1. Pariah type: A pure, indigenous and ancient race of dogs that evolved to a distinct appearance and character through natural selection, without human intervention. This generalized appearance was described by Dr I Lehr Brisbin as the ‘long-term pariah morphotype’ (LTPM). The southern Pariah-type dogs across continents have the same physical characteristics: these include erect ears, a wedge-shaped head and a curved tail. This is believed by some to be the original dog type. The Australian Dingo is a good example of the type. In India during the colonial era, the British named this type of dog ‘pariah’ after the Pariah community of Tamil Nadu, that was considered outcast. (The tribe is named after the drum they use, called parai). While the usage of the term is often derogatory, it has been commonly used to describe a dog type since the 19th century, and has no negative connotation in the canine context.The word Pariah is not used to refer to dogs in any Indian language, since there is in fact no exclusive connection between the Pariah community and the dog. There is also a Hindi word ‘paraiya’ meaning ‘from outside, not ours,’ but this too is not used describe the dog. The most common names in Indian languages usually mean ‘native’ (e.g. desi, deshi, gavthi) or sometimes ‘roaming’ dog.
  2. Pariah niche: The term is also used to describe the ecological role of an ownerless scavenger that is so common in Asia and Africa (hence Black Kites were earlier called Pariah Kites.) In this usage the word does not specify any race or breed. However in the more modern usage the word Pariah or Pariah-type is used to describe the primitive canine type/race/breed. Pariah breeds in some parts of the world have now been officially recognized by kennel clubs and are selectively bred. The Canaan Dog of Israel, African Basenji and New Guinea Singing Dog are among the best known such breeds.

Long-term pariah morphotype (see above)

Pi-dog, pye-dog A term used by the British during the colonial era. It also means pariah dog.

INDog A name coined by dog expert Gautam Das to describe the pan-Indian aboriginal dog or Indian Pariah Dog. It is an abbreviation of ‘Indian Native Dog.’

‘Indian Pariah Dog’ is merely a generic name and ‘INDog’ answers the need for a specific name for the aboriginal dogs of the Indian subcontinent.

Mongrel (called mutt in the US) A dog of mixed but indeterminate breed, whose lineage is not known.

The general public confuse pariahs/INDogs with mongrels, and many dog lovers still use the word ‘mongrel’ to describe al free-ranging dogs, whether pure or mixed-breed. This is erroneous as Indian Pariahs/INDogs are a pure indigenous aboriginal landrace not admixed with other breeds. Unfortunately this is not yet common knowledge, and even many dog-lovers still use the word ‘mongrel’ to describe all free-roaming dogs, whether pure or mix-breed.

In India almost all mongrels have Indian Pariah mixed in their lineage. They are usually mixed with European breeds, but in parts of India (such as the Deccan Plateau) the hybridization may date further back. INDogs here are mixed with local sighthound breeds, such as Karwanis (Caravan Hounds) and with Dhangar dogs (Maharashtran sheepdogs). Similarly, Himalayan mongrels are mixed with Himalayan sheepdogs.

Aboriginal The aboriginal breeds are autochthons. The alternative term ‘aboriginal’ has been chosen because it is more general use. The Random House dictionary defines ‘aboriginal’ as: 1. of or pertaining to aborigines; primitive. 2. native; indigenous; original. ‘Aborigine’ is defined as: 1. one of the original or earliest known inhabitants of a country or region 2. the original fauna or flora of a region.

Definition courtesy Primitive and Aboriginal Dogs Society (PADS)

Aboriginal Breeds There are four basic categories or groups of aboriginal dogs: Nordic/spitz, dingo/pariah, prick-eared hound and gazehound. They fit more than one of the following criteria:

  1. They were present in their area of origin before modern (3000 BC or so) non-native human intrusion;
  1. They are documented, direct pure descendants of long-term pariahs;
  1. They show few, if any, derived characters (other than hairlessness, drop ears and curled tails, which appear to be ancient mutations). A ‘derived’ characteristic is one not found in any species of wild canid or in pariah breeds. Examples are: merle or dilute coloration, flattened muzzles.

Definition courtesy Primitive and Aboriginal Dogs Society

Primitive dog The only truly primitive dogs today are the Australian (and perhaps the Thai) Dingo and the New Guinea Singing Dog. These are the only dogs still living in a totally wild state. Although many have been tamed (as the first specimens brought to their native lands must have been) and so reproduced in and near aboriginal habitation, they have never been domesticated. They are the proto-domesticate ‘generalized’ dog and are, according to the available evidence, still close in morphology, and probably behavior, to the dogs of 15,000 years ago.

