Dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and it can be difficult to tell what their personality and temperament are like just by looking at them. Unfortunately, some traits become part of a dog's behavior based on their circumstances, and feral dogs rely on these specific traits to survive.
Definition Of A Feral Dog
A feral dog has not or does not live in or is not accustomed to domestic life with humans. They may live in the wild or on the fringes of human places. They may even live on city streets, but will not usually act friendly in the way that someone's beloved pet might if you saw them in the same place.
Feral dogs are often household animals that have been abandoned. They may survive as a lone dog if they have to. However, this can be much harder than joining a pack. A wild pack of dogs can give newly abandoned domestic dogs companionship and teach them how to survive without humans.
Dogs can be born in the wild. However, it is likely that they started living with humans and were lost or released into the wild later on. Feral dogs may start their lives in overcrowded puppy mills, which release them to avoid alerting the authorities to their conditions. They could be fighting dogs conditioned to enhance their aggressiveness or a family puppy, which grew into a slightly-less-cute adult dog, causing their family to abandon them when they are no longer useful as entertainment. Or they could be an abused dog that managed to escape their home but which had nowhere else to turn.
Dogs that have started life under any of these conditions may not have favorable impressions of humans. They should be approached by knowledgeable dog handlers wherever possible, such as a worker from the local pound or a rescue organization volunteer. Feral dogs might also be carrying diseases that domestic dogs are generally protected from. Rabies vaccines and limited interspecies contact are factors that keep people and their animals safer together, but introducing contact with feral dogs can introduce these dangers. It's better to leave first contact and potential capture of a feral dog to an expert.
Feral Dog Behavior
Wild dogs on their own or within feral dog packs don't typically welcome human contact. These dogs may be shy, skittish, noisy, or even aggressive when approached. They will try to defend themselves from anything that could become a threat to themselves, their pack, or their territory. If they have been mistreated or abandoned by people, they may remember this and become alarmed by a stranger who tries to get close.
Dogs who live on the street may have variable behavior, depending on how they are usually treated and where they are getting food. Street dogs can be very different from feral dogs because they live in the same areas as humans, sometimes making them easier to contact. They may even follow people in an attempt to find a home again if they previously had one.
Feral dogs tend to have a shorter lifespan than household pets. A wild dog population will be subject to extreme weather, food shortages, predators, and diseases in a way that domesticated animals are generally protected from. They will also tend to produce offspring less frequently and prefer to do so only with familiar dogs.
Dogs who were born wild or who have become feral must be fierce protectors of their territory to maintain food supply and any sense of safety. This need drives change in feral dogs' behavior, which is reflected in their brains. Research has shown that the amygdala, responsible for heightened emotional states such as fear and anger, is far more active in feral dogs than in domestic dogs.
Feral Dog Rehabilitation
Bringing stray dogs back into a home environment requires patience, courage, and skill. It is likely to take a lot of time and effort and may result in some injuries. Take precautions where you can, and allow the dog to set the pace.
- A feral dog may try to escape an enclosed environment. Make sure you are mindful of thiswhen you enter and exit the area where the dog is being kept.
- When a dog is introduced to a new indoor environment, it may pace, whine, or howl and may refuse to eat. Expect this to occur over the first 1-4 days.
- When you enter the dog's area, wait for it to allow you to move around before doing so, and avoid eye contact. Make yourself small by crouching, then slowly extend a closed hand to greet the animal.
- Move slowly and gently, and speak calmly and evenly. Do not vary your voice as highs and lows can alert or stress a feral dog.
- Get to know their tone and body language as quickly as you can. Dogs often use clear, consistent signals such as raised lip, ears flat back, or raised hackles and lowered head to show that it's time for you to back away.
- Bring treats! Treats show dogs that being in a pack with you means getting a share of tasty food.
- Even when you are not engaged in contact with the dog, spend time with them in their area. This will get them used to human presence.
- Do not rush introducing things that may cause stress in a dog, such as a harness leash. Expect that introducing a dog harness (which is less stressful than other kinds of leash) could take a month or more, resulting in stress behavior such as noise, physical aggression, or inappropriate toileting. It is important to stay calm during these times, respond appropriately to the dog, and keep the dog's environment safe and clean.
- Once the dog is comfortable with a leash, keep them close to home when taking them for a walk. Start by only walking around your building before going further. Slowly socialize them with other dogs as well. Ideally, ones that you know are likely to show friendly or appropriate behavior towards your dog. This can make a huge positive impact on a once-feral dog, so make sure you incorporate it into your routine if your dog can successfully mix with other dogs.
Dogs, both feral and domestic, are part of our modern world and have been for a long time. People need to understand where feral dogs come from and the dangers of them to best create a safe environment for everyone. Learning about feral dogs also gives people a chance to improve the lives of feral dogs, which could one day find a loving home.