What is a Feral Dog?

Punky & her friend snuffy when we first met her on the streets of detroit. snuffy has not been seen in almost a year. it is likely he was captured by animal control and euthanized.

Punky & her friend snuffy when we first met her on the streets of detroit. snuffy has not been seen in almost a year. it is likely he was captured by animal control and euthanized.

     A feral dog is a dog that has not had any interaction with humans for the majority of its life, especially during the critical puppy development phases.  One of the main characteristics of a feral dog is an extreme fear of humans.  They are afraid of humans because they don’t understand what humans are.  Feral dogs often travel in packs.  They are incredibly smart and find food wherever they can; often scavenging in garbage.  Some feral dog packs become fairly self sufficient and can survive for a long time.  They develop a schedule and a hierarchy which allows them to function quite well without ever interacting with humans.  These would be considered “successful” feral dog packs.

      Society has placed a stigma on these dogs.  The word “feral” has become synonymous with “dangerous”, “wild” and “uncontrollable.”  Feral dogs that are caught and end up in a shelter are usually euthanized without any attempt at rehabilitation due to the misconception that they are dangerous and unsociable.  Here at The Devoted Barn we are working to change that misconception and give these dogs a second chance at life.  We strive to do that through education, rehabilitation and setting an example in our community. 

Diesel is awfully proud of himself for escaping his kennel and finding our secret stash of peanut butter bones! Feral dogs are natural problem solvers and can get themselves out of most enclosures.

Diesel is awfully proud of himself for escaping his kennel and finding our secret stash of peanut butter bones! Feral dogs are natural problem solvers and can get themselves out of most enclosures.

Where Do Feral Dogs Come From?

     Feral dogs can come from anywhere that a dog is not properly socialized.  Feral dogs are often found in urban areas.  A stray dog has a litter of puppies in an abandoned house where they have no human contact during their key developmental period so all the puppies in the litter become feral.  Then these puppies go out and have more puppies so the cycle continues.  Feral dogs can also come out of puppy mills.  The dogs used for breeding and the resulting puppies have very little interaction with humans. They are never held, bathed, brushed or loved for several years at a time.  This can result in feral tendencies.

elsa was on the streets for almost 9 years before coming to the devoted barn.

elsa was on the streets for almost 9 years before coming to the devoted barn.

     Feral dogs can come from abuse and neglect situations.  Dogs that are abused or neglected don’t have the opportunity to have positive interactions with humans.  Instead they only have negative interactions with humans.  This increases their fear of humans and causes them to resort to feral behaviors.  Feral dogs do not necessarily have to be born feral.  Once a dog is abandoned or set loose on the streets it only takes 28 days for that dog to begin displaying feral behaviors unless it is having regular positive interactions with humans.

Are Feral Dogs Dangerous?

Feral dog stella is sharing some snuggle time with devoted barn founder, mel borden.

Feral dog stella is sharing some snuggle time with devoted barn founder, mel borden.

     Feral dogs do not pose a threat to the human population.  When you hear about packs of dogs attacking people on the streets, those are not true feral dogs.  Feral dogs are too afraid of humans to attack them, even in packs.  Feral dogs want to get as far away from humans as possible.  If forced into interacting with a human, a feral dog will completely shut down rather than attack.  Feral dogs shut down by “playing invisible” and “pancaking” in hopes that the human can no longer see them.  Feral dogs do occasionally nip out of fear but that behavior is similar to what is seen in scared domestic dogs.

Can Feral Dogs Be Rehabilitated?

feral dogs find comfort in each other. this is the biggest crate in the devoted barn and you will find up to 7 or 8 dogs in it at any one time.

feral dogs find comfort in each other. this is the biggest crate in the devoted barn and you will find up to 7 or 8 dogs in it at any one time.

     Yes!  Here at The Devoted Barn we do believe that feral dogs can be rehabilitated into domestic dogs and that they can live out a long, happy life in a home environment.  Now that’s not to say it doesn’t require a lot of work.  It requires a great deal of work to rehab a feral dog but it can still be done.  All that is needed are people who want to put in the time and effort to help these dogs.  The amount of time to rehabilitate a feral dog into a domestic dog varies depending on the dog and the situation that it comes from.  Check out our Feral Dog Rehabilitation Program page for more information on how our program works and what you can do to help!

at the devoted barn, dusty is learning that humans aren't so scary after all!

at the devoted barn, dusty is learning that humans aren't so scary after all!