Before the dawn of history, a symbiotic relationship developed between dogs and humans. Wolves and their puppies hung out at campfires of prehistoric people looking for scraps to eat, and in turn they provided a benefit to the humans by keeping vermin at bay. This longstanding relationship between canines and humans offers a clue as to why homeless dogs have the tendency to seek out and attach themselves to people they meet and trust.
Do Stray Dogs "Adopt" People?
Understanding Canine Behavior
Once you understand the nature of canines, it's clear why stray dogs adopt people and never leave. Wolves are pack animals. That means they are social and need to stay with other wolves. In the wild, wolves need to live, work and hunt in a pack in order to survive. An ostracized wolf, a lone wolf, cannot survive on his own. Since domestic dogs are descended from wolves, they still retain some, but not all, of those wild instincts. The main difference is that domesticated dogs have lived alongside humans for millennia, so they view us as their protectors and pack members. In fact, we've genetically bred them to treat us as such. Therefore, today's domestic dog inherently understands that he cannot survive for very long on his own, so he seeks out other dogs and
Reliable statistics for the number of stray dogs roaming free in the United States are not available, though there are municipalities and counties across the country that keep their own statistics and many efforts are underway to curb the number of stray dogs trying to survive. For example, in the Florida Everglades, an estimated hundred or more dogs are living in swamplands of south Florida. These dogs are starving, sick, diseased, injured and living in extreme temperatures under dangerous living conditions. Aside from speeding cars, alligators and snakes, they face starvation, dehydration and parasites, both internal and external. Many of these dogs were once owned by families who subsequently dumped them to fend for themselves. Therefore, they know a better life. If given a chance to find another home, most of them would take it.
There was a time when dogs were able to survive in the wild by employing their instincts and survival skills. However, once dogs became domesticated, they lost many of those feral survival skills such as hunting, finding food and water, staying safe and maintaining health. Today's stray dog is more likely to be a former family pet who either got lost or was deliberately dumped. Dogs who follow people home and "adopt" them will never leave because, once they have had the experience of being hungry and suffering in temperature extremes, they will choose family life over stray life every time.
So You've Been Adopted
If you have had the great fortune to have been adopted by a stray dog, there are some things to consider to ensure a successful relationship. First, take the dog to a vet to be sure he has no major health problems that need immediate attention, such as acute injuries, heartworm or other life-threatening diseases. He will need a good bath, and this can either be a bonding experience for the two of you or you can seek the services of a professional groomer. Make an appointment for a complete check-up and sterilization, if necessary. Introduce your new companion to any existing companion animals and then sit back and enjoy your new pet, secure in the knowledge that you are a bona-fide hero for saving a life.
By Michelle A. Rivera
Gray Wolf Conservation: Wolf Behavior
Wild Life Animal Control: Stray Dog Information & Facts
Animal Discovery: 8 Fast Facts: Pet Overpopulation in the United States
World Animal Awareness Society: American Strays
Sun Sentinel: Volunteers Rescue 'Swamp Dogs' From Everglades
Humane Society of the United States: What to Do If You Find a Stray Pet
About the Author
Michelle A. Rivera is the author of many books and articles. She attended the University of Missouri Animal Cruelty School and is certified with the Florida Animal Control Association. She is the executive director of her own nonprofit, Animals 101, Inc. Rivera is an animal-assisted therapist, humane educator, former shelter manager, rescue volunteer coordinator, dog trainer and veterinary technician.