training is complete without training in different environments. A good trainer will always train your dog in different environments with a variety of distractions.
- A good trainer will make sure your dog learns to socialise with different people and in different environments (noises for example).
- Whereas when it concerns a behaviourist, never look for quick fixes. Modifying behaviour takes a lot of time and patience. You can only heal and change with time.
Tell us about your most memorable case.
It’s truly difficult to pick one since there has always been a special connect with all my dogs I have trained and also with their humans. One case however, is very close to my heart. So Sunny was a rescued Cocker Spaniel. After going through the trauma of about four to five failed adoptions, his rescuer chose to adopt him. He had tremendous trust issues, especially with new people entering the house. He had issues with the maids who would come to clean and he was also highly territorial about the room where his human mom, Hiral slept. He hated the sight of other dogs and could not get along with the family’s Pug. He had eventually developed a history of biting.
The first consult we had was at Hiral’s house. We started from the garden, where he sniffed around and wasn’t interested much. Gradually we moved towards the apartment. We had to climb the stairs since he wouldn’t allow anyone else into the lift. He then entered his house and I followed him inside. I sat in the floor and he was completely casual about it. With time and training and modification, he allowed me to enter the lift with him and his mother and also allowed me to walk into all the rooms. What really touched me was that he used to really look forward to the training sessions. A lot of input from the pet parents helped me deal with this case.
Sunny has made a special place for himself in my heart. And his transformation was really amazing to watch. Today he allows guests to walk in, plays with the Pug, shares toys and food and allows everyone to enter the bedroom.
What organisations or institutions in India provide certification training courses?
- Canines Can Care – Shirin Merchant – the only KCAI (UK based kennel club) accredited course
- The Woodstock Dog Training School
- The Cochin Dog Training Academy
- Commando Kennels
You can find Nidhi and the amazing work she does on Facebook. Her page is called Nidhi – Dog Trainer and Behaviourist.
Happy pet parenting!