(Notable People is a brand new series on SSQ that will look at the lives, works and creative practices of successful people from all walks of life)
She is an engineer who was a VP at a Silicon Valley startup before life threw her a curveball. Her dog Nishi, a boxer pup, met with an accident and lost half her face. Nishi underwent numerous surgeries and was in and out of the hospital for over a year. This is where pet owners usually abandon their pets. At least half the human population would take that path. But Sindhoor Pangal belongs to the other half. “I knew enough about dogs to know that such traumatic experiences can emotionally destroy a dog,” she recalls. Something like PTSD in dogs. Sindhoor was determined not to let Nishi suffer. She sought help from experts from around the world. And Turid Rugaas from Norway, a leading dog behaviourist reached out. Later when Sindhoor got a chance to study under Rugaas, she grabbed the chance. “I only saw it as an opportunity to meet an incredible human being who seemed to be able to talk to dogs,” says Sindhoor. “However when I came back from Norway, I realised that the dogs in Bangalore could benefit from the skills I had picked up.” That’s how the engineer who is also a classical dancer and deep sea diver turned into a dog whisperer and founded the Bangalore Hundeskole, more or less a first of its kind dog school.
How did you get involved with dogs?
I’ve always grown up with dogs. My grandfather was a farmer, and I believe that’s where my love for animals comes from. Dogs were my emotional support as I was growing up and I still draw immense warmth and comfort from them.
What is Bangalore Hundeskole all about?
Hundeskole in Norwegian means dog school. I started this in 2013. In the beginning, I made house visits or worked from my garden. I now have a 4000 sq ft facility in Koramangala. The aim of Bangalore Hundeskole is to use a scientific approach to providing holistic care to dogs.
What exactly happens at the dog school?
Private consultations for people with puppies or adult dogs with behavioural issues and weekend courses for people who want to know more about dogs. People typically seek private consultations if they have a new puppy and are facing puppy issues like leash walking, toilet training, chewing, nipping, etc. New pet parents also seek guidance on topics like diet and exercise needs of their puppy, dog communication, drawing boundaries, providing mental stimulation, etc. Owners of adult dogs often seek consultations if they are faced with problems like pulling on the leash, excessive barking, biting, reactivity (aggression), anxiety, separation anxiety, depression, etc. We also do weekend courses (basic, advanced and professional) for dog enthusiasts and canine professionals. Also, there are speciality courses – nose games, nutrition, health, natural exercise and massage for dogs. These courses are usually attended by aspiring canine behaviour consultants and pet parents who want to learn about dogs.
Dogs. Their ability to bounce back from just about anything, their capacity to forgive and forget, and move on and find joy is awe inspiring. I am also constantly inspired by the love my clients have for their dogs. It has humbled me to see how far people are willing to go for their dogs and I push myself to work harder for them. And my teachers. Turid, in particular, has dealt with so many things in her life, stood up to immense pushback from society and stood firm for what she believed in. Her resilience, her commitment to dogs and her energy help me orient myself and push myself.
What’s the key element in connecting with a canine?
The ability to step back and observe a dog and then empathy. You will see that the best ethologists and conservationists in the world have incredible ability to observe animals in silence and have tremendous compassion.
What do you look for before you begin training a dog?
All dogs are wonderful to work with. However, for me to influence behavioural changes in a dog, I need to be able to affect sufficient environmental changes. So, when I take on a dog, I am looking to see if pet parents are cooperative and committed.
What causes a dog to exhibit undesirable behaviour? based
Often, it has to do with the health of the dog, past experiences or the current environment. In most cases, it is a combination of these. This often followed by a communication failure where people are incorrectly reading what the dog is trying to say and/or are failing at effectively communicating their expectations to dogs.
What makes your work unique?
When an animal is put in a given situation, based on the ability of the animal, the animal offers the most appropriate behaviour. So there really is no “bad behaviour”. This is the cornerstone of my approach. When I am presented with a dog that is exhibiting an “undesirable behaviour”, I do not try to correct the behaviour or train an alternate behaviour. Instead, I identify what is causing that behaviour and address that. My aim is not to change a dog’s behaviour. Instead, it is to increase the welfare of the dog and improve communication to create harmony in the dog’s life. However, this holistic approach has a solid scientific grounding, based on a thorough understanding of the physiology of the dog, brain chemistry and ethological studies on the social structure of dogs and their inter and intra-species communication ability. It’s this and the conspicuously minimal training that makes my approach unique.
