Human-dog interactions within a ‘community dog programme’

Kwok, Y. K. E., von Keyserlingk, M. A. G., Sprea, G., & Molento, C. F. M. (2016). Human-animal interactions of community dogs in Campo Largo, Brazil: A descriptive study. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 13, 27–33.

A town in Brazil has been running a community dog programme since 2012 to improve free-roaming dogs’ welfare. The dogs are looked after by members of the collective community rather than individual owners. This study is the first to describe the human-dog interactions within this area.   

Brazil is home to approximately 37 million domestic dogs, with many free-roaming and living nearby impoverished, urban areas. These dogs often have poor welfare, with limited access to food, water or shelter. To improve the dogs’ welfare some towns have established ‘community dog programmes’ whereby free-roaming, ownerless dogs are cared for by self-appointed local residents. Campo Largo, is one such town in Brazil and has been running a community dog programme since 2012. It currently has 80 registered community dogs, and has plans to include more. All dogs are neutered, vaccinated and vet checked, and are looked after by local ‘Maintainers’. The ‘Maintainers’ are registered with local government offices and are legally responsible to ensure the dogs have their basic needs met, are in good health and are not a risk to the public. 

Most human-dog interactions are positive

To explore the human-community dog relationship in Campo Largo, seven individual dogs were observed for three separate days. Behaviours were classified as dog-vehicle interactions or dog-human interactions; and dog-human interactions were further grouped by community members or strangers. Interestingly, 64% of the dog-human interactions were initiated by the dogs, with dogs approaching humans on average nine times per day - although there was vast variation between individual dogs.  For example, one dog approached humans only once throughout the study whereas one dog followed people 42 times. Similarly, there was individual variation between dog-vehicle interactions too, with one dog chasing cars much more often than the others. Overall, human interactions with dogs were positive (e.g. feeding, petting) but there were some incidences of negative interactions (e.g. scolding, kicking) too. The prevalence of kicking dogs was low (only four times), and was performed by strangers each time. Scolding was performed by both strangers and locals, however, it mostly occurred when the dogs were barking, or when they chased people or vehicles. 

This study was the first to investigate how humans and community dogs interact, and it suggests a positive relationship overall. The authors acknowledged that there were some areas of concern in regards to dog welfare, but that overall community dog programs are positive step in the right direction. 

World Animal Protection’s view 

World Animal Protection envisions a world where people respect and value dogs and act with compassion to create a harmonious co-existence. We campaign for the implementation of dog population management programmes, as defined by the ICAM coalition, where and when authorities want to reduce the number of stray dogs to an acceptable level (and/or control zoonotic disease). This focuses on tackling the root causes of stray dog populations – for example, irresponsible dog ownership and irresponsible breeding.