Observing Stray Dog Behavior in a Group

One of my friend had informed me that Wageningen University would open an online course about animal behavior on edX . The course was amazing. Everyone who attended to that course also had to make a project about a selected animal’s behavior. I chose to observe our stray dogs.

There are lots of literature on the dogs who are living with us at home, but very few about the dogs who are living in the streets.


Black one, Maviş and Pavlova


According to Turkish Animal Protection Law,  stray animals 1″should be returned where they are picked up after being sterilized and vaccinated against rabies.I am living in an area where conflicts happen between stray dogs and people, but also between people who are taking care of dogs and who don’t like dogs at all. Occasionally, reporters are making news about stray dog attacks in the city, so that people living in this city think that they can be the next victims

I thought that different dog groups are formed based on the similarity of individual dog’s personality  and new groups are formed when more similar individuals come together. These individuals learn how to behave by observing the relationship of other dogs with people.  So, when they see or experience a bad behavior, they become more fearful of people. When they observe that people do not harm the dogs, but also they love them, they become less fearful of people and they behave friendlier towards them.


Maviş & Pavlova


I studied stray dog behavior in a group (pack), 4 male , 4 female adults; 3 puppies. One of the females and 3 of the males are sterilized.I started to observe 6 puppies, but 3 of them became sick and died. 2 puppies are sisters, third one is an unrelated, male.  The group is living in Ankara, Turkey. They are living among people, but not exposed to them. They are using around 150 – 200 square meter place to live (sleep, rest etc) The location / territory they choose to live is a place to avoid human conflict. The area is covered with trees, a water resource and also steppe. They are invisible to most of the humans.  I recorded my observations from 17.Aug. 2016 to 20.Sep. 2016. My video recordings are available for 10 days in between these dates. My total observation time is more than 3 hrs. I uploaded my recordings to youtube. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLIrS-QOw43hxBujLfy1Z3JvpoZmeeAtaj I used scan sampling mostly to observe the stray dog group, but also I used focal sampling to watch the Pavlova’s behavior on 15.09, 19.09 and 20.09 2016.I observed in discrete time intervals such as at around 13.00 a.m, 19.00 p.m, 15.00 pm. I observed general behaviors focusing on friendly or aggressive behavior.


Adult dogs were vigilant towards me. They went away whenever I moved towards them in the beginning. This behavior had changed on 24th Aug 2016. The videos are D6, D7 and D10. The black, unsterilized dog came close to me, the distance between us was around 50 cm on D6 video. On D7 part 1 video, he left the place on 0:18, reentered the area on 7:50, on 9:56 his group members also enter the area. On D10 video, despite I did not bring any food, he came where I was standing with the puppies and I could touch him and he did not escape.  I spent at least 15 minutes in that area for 34 days. I only touched, loved and played with puppies. Adult dogs never approached me. This black dog came with his own decision on the 34th day of this observation.

Before I started to record, there was a different mother called Lili, that can be seen on D2 and D10  videos. That mother was living where I was recording and her puppies were there. Mrs Red had also puppies. Mrs Red fired  Lili and took care of her puppies, too. Lili could not enter the area and could not meet her group members. It was recorded on D2 videos, she was barking , looking towards the area where Mrs Red and puppies were, but did not enter where Mrs Red was.  This ended on September 19, the videos D9- Puppy following and D10 showed she was entering the area and playing with young dogs. When she entered the area, Mrs Red was away, not there. She also ran towards the black, old male dog but did not enter where Mrs Red was. This happened when Mrs Red gave up to stay close with her puppy. The last time I recorded, she was with her puppy was  31. Aug.2016. There was also another pregnant female dog in the group when I started to record, she changed her place to an adjacent place, away from Mrs Red, she occasionally came to the area where I did my recordings. This suggests that more than 1 female dog with puppies can not live together, also group members can leave the group temporarily but stays close with old group and communicate with each other like on D2 Lili is barking when a stranger dog entered the area and that triggered Mrs Red to bark to avoid the stranger dog enter to her area.

I haven’t observed dogs in the same group barked each-other to communicate. I observed they used tails and body movements to communicate. In 3 hrs of recording, only 78 seconds Mrs Red and Lili barked towards the stranger dog who had an owner. There were continuous barkings in that area, the group I observed never barked to communicate, interrupt the other’s group barking. BArking of other dogs did not trigger that group to bark.

In the end, Lili and the two puppies become closer and form a different group that has a connection with Mrs Red’s groups. The new group has members more friendly to human beings , the old group has older members who are more fearful of human beings and vigilant to them. This can be observed on D10 and D9 videos.


The results support my first hypothesis, that dogs learn how to behave towards people and individuals by observing their behavior towards them. They avoid to live conflicts with people by moving away from them and they do not move towards them.

Different individuals behave differently, different groups behave differently, their actions towards people are affected by their experiences with people, so I did not find anything that suggest stray dogs behave aggressively towards people. Stray dog behavior cannot be generalized. Each incident should be investigated individually.

The new group has 3 members, Lili and two puppies who are more friendly to human beings. The old group has member who are fearful of human beings and more vigilant towards them. This supports my hypothesis that individuals who have similar personality stay closer.

In the future, observations should be done in different time periods, at night and after 12:00 a.m. Similar studies should be done with different dog groups, different dog groups can show different behaviors. Scan sampling, focal sampling and ethogram usage should be done more precisely.I haven’t found an aggressive alpha male type that is leading the group, on the contrary the leader who is black male unneutered dog are the most friendly dog among the group.

List of Behaviors I observed

Puppies Adult Dogs
MAking direct eye contact with me Sleeping
Approaching towards camera Lying and following my movements with eyes
Making baby noises Ready to escape body posture
Playing with objects Following my movements with the side of their eyes
Playing with each other Lİcking lips
Jumping to me Standing and watching me
Wagging tails when they see me Wag tail to salute another dog in the group
Crawling Streching
Opening up belly and showing it to me Eating
Moving like crawling and walking Move between different sleeping places
eating Following each other
watching what other dogs are doing Stand together , observe me and decide to move
digging soil Barking
sniffing other dogs in the group Following me from a distance
moving towards mother Approach and suddendly slightly jump a distance to move away from me
following me very closely with touching sitting alert
run after me to follow when I leave the location Yawning
running towards me when I first enter the area everyday
jumping to food bags


3 replies »

  1. I would like to thank Peer 3, even if i don’t know who this person is. 🙂 “Very good subject for observation. Very nice work, it shows that a lot of effort was put in this report. In results you only mentioned qualitative data (non-numeric). In my country there is also enormous ignorance and phobia towards stray animals. Probably observations like yours and reports on these observations, will help to reverse that. Unfortunately, in many countries around the world the hostile environments towards animals will continue to exist for much longer; as ignorance, bad information and misinformation persist. Keep up the good work!”


  2. Geri bildirim: Canine ambiguity | fynm

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