Free-ranging dog

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Indian street dog

A free-ranging dog is a dog that is not contained. Free-ranging dogs include wild dogs, feral dogs, stray dogs, street dogs, and village dogs, as well as dogs allowed to come and go freely by their owners. The term is used when distinctions of ownership are irrelevant. It sometimes overlaps with the polysemic term pariah dog. It is estimated that free-ranging dogs make up 75–80% of the global dog population.[1] The World Health Organization reports that there are 200 million stray dogs worldwide.

Rural versus urban free-ranging dogs[edit]

Stray dogs from Kozhikode, India
Urban free-ranging dogs outside Moscow, Russia

Ecologists find it important at times to distinguish between urban free-ranging dogs and rural free-ranging dogs. The distinction can be important as the ecological impact of and evolutionary pressures on these groups can be quite different.[2]

Village dogs[edit]

Rural free-ranging dogs that rarely if ever leave a settlement are called village dogs. They are considered neither wild nor feral, and have less impact on the surrounding ecosystem than other rural free-ranging dogs. They pose a different set of environmental pressures than feral or wild dogs, or even free-ranging farm dogs.[3] Experts on the behavior of early and primitive dogs have also noted interesting physical and behavioral differences between village dogs and other more feral free-ranging dogs. For example, village dogs tend to be smaller and occur more often alone or in pairs.[4]

Village dogs include the African village dog and East Asian village dog, two types that were the earliest to be domesticated.

Pariah dogs[edit]

Indian pariah dog

The term pariah dog has been used inconsistently, but is sometimes used synonymously, if incorrectly, with free-ranging dog. Originally, it referred to the landrace of free-ranging dogs native to India and other Asian countries. It later came to be used for primitive natural breeds of dogs of a similar physical appearance in other parts of the world. The United Kennel Club has a category of dogs called the "Sighthound & Pariah Group", which includes: primitive dogs; distinctive, local, free-ranging landraces; breeds recently developed from naturally selected populations; and very ancient breeds.[5]

Pariah dogs are canines that have kept close to the original form and have evolved with little or no purposeful human intervention. Pariahs in all countries tend toward a very similar, typical morphology known as the "long-term pariah morphotype".[6] This primal body design resembles the ancient breeds from which most other dog forms derive. Typically, these canids have a spitz-like appearance: a wedge-shaped head with a pointed muzzle, almond eyes, erect ears, and a long, tail curved over the back. Unlike modern breeds, pariah dogs have one annual estrus cycle.

Primitive or pariah dogs include the Askal, a native Philippine breed, the Indian Pariah Dog, the Indian Santal dog, the Indonesian Bali Dog, the Korean Jindo, the South African Africanis, and the American Carolina Dog.[7][unreliable source?]

Stray versus feral[edit]

Experts in free-ranging dog control sometimes distinguish between stray dogs and feral dogs. Stray refers to lost and abandoned pets, or others that had socialized to humans before taking to the free-ranging life—and feral to dogs that have lived all their lives apart from people. This distinction is important to them, because stray dogs can be relatively easily taken into captivity, whereas feral dogs are more fearful and difficult to keep as pets, and so are more often captured, spayed or neutered, and released back into the parks, vacant lots, and other hiding places on the margins of human society where they are most commonly found.[8] Feral (from Middle French feral "wild," from Latin fera, in phrase fera bestia "wild animal," from ferus "wild") implies the progeny of formerly domesticated animals, run wild, having escaped from domestication. Feral dogs include the second generation offspring of former strays which, having had little or no contact or bonding with humans, may have formed pack communities and reverted to instinctive canine behaviors. They may scavenge for food on the periphery of human populations.

In other contexts, and generally in Indian English, the term "stray dog" covers both feral dogs and dogs that have strayed from their owners. India has a population of feral dogs numbering in the tens of millions, the highest in the world, and millions of people are bitten every year, with about 20,000 people dying annually from rabies. When discussing these issues in the Indian context, distinctions between stray and feral dogs are less clear or important, so the term "stray dog" is used to cover both stray and feral dogs, and to distinguish them from the wild dhole (Cuon alpinus) of India.[9]

The term wild dog[edit]

A dingo is a true dog that is wild.

