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Adopting a foreign rescue - Are street dogs different?

Updated: Mar 3

So, you're considering a foreign rescue. You want to give a street dog a secure home, love and a family. This is an admirable and kind intention, but can these dogs adapt to family life? There are many things to consider when adopting a street dog. Can you offer what they actually need, rather than what you think they need?


What is a street dog?

A street dog is a dog that has lived, or was born in the streets in a foreign country. A dog that was taken from the streets and put in a rescue. This includes pregnant street dogs and their puppies. The stress-induced while developing in a pregnant street dog can lead to behaviour issues in the puppies.

Street dog behaviour

Street dogs behave very differently from domestic rescue dogs. This is primarily because of their lack of exposure to human living environments and education on how to coexist with humans. Some street dogs are feral and actively avoid humans. Street dogs spend their days fending for themselves searching for food and defending their territory. In some countries, street dogs are threatened by humans and suffer significant trauma at the hands of them. It is essential to understand this also applies to puppies born in rescue centres and they may display fear of humans, resource guarding and territorial behaviours inherited from their mothers. This, coupled with a lack of human socialisation in the critical period (3-12 weeks), either out on the streets as puppies or in kennels can lead to fearful dogs that struggle around humans.

Differences between street dogs and domesticated dogs

Domesticated dogs have evolved over generations to live in human homes. In contrast, street dogs retain their survival instincts for street living such as resource guarding, territorial aggression and fear of humans. Street dogs, unlike domesticated dogs, are more active at dusk and dawn and can have higher predatory drive and hunting skills.

Street dogs with homes

Some street dogs live a free-roaming life. These dogs are owned and looked after by individuals but allowed free roam, returning home daily for food, shelter and company. These dogs lead highly enriching and social lives but are often picked up by well-meaning rescues.

The challenges of living with a street dog

Street dogs are often caught and put in a kennel with other unknown dogs before being shipped off overseas to new owners. Picture being whisked away from everything familiar, captured by intimidating humans, and confined in a kennel among unfamiliar dogs. Then, enduring hours of confinement in a vehicle with other frightened canines, you're handed over to a stranger in a foreign country. You're disoriented, without understanding the customs, regulations (as you've never been taught any), language, or even your own species. These enormous changes are often overlooked and can leave many of these dogs with long-term trauma. Even the most well-meaning and kindest rescues acknowledge the unavoidable trauma these dogs suffer through the kenneling and travelling process.

Consider the expectation we place on these dogs: to express gratitude for a home while instantly comprehending the rules and behaving like our domesticated pets. Some of the street dogs are still feral but we expect them to be sociable, and friendly, refraining from guarding our belongings or reacting negatively to visitors. We expect them to be clean in the house, walk nicely on a lead and be affectionate and playful. Many of these dogs are overwhelmed, distrustful of humans and traumatised. These ideals are unrealistic and exert more pressure on these dogs and their new guardians who may be confused, frightened, and overwhelmed by the enormity of the responsibility and challenges these dogs bring.

Can street dogs ever become family dogs?

There is a great deal that can be done to help these dogs and many do adapt. But it can take many years and expectations have to be managed with a realistic approach. Safety precautions must be put in place. These dogs need time, understanding and commitment. Guardians have to accept their dog may never be a 'coffee shop' dog, a 'beach' dog, or a dog you can take to the park. They may never be fully okay with visitors, they may only ever accept a limited number of people and may never be able to live with smaller, domestic animals.

I have fostered several overseas rescues and they have been wonderful dogs that have gone on to thrive in loving homes. Each and every dog is different (just like our domesticated dogs) and some will fit better into family life than others. The real responsibility is with the rescues bringing these dogs over, to ensure they only bring ones that have been adequately socialised with humans and have the right temperament, resilience and abilities to adapt to the changes and challenges of living in a home environment.

These dogs don't choose to be shipped over to live in our homes. It's up to us to be responsive, informed and aware. Hopefully, this blog has given you a better level of insight so you are more informed before deciding to adopt a street dog.

If you have any questions or enquiries please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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