The Dog Days of Summer: Pariah Dogs

Adapted from page 36-37 of The Dog:

There are only estimates regarding the number of dogs living around the world. The boldest assumes that we share our planet with about 1 billion dogs, and most likely only about 20 percent of these live under close human supervision—which means that there are about 800 million pariah dogs worldwide. The vast majority of them live in warmer climates, especially in India and Southeast Asia, Africa, Mexico, and South America.

Pariah dogs lack the bewildering variability of looks we are familiar with in purebred dogs and their hybrids— indeed, pariah dogs show surprising uniformity across continents. They are small to medium-sized, short-haired dogs with rectangular-proportionate build, and mostly tan or tan-and-white. This suggests that pariah dogs have undergone natural selection that resulted in an economic but tough organism, highly successful in its ecological niche—that is, at the fringe of human society.

Pariah dogs depend on human food resources—however, they are seldom provisioned willingly by humans, but rather fend for themselves. They live and feed mostly on the streets of cities and villages, or almost permanently encamped at environments that provide a constant supply of food—such as trash dumps. Human-provided food is available in a steady flow at these sites, which results in a stable population of feral dogs.

However, the nutritional quality of this food is much lower than the meat-based diet of wolves. Pariah dogs adjusted to this specific niche with their smallish size—leftovers do not sustain large dogs and are a food source that does not need to be subdued by physical strength. Pariah dogs also seem not to hunt in packs. 

Pariah dogs

Free-ranging dogs rely on a constant supply of nutrition from human society. They are highly adaptable and usually coexist with humans without causing major problems; otherwise they would not be tolerated. Photo credit: StudioByTheSea, Shutterstock

Pariah dogs may live in groups of hierarchical organization and show territorial aggression against other groups. They reproduce all year around— mirroring the steady food supply and the supportive climatic conditions. Pariah dog males are constantly pursuing available females, and the females may have two litters yearly. Pariah dog mothers nurture their young only in the first 8–10 weeks,  and there are no helpers (older siblings or caretaking fathers. Therefore, when the pariah dog puppies are weaned, they immediately face strict competition with the adults for food, and most of them die in the first year.

Importantly, pariah dogs are not “wild,” in the sense that they do have some type of relationship with humans. Although they are not socialized like family dogs, the puppies are born in a human-made environment, where traces from the humans (such as olfactory cues, artifacts, visual stimulation) are abundant. Puppies are often adopted by local children, who may offer them to tourists to buy. Adult pariah dogs move confidently around in human settlements and rarely get into conflict with humans. Some citizens routinely feed the local pariah dog groups, with the intention of using them for guarding duties against burglars and other pariah dogs.

The phenomenon of domestic species going wild (feralization) is a worrisome tendency, which often has a heavy impact on ecosystems. Cats, ferrets, camels, and other species are documented as burdens on the local fauna or flora in particular parts on the world. Thus, one might assume that the existence of many hundreds of millions of pariah dogs would negatively affect indigenous species—both as potential predators of prey animals and as competitors of other carnivores. However, because pariah dogs rely mostly on human waste as food, it is less likely that these dogs act as exploitative competitors and hunt for the same prey as lions or cheetahs. Their presence may instead make them interference competitors to some species living in the wild, such as jackals, badgers, and smaller cats, by harassing them or disrupting their hunts.

The Dog: A Natural History
By Ádám Miklósi

As one of the oldest domesticated species, selectively bred over millennia to possess specific behaviors and physical characteristics, the dog enjoys a unique relationship with humans. More than any other animal, dogs are attuned to human behavior and emotions, and accordingly play a range of roles in society, from police and military work to sensory and emotional support. Selective breeding has led to the development of more than three hundred breeds that, despite vast differences, still belong to a single species, Canis familiaris.

The Dog is an accessible, richly illustrated, and comprehensive introduction to the fascinating natural history and scientific understanding of this beloved species. Ádám Miklósi, a leading authority on dogs, provides an appealing overview of dogs’ evolution and ecology; anatomy and biology; behavior and society; sensing, thinking, and personality; and connections to humans.

Illustrated with some 250 color photographs, The Dog begins with an introductory overview followed by an exploration of the dog’s prehistoric origins, including current research about where and when canine domestication first began. The book proceeds to examine dogs’ biology and behavior, paying particular attention to the physiological and psychological aspects of the ways dogs see, hear, and smell, and how they communicate with other dogs and with humans. The book also describes how dogs learn about their physical and social environments and the ways they form attachments to humans. The book ends with a section showcasing a select number of dog breeds to illustrate their amazing physical variety.

Beautifully designed and filled with surprising facts and insights, this book will delight anyone who loves dogs and wants to understand them better.

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