The Thai Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

— by Roger Abrantes

 

We all know Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the brave mongoose from Kipling’s ‘The Jungle book.’ This is the story of Mah Noy, the brave dog from Koh Lanta Yai in Southern Thai.

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi

Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose hero from Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.”

Koh Lanta Yai (เกาะลันตา) remains one of  Thailand’s well-kept secrets (I shouldn’t even reveal the name). It is relatively close to the better-known islands of Koh Phuket and Koh Phi Phi, but is practically inaccessible, requiring two flights, a long drive, and two ferry trips. Tourists are few and far between on this particular South Andaman island and it is virtually devoid of Western influence, except for a few resorts for those who want a taste of unspoiled paradise. Koh Lanta Yai is the biggest of 52 islands of which only 12 are inhabited.

Of course, it’s much easier for me to get to Koh Lanta, as I am resident on a neighboring island only 43.5 nautical miles away. The beaches of Koh Lanta are idyllic: the sand unsullied the water clear and warm (about 86-88º F) and the underwater world along the coral reef just breathtaking (although not literally, I’m happy to say). I always look forward to my diving assignments nearby, drifting above the Staghorn and the Anemone corals monitoring the various species’ fortunes. What a great job!

Thai Fisherman With Dog

Thai fisherman like to have their dogs with them for company and practical purposes.

When I’m working in Koh Lanta, I always go ashore in the evening and stay in modest accommodation right on the beach. On one of these occasions, just before sunset, I was sitting in front of my bungalow, cleaning my equipment, when two children came along to talk to me, as always, curious about foreigners.

I had seen them both before; they belong to the food booth where I often eat, just behind the bungalow. We talked about the sea and the fish and about my diving gear, which of course fascinates them.

After having washed my gear, I decided to walk the 30 yards up the cliff to grab something to eat, and the kids followed me. My Thai is not as good as I would like, but my inadequacies have their advantages. As it is so difficult to pronounce words correctly, I nearly always commit embarrassing mistakes that produce a great deal of giggling—and giggling is the best way I know to decrease distance between strangers.

Woman with her dog: Thai street food booth

Thai street food cooking and selling is a small family business and since dogs are part of the daily life in Thailand it is not unusual to see them with their owners at work.

“Khun cheu aria?” (What’s your name?), I asked the little boy who was giggling the most and who happened to have one of his front teeth missing.

He told me his name, which sounded funny to me. Thais have all sorts of interesting nicknames, and they are especially fond of animal names. Elephant, shrimp, crab, fish, bird, duck, rabbit, turtle, and even chicken are common names—but I’ve never heard a nickname like this little boy’s. It was then that his mother, Poo (Crab), the owner of the food booth, told me the story.

Five years earlier, two days after giving birth to the now gap-toothed boy, Poo was cooking dinner whilst the family dog catnapped behind the cradle where her newborn baby was happily babbling away to himself.

Thais usually cook outdoors. It’s always warm and they don’t like the smell of food indoors. The dog was typically Thai, of unknown origin, the size of a small spaniel, with an unruly black and white coat, and friendly, deep brown eyes. They had found him on the street a couple of years beforehand and had fed him. For want of a better name, they called him just (หมาน้อย), Mah Noy. He stayed around and finally moved in a couple of weeks later after conquering their hearts. The pressure of natural selection for dogs in Thailand is on kindness. The kindest dogs have a greater chance of survival and pass on their ‘kinder’ genes to their progeny.

On that particular day, Mah Noy gave Poo such a fright she almost lost hold of her hot pan, which could have resulted in serious burns. The dog had suddenly emitted a deep growl and then in two agile, determined jumps, just missing the baby’s cradle, he launched himself on top of a cobra, biting it firmly behind the head.

Thai boy and puppy

Mah Noy (หมาน้อย), the boy, got his unusual name for a good reason.

The Andaman Cobra (Naja sagittifera) is an impressive snake, measuring about three to four feet in length. The effects of its venom are devastating; it is capable of killing a human in 30 minutes.

Poo was terrified, rushed to pick up the baby, and ran out of the front gate into the street where she began shouting for her husband. Na (short for Chai Cha Na = victory) came running to the scene and charged into the backyard to grab a spade. The cobra was lying a few feet from the dog, apparently lifeless, but, just in case, Na cut it in two with a well-aimed strike with the spade. Mah Noy looked up at him, gasping for air, and barely able to wag the tip of his bushy tail. Na understood right away that the dog was dying, picked him up and, holding his dog firmly on his lap with one hand, he rode his motorbike as quickly as he could to the local vet.

On the way to the vet, Mah Noy peed and pooped on his lap. Na stopped to get a better grasp on the dog. Mah Noy looked at him, gasped for air for a last time and gave a final wag of his tail. Na understood it was too late for the vet and the strong fisherman from the South Andaman Sea began to weep like a child, right there on the side of the road to Klong Dao, in the fading light of the day on which he had come so close to losing his first-born baby boy.

When Na got home to Poo and their newborn, they buried Mah Noy in their backyard and placed a yellow marigold on top of the grave (yellow is the color of friendship for Thais). That evening, they decided to call their baby boy หมาน้อย, Mah Noy, which in Thai means ‘puppy.’

Sawasdee khrap,

ชีวิต ที่ด

 

The Perfect Relationship

I’ve posted this clip before, and I’ll do it again. I can watch it repeatedly and never get tired of it. It’s just beautiful.

This is what we want: the perfect relationship. This is something to aim at, to uncover the secret of these two—child and dog—replicate it and promote it.

It’s so simple that it is shocking.

