A village dog is not a stray : human-dog interactions in coastal Mexico

E. Ruiz Izaguirre

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU

Abstract

Dogs (Canis familiaris) are considered one of the most numerous carnivores worldwide. Although in the Global North dogs are popular companions, that live inside homes, about 80% of the dogs in the world are village dogs. Village dogs are typically free-roaming, scavenge refuse around human dwellings and are associated with one or various households. At present, village dogs in the Global South are a concern for (inter)national  organizations and individuals, such as tourists. Concerns arise about: overpopulation, transmission of zoonoses, welfare of village dogs, and issues relating to dog–wildlife interactions, such as predation on wildlife. Dog culling has proved ineffective in managing dog populations, in controlling zoonoses, and preventing wildlife predation, but  remains the dominant strategy to manage village dogs in Mexico. The objective of this thesis was to improve the understanding of human–dog interactions in coastal areas of Mexico in order to identify strategies - embedded in the social and cultural context - to manage village dogs. The Pacific Coast of Mexico was used as a case study area because of its high dog density and its importance for tourism and sea-turtle nesting. Village dogs interact with tourists and are known to scavenge sea-turtle nests. Conclusions presented are based on fieldwork conducted in three village in Oaxaca and two in Michoacán. This fieldwork comprised, among others, interviews with villagers, dog behavioral tests, and radio-tracking of village dogs. Village dogs that live nearby nature protected areas are part of three main systems: the household, the village, and the nature protected area. Humans keep dogs mainly for guarding, as work companions and as children’s playmates. At household level, dogs interact with familiar (i.e. caregivers) and unfamiliar humans (e.g. visitors). At village level, dogs interact with familiar humans from other households, or with unfamiliar humans, such as tourists. At all system levels, village dogs have experiences with humans that may range from positive to negative, and this may be reflected in their behavioral responses towards humans. Dogs reported to engage in human-dog play (mainly with children) were more likely to respond with tail wagging to a caregiver’s call and to approach an unfamiliar human. Dogs can enter a nature protected area (i.e. sea-turtle nesting beach) by themselves or with other dogs or humans. Food is a central element in the above-described holistic system. Village dogs scavenge for food in proximity to humans, beg for food, or prey on sea-turtle eggs. Bodycondition of village dogs was in general close to optimal, and dogs maintained body condition also in the low season for sea-turtle nesting and tourism. Nest scavenger dogs, however, had a lower metabolic energy intake of tortillas, and a larger mean distance from home compared to non-nest scavengers. This suggests that nest scavenging is hunger-driven, and therefore, solutions need to focus on caregivers’ feeding practices. The keeping of dogs in the above-described system, is subject to clashing perceptions and discourses of external (e.g. tourists, authorities) and internal (villagers) stakeholders. External stakeholders refer to village dogs as stray or abandoned, and any dog that is not totally dependent on humans (e.g. village dog) is considered out of place. Total dependence of dogs on humans is a logical ethical argument deriving from the idea that humans took dogs out of the wild (in line with the ‘Pinocchio theory’). Villagers’ narratives, in contrast, perceive dogs as autonomous and able to take care of themselves (in line with the Village Dog theory of dog self-domestication). Dog welfare problems (i.e. dogs being too thin or sick) in coastal Oaxaca were perceived more by international than by Mexican tourists. Dogpredation of sea-turtle nests was an important concern for tourists, but not for internal stakeholders. In conclusion, the findings of this thesis show that village dogs in coastal Mexico are not ‘stray’, but interact with familiar humans from one or various households. Interactions of dogs with humans surpass a purely ecological relationship, as village dogs also fill a social niche and have important functions. Current policies and attempts to manage village dog populations in Mexico are derived from discourses and experiences largely disconnected from the village context. In order to find possible strategies to manage village dog populations, it is necessary to acknowledge the complexity of human–dog interactions, and include the views of both external and internal stakeholders.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
Supervisors/Advisors
  • de Boer, Imke, Promotor
  • Eilers, Karen, Co-promotor
Award date14 Oct 2013
Place of PublicationS.l.
Publisher
Print ISBNs9789461736819
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Keywords

  • dogs
  • stray animals
  • villages
  • households
  • nature reserves
  • attitudes
  • human-animal relationships
  • animal behaviour
  • turtles
  • culling
  • coastal areas
  • mexico

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