Definition courtesy Primitive and Aboriginal Dogs Society (PADS)

Landrace A ‘landrace’ is a naturally occurring type of dog ‘breed’ in which the dogs are similar in appearance and usually behaviour. They were created by natural selection for their local environments (example: double vs single coats depending upon climate) and through only a small amount of direct artificial selection. These are not ‘pure’ breeds in the modern sense of having a narrow gene pool selected for some purpose, with no other breeds allowed to be crossed in. The oldest pure breeds would be the gazehounds of North Africa, Arabia, Middle Asia/Europe, as these have been maintained by religious edict as the only dog that is not ‘unclean.’ Other landraces maintain their general appearance and temperaments due to only small genetic contributions of foreign dogs being absorbed into the larger landrace, and also because the traits of the foreign dogs are not compatible and cannot be maintained under natural selection. Some ‘pure breeds’ have been created by selecting a few specimens from the larger variation found in the landrace: Kangal dog, Anatolian shepherd, Basenji, German Shepherd, Azawakh, Sloughi, Saluki, Afghan hound, etc.

Definition courtesy Janice Koler-Matznick, Primitive and Aboriginal Dogs Society (PADS)

Purebreed A dog of only one breed.

Pedigree A recorded line of descent. A pedigreed dog is a purebred dog with such a record.

Admixture Genetic admixture results from two or more previously isolated populations interbreeding. It introduces new lineages into a population.

Commensalism A relationship between individuals of two species, in which one species obtains food or other benefits from the other without either harming or benefiting the other.

Free-roaming dog/free-ranging dog A dog which lives or roams without restriction or human supervision. In India such dogs may be owned or ownerless (villagers usually allow their pet dogs to roam unsupervised). Ownerless free-roaming dogs are almost always attached to a specific human community and territory, though they may disperse in search of food sources.

Community dog, neighbourhood dog Terms used by the World Health Organization and World Society for the Protection of Animals in their Guidelines for Dog Population Management, 1990

Stray ‘Stray’ does NOT refer to breed or type, but to the dog’s ownership status and mode of life. A dog wandering without human supervision is usually described as a ‘stray’.

In India the confusion arises because most ‘stray dogs’ happen to be pariah type dogs or mix-breeds. This leads to the terms ‘stray’ and ‘pariah dog’ being used interchangeably. This is incorrect.

Purebreed dogs abandoned by their owners become strays. Pariah dogs and mix-breeds adopted into homes are no longer strays but pets. Commonly heard phrases such as ‘I own a stray dog,’ or ‘My dog is a stray,’ are a contradiction in terms.

In fact, the use of the word ‘stray’ for India’s free-roaming dogs is debatable. Dog enthusiast Gautam Das once pointed out that the usage arose from the British meaning of a dog that is owned by someone and has ‘strayed’ from its home or owner. In Indian languages such as Marathi, the word used is ‘bhatakta’ which would more correctly be translated as ‘wandering’ or ‘roaming.’ This is rather different from ‘straying’ which always implies that the dog is somewhere it shouldn’t be (with the further implication that a dog should always be in a human dwelling or not exist at all?)

In the Indian context, ownerless dogs are still attached to a territory. When wandering around their home range they are not ‘straying’ from anywhere in a literal sense.

In the countries of northern Europe the category of free-living or community dog does not exist, and any dog roaming unsupervised would therefore be an abandoned or straying pet. This is an example of English canine terminology being mechanically accepted for usage without taking the Indian context into consideration.

Even pet dogs in villages are usually described as ‘strays’ by urban people, since they wear no collars and roam unsupervised.

It might be best to use the terms ‘street dog,’ or ‘neighbourhood dog’ in the urban context, and ‘free-roaming dog’ or ‘village dog’ in the rural one.

(Note: In the 1990 Guidelines for Dog Population Management, by the World Health Organization and World Society for the Protection of Animals, the term ‘stray’ is described as ‘imprecise because a dog found straying may be lost, abandoned or merely roaming.’)

Feral The true meaning of feral is a domestic animal that has ‘returned to the wild.’

However, the World Health Organization and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) use the term ‘feral dog’ in a different sense in their 1990 ‘Guidelines for Dog Population Management’. Their definition of the term is ‘independent, unrestricted. Although it may need human wastes for sustenance, nobody will take responsibility for it.’

In our opinion, the use of the word ‘feral’ for India’s free-ranging dogs is misleading, since these dogs do not live in a wild state in any sense of the term, but are indirectly dependent on humans for survival.

‘Returned to the wild’ applies perfectly to the Australian Dingo, which lives by hunting and eating carrion, with no dependence on humans. Unlike dingoes, dogs described as feral in India are almost always human commensals and scavengers. They are only to be found near human communities, though many of them may not be owned. In fact, even owned dogs in rural areas scavenge.

Predation on wildlife by free-ranging dogs probably reinforces the description of dogs as ‘feral’. However, hunting is unlikely to be the sole source of food for any dogs in India. They are more probably scavenging dogs or even owned village dogs that hunt opportunistically, and are actually dependent on humans for survival. It would be interesting to know whether there are any truly feral dogs in this country.

Compiled/written by Rajashree Khalap