Stray Dog Behavior

Homeless dogs are often frightened and distrustful of humans.
Homeless dogs are often frightened and distrustful of humans. (Image: alley dog image by Cherry-Merry from

Homeless or stray dogs either have been separated from or abandoned by their owners, or are feral animals that have had limited or no contact with humans. Depending on their personality, past history with humans and other circumstances, stray dog behavior may vary. Dogs that have been mistreated are more likely to be fearful, while dogs that have had positive experiences with humans are more likely to be friendly and approachable.

Lost Dogs

Dogs that run away from or become separated from their owners often try to return to their families. Depending on the size, breed and temperament of the dog, they may be unprepared for life on the streets and more likely to die of starvation than a more “street smart” dog due to the lack of available food, water and shelter.

Abandoned Dogs

Like lost dogs, dogs that have been abandoned away from home often try to return to their families. This can be difficult for the dog if it has been left far from its home. Abandoned dogs are often accustomed to human owners who abuse and neglect them, and may be more fearful and distrustful of humans in general as a result. Dogs that are abandoned at home (for instance if left in the backyard when the family moves) will often try to stay near their homes for as long as possible before lack of food and water necessitates their leaving.

Feral Dogs

A feral dog, born in the wild, is more likely to be aloof and frightened of humans. Feral dogs often exhibit pack behavior and will travel in groups, scavenging in trashcans and other places where food is available.

Approaching Stray Dogs

No matter how friendly a stray dog appears, approach it with caution. Stray dogs can carry ticks, fleas and other parasites in addition to rabies, and often attack out of fear. If the dog is friendly and you are able to approach it, check for a collar. Even if it runs from you, report the stray to your local Animal Control department, describing the appearance of the dog and where you saw it. If you take the dog to an animal shelter and its owner cannot be located, you may be able to adopt it.


Just because a dog is running loose doesn’t mean that it is automatically a stray. Some dog owners allow their dogs to run loose with little regard for their safety, and some dogs have a tendency to escape from their yards when their owners are gone. Do not assume that any dog you find does not have owners searching for it.

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