Episode 16 Talking to Shirin Merchant about why you need to listen to your dog, family dynamics, assistance dogs and how she busted through a male dominated industry and transformed how dogs were trained in India. (And there’s a special offer to join my Inner Circle too)
Timestamps[.45] A cold podcast in November [2.20] Todays guest – Meet Shirin Merhant! [4.00] Who inspired Shirin to work with dogs [6.00] What was is like being the first female dog trainer in India [8.06] Dealing with large family dynamics in India [9.20] The best advice Shirin has ever been given. [11.28] How to tell if your dog is happy [12.15] Shirin’s top 3 dog training tips [13.50] How to use a fridge to train your dog [15.15] Assistance dogs in India [17.11] How to find out more about Shirin [17.40] How does Shirin chill out? [19.01] Coming up next week, Dom is going to talk like a dog trainer. [20.00] How to have fun with your dog BUY MY BOOK [20.20] Inner Circle special offer.
Mentioned in this episode
Shirin’s website www.shirin merchant.com
Shirin’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/shirin.dogtraining/
Buy Dom’s book http://mydogssuperhero.com/get-copy/
Join the Inner Circle and get the special introductory offer www.mydogssuperhero.com/innercircle/offer
Shirin: Well, you know what I’ve noticed most of the time is we always do things that we think is perfect for the dog. We get what we think is the perfect toy for the dog, the perfect training for the dog. When was the last time we actually listened to what the dogs were saying to us?
Dominic: Whose idea was it to do a podcast from a van in November?
Alex: Not mine.
Dominic: Hello me bonny bairns, and welcome to the Superhero Dog Owner Show. We’re at the end of November, we’re almost in December, and it’s getting rather chilly in the dog van.
Alex: Ain’t it just?
Dominic: I’m joined by Han Solo, thanks for … His tauntaun is just outside.
Alex: I like my tauntaun.
Han Solo: I thought this smelled bad on the outside.
Dominic: Chewbacca’s in the back here. No, actually, it’s not that cold, but it is chilly enough. We’re here, we’re persevering with a podcast from a white van. I think we may decamp and have a little fireside podcast. I think, Alex, that might be an idea.
Alex: Great idea.
Dominic: We’ve got a nice little fire in the new house. Anyway, thanks for joining us, thanks for checking out the show if this is your first time. We’re not normally this crazy. Thanks to those people who left a review for us last week. Alex, I asked people to go onto iTunes and leave a review, and that is what people did as well.
Dominic: That was really nice of them.
Alex: Thank you, guys.
Dominic: On this week’s show, we have another interview. This is our hat trick. We had Rachel, we had Meagan, and today we are speaking to Shirin Merchant. Shirin is India’s leading dog trainer. She single-handedly transformed dog training in India, and I absolutely loved interviewing her. She was an absolute charm.
Alex: She was.
Dominic: We’re going to dive straight into the interview now, because I don’t want you to miss any of it. Alex, please roll the tape.
Alex: Here it comes.
Dominic: My guest today is a dog trainer and a behaviorist who works in Mumbai. She’s been credited with single-handedly changing the dog training culture in India. She’s been described as one of the best dog trainers in the world by none other than John Rogerson, which I know personally is a pretty high praise indeed. In 2002, she started India’s first canine magazine, Woof! She was the first Indian to conduct training classes, courses for pet dog owners. I could go on for 10 more minutes talking about what she’s been achieved, but we’d better hear from the lady herself. I’m delighted to welcome to the show, Shirin Merchant. Welcome, Shirin.
Shirin: Thank you for having me on the show.
Dominic: You’re very welcome, you’re very welcome. Are you having a good day? What time is it over there?
Shirin: It’s about 8:00 in the evening.
Dominic: Okay, great. We’re going to dive straight in with the greyhound round. That’s a quickfire round where people can get to know you a little bit better, if they’ve never heard of you before. Are you ready to go off the leash now?
Dominic: Awesome. First question, your favorite superhero?
Dominic: Nice one, good choice. Would you prefer to walk a Pug in the park, or a Boston at the beach?
Shirin: Pug in the park.
Dominic: Another good choice, you’re doing well so far. Favorite doggy film?
Shirin: Marley & Me.
Dominic: Good one, okay. I normally ask do people prefer Indian or Chinese food, but I’m going to ask you what’s your favorite curry?
Shirin: MY favorite curry? Thai curry.
Dominic: Good one, excellent. What’s a trick that you like to practice most often with your dog?
Shirin: Well, anything that involves Scent Work.
Dominic: Cool, yeah. We love Scent Work as well, that’s awesome. All right, I’m going to give you a nine out of 10 for those answers. You did really well, well done.
