It’s safe to say that dogs are the one species of animals, irrespective of shape and size, that possess an unexplainable and innate capacity to make anyone melt into a large pool of happiness. But over the last few years, dogs have surpassed being companions - they’ve become a status symbol. Pedigrees have become token possessions, and in this race for owning the most exotic pets puppy mills and abuse by dog breeders have become a growing concern, as has pet abandonment, once the mystique and hype of owning, let’s say, a Saint Bernard in Mumbai, fades and the real responsibility of it dawns.
As the country continues to steer towards imported breeds, India’s own indigenous canines have been slowly dying out. Shunned as ‘strays’ and ‘mongrels’, there are, and have been for years, a variety of fascinating Indian dog breeds with rich histories that we rarely hear of. While they have been historically associated with hunting and herding activities, they’ve nevertheless made for the best of companions.
While naturalists and conservationists are working hard towards preserving these exquisite lineages, several of these dogs are rapidly declining in their numbers due to neglect and poor breeding techniques. Some of the breeds, such as Lut, haven’t been seen for years, while others still carry on due to concentrated efforts at carrying on their lineage.
Today, we explore some of India’s very own unique and wonderful breeds that too few know about. Who knows, you may have already spotted some of these in your life, without even realising it.
I. The Chippiparai Hound - A Sight For Sore Eyes
This streamlined sighthound finds its roots in Tamil Nadu. Bred by the royal families of Chippiparai, near Madurai district, the hound continues to remain a symbol of royalty and dignity in the Tirunelveli and Madurai region. The Chippiparai were bred predominantly for the purpose of hunting, where the hounds were used to find and kill prey such as deer, wild boar, and hare. Interestingly enough, it’s the position of their eyes that gives them a predatory advantage. With a 270-degree scope vision, which is far more than most breeds, these dogs are gifted with extremely keen eyesight.
Temperament & Features: At the first look, the Chippiparai is very easily mistaken for the Greyhound. However, this breed epitomises an agile and swift breed of silent hound dogs; proving to be the perfect guard dogs for homes and estates, protective of the family and affectionate as a pet. They’re also known for their ability to imprint on one human being, often becoming dedicated to that individual for the rest of their lives, making them the ultimate one-man dog.
Status: Unfortunately, this graceful and magnificent hound is nearing extinction and are in desperate need of preservation and care by their breeders.
II. Jonangi - The Lakeside Herder
The Jonangi breed of dogs is native to the Kolleru region in Andhra Pradesh, where it was once found in abundance near the Kolleru Lake, west of the Godavari and Krishna districts in the state. They were believed to have been used as watchdogs and for herding ducks. Somewhat reminiscent of the bull terrier, the Jonangi is a primitive breed that is wary of strangers, and also has a usual yodelling sound that it makes instead of barking.
Temperament & Features: The Jonangi are agile, quite easily trainable and extremely intelligent. A unique quality of these dogs is their short and shiny coats, coming in colours of fawn, biscuit brown, chocolate, black and white. But don’t take their adorable wrinkled forehead, floppy ears and curled tails at (adorable) face value - standing between 17 to 21 inches at the withers, they’re fierce in combat.
Status: The Jonangi developed a unique fish hunting ability when a large population of the dogs were left to survive by themselves after the farmers in the region left. The breed almost neared extinction when local farmers and aquaculturists began killing the dogs for intervening in fishing activities. But recently, many breeders and farmers have increased their numbers for the purpose of protecting their livestock from predators.
III. Rampur Hound - A Man’s Royal Friend
Native to the Rampur district in northern India, between Delhi and Bareilly, the Rampur Hound is a breed that truly has royalty in its blood. These dogs were bred by the Nawab of Rampur, Ahmad Ali Khan, by combining the bloodlines of the ferocious Afghan Hound (Tazi) and the English Greyhound, which were a more obedient breed. The primary advantage of this breed is that they thrive in Indian weather conditions.
Dating as early as the 20th century, the Rampur hound is a fearless hunter and is believed to powerful enough to take on lions, tigers and coyotes.
Temperament & Features: The Rampur hound prides itself on its exceptional sight and its companionship with humans. Perfect as a hunting dog and a pet, these dogs have very little adjustment issues. They are also known for their loyalty towards their owners and surprisingly enough, amiability with other dogs.
Status: Currently, these hounds have experienced a steady decline in their popularity and numbers. Predominantly restricted to rural populations in India, rural Rampur Hounds are bred and used for protecting estates and also for companionship.
