India’s first dog trainer and canine behaviourist Shirin Merchant talks about her journey, her experiences and her passion for dogs.
For someone who grew up into a home of dog lovers and lived with dogs all life, the passion to understand and live with animals is likely to come naturally and such was the case with India's first dog trainer and canine behaviourist Shirin Merchant. The 47-year-old Bombay-based woman has shown the world that Indian women can train dogs, which was considered an exception otherwise. "I have always been fond of dogs and I wanted to work in a field where I felt fulfilled. I have never given it a second thought. Working with animals is something I always wanted to do,” says Shirin, who has recently been awarded the First Women Award by Ministry of Women and Child Development.
It was after finishing college that Shirin realised her passion for animals and joined a short weekend course by world's leading trainer and behaviourist John Rogerson in India. Afterwards, she went to England for further training and became an associate member of John's prestigious organization – The Northern Centre for Animal Behaviour, England. Later, in association with John Rogerson, Shirin started her own organization called Canines Can Care - India's first organisation dedicated to pioneering a variety of canine-related activities in India.
After studying for four years, competing in working trials and learning from some of the best trainers in England, when Shirin started working in India, her expectations were taken a step back. She realised that dog training in India, was carried out by using primitive methods of intimidation and pain. “Dog behavior training was unheard here. There was a need for positive training methods so I decided to bring this change,” she explains.
Being a pioneer for over 23 years, Shirin has worked in the field of canine training and behaviour in India and steadily developed concepts such as behavioural training, canine trainer and behaviour courses, search and rescue dogs and assistance dogs for physically challenged people under her organisation. Her recently organised event was set to felicitate the dog trainers graduated from her organisation. “The journey of a pioneer is never easy. But if you are passionate about what you do then the journey, even though it is fraught with obstacles, becomes an exciting journey,” insists the trainer.
While most people think that a passion for dogs is all it takes to work in this field, Shirin claims that it is a wrong notion. “A canine trainer should be excellent at communicating with animals and reading their behaviour, a trainer also has to have good people communication skills and be good at convincing people to adapt and change,” explains the behaviourist. She further insists that at the end of the day, it is the pet parent who lives with the dog and they have the most influence over the animal.
Apart from training dogs and spending time in nurturing these four-legged friends, Shirin enjoys brushing her imaginations on canvas, swimming and trekking. A die heart traveller, Shirin has travelled many parts of Asia, Europe and America. “I like a few small countries in Europe, which are away from the crowd,” muses the trainer. Though she likes perusing extra curriculum activities, Shirin hardly gets time to herself. “Work, work and more work! I hardly ever get any time to myself,” she claims.
When asked about the recognition and awards, she says it is amazing to get recognised for the handwork but dogs bring you back to the reality very quickly. “It is an amazing feeling to get an award and to be recognised for many years of hard work. But as soon as the award ceremony is over, work resumes the next day,” ends the trainer.