Shirin: Where did I get the mark?
Dominic: They’re so competitive, dog trainers. Everybody wants to get 10 out of 10 all the time. We touched upon your career in the introduction, but I want to go back a little bit further. Can you tell us where it all started for you, Shirin? Where did the love of dogs come from when you were growing up?
Shirin: I was born into a house that had dogs. I think my great-grandparents loved dogs, and my grandmother used to have me smuggle puppies into the house. It’s just in my blood, I guess. I’ve grown up with dogs, we’ve had more than two dogs at any given point in time. It was only natural that when I graduated, I wanted to work with animals. Either it was going to be working with dogs, or I wanted to work with marine mammals. Coincidentally at that time, I met my mentor, John Rogerson. I think the profession chose me, I didn’t choose it.
Dominic: Yeah, yeah, brilliant. I know John well, he had a similar impact on my dog training career as well. Apart from John, was there anybody else who you … Maybe it was in your formative years, when you were younger, who inspired you to work with animals?
Shirin: It’s mostly been John all through.
Shirin: There have been people when I studied in England from Moira, and other people like Karen Nelson, all of them used to do working trials with dogs.
Shirin: I used to spend a lot of time with them, with their training, when they went to competitions, and I think they inspired me hugely.
Dominic: Brilliant, brilliant. Tell me the story about how you had such an impact on dog training in India. What challenges did you face?
Shirin: Well when I started, it was about 20 years ago. When I finished studying in England and I came back into Indian, the entire country was about 200 years behind. To make matters worse, I was a woman in a male dominated field in a country that is highly male dominated. I had to prove myself from scratch, and from what John told me to do, he said, “Take your own little dogs,” I had a little Cocker Spaniel, at that time, at home. I took it, I trained it, and I competed in the obedience showing with that little dog, and we beat all the German Shepherds, and the Dobermans in the ring with all the local trainers. In doing so, I earned their respect.
As I slowly started out, I had to break a lot of mindsets. We didn’t have anything like behavior in our country 20 years ago, so if a dog was aggressive, it was labelled as rabid and went straight to be put to sleep. It was very hard for me to break those mindsets, I’m still working on it, an ever going on process. It’s slowly made a headway. When I run my training courses and I have my students out there now, the voice is growing larger. We don’t need to hit a dog, we don’t need to use a choke chain or a prong collar. There are ways of communicating with our dog.
Dominic: Brilliant, brilliant, yeah. Great advice. You didn’t succeed by telling people, you showed them with your own dog. That’s fantastic.
Dominic: I bet you’ve got some interesting stories about your many training and behaviour experiences in India. I bet … you know, pet dog owners in India, they struggle and they find it just as stressful sometimes as pet dog owners do in England as well. I like people to know that us dog trainers struggle a little bit as well. Tell us about something … What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you, as a dog behaviourist?
Shirin: The worst thing that’s ever happened to me would have to be when we have to work with the joint family system here in India. I have a case where I have the couple that own the dog, they came in and they brought their two children in. Along with them came the brother-in-law and the sister-in-law, and then the mother-in-law and the father-in-law, and then their uncle and aunt as well. Everybody stays in the same house. Nobody would agree on the dog. One would say, “She’s pampering the dog,” The other one would say, “Well, tell her not to let the dog out when my children are playing,” and the whole thing, in 10 minutes, just melted down into a huge family fight. I was sitting there just staring at everybody, and then they walked out on their own, and the dog and I were just sitting there with each other. There was a huge family feud over this, and the family split up all because of this dog. I must say, I was quite hopeless at that, and did not handle the family dynamics.
Dominic: People say that dog owners don’t agree on anything. They don’t realize that families are just the same. There’s definitely a movie in that story, Shirin. You should definitely develop that idea, that’s very funny. What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given in your life?
Shirin: The best bit of advice I’ve ever been given would be that nothing is ever … It doesn’t always have to be about the money. The best advice I’ve been given is that there are no pockets in a shroud.
Dominic: I like that. You can’t take it with you.
Shirin: What we leave behind, It’s our footprints that we leave behind, and it’s not how much we make in the process.
Dominic: Brilliant. Can you tell me a story about how you’ve used that advice in your business or your personal life?
Shirin: Tons of times. There are tons of people that would come to me, people who can’t afford the courses, or people who need genuine help. The last case I’ve had, especially when I work with assistance dogs. I’ve set up assistance dogs in India. I had a recent case of a young boy, must be a few years ago now, living with his grandmother because his mother passed away when he was about 38, and then his father abandoned him. Now he wants to work with dogs, because he’s also bipolar so nobody has to keep him on a job. There’s a lot of these people I’ve found, they prefer working with dogs because they feel dogs understand them better than human beings too. I help them get a step forward by making them do my courses, so then they can use that as a stepping stone to a career that can also support them, and they also feel satisfied doing something that they love to do.
