There's a typical Indian dog on which all others seem to be based. He – or she – is mid-sized, standing about knee high to a typical adult and is most likely to be gingery brown although black and tan varieties are also common. What you won't often find is a fully black dog or a 'something and white dog' – the gingery brown is the mark of the Indian dog. In most of India he's short haired although his mountain cousins grow longer coats to cope with the cold and they certainly need the extra help.
The typical Indian dog has a pointed face, a slightly 'foxy' look, and a trim body since few get fed regularly enough to run to fat. Many have curly tails and depending on how much trouble they've got into in their lives, they may be missing part of that tail – Indian dogs are not overly blessed with road sense and the lucky ones will escape with only the loss of part of their tail.
The favourite activities of the Indian dog are scavenging, running around with their pack and, best of all, finding a sunny patch to sleep in – never mind if it's in the middle of the road or right behind someone's car, a dog's gotta soak up the sun.
Most of these typical Indian dogs have no official home although many will have found a family or shop to adopt. Most Indians – with the exception perhaps of Muslims who I’m told believe dogs to be unclean – seem quite happy to have a dog about the place if that dog chooses them as its humans. Dogs massively outnumber cats on the streets of India and it's much rarer to come across a cat.
The Indian dog is low maintenance and he won't expect you to groom him, take him to the vet, get his inoculations or buy him presents – he certainly won't expect you to get him neutered. In return for his offer of something akin to affection and a bit of barking if anyone comes to your home, he'll expect little more than your warmest patch of sunshine and a few kitchen scraps. He won't expect to be fed twice a day – he's more than capable of dealing with keeping himself fed as he strolls the streets with his canine buddies.
In a city he may – if you've neglected to give him a good place to sleep – choose to roam the streets with his friends, howling loudly long into the night. Whilst this is amusing for a short while it grows stale very quickly. Indian girl dogs will produce pups with regularity and these will be some of the cutest little critters you've ever seen. However the tourist should take care not to be lured into petting puppies or full sized dogs. At best they'll have fleas, at worst you'd better hope you paid for your rabies jabs, the ones that cost a fortune and need redoing every 3 years. Cute means 'look but it’s better that you don't touch'.
Very occasionally you'll see a dog that doesn't meet the norm of the highly evolved and perfectly adapted Indian ginger dog. In the Himalayas we came across a couple of small white fluffy dogs and a number of what appeared to be pedigree Alsatians. We even saw two St Bernards who looked right at home in the mountains and are even better adapted to the snow than the archetypal hairy version of the standard mutt. However all of these other dogs will never match up to the standard Indian dog in terms of survival skills and adaptation to their environment.
In the cities you may occasionally come across pedigree pets but these are restricted to well-to-do areas. If you've got a dog that’s not evolved to take care of himself (and one that's worth quite a lot of money) then you can't just let it go out and stroll the streets. You'll need to hire a walker or have a spare servant or two to take him out for exercise and toilet breaks. You'll not want your posh top dog to be hanging out with the local boys – especially if she's a girl – so if you don't want your dog mixing with the wrong kind of dogs, you'll need to make sure that it's rarely off the lead and that any potential suitors are kept away. We met the owners of an upmarket Delhi B&B whose small pedigree pooch had been shaved and stitched after an altercation with a monkey in the garden. The poor little thing was all fluff and no fight and came off much the worst in the negotiation.
It may seem like a strange thing to say, but I’ve passed many an Indian hour watching local dogs doing their thing. I fall in love with most of them, especially the cheeky ones, the ones with the bent tails or the ripped ears but when they’re out running around the streets at night howling like banshees, I’m ready to go out with a sling shot and ping rocks at the lot of them.