Wild dog may refer to:

True wild dogs[edit]

As a technical term, wild dogs is not used in scientific literature to refer to domestic dogs sub-classified as Canis lupus familiaris, no matter how feral or "wild" they may be. It is reserved exclusively for some dogs classified as Canis lupus dingo which have become more wild animals rather than simply feral: Australian dingoes; sometimes some Australian dingo/dog hybrids; and some literature refers to the New Guinea singing dog as being wild but others disagree. The term is sometimes also applied to others canines from Southeast Asia and Australasia. While still listed taxonomically as 'domestic dogs', they are considered wild rather than feral domesticated animals, even when raised in captivity.[2] The Carolina Dog in the Southeastern United States is another feral breed that can be described as 'wild' because it has a history of ancient domestication followed by thousands of years of living in the wild. DNA and archeological studies show its ancient arrival into the Americas dating at least 8,000 years ago.

Feral versus wild[edit]

Feral dog

In scientific literature, free-ranging dogs such as Australian dingoes are considered 'wild animals' rather than 'feral' to the extent to which they are not 'commensal': dependent on handouts and cast-offs from humans; and instead hunt and scavenge in the wild. Ecologically, wild dogs are integrated into the ecosystem, often as top predators. Evolutionarily, wild dogs are profoundly different from their domestic counterparts, due to many generations apart from people, versus many generations of being selectively bred by them, respectively. Both wild dogs and adult feral dogs are less easily kept as pets than free-ranging or captive dogs that have been socialized to humans. Unlike feral dogs, however, wild dogs tend to maintain their wild nature even when taken in as puppies.[2]

Rabies impact[edit]

A article from 2011 on the Stray Dog Population by the US National Animal Interest Alliance says that the rabies epidemic in stray dogs around the world has transformed into a global public health issue.[11] The World Health Organization reports that there are 200 million stray dogs worldwide, and dogs are responsible for the vast majority of human rabies deaths, contributing up to 99% of all rabies transmissions to humans. More than 55,000 people die from rabies each year, and more than 15 million people receive post-bite rabies vaccines to prevent the disease.[12] 20,000 of these deaths occur in India due to its large stray dog population.[9]

Conservation impact[edit]

Increasing numbers of free-ranging dogs have become a threat to the snow leopard on the Tibetan Plateau because they chase these, and young brown bears, away from food.[13] Free-ranging dogs are often vectors of diseases such as rabies and canine distemper, which can jump into species such as African wild dogs, wolves and even Tigers. In addition, they can interbreed with other members of the genus Canis such as the Ethiopian wolf and the dingo, raising genetic purity concerns.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lord, Kathryn; Feinstein, Mark; Smith, Bradley; Coppinger, Raymond (2013). "Variation in reproductive traits of members of the genus Canis with special attention to the domestic dog (Canis familiaris)". Behavioural Processes. 92: 131–42. doi:10.1016/j.beproc.2012.10.009. PMID 23124015. 
  2. ^ a b c Vanak, ABI Tamim; Gompper, Matthew E. (2009). "Dogs Canis familiarisas carnivores: Their role and function in intraguild competition". Mammal Review. 39 (4): 265. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2907.2009.00148.x. 
  3. ^ ABI TAMIM VANAK; MATTHEW E. GOMPPER. "Dogs Canis familiaris as carnivores: their role and function in intraguild competition" (PDF). Columbia, Missouri: Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, University of Missouri. Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  4. ^ "Dogs". Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-10-16. Retrieved 2009-11-17. 
  6. ^ Masson, Jeffrey Moussaieff - How Dogs Have Captured Our Hearts for Thousands of Years, ISBN 9780061771095
  7. ^ "Primitive Dogs (Introduction)". Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  8. ^ "Pet Care Information - Healthy Pets - Best Friends Animal Society" (PDF). Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  9. ^ a b Gardiner Harris (August 6, 2012). "Where Streets Are Thronged With Strays Baring Fangs". The New York Times. Retrieved August 7, 2012. 
  10. ^ "U.S. Facing Feral-Dog Crisis". Retrieved 23 January 2018. 
  11. ^ "The Global Stray Dog Population Crisis". National Animal Interest Alliance. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  12. ^ "Rabies - Fact Sheet N°99, Updated 2013". World Health Organization. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  13. ^ Understanding Dogs to Protect Cats by Luke Dollar, National Geographic 2016