We just concluded a lovely event to celebrate the launch of BACBEC 1, the first of our online certificate courses on Canine Behaviour & Ethology. The course requires students to complete roughly 150 hours of learning, including theory, practicals, primary and secondary research. We have deployed smart instructional design and have custom software built for us, to help impart the same to students the world over. Students, however, do need to complete Canine Essential 101, a two day foundation workshop with us, which is currently only being offered in person. To enable people from several different geographies to get on the learning platform, BHARCS is going to be bringing 101 to various parts of India, North America and Europe. Stay tuned for dates!
Meanwhile, here’s a quick report from our recently concluded event that had an ensemble of brilliant speakers, bringing a wealth of knowledge, which we know we will be harnessing as we grow. We are so grateful for these giants, whose shoulders our students will hope to stand on some day.
The event’s first speaker was Dr. Anindita Bhadra, a graduate of IISc, currently a professor of animal behaviour at IISER and the founder of the Dog Lab, a research group on street dogs. She brought to us some fascinating studies on street dogs. She spoke of one study that showed that petting, over food, was more effective in winning a dog’s trust. She described the social structure of dogs, which unlike previously believed, is nothing like wolf social structures (either in captivity or the wild), but more like an Indian joint family. She drew attention to nuances like the role of fathers in nature, role of siblings and grandparents in the family construct and the politics of social structure. Her studies closely mirror the my observations from the Lives of Streeties project. Dr. Bhadra also echoed Turid Rugaas‘ belief that only a dog can raise a perfect dog and like Turid, appeals that we spend less time moulding dogs and more time observing them. (View video archive)
For BHARCS, Dr. Bhadra’s work is of particular importance, because our motto is “Learning to Learn from dogs”, and we encourage our students to shed preconceived notions about dogs and instead focus on observing and learning from them. Our access to street dogs gives us a unique opportunity to study free ranging dogs and free ranging dogs of India, in particular can be friendly, approachable, very well integrated into society and in many cases well cared for too. This is very different from stray dogs in parts of the world that were ex-pet dogs or feral dogs that were pushed to the fringes of society and are therefore very wary of humans.
The next speaker for the day was Rajashree Khalap. Rajashree is a conservationist, with a special interest in aboriginal and primitive dogs of India. She runs the fascinating INDog Project. Rajashree joined us over Skype and despite several technical glitches managed to deliver a very fascinating talk that differentiated between the different members of the Canidae family in India. She drew distinctions between truly primitive dogs, aboriginal indigenous dogs and native breeds. She also pointed out that wild dogs of India were not not in fact dogs but a different species (Cuon Alpino).
What excites BHARCS about Rajashree’s work is that while street dogs are dogs that are free willed dogs, indigenous dogs are dogs free of human breeding. Our street dogs, on the other hand are a heady mix of several European and India breeds over centuries and so are the ultimate mutts! To us, at BHARCS, these provide us some very unique opportunities to gain insights into these wonderful animals. And before people from outside India start wondering if they are missing out, not at all. This is where our forte comes into play. Uttam (my husband and co-founder of BHARCS) and I are engineers. With the help of my old colleagues from Yahoo, currently running AmberTag, we have built a unique platform to make such primary research as well as practical hands on learning possible remotely. It will also be done in a way that benefits the very dogs that we study, thus giving back to these animals.
The next speaker at the event was Kalyan Varma, who also joined us remotely from Kaziranga National Park. Kalyan, an old friend from Yahoo, also an engineer, currently a wildlife filmmaker and conservationist spoke of how technology was being used in the conservation of elephants. He spoke of radio collars and early warning systems that was reducing man-animal conflict. He explained how before these warning systems were in place, people used seemingly inhuman methods to chase away elephants that entered their fields and villages. But now that they were given ample warning, Kalyan said, “They do what we do. They stand and watch them with curiosity”. He spoke of the program bringing down human death rates to zero in some places. He also spoke about doing poop studies in elephants to demonstrate how using them in processions was very stressful.
‘Poop studies’ tend to immediately catch the attention of Turid’s students. We are made to do pee studies as a way to determine stress in dogs. Poop studies needs technology and here Kalyan was talking to us about it. Of course, some students seemed a bit less enthusiastic when they realized they would be prodding dog poop. But hey, don’t all we responsible dog people pick up after our dogs?