Please, watch this short clip with an open mind, preferably several times. We see what we think and feel, seldom what we are looking at. Forget all about politics, labels and all the artificial constructs with which our biased, adult human mind enslaves us, ruling us with an iron hand.

Just watch, enjoy, and allow it to inspire you.

 

ChildDogPuddle

 

 

 

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The Little Boy and His Dog

 

 

This is a beautiful recording of a beautiful moment. What strikes me most in this clip is the peace emanating from both the little boy and the dog. It is but an elusive instant in the infinite history of time, but, for all they care, the world could be in flames. That one moment they share, nothing can take from them, it is all they have there and then. It will never be undone, it will never be any different, frozen as it is for all eternity. They are what they are and they are no different. Peace comes not from striving and desiring, but from being—no conditions, no expectations, no questioning the past or querying the future. Life is what it is, and any relationship is unique because it involves unique individuals, unique conditions.

The magic of life lies not in living against, but in living with.

__________

As much as I would like to credit the author of this clip, unfortunately, his or her name remains unknown to me. Thanks for allowing us to share this beautiful, private moment.

__________

PS— At 1730 hrs GMT, 10 hours after I published my blog, I got a message from my Facebook friend Joeson Hsu from Taiwan giving me the information I missed. Thanks, Joeson. The author of this movie is Ana, the mother of Herman, the little boy, and the dog is Himalaya.  Thank you so much, Ana, for sharing with us. Indeed, communication is a will, not a question of language or species, and a relationship is a natural thing.
 

ChildAndDog

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How to Avoid Problems with Children and Dogs

Children are good dog trainers.

Children are good dog trainers if we instruct them properly (picture from “My First Dog Book” from 1997 by Roger Abrantes).

 

Too many misunderstandings between child and dog end tragically with the dog biting the child. Usually, the dog is rehomed or destroyed. The child may retain physical or emotional scars for the rest of his or her life.

We must take any problem between children and dogs extremely seriously. Best of all, we should set preventative measures into action before accidents happen. Allow me to be blunt: when a dog bites a child, it is always the adults’ responsibility. If a child and a dog misunderstand each other so blatantly, it is because we (adults) have failed. We haven’t been good enough in explaining to the child how dogs understand our behavior; and we have been irresponsible dog owners, as we should have taught our dogs to respect a child always and unconditionally. Subsequent apologies and explanations are useless.

A child must never pay the price for her parents’ ignorance and the dog owners’ negligence—nor must a dog. Period.

Even if you are not a parent, and you are not planning to be, you must teach your dog to accept children and to behave properly in their presence. We should regard every child as our own, our priority to protect them all. A bitten child is a mark of shame for all of us, dog owners.

Playing safe is the best advice I’d give you. Be particularly attentive at the following potentially dangerous situations:

Daniel and Rassi doing scent detection in 1997.

Daniel and Rassi doing scent detection in 1997. Scent detection games are excellent to teach children and dogs to work together.

  • The dog must never be allowed to pick up the child’s toys in its mouth. If this happens, instruct the child not to attempt to take the toy from the dog, but to tell you, or another adult.
  • Do not allow dog and child to play rough games where unforeseen consequences are unavoidable.
  • Instruct the child not to run in the dog’s presence, as this is liable to encourage the dog to chase the child.
  • Discourage all attempts by the dog to jump up at the child, as this scares most children.
  • Do not allow child and dog to sleep together. We never know what might suddenly frighten one or the other and trigger an accident. It can also contribute to the development of an allergic response from the child.
  • Do not feed dog and child together. The vicinity of food is a factor likely to trigger increased vigilance in some dogs and may result in unfortunate accidents.
  • Instruct the child about the fundamental principles of understanding the dog so that teasing, or cruelty, is not an option.

 

My First Dog Book

“My First Dog Book” published in Danish in 1997, the book I wrote with the children, for the children.

Always show respect for all life. It is my experience (and supported by various studies) that children reflect their parents’ attitudes to a surprisingly high degree.

Children can be extraordinarily good at understanding and training dogs if we teach them well. Classes I taught at the Ethology Institute in the 1990s showed that children are significantly quicker than adults in teaching dogs new tricks. They are also better at reinforcing desired behavior—more spontaneous, more precise and much less inhibited.

In 1997, I wrote a book, “My First Dog Book,” with eight children, aged seven to 14. I instructed them for half a year. They were amazing: not only were they great dog trainers, but they also kind of co-wrote the book with me, checking all chapters, one by one, even correcting typos. What impressed me most was that they knew how to have fun and how to put it into perspective. Not one ever got mad at the dog for not performing as expected. At the end of each day, we all sat on the grass, sharing our snack packs with one another and the dogs (breaking one of my rules), giggling, being silly and enjoying life.

Should children be allowed to train their dogs? Definitely yes, if you ask me. It is our duty to teach them to co-habit peacefully, to create opportunities for them to learn and to enjoy life together.

Except for Daniel, my son, I lost contact with my children of 97: Mariam, Nursel, Barbra, Anna, Maja, Selma, and Christina. Wherever you are now, I wish you are happy, and I send you a big hug.

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An Invaluable Lesson—a Relationship is a Natural Thing

ChildDogPuddle
Do you think they fight about what positive and negative reinforcers or punishers are? Do you think they waste precious time arguing about dominance and submission? Do you think they care about collars, leashes, harnesses, target sticks, clickers, kongs—or looking fashionable?

 

As I said many times before, and I will say it again, a relationship is a natural thing. If we wish peace and harmony, it is imperative that we regain this lost ability of ours. These two in the movie can teach us all a priceless lesson—if we just care to stop for a moment, watch them, and listen to their silent message.

This clip has to be one of my all-time favorites.

Keep smiling!

 

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