There is a common misconception that the Indian dog is a breed in itself, but this is not true. There are several different breeds of dogs that have been brought to India by various cultures and settled among the land. The most prevalent of these breeds is the Pariah Dog, or Indian Village Dog (Canis lupus familiaris), which can be found throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe.
Pariahs should not be confused with other types of feral dogs such as dingoes or African wild dogs, since they share no genetic relationship, though they do bear a striking resemblance to one another.
Pariahs were likely domesticated at least 10,000 years ago and currently boast a population in the millions. This is due to their low cost of maintenance, their ability to thrive off scraps, and the lack of predators in India. It was noted that dogs were not worshipped by the indigenous population during the Vedic period (c. 1500-1000 BCE) since dogs live on carrion and eat garbage; this attitude arose among Indians only several centuries later.
First documented references regarding dogs in southern Indian culture
The first documented references regarding dogs in southern Indian culture can be found in early Tamil literature dating back to 2000 BCE. The story of the sage Agastya describes how he received celestial nectar from Indra, which turned into “twelve dogs” when Agastya shared it with his disciples.
Another myth tells of a man who turns into a dog after eating meat, and in the Mahabharata, a curse is placed upon one man’s dog because of his gluttony.
Earliest recorded references to dogs in northern Indian culture
The earliest recorded references to dogs in northern Indian culture date back to 1200 BCE; these can be found in Rigveda. They go on to note that dogs were companions and helpers and that they defended their masters from wild beasts and robbers; this is reflected through later Indian culture and mythology (see below).
In ancient India
In ancient India, there was only one breed of dog; the distinction between Pariahs and non-Pariahs did not exist until Europeans introduced studded breeding practices in the early 19th century, which gave rise to several different breeds such as the Puli and Rajapalayam.
The most prevalent breed in India, the Indian village dog is a direct descendant of the ancient wolf. In Sanskrit, they are called “vanara”, which means “forest dweller”. For thousands of years, Indian dogs have been guardians, herders, hunters, and family pets. They also killed harmful vermin infesting homes in rural areas. The Aryan tribes in India were likewise impressed by these dogs’ hunting prowess and would use them to hunt boar or chase deer. The Balinese sported a similar tradition where large packs of Pariahs were unleashed on wild boars so their young hunters could practice using spears on living targets before killing their own prey. Some were even used alongside horses for hunting because of their great speed; it is said that they could overtake an antelope or a deer with ease due to how well built their bodies are. The ancient Indians believed that Pariahs would eventually become extinct after the arrival of cats, who were imported by Persians during the 5th century BCE. However, this did not come to pass since cats are less suited for hunting than dogs are.
Indian Feral Dogs
As stated in paragraph 2, there should be no confusion between Pariahs and feral dogs – wild canines which have lost all contact with humans. These include dingo-like wild dogs which are completely independent of humans for food and shelter; feral dogs, which can be partially domesticated or return to human control if they choose; and pariahs themselves who are pets turned wild by abandonment. It is important not to confuse these with non-feral (owned) dogs that became stray; these animals should be considered the same as any other pet dog since they are still under human care.
Prehistoric Indian Dogs
As stated above, there is no clear evidence which points to whether Indian Pariahs share their ancestry with ancient wolves, modern gray wolves, or other canids such as jackals (which were originally classified under the same species). However, since they are similar to each other in terms of their behavior and social structures it is more likely that they share an ancestor from some time during the Late Pleistocene. This makes them roughly equally distant from modern dogs and the modern gray wolf.
Ancient Indian Dogs
The earliest evidence of domesticated dogs in India was found in Burzahom, Kashmir, where a scapula tooth belonging to a dog dated back to 3300 BCE. However, genetic studies conducted on the mitochondrial DNA revealed that there were two distinct lineages present at that time – one which was related to European dogs while another which was related to East Asian populations. There is an estimated separation time between these lineages of roughly 14,000 years ago; since there is no way for this second lineage to appear without having been introduced by humans (since it does not exist in China or anywhere else in East Asia), it can be inferred that is was brought over from Europe by humans during the Neolithic Age since a land bridge once existed between Kashmir and Bulgaria. This would make dogs present in India at least 14,000 years old.
Indian Pariah/Indian Stray Dogs
As stated in paragraph 5, Indian pariahs are not to be confused with feral dogs – wild canines that have lost all contact with humans. These include dingo-like wild dogs which are completely independent of humans for food and shelter; feral dogs, which can be partially domesticated or return to human control if they choose; and pariahs themselves who are pets turned wild by abandonment. It is important not to confuse these with non-feral (owned) dogs that became stray; these animals should be considered the same as any other pet dog since they are still under human care.
There is no breed standard in the way that many other breeds of dogs do; there is no written description that considers specific physical and personality traits to be desirable in Indian pariahs. However, local populations in different regions do show distinctive differences: for example, those in Uttar Pradesh are taller and heavier than those from Chennai.
Indian Pariahs can also suffer from a range of diseases such as bloat (a condition where the stomach fills with gas and twists), distemper (a viral infection), heartworm (infestation of parasitic worms within the arteries), sarcoptic mange (which targets the skin) and tick fever. Some risks associated with these diseases can be mitigated through vaccination and proper veterinary care, although these are rarer in Indian pet dogs than they are in Western countries.
Bull terriers were originally bred to fight other dogs for sport. As a result, their behavior is often unpredictable – even around family members – so some can be very aggressive unless carefully trained from an early age. This breed has been involved in a number of fatal attacks on humans as well as being some of the most common pets involved in dog fighting rings; some people have had success training them as assistance dogs, however. Fortunately, this aggression is mostly limited to specific circumstances which can also include fear-based responses where the dog does not feel threatened.
Staffordshire Bull Terriers
Staffordshire bull terriers were first obtained by crossing bull terriers and terriers and were later crossed with non-sporting breeds such as whippets and greyhounds to make them more docile. Unfortunately, the new breed retained the original’s aggression towards other dogs; this led to a number of cases where they attacked both humans and pets as well as some that ended fatally for the latter. If trained from an early age, however, this can be mitigated although it is still present to some degree.
St Bernard Dogs
One of the most well-known breeds, St Bernards are frequently used as rescue dogs in harsh winter conditions thanks to their massive size (around 120 pounds) and like bull terriers, they can be aggressive towards other animals; this is especially true for dogs they do not know since this breed was originally bred to work with livestock and can be particularly dominant around other dogs. Staffies were noted to be one of the most dangerous dog breeds, which was followed by the American Pit Bull Terrier then crossbreeds (especially those that include American Staffordshire Terriers), which all led to human fatalities. A number due to attacks by pet dogs were not included; it should also be noted that 14% of the cases were related to American Staffordshire Terriers which are not classified as a breed by most kennel clubs. Mixed breeds, usually of medium size, accounted for nearly half of all recorded attacks and more than one-third of human deaths.