Understanding stray dogs in your neighbourhood

Puppy Behaviour, last updated 09th, Oct 2020, DogSpot

We love all things dog. In our endeavour to bring education to pet parents, we collaborated with Leena Ukil, Canine Behaviourist & Aggression Consultant and Founder- The FamiLee Dog. In conversation with Roohi Kulkarni Kale, Canine Trainer & Behaviorist and Founder- Coach the Pooch, she spoke about understanding behavviour patterns in stray dogs and how to engage with our adorable street Indies. Read on for more insights.


If you are someone who feels a connection to dogs, then you probably try to help a lot of stray dogs around you. We either are or have that one friend who wakes up and rushes in the middle of the night to help a dog in need. It is fascinating how stray dogs communicate just like our pet dogs, yet we fail at understanding them properly.

Understanding stray dogs from their body language & befriending them is therefore one important step in order to help them in need. They know a coarser version of a dog’s language compared to our pet dogs that have adapted to our household’s dog lingo.

Here are some FAQs on understanding the behaviour of stray dogs:

1. Is there a difference between the way strays and pet dogs behave?

Even though their language is the same, the way they behave is often contrasting. In fact, the behaviour of village strays is distinguishable from city strays. This is caused by a long history of differences in breeding and environmental factors. Their experience with humans also varies. They differ based on the functionality of the dog.

In villages they are independent and alert when required. In urban areas, they depend a lot on humans for food and petting. They seek out humans as their exposure to humans is higher than village dogs. Pet dogs are very friendly and need even more attention from humans.

Their behaviour depends on their experience with the nature of humans around them.

2. Does a wagging tail always mean the dog is friendly and can be approached?

All wagging doesn’t mean they are friendly. Tail wags by itself have different meanings. Even if the tail is high above their body you must look at the entirety of a dog’s body - eyes, ear and stance.

Observe the dog for a complete picture. The dog’s ears may be standing straight up or falling back. See if they are standing straight in a balanced way or leaning towards one side. The position of the mouth - open/ panting/ showing teeth/ licking is also crucial. See if the eyes and forehead seem relaxed, soft or under stress.

Also pay attention to the dog’s surrounding environment. For instance, if a female dog is feeding her pups, one must never approach her.

3. If a dog is showing teeth or barking, does it necessarily want to attack me?

Look at the whole-body posture. Sometimes a dog just wants to play. Or maybe he wants you to leave and let him be alone. Showing teeth doesn’t always mean they will cause any harm. They may also be scared, and their body language may change quickly. It is not always a cause for concern.

4. What precautions can I take to avoid confronting a stray dog?

Don’t walk close to a sleeping dog. Don’t take a dog by surprise. Avoid groups of dogs that look a little aggressive. Be mindful of your own body posture around dogs. Don’t appear dangerous to them. Don’t show your panic in a way they will notice. Even if you panic in your head, don’t reveal it through your body language.

5. Does my dog face a communication gap with stray dogs?

Yes. Because your pet dog has more experience communicating with you, their dog language is diluted. Sometimes they are unable to catch cues and send signals properly while communicating with stray dogs. Strays have a very refined and proper language as they have grown up with dogs around them.

6. How can I befriend a stray dog?

Give a polite space to the dog to be comfortable around you. Call them out and see if they approach you. If a dog comes and licks your hand, withdraw your hand and wait it out. If they come again and nudge your hand, only then pet them.

Even when two dogs meet, they do not meet face to face. Their polite way to meet is head to tail. They seek permission and then greet each other.

7. Why do stray dogs run after vehicles?

When stray dogs see a bike and start chasing, do not accelerate the bike. The acceleration is a trigger for them. So, always stop the bike and only start the engine once they are stable. Similarly, if a vehicle makes a sharp turn, they will quickly start barking or chasing the vehicle. This is because they know if a car takes a sharp turn the chances of a dog being hit increases. This is their way of warning.

8. How can I peacefully walk with my pet dog around territorial stray dogs?

Do not introduce your puppy to a stray dog as they do not appreciate hyper behaviour. They may get pissed and snap at your pup. Introduce your pup only to patient stray dogs. Carry your pup around and introduce them from a distance. Read the body language of stray dogs and ensure they are comfortable around your pup.

You may also take a walk around the stray dogs without your pup to gather their behavioral trends. See how they behave with other pet dogs. Also check for where the strays are being fed because they are territorial about that place. Either ask the feeder to change the feeding area, or walk your dog on another route. Use a proper leash and reduce the length while crossing strays. Make sure you apply proper strategy to tactically handle any situation.

Dogspot.in went live with Leena Ukil, Canine Behaviourist & Aggression Consultant and Founder- The FamiLee Dog in conversation with Roohi Kulkarni Kale, Canine Trainer & Behaviorist and Founder- Coach the Pooch with Roohi.

Leena Ukil, a Canine Behaviourist and Aggression consultant is the founder of The FamiLee Dog and has been practicing professionally in the world of dogs for the past 5 years. She holds a Ph.D in Genetics and tries to apply her years of research experience to dog training as well. Observational learning and trying to decipher the dog's body language thereby understanding its behavior from the dog's point of view is what she aims to teach dog owners.

Transcribed by: Prekshita Patwa

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