Dominic: That’s awesome, yeah. You’re opening up a whole new world to them by using their love for their dogs. That’s fantastic. There’s so much we can talk about, but I want to try and keep it relevant for pet dog owners. If someone is listening to the podcast and they’re inspired to do some more training with their dog, to get on the floor and to play or to train their dog, everyone starts off, they’re really enthusiastic, but sometimes the dog isn’t so enthusiastic about it. What are the signs that people should look for to check if their dog is enjoying the training, or if he’s listening, that kind of thing? Or if he’s feeling stressed out, maybe.
Shirin: What I’ve noticed most of the time is we always do things that is perfect for the dog. We get what we think is the perfect toy for the dog, the perfect training for the dog. When was the last time we actually listening to what the dog was saying to us? Often we play games that are totally wrong for certain breeds. Sometimes the person playing them is not even listening to what the dog is saying. It becomes a one way conversation. It’s important when you live with dogs that you know how to communicate with them, because once you do that and you start listening to what they’re saying, you won’t hit a situation like you’ve described it.
Dominic: Okay, that’s good. Listen to the dog more, yeah?
Dominic: Brilliant. Thinking about things again from a dog owner’s point of view, what are the top three things that you would recommend every dog owner should do with their dog, to ensure that they have the least amount of stress and the most amount of fun?
Shirin: Well, one would be to play games that are appropriate to your dog. Often we try to play games that are not appropriate to the breed of the dog, and then we end with a dog that’s unsatisfied with the game because it’s not getting mentally stimulated. I’d say one would be to do that, then would be to give it the correct amount of exercise. One of the biggest problems we face in India with the pet parents is that they just don’t give enough exercise to their dogs, and then you end up with a lot of behavior issues because of that. I’d say give tons of exercise. That is, again, based on the breed that you’ve got. Give it breed related exercise. I would say the third thing is just learn to be patient, because our dogs are patient with us all the time as they try to understand what we are saying to them.
Dominic: Yeah, yeah, that’s great advice. I think the lack of exercise, I think that would be probably applicable in this country as well, and probably most other countries really. If you can get that right, then you’re halfway there. That’s excellent. Tell me a story about a typical behavior case that you might have dealt with lately, in these last couple of weeks or something, and how you dealt with it.
Shirin: Well, I’ve had an interesting couple of cases over the years. I think one of the most interesting cases that I had was one of these fancy socialites. She called me up at some point in time and she said, “I have this big problem. I have this little Shih Tzu in my house, and he is guarding the refrigerator because we keep his caviar in the refrigerator. Is there something you can do about it?” I said, “Of course, we can work on the guarding issue, all of that.”
We set an appointment to meet, she called me up the next day and said, “My father thinks it’s demeaning tot he dog to see a shrink.” I said, “Well, unless I meet you, I can’t really help you.” She said, “Well, I’ll figure this out.” I get a call back from her after four days and she says, “I don’t need your help anymore, I found a solution.” I said, “This is super. I want to know what kind of solution you found, because it’s great that you managed to put a fighting dog correct in five days.” She said, “Yeah, the simplest solution we’ve found. We bought the dog his own fridge, so now he guards his own fridge and he leaves ours alone.”
Dominic: That’s very practical.
Shirin: Yeah, I couldn’t argue with that.
Dominic: No, no. Yeah, often the most simple solution is right in front of you. It’s not always to buy another fridge for the dog but yeah, that’s a brilliant story. Fantastic, fantastic. What have you got going on at the minute, then? What are you working on at the moment?
Shirin: Well, I’m working with a certain agency that wants to grow the assistant dog concept across the country, and they want to work with the government. We’ve got a lot of government in this, to take the project all through the country, so that’s a huge, big step for us now, to grow on that. I am trying to reach out to more people. Every day I’ve had more people, as they write in from all over the country. It’s a constant process of dogs, dogs, dogs.
Dominic: It is, it is. Tell me a bit more about the assistance and that came about.
Shirin: Well, I was in England at the time that we had our war in India, the Kargil War, where the Indians and the Pakistanis were fighting. When I returned to India, we found there were a lot of soldiers that were suddenly disabled. One day able, and one day disabled, because of the war. Everybody was pitching in to help in some small way, so I said, “Even I want to help.” I said, “One way I could help is by making training a dog to help them become more self sufficient, and become more independent.”
That’s basically how I started off, but I think the first dog I placed was about 13 years ago. It was a young girl and she had met with a car accident, she lost both her parents in the accident, and she became paraplegic from then on. I trained and placed our first assist dog there, and then from then on, never looked back.
