Have you ever seen a dog counting numbers and painting a canvass? Our Pet of the Month ‘Theodore’ has these unique qualities. Saba Poonawala, his bestie, has made him learn and acquire these skills. Being an educator and a celebrity hair and makeup artist herself, she has made him an artist too! Here are a few excerpts from her beautiful journey with Theodore…

Tell us about your journey with Theodore so far. How and when he came into your life?

We have always had animals at home. Ours has been a home where love for animals existed right from the beginning. So a home without a dog is unnatural to us. Plus our home is close to the river and dogs are needed for security reasons. With passing away of my oldest dog ‘Mischief’ and my other dog Diego entering his senior years, it was time for us to add a new member to our family. That is when I went through a list of ethical breeders and decided on bringing Theodore home.

Theo has been an absolute delight! A trait of a Labrador retriever is his ‘kind’ eyes. Amongst all the dogs I’ve seen in shows or even with pet parents, I haven’t seen any having the ‘kind’ eyes that our Theodore does. From his home coming, to becoming literally the star of our home, Theo brought back naughtiness and filled in the void we were left with when ‘Mischief’ crossed the rainbow bridge. He was the last one of the litter perhaps, so I didn’t get a chance to choose, but Theo had this look of innocence, which most dogs did not. He was different; he spoke with those kind eyes and won us over in under 10 seconds.

Theodore is a unique name. What is its meaning and how did you come up with this name?

I’ve never wanted a conventional name for my dogs. At the same time, I wanted to name him something that had a deeper meaning. ‘Theodore’ means ‘God’s gift’, and to us, he is God sent too! So it was a perfect name for him.

What is Theodore’s diet? How you plan his diet and take care of his nutrition?

One of the biggest factors I’ve always looked into is my dogs’ diet. I am severely particular on what they eat. In fact, his diet is better than ours! As such, I’ve ensured that he gets used to absolutely everything nutritious. This really helps when the dog is ill or in his senior years as that’s when specific nutrition is needed the most and being a fussy eater isn’t of any help. Theo’s diet consists of pumpkin, turmeric, cucumber, beetroot, sweet potato, banana, papaya, boneless chicken, flax seed powder, virgin coconut oil, green peas, carrots etc. The nutritional intake is as per his body weight. I do believe that the food given needs to be wholesome and at the same time it should be such that body retains the nutrients given by that food.

I’ve been wishing to take him for ‘shows’ and as such, extra care taken in his diet has helped him really ‘fill up’ in a healthy and non obese way.

You taught him how to count till 5 and recently you shared a picture painted by him on your social media handle. From where did you getthis idea of teaching him such things? What techniques do you follow while teaching him?

I feel that it is extremely important to ensure that a pet dog knows his basic obedience commands. This helps the family in long run to really enjoy with the dog and makes the dog too enjoy his own life to the fullest. Theodore is, perhaps, more intelligent than an average Labrador. His learning capacity is quite immense and that’s what I wanted to tap. He was able to learn his basic obedience commands in almost a month and a half. These included sit, down, ok, no, come, stay, up, jump, spin, off (no coming on the furniture what so ever), and most importantly ‘heel’. Now these are MANY commands for a dog to learn in this span of time, but Theodore was able to do this and that too in an unrushed and unconfused way. 

My bond with Theo, the fact that I love spending time with him and most importantly, my urge to learn and expand my knowledge about dogs made me do something different with him. You know as they say, if we can’t do something, we ensure that that talent is passed or fulfilled by someone else within the family. So despite being a leading makeup and hair artist, I can’t paint to save my life, and I come from a family of artists, so I decided to teach Theo to paint and take this tradition forward!

The techniques used with Theo and Diego have always been positive reinforcement. There’s no such thing as a bad dog or a dog that cannot learn. It is us who need to work around this. To teach him how to paint, I had to start with creating a drive or a liking towards paint brush. Now brush, obviously, is a metal and a hard object, which isn’t enjoyable by a dog to hold onto or chew. So I tied some cloth around it and lured him towards it. Over the time, this drive and affinity towards paint brush increased. This was followed with ‘hold’ and ‘touch’ commands where he had paint brush in his mouth and touched the canvas. Then a different and most flavourful reward was given upon completion of the trick. 

This isn’t an easy trick and there are many commands leading up to the final one. It has taken me a few months to practice.

How do you take care of Theodore’s grooming? Do you take him to any grooming parlour or do it yourself at home?

I groom my dogs at home because I simply enjoy spending time with them, plus I have the necessary resources. It helps me build a stronger bond with them and also learn about new techniques. Since I run my own Salon and Academy, the basics of hair grooming remain the same and this really helps me with my dogs. 

Irrespective of what anyone says, Iensure to bathe him once a week and this isn’t just a shampoo wash. After being rinsed thoroughly, a diluted shampoo wash is done, followed by a conditioner, rinse, a towel dry, and then a blast dry with a dryer. Once a month, he’s given an oil massage as well. After he has completely dried, there is a round of forward brushing with a grooming brush and then backward brushing. In case, we are going out, I add in a coat deodorant and a shine spray too! The idea is to maintain top notch coat quality and keep them clean and hygienic as much as possible.

How you choose products for Theodore’s grooming and hygiene needs? What products are you currently using?

I think this is season dependant. In case of monsoons, where I know due to being in the garden he may get slightly itchy, I will use an oatmeal based shampoo. At other occasions, any hydrating or super white shampoo works for me as that’s his coat colour. His ears are also cleaned regularly and nails are clipped by his vet. I also feel that it is very important to clean a dog’s anal gland and I take care that this too is done regularly in addition to deworming. 

Currently, I am using a range of Bio-Groom products.

Do you like buying accessories for Theodore? From where do you like to buy them – online, offline or any particular store?

Oh yes! I am not too fond of them wearing ‘clothes’ and going out, but Theodore looks dapper in his custom made Tuxedo from one of our designer men’s wear stores. He also has a vegan leather collar-leash-bow tie set from his favourite ‘We Exist’ online store and foundation for animal welfare.

Summarize your bond with Theodore.

Theo and I share a beautiful bond! A dog teaches you unconditional love for sure, but Theo taught me the importance of having fun while flinging rubber ‘chappals’ all over the house, to celebrate small joys of running away with maid’s broom, pleasure of chasing butterflies, happiness and oneness of being with nature by rolling in puddles, cleverness of wanting a biscuit by running away with doormat and making me chase him – eventually giving a biscuit to get the mat, and simple love and kindness when he rests his head on my lap after a long or difficult day at work. Our bond goes beyond the conventional bonds because he has filled that space and that void in my heart with his kind eyes, his golden heart, and his bunny hop jumps, which I was left with when we lost Mischief. He has helped me learn more about dogs in general than I ever knew and that’s because of his supreme intelligence. They say that for a human, he or she has many things to look forward to in this world, but for a dog their human is their whole world. But with Theodore, I feel that he is my whole world too, just as I am his.

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