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Human–dog interactions and behavioural responses of village dogs in coastal villages in Michoacán, Mexico

By Eliza Ruiz-Izaguirre, Karen H. A. M. Eilers, Eddie A. M. Bokkers, Alessia Ortolani, Antonio Ortega-Pacheco, Imke J. M. de Boer

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In Mexican villages, most households keep dogs that roam freely. Therefore, socialisation of village dogs occurs in a different context than that of companion dogs in developed countries. The objectives of this study were: (1) to assess village dogs’ behavioural responses towards familiar and unfamiliar humans, (2) to compare body condition of dogs living in a village with a seasonal trade in international tourism (IT-village) with dogs living in a village located in the vicinity of a sea-turtle nesting site (STN-village), and (3) to identify whether dog characteristics influence dog behaviour and body condition. Two coastal villages in Michoacán, Mexico, were selected as case study sites. Fifty-nine dogs were initially visited, 35 of which were repeatedly visited during the high and low seasons for international tourism and sea-turtle nesting. Caregivers were interviewed regarding human–dog interactions, and dogs were behaviourally tested and rated for body condition. Behavioural indicators were: (1) the dog's qualitative response to a caregiver's call and (2) the dog's willingness to approach an unfamiliar human. Additionally, a dog census per village was conducted to ascertain the dog population structure. Dogs were kept by over 60% of households in both villages. Body condition was optimal for 68% of the dogs. In the low season, dogs in the STN-village had better body condition than dogs in IT-village (P=0.007). Dog characteristics that influenced behavioural responses were: sex, age, and whether the dog played with humans. The most common response to the caregiver's call was tail wagging, shown by 83% of male dogs and 50% of female dogs (P=0.021). About 70% of the pups approached the unfamiliar human completely, whereas only 24% of the juveniles (P=0.040) and 26% of the adults did so (P=0.026). Human–dog play was reported to occur mainly with children (77%). The percentage of dogs that played with humans was higher in dogs responding with tail wagging (82%) than in dogs showing the rest of the response categories (withdrawal, baring teeth, and other) (50%) (P=0.012). Human–dog play was reported for 85% of the male dogs compared to 55% of the female dogs (P=0.036). This study showed that village dogs were socialised to familiar humans but were not attracted to unfamiliar humans. Village dogs maintained their body condition in the low season. Child–dog play may have a role in shaping village dog social behaviour towards humans.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 154
Pages 57-65
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2014.02.002
Notes (C.)
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. behavioral tests
  2. Body condition
  3. Feral animals
  4. Human-animal interactions
  5. Socialization