Fears among the Tribal Gujjar and Bakerwal communities of North-western Himalayas of Indian subcontinent are growing high that they may lose the rare breed of Bakerwali Dog for a number of reasons. The tribals are exceedingly worried that the oldest variety of the mastiff which protects big herd of livestock during bi-annual seasonal tribal migration may become a part of history in the near future as the population of this rear breed is declining alarmingly.
Bakerwali dog is a world-wide known breed of vegetarian dog considered to be among the rarest herding mastiffs in view of their strength and dependability. It only feeds on milk and bread made of maize or Phak (rice chaff ). The tribal knowingly serve only vegetarian food to their dogs as it helps them to keep away from attacking the flock for want of meat.
Origin of Bakerwali Dog
Some scientists believe that this is an oldest herding dog having origins in Central Asia. While others are of the view that this is a mixed breed of Tibetan Mastiff and the Indian Dog. Some trace its origin in India only saying that this is an oldest Indian Dog which since centuries has been surviving with the Gujjar tribe.
In some histories, this dog is shown as an ancient working breed found in the Hindukush, and Himalayan belt of Indian subcontinent, where it has been bred for many centuries by the Gujjar/ Bakerwal nomadic tribes as a livestock guardian and settlement protector.
Some historian trace the origin of Bakerwali Dog to some 3000 year back. This dog is much older than many dogs thought to be as relatives to the breed. The animal analysts define the lineage of Bakerwali Dog with some older breeds of Molosser including the Hyrcanian Mastiff, the Molossus tis Epirou, the Sylvan, the Tuvan Sheepdog, the Siah Sag, and the Iranian Sage Mazandarani and their descendants.
Largest population of this Bakerwali Dog is found in Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir and they are also in good numbers in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir besides frontier areas of Pakistan.
They also exist in some areas of Afghanistan. According to a rough estimate around less than a 1000 pure Bakerwali dogs are still surviving in upper reaches as against their 10,000 population in 1990s.
Characteristics of Bakerwali dog
Bakerwali Dog has a large in body. Conspicuous for its deep-chest, muscular and agility, the muscular and swift Gujjar/Bakerwal sheepdog has a straight back, broad shoulders and long legs. Its body is strongly boned, with a powerful neck and large head.
The approximate height of this herding Dog is about 28 to 32 inches with medium-length around 2.5to 4.00 feet. The average weight of this Dog is 25 kg to 60 kg.In J&K, Bakerwali Dog is found 5 colours includes Black, Tan, White, Tawny and pure brown.But the Bakerwals mainly likes pure black dog . They believe that such dog is lucky for the herd.
Due to cross breed in minor chunk of spices the size , colours and appearance of Bakerwali Dog have been wrongly effected. The Dog lovers categorised Bakerwali Dog as most daring, extremely alert and docile. It is known as most protective breed in the world. Being sociable this Dog is trainable to do the job u may assign.
In overall ranking Bakerwali Dog got five stars from world-wide lovers in 'Watchdog' category while this rare species earned 4 stars in shedding, intelligence, trainability, child friendly category. This Dog is obviously not dog friendly but it has tendency of being cat friendly. Bakerwali dog is most popular and daring in north-western part of India for its honesty, grooming, adaptability and highgenic qualities.
Threats to Bakerwali dog
The nomadic Gujjars and Bakerwals of Jammu and Kashmir because of the dwindling number of the rarest of rare traditional and indigenous species of world famous "Bakerwali Dog" are asking that this dog may be given the status of endangered species. As they fear that in the next few decades, this rugged, courageous and stern shepherd dog will become history being the most threatened species in the world.
The population of the dog started declining gradually since 1970 when owing to various reasons some of the people of the tribe relinquished their nomadic life, sheep, goats and dogs and permanently settled at various places.
After 1990 a steep decline in population of Bakerwali Dog was observed as number of dogs were killed during insurgency/conflict in the State in higher reaches of the State. During the gunfights many dogs were killed by the militants or the security forces.
Low productivity issue
Another interesting part of their decline is also their low productivity/ population tendency. The Bakerwali shepherd bitch which gives birth to pups only once in a year that the number is too less.
It gives birth one to four pups as compared to other breeds which give birth to as many as twelve pups in an year.
Bakerwali Dog in Indian Market
Owing to their less number, the Bakerwals /Gujjars do not sell these Dogs to anybody. With the result they are often stolen from higher reaches and taken illegally out of the state and sold. The approximate rate of this dog is between 75000 to Rs.150000 or above keeping in view the look and appearance of the dog.
Age and health issues
The Bakerwali dog has a natural life that averages between 12 and 15 years. After death Bakerwal/ Gujjars bury the dog in nearby area. Barring minor throat infections the breed being tough generally stand firm against all type of sickness.
The eyes, ears, teeth, and nails of the Bakharwal Dog are naturally look hygienic.
Hundred Dogs of this particular species surviving easily in most difficult and inhospitable conditions. The Gujjars / Bakerwal treat throat, rabies and other infections with local herb and shurbs. They rarely use vaccine to take care of their dogs .For these minor diseases the Bakerwals and the Gujjars used to give herbals to their dogs. 'Ratak' a wild herb is mainly used by the Bakerwal for minor diseases of Dogs.
Powerful Bakerwali dogs
A Bakerwali dog is extremely courageous and has a power to kill all alone, a lion, a tiger or a bear. This dog can fight with an animal much bigger than itself. The breed is intelligent enough as not to attack any human being during migration in the day light especially in thickly populated areas.
But in night they can kill a human being without giving any warning alarm to him/her, if he/she enters into the flock area under their guard One Dog can guard nearly 300 to 500 sheep/ goats/horses.
Folk-lore about Bakerwali dog
A number of folk tales are popular among Gujjars and Bakerwals narrate the bravery sagas of this dog. There is a belief among Gujjars/ Bakerwals that if the dog starts crying or weeping in the night, it is believed that the owner of the dog or some family members may face a great trouble in nearest future including a threat of life. If dog is reluctant to move on the occasion of start of annual migration, it is believed that they may face a big disaster in the year.
Its bark is a very high and authoritative in tone and is a main tactics of this Dog to warn away predators and avoid first confrontation. This is the most active breed which can guard the livestock 24X7 without taking even a short sleep. This dog is very intelligent and inflexible to a fault. As family dogs they are considered as an excellent companions due to their extraordinary qualities of alertness and vigilance.
The Gujjars/Bakerwals treat their Dogs like family members and give them due attentions as and when required.
(The author is a researcher on Gujjar and Bakerwal tribes)