x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Endless quest to be Dubai's top dog

It's a long way to the top if you want a best in show. The day begins at 4am, with more than 20 pooches to train and pamper before the day ends. But for two brothers who work as international pet show competitors, it's all worthwhile.

An injured dog at the dog training centre outside Al Dhaid, a city in rural Sharjah. Jaime Puebla / The National
An injured dog at the dog training centre outside Al Dhaid, a city in rural Sharjah. Jaime Puebla / The National

"Some people think we're crazy and spending too much money, but we don't mind," laughs Mohan Janakarajan, one of two brothers who devote their lives to breeding and showing pedigree dogs.

"Maybe we are a little crazy, but this is our passion. It's like an addiction, once you're involved in it, it's impossible to stop."

And like many addictions, it isn't a cheap one.

Over the past 20 years Mohan, 38, and his brother Dharani, 41, originally from Chennai, India, have competed in dog shows across the world, but now focus most of their attention on India, Thailand and the UAE. As well as the expense of travel, they also import pedigree dogs from as far away as Argentina, South Africa and England. Dog food alone costs them Dh80,000 a year.

But their hard work - and hard cash - has paid off, and most of their pedigree pooches have each won a number of prizes, including the holy grail of dog show awards, the Best in Show.

Their dream is to attend Crufts, the most famous dog show in Britain and the biggest in the world.

"Every year we say 'let's go to Crufts'," Dharani says, "but then our work gets in the way and we miss it. But I know we'll do it."

This weekend their attention is closer to home, concentrating on training eight dogs for the 25th anniversary Pedigree Whiskas Dubai Pet Show tomorrow at The Sevens Stadium.

Last year the event attracted more than 35,000 visitors, but was marred when a poodle was killed by an American Staffordshire terrier.

Organisers have now banned certain breeds - including the American Staffordshire. Sadly for Chandra and Dharani, the banned list also includes the doberman, which dashes all hopes for their two-year-old doberman Kissme, who won the event's Best in Show last year.

"She's such a friendly dog," Dharani says, as Kissme comes bounding out of her kennel with her docked tail wagging. "It's a shame we cannot take her this year. There is a lot of miseducation about breeds, but rules are rules.

"She did so well last year, she is a beautiful dog."

The Janakarajan farm is not exactly the glamorous setting you might expect, considering it is home for tens of thousands of dirhams' worth of prize-winning canines. The two-hectare plot sits up a long and windy dirt track about five kilometres outside of Al Dhaid, a city in rural Sharjah.

The brothers employ six handlers to live on the farm so the dogs are never left alone. Many of the animals that stay with them for training belong to the country's royal families, so it is important that they are protected at all times.

The animals sleep in air-conditioned kennels and exercise in a large dirt field. They all socialise together, but Mohan and Dharani are very careful to separate the males and females when the dogs are in season.

Every morning they set forth from their Sharjah homes to train the dogs from 4am to 9am, and again in the evening. In the two months before competition, they train them for just three minutes each, five times a day.

Closer to the show, the training intensifies and the pair take a more strategic approach which they call "setup situation".

"We find out what time the individual events will be at, and we bring the dogs out at that exact time to train so they get used to it," Mohan explains. "It helps them get used to the temperatures and routine. So if the show is at 1.15pm, we train them here at 1.15pm."

Most of the Janakarajans' most prized dogs were imported, as there are very few pedigree breeders here.

A miniature pinscher called Spicy, who cost more than US$3,500 (Dh12,800) plus shipping from South Africa, has already proved she is money well spent.

As well as being crowned Best in Show at the Dubai Pet Show in 2010 and 2011, and runner-up last year, she had a litter of puppies that were sold on to other collectors.

"We sent her to America for mating, then brought her back," says Dharani. "For the mating you can pay between US$3,000 and US$5,000. Or you can import frozen sperm - technology has advanced a lot."

Their other favourites include a two-year-old male German shepherd named Faro, whose father is a world champion, and a two-and-a-half-year-old dachshund called Daku, who was imported from England at seven months.

The brothers usually breed their female pedigrees a maximum of two or three times before having them spayed.

There is a complicated science to breeding prize-winning dogs, they say, and it takes years of dedication and studying to master just the basics.

When buying a dog, they demand to see the genetic information of its parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents.

This gives them the best idea of whether the breeding line will be susceptible to career-ending problems such as hip dysplasia - which is the most common - and eye abnormalities.

With their German shepherd, for example, they consult a 446-page anatomy book that shows the ideal angles of the all the dog's bones.

"If you follow the guides properly," says Mohan, "you can avoid any health problems. It is when people do not do the breeding right, like in puppy mills, where they just let all the dogs mate, even if they are closely related, that problems happen.

"Proper breeders are totally against this."

The Kennel Club banned interbreeding - mother-son, brother-sister, or father-daughter - in 2009, barring anyone from registering the puppies of such a match.

This interfamily breeding was common when breeders wanted to exaggerate certain characteristics such as a flat face or small head, but it left some of the breeds with long-term health problems.

The Kennel Club website, based in the UK, now prints Breed Watch information for breeders to check any particular points of concern regarding a breed. For the German Shepherd, for example, it lists "weak hindquarters associated with excessive turn of stifle, cow hocks and sickle hocks."

Dharani says the problem with this breed, which is his favourite, is the show dogs have been bred to an anatomical standard too far removed from their natural working dog peers.

"The ideal thing was to have very low back end, a sort of curve, so breeders aimed for this, but it is different to the normal, working dog anatomy. But now they have identified that this is causing problems so the show dogs need to be bred with working dogs to bring them more in line. The Kennel Club is trying to save the dog and educate the people.

"We would never want to harm a dog or breed an unhealthy dog. Our dogs are treated like kings."