A novel method for measuring roaming dog populations

Hiby, E., & Hiby, L. (2017). Direct Observation of Dog Density and Composition during Street Counts as a Resource Efficient Method of Measuring Variation in Roaming Dog Populations over Time and between Locations. Animals, 7(8), 57.

In some countries, inhumane methods are used to control free-ranging dog populations. This study measures dog density and characteristics to inform dog population management strategies. 

Roaming dogs can present risks to human health, thus in many countries attempts are made to control dog populations.  This study proposed the measurement of dog density and population composition as novel and effective indicators for informing and assessing efficacy of dog population management strategies. 

Despite their prevalence globally, there is a lack of data on roaming dog populations, making it challenging to implement and evaluate evidence-based management strategies.  Measurement of total roaming dog populations is resource-intensive and potentially unreliable.  In this study, the authors suggest assessment of dog density as a more efficient and practical alternative, and one more reflective of typical human exposure to roaming dogs within the community.    

Understanding roaming dog populations helps inform intervention strategies

The observed number of roaming dogs per kilometre was measured along two types of pre-determined routes: representative routes, aiming to contain an illustrative proportion of road types; and hotspot routes, encompassing areas of known high canine density.  Observers worked in minimum teams of two, completing routes within two hours, avoiding interaction with dogs and influencing their movement.  Each route was observed at least twice to establish a baseline level of daily variation.  Gender, lactation (females), juvenile status, sterilisation (when visibly marked), body condition score and skin abnormalities were recorded from observed dogs using a purpose-designed smartphone application.  Details of routes, timings and observation protocol were saved to enable consistent future replication. 

The study presented several examples of implementation of the survey protocol in various countries as evidence of its capability to detect meaningful differences in population density and composition between locations, and within locations over time.  Authors caution that accuracy of protocol replication is key to ensuring validity of this survey methodology, and therefore training and consistency of observers is important.  It is suggested that this methodology could be usefully implemented on a larger scale to support objective measurement and impact assessment of roaming dog population management. 

World Animal Protection’s view

We support welfare-friendly interventions aimed at managing free-roaming dog populations.  Efficient methods of population measurement such as that described in this study can assist with informing intervention strategies, assessing impact, and motivating action in relation to this widespread issue, and therefore can support our work in this area.