IV. Kombai/Combai - The OG Army Dog
With a face that strikes the perfect balance between freakishly adorable and terrifyingly fierce, these hounds were named after the city they were bred in - Kombai, Tamil Nadu. The origins of this breed can be traced back to the 15th century, while other natives argue that they may even date back as early as the 9th century. This specific breed was used by the armies of the Marudhu brothers (known as the Marudhu Pandias), who headed the revolt against the British colonialists at the beginning of the 19th century. The Kombai continues to be very popular in South India, where they are celebrated as fierce hunters and loyal family pets.
Temperament & Features: The Kombai are stocky, muscular dogs rumoured to be strong enough to kill a bear! With exceptional sight and strength, the Kombai was bred to hunt down prey like wild boar, deer and bison. This breed has a lineage and an upbringing that ensures minimum breed-related health problems.
Status: While there isn’t clear data on the status of this breed, naturalists and conservationists have been known to come together to revive this popular breed. A report by The Hindu
claims that while the Kombai is still prevalent across many parts of Tamil Nadu, there aren’t quite as many of them as there were 25 years ago.
V. Rajapalayam - The Forgotten Warrior
The Rajapalayam is one of the few bred pedigree dogs that were popularised to hunt for wild boars and other small prey. Bred in the Nayak dynasty of Tamil Nadu, scholars believed that the Rajapalayam were used in the Carnatic and Polygar Wars. Since the time of origin, they were extensively used as guards for rice estates, farms and have their fair share of legends associated with their lineage. One story goes along the lines of four of these ferocious dogs killing a tiger to protect their master’s life.
Temperament & Features: The Rajapalayam’s stand-out feature is the milky white fur coat. Interestingly enough, this is a feature that is standard across all dogs of this breed, that is to say, that this is one of the few rare breeds that do not come in multiple colours. With baby pink noses and skin, their physical features are attributed to an albino effect. Additionally, their trademark loyalty and guarding potential have landed this breed the position of resident guard dogs of the Indian Army at the Kashmir borders.
Status: The Rajapalayam is dangerously on the brink of extinction. With only a few pockets in Tamil Nadu that have the presence of this breed, there have been several efforts to encourage their breeding and to popularise them in the country. One such initiative by the Animal Husbandry Department of the Tamil Nadu government has sponsored dog shows and breeding centres in the state in order to prevent the total elimination of the breed. In fact, this breed even adorned postage stamps to create awareness.
VI. Gaddi Kutta - The Indian Panther Hound
History: This is another breed of mountain dogs of a mastiff-type and is found particularly in the western regions of the Himalayan ranges, such as Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. Aptly crowned the Indian Panther Hound, the Gaddi Kutta’s origins can be traced back to the Mahidant Mastiff. The name Gaddi was derived from the Gaddi tribe and legend has it that these dogs are powerful enough to ward off attacks by snow leopards. While this breed is especially known for its agile hunting skills, this mastiff is also very popular amongst farmer and local shepherds.
Temperament & Features: Usually calm and gentle with its owners, the Gaddi Kutta is however quite aggressive towards strangers. With an unlimited stock of energy and excitement, these dogs are also a hard breed to train and handle. Renowned for their courage and unparalleled protective instincts, these dogs have a massive skull and an arched neck which acts as a natural shield from predators.
VII. Kanni - The Silent Doberman Doppelgänger
History: These dogs are actually an extension of the Mudhol Hounds and were primarily bred for hunting. This majestic looking breed of canines find their origins in the state of Tamil Nadu and was originally bred and raised to hunt prey. But as of recent times, their popularity has been limited to rural households within the southern state. The breed is found in regions around Sivakasi, Tirunelveli, Kovilpatti, Madurai and Pollachi.
Temperament & Features: These dogs are best known for their uncanny likeliness to the Doberman pinscher dogs. The difference between the two lies the formers long tail and ears. With a long and slender body, the Kanni is characterised by its deep chest, agile limbs and muscular appearance, making it one of the finest hunting breeds. Contrary to its ferocious look, the Kanni is quite the shy dog that doesn’t bark too much and is more or less a silent hound. However, the quiet and timid persona is immediately shed when their masters or home territories are threatened. With an exceptional affinity for loyalty, these dogs can also be trained easily.
Status: The numbers of the Kanni dogs have plummeted significantly and all efforts taken to revive and preserve the breed are making only a marginal difference. According to a report by the Times Of India, a dog breeding unit in Chennai has begun to shift its focus towards breeding indigenous dogs, like the Kanni, in the hopes of increasing their numbers.