Dominic: Never looked back. That’s brilliant. How many dogs are you able to place? How many dogs go through the training?
Shirin: Up to now, about three dogs.
Dominic: Wow, brilliant. Excellent. It’s fantastic, you were able to give the dog a job and also help somebody else as well. It’s a perfect match.
Dominic: Where can people go to find out more about you and your work, Shirin?
Shirin: They can come to my Facebook page right now. I do have a website, but because I’m so busy working with dogs, I haven’t had time to set it up, but it’s shirinmerchant.com. It’s in terrible condition right now, but I do have a Facebook page, Shirin Merchant, so they can visit me there. I really update that regularly.
Dominic: Brilliant, brilliant. When you’re not helping with assistance dogs, or helping people with behavior problems, setting up magazines and things like that, how does Shirin Merchant like to chill out and relax?
Shirin: I don’t get to chill out and relax. If I’m not doing all that, then I’m driving my kids for their attendance class, or a math class, or making them do their homework. No chill out time for me.
Dominic: You’re busy, but you seem really happy as well.
Shirin: I am. You can’t be unhappy when you work with dogs.
Dominic: No, you’re right, you’re dead right. It’s absolutely fantastic. Shirin, I want to thank you very much for your time today. I really, really appreciate it and I would love it if you would be able to come on and speak to us again sometime.
Shirin: I’d love to. Thank you so much for having me on.
Dominic: Fantastic. Take care of yourself.
Shirin: Thank you.
Shirin: Bye bye.
Dominic: Alex, I know I say this after every time we do an interview, but …
Alex: How awesome was that?
Dominic: How awesome was that?
Alex: It was pretty awesome.
Dominic: She’s absolutely brilliant.
Alex: She’s a nice person, as well.
Dominic: Yeah, yeah, totally. Dog through and through, and she knows her stuff. Somebody I look up to a lot, actually, and I was really, really delighted to get her on the podcast. I was delighted that we just managed to get a Skype connection to work, initially.
Alex: That is true, yeah. We are contacting the other side of the world.
Dominic: Yeah, yeah. No, it was super smooth and so thank you, to Shirin, for sharing that time with us. On next week’s show, Alex, we don’t have a guest for a change. Me and you are just going to have a little bit of banter.
Alex: Bit of chat, no problem.
Dominic: Yeah. We’ll see what the weather is like, we may have to come to the fireside, we may do another podcast in a van. We’ll just wait and see how we go with that one. Actually, next week we’re going to be talking about … I’m going to be talking like a dog trainer next one.
Dominic: Yeah. Next week I’m going to be sharing some dog training terms that I think people might need to know, and some dog training terms that they don’t really need to know, as well.
Alex: I was going to say, it’s not like you much to be using all the jargon.
Dominic: Well, I don’t know that many anyway.
Alex: Well, yeah.
Dominic: That’s one reason why I don’t use very much of it. There’s a couple of things that I think pet dog owners, if they knew about, then it could help them with their dogs a bit more. Help them to have a bit more fun with their dogs.
Dominic: I’m not talking about dog psychology or dog whisperer stuff, anything like that. We’re not into that kind of carry on, but it’s just some simple things I think if people knew about, then it would help them have a bit more fun with their dogs, so that’s what we’re going to be doing. Having a bit more fun with your dogs is something that I talk about a lot in my book, How To Be Your Dog’s Superhero. If you haven’t got a copy, you should definitely buy a copy, because you will really enjoy this book. Shirin recently read it, she put a fantastic review on Facebook for me as well.
Alex: That was very kind of her.
Dominic: That was really kind of her, as well. She said it was an awesome book, perfect for pet dog owners. If you don’t believe me, believe Shirin, get yourself out there and buy the book. If you join the inner circle, then you will get a free copy of my book shipped out to you. You can join the inner circle this month, to the end of this month. What are we on now? The 24th? [inaudible 00:20:29] You’ve only got until the end of the month.
Alex: Whatever day it is.
Dominic: Yeah, whatever day it is, the end of the month, to join the inner circle and only pay £7 for your first month. If you want to do that, you should go to www.mydogssuperhero.com/innercircle/offer. That offer is going to disappear, like a dog fart in the wind, at the end of this month. Jump onboard, you will not regret it, I guarantee. That’s it from me.
Alex: That’s it from me.
Dominic: Thank you for setting all this up again, Alex.
Alex: No problem, stick the heat on there.
Dominic: Let’s get the engine on and start warming us back up again. Thank you guys for watching, and we’ll see you next week. If we don’t see you through the week, then we’ll see you through the window.