What do dogs suffer from the most?
More than 90% of the dogs I encounter in my life of work suffer from chronic pain of some kind. It’s a sad side effect of our breeding practices, poor training techniques, poor knowledge on dog ergonomics and exercise. All these dogs that exhibit “bad behaviour”’ are suffering in silence.
What is the most challenging part of being in this field?
Busting myths. Fighting ignorance. Unfortunately, dog training and canine behaviour counselling is an unregulated industry and is heavily influenced by TV shows that propagate myths and outdated bad practices.
What is the best part of being a canine therapist?
That’s easy – dogs! I get to play with dogs, and when they come back for their second consult, they greet me with so much joy. How many people get greeted by their clients like I do?
What’s a day in the life of a dog whisperer like
My day starts when one my doggies get up. We then drive to a quiet road for a walk. On our way back we stop off at a darshini to get some idlis and coffee. Kulli is a streetie who hangs out at the darshini. She always wants to play with us, and we love it. I then spend a good hour with my doggies at home – feeding, petting, massaging and grooming them. After that, I am off to see clients on four days a week or am conducting classes on four days a month. I look forward to lunch breaks with my friends who run a grooming parlour, and we end up talking about dogs. When I am not seeing clients or conducting classes, I work from home, preparing course material, studying for my professional development or working on one of my many projects that help increase awareness about dogs. Working from home is great too because my dogs are so good at reminding me to take timely breaks and they give me enough positive energy to pull me through all the challenges I face in a day. My favourite part of the day is, however, winding down with my doggies. We cuddle up on the sofa and watch my favourite political comedy till it’s time to go to bed. On days I want to stay up longer, I need to argue a bit with my doggies who keep reminding me that it’s bedtime. I feel like a kid trying to convince mommy “five more minutes please”.
Life lessons that you have learnt from dogs
- Let it go. Whatever it be, it was in the past. It’s not worth ruining today for.
- Be honest with your feelings. Don’t be afraid to let someone know you love them. Don’t play games with feelings
- Trust your gut. Nature is magical and works through you. Learn to tune into that channel and listen.
What’s the role of a dog in society?
Of all animals on the planet, dogs are the ones that chose to be with us. They make it easy for us to be in close contact with an animal. Building a bond with a dog, be it in our homes or a street dog friend, helps us become more empathetic with animals. Empathy towards animals and nature is the burning need of the hour.
One tip that you’d give others
Observe street dogs and their interaction with people and other dogs. That can tell us so much about dogs. Not all people have access to street dogs. We in India do, and we should make use of that to be so much better with dogs and animals in general.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
The most memorable response I have had came from a teacher. As I worked with her and explained to her how to deal with dogs and gently draw boundaries, she suddenly looked at me and told me that she had been taught all of this as part of teacher training for children but had not realized how to apply those and that having worked with me helped her deal better with the children at her school. I will never forget this. Empathy has universal applicability.
What is your dream project?
That would be, to scientifically study ancient Indian wisdom on animals. I have recently come to discover that many principles of Ayurveda and yoga can be used for the welfare of our companion animals. I am eager to research this in a more structured way. The idea is to approach these holistic health care philosophies with a scientific approach to making it relevant to pet parents today across the globe.
Your future goal
My next goal is to become a canine myotherapist. And I am studying under the best in the field, Julia Robertson. Myotherapy uses muscle manipulation to build strength and relieve dogs of pain. It uses principles very similar to yoga and is built on a sound understanding of dog anatomy and physics.
What are you currently working on?
Providing pain relief to dogs. Galen in India is a joint initiative between Bangalore Hundeskole and Galen Therapy Center, UK, to bring a team of myotherapists to India in May. Julia Robertson, the pioneer of canine myotherapy, will also be visiting us. She will be conducting talks and workshops for people who want to understand this subject better. The team will also be providing private consultations for dogs in pain. In addition to this, the team will be doing street dog studies to get measurements from street dogs that don’t live in humanmade environments that often cause for chronic pain in dogs. This data is expected to serve as a benchmark for the Galen teams practice back in the UK. It’s a project not only aimed to help our dogs in India but also, indirectly the dogs in the UK and the rest of the world. Pain is the No. 1 reason for serious behavioural issues in dogs that leads to them being abandoned or being put down. So this project is important to me.
Website: Bangalore Hundeskole