VIII. Mudhol Hound - The One That Travelled
Popular around the Mudhol Taluk regions of Karnataka, the native Mudhol Hound is a royal breed of sighthounds. These dogs were found predominantly in the Deccan Plateau region, and it is believed that they were descendants from the Saluki and Tazi breed. Extremely popular in the South, the Mudhol hound was initially called the Caravan hound by the British as they were known to accompany people in caravans and other local villagers who owned the dog.
Temperament & Features: These slender-bodied and long-snouted dogs are the ideal hunting hounds. With features similar to that of the Chippiparai, the Mudhol hounds are gifted with sight that is twice that of the human capacity. They are also intelligent and devoted dogs, with the ability to imprint on their masters. Ironic to their regal characterisation, these dogs are actually quite shy upon the first meeting.
Status: Their numbers began to drop rapidly in the 1990s due to poor awareness and it soon became one of the rarest of indigenous breeds, nearing the verge of extinction. However, in 2009, the Karnataka State Government set up a Canine Research and Information Centre to raise awareness and assist the local villagers in breeding the hounds, through free medical and training facilities; the initiative also greatly facilitated in turning around their numbers.
IX. Pandikona - The Parent & The Hunter
This breed can be traced back to the Vijayanagar Empire and is now found predominantly in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. Believed to have been bred around 300-400 years ago, these dogs were named after the village Pandikona. Instead of resorting to iron spears and killing, the predatorily feline problem troubling the village was resolved by breeding these hunting hounds.
Temperament & Features: These dogs were superlative in size, strength and ability to resist disease and infection. Apart from their strong guarding instincts, the Pandikona is also quite the doting parent. These sharply built canines are actually huge softies on the inside and exhibit protective tendencies towards their young pups and any children within their owner’s families.
X. Bully Kutta - The Beast From The East
Lore suggests that during the British invasion, colonial soldiers brought along their mastiff dogs with them, and because these English dogs couldn’t just keep to themselves, a new breed of Bully Kuttas was born. However, there is significant debate over the origins of this breed - Indian vs Pakistani origin stories - and whether or not this breed and the Pakistani Mastiff are essentially the same.
Temperament & Features: Regardless of the ambiguity in its origins, the Bully Kutta is a strong and dominant bulldog mix, and is to this day still used as a guard and fighting dog - especially in Pakistan. These aggressive mastiffs have thick-boned and muscular structures that facilitate their sparring abilities. They are intelligent and noble dogs that have a keen sense of sight and smell, but adorably enough they also have the affinity to drool and nap all day.
Status: These friendly beasts are found across Pakistan and is even considered a ‘national treasure’. However, they are rare to find in the Indian sub-continent and their numbers have been decreasing as the breed is still used for sporting and sparring events.
XI. Banjara Hound - A Nomad’s Best Companion
Also known as the Vanjari hound, these dogs are a special breed of hunters and herder that are indigenous to northern India. Kept exclusively by the nomadic Vanjara people, these hounds are believed to possess the speed and agility of a Greyhound and the stamina of a Collie. The Vanjara nomads are the largest gypsy group in India and these dogs accompanied them from place to place. Additionally, these dogs were quite indispensable as sighthounds.
Temperament & Features: The Banjara Hound has a thick and dense coat of fur, making them the best cuddle buddy a man or woman could have. They also have alert and roguish expressions on them, especially when roused and provoked. Initially, this breed was expected to hunt prey, guard camp-sites and aid in moving and herder livestock.
Status: The Vanjara people have left behind their nomad days and have integrated into mainstream society. With this continued consolidation of the nomads, the breed is currently at a dangerous risk of uncontrolled inbreeding and pure Banjara Hounds are in scarce numbers today.
XII. Indian Spitz - The Tiny Colonialist
This is a breed that needs quite a bit of attention and pampering. But worry not, these dogs guarantee to give back double the love. According to zoologists, the Indian Spitz is said to have evolved from the wild wolf, after which they were domesticated around the world.
This breed was particularly popular amongst dog lovers during the ’80s and the ’90s. The British began to breed these dogs from a stock of German Spitz, and the resulting ‘Indian version’ was perfectly suited for India’s hot and humid climates.
Temperament & Features: Apart from their adaptability to the country’s weather conditions, the Indian Spitz is quite popular for being ‘travel-sized’. These dogs are also often mistaken for the Pomeranian dog, despite having several differences.
Interesting fact: this highly intelligent breed of dogs actually gained even more popularity through its appearances as Tuffy in the Bollywood movie Hum Aapke Hain Kaun, in 1994.
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