The next segment of the event was taking a step back from all the science to address the heart of BHARCS. At BHARCS we expect to groom ethical professionals and entrepreneurs. We recognize, that unlike most other industries, working with animals requires a special kind of compassion and empathy. “Our market” cannot be defined in terms of numbers and our responsibility is always towards the individual right in front of us, needing our help. So, it was but apt that our next speaker was Shukla Bose, the founder of Parikrma Humanity Foundation. Shukla and her empathy deeply impacted me when I worked at Parikrma. It change the way I viewed the world and it just made sense that a bit of her wisdom was the need of the hour.
Shukla spoke eloquently of the need for compassion. She gave “Learning to learn from dogs” a whole new meaning. In each of her schools, the children have adopted a dog. The dogs have “Shakespearean names”, as a way to encourage the children to read the plays. The dogs also walk into classes sometimes and little children learn counting by being asked to count the number of ears, tail and legs their doggy has. I don’t know how often these dogs perform their “teacher’s assistant” duties because, true to the spirit of a streetie, these dogs go to sleep in the computer lab much of the time because it has the air conditioner on. I have seen children trying their reading skills on these dogs, or just finding a friend to confide in. Parikrma runs schools for some of the most underserved children of the city and it is heartening to see how dogs can do their bit in helping these children cope and grow. Shukla reminded us again, that there is no “us and them” and that we are all species that need to share on the planet. (View video archive)
At BHARCS, apart from the quality of education we provide, we also pride ourselves on our code of ethics. Compassion and empathy are lessons my teachers Turid and Julia keep reminding us about and epitomize. It is also at the heart of what we do at BHARCS. It is not science devoid of heart.
The last speaker we had for the day however spoke of situations where the head had to ask the heart to take a back seat. Priya Chetty is a well known activist in the city and is famous for her ability to push back on mammoth government machinery, to protect the interest of citizens, including the animals of our city. She has fought seemingly impossible battles and she let us in on her secret – sometimes when being change agents, it is important to not let passions ride high. Being change agents is rising above individuals and specific incidences. It’s about seeing the big picture, which can often get difficult in the face of resistance. (View video archive)
One thing I have been mindful of at BHARCS is giving students the tools they need be successful at what they do. Owing to the fact that we are at the forefront of understanding canine behaviour, we often meet stiff resistance. So it is important for me that BHARCS students are prepared for and know how to be effective change agents without suffering from compassion fatigue. The course aims to be holistic, not only from the perspective of a dogs welfare, but also that of the people working with these dogs. Given how closely entwined a dogs live is to a human’s, one’s welfare cannot be devoid of the others.
Of course, I was also one of the speakers at this event and I spoke mainly of the structure of our course and our accreditation details. We have some of the videos up on youtube and will have the rest of them up soon (Click here to view the playlist). Do follow us on Facebook or Instagram to know when the videos are up. And lastly we selected 5 of our star students to participate in the Trailblazers program to start the course ahead of the others. Pictures of those emotional moments are all up on our Facebook and Instagram pages too.
At this point, I am so full of gratitude for everyone who has been part of this journey to get BHARCS to where it is. My teachers who taught me so much more than just about dogs, my mentors from across all my jobs, my colleagues and peers who have stood by me cheering me, my students who believe in me, my family that loves me and of course my husband Uttam, who has been an integral part of it all, helping me keep focus and giving me the confidence in my ability. It was perhaps befitting that the event opened with him telling the story of BHARCS. It was lovely to relive it all and step boldly into the future. The future is bright and full of love and learning. Our doors are open to anyone who wants to join us on what promises to be a beautiful journey for those who love to learn from dogs.
In case you’ve been meaning to do your Canine Essential 101 the next one is scheduled for 25th & 26th May, 2019. Course details are available here. Apply soon. Only 10 students per class.
|About the Author|
|Sindhoor is a canine behaviour consultant, Galen myotherapist and educator in Bangalore, India. She is the country representative for Pet Dog Trainers of Europe (PDTE) and the founder of BHARCS, a premier canine education academy and Bangalore Hundeskole, a consultation service for holistic canine care. Sindhoor also studies free ranging dogs in India and while she wears many hats, being mommy to two amazing dogs – Nishi and Tiggy, whom she considers her inspiration and her greatest teachers, is her favourite role.|