Can Street Dogs Become Good Pets?

From free-ranging dog to new home. It sounds like a fairy-tale, but how does it work out?

Street dogs can make good pets, like this happy little dog peering out of his dog house

By Zazie Todd, PhD

A recent survey by Yasemin Salgiri Demirbas (Ankara University) et al investigates how well free-roaming urban dogs fit into a family home once they are adopted. The results show the dogs adapt well to their new homes.

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The scientists say, “Every year in Turkey, thousands of free-ranging dogs are brought to dog shelters. These dogs are mongrel dogs with stray origins.” There is often a bias against adopting dogs that have been stray in case they have behaviour problems, and they can spend a long time waiting for a home. The researchers wanted to know if people’s misgivings are well-founded.

75 homes that had adopted a free-ranging dog completed the survey. Some dogs came from a shelter or vet, but others were picked up on the street. This, they explain, “may be because of the pattern where in developing countries such as Turkey people encounter free-ranging dogs in everyday life, so they do not need to put any extra effort to adopt these dogs.” There was no difference in behaviour of the dogs who came directly from the street rather than via another source.

Most of the dogs were acquired as puppies; 40% under 3 months old and 21% between 3 and 6 months at the time of adoption. 

First, the good news. Most homes reported no difficulties with house-training or leash-training. And although 75% of the dogs were said to show fear at first, 69% became more confident and easy-going over time. Common things the dogs were afraid of were sudden noise, thunder, vacuum cleaners, and sudden movements (things many dogs from other sources are also afraid of). 

The most common behaviour problem reported was hyper-attachment to the owner (59%), such as following the owner around the house or wanting to be in constant contact. Some dogs were like this from the beginning, and others developed it over time. 

The authors say 
“This finding is not surprising because it is known that dogs adopted from animal shelters or through rescue routes are more likely to exhibit separation-related problems.”

Street dogs can become good pets, like this dog snuggling under a blanket on the sofa

Differences in terminology make comparisons tricky, and it’s worth noting that separation anxiety and hyper-attachment are not synonymous (Sherman and Mills 2008). In Linda Lord et al’s (2008) study, problem behaviour when left alone was reported in 16% of shelter dogs one month after adoption. Following the owner round the house was reported in 65% of pet dogs by Emily Blackwell et al (2008) (and most of these dogs came from a breeder).

Another common behaviour problem reported at the time of adoption was destructiveness (32%), which declined over time to 13%. 32% of dogs were said to stray. Although aggression was not common initially, it increased in the period following adoption, suggesting some dogs initially inhibited this behaviour in their new home. At the time of the survey, 12.5% of the dogs were said to show aggression. Of these, most were aggressive to cats (which might be considered predation) or towards other dogs.

A few of the dogs were kept on a chain. Although many had access to at least some of the house, 39% were not allowed inside. The scientists say more research is needed on animal welfare and to find out whether these dogs are treated the same as other pet dogs.

There’s an interesting finding in terms of how owners perceive the human-canine relationship. Only 4% of the owners said the relationship should be based on dominance and force. However (64%) “stated that the owner should be a leader in a hierarchical order when interacting with his or her dog. They, however, reported that the hierarchical order should not be based on dominance.” More research is needed on how people understand the human-canine relationship.

The authors say, 
“one may assume that urban free-ranging dogs have a rather shy and fearful character in comparison to their conspecifics. Such dogs may have the tendency to display fearful behaviour in novel situations. They may, on the other hand, show considerable improvement when living in a stable family environment.”

It’s possible that people whose dogs did not do well did not complete the survey, so it may not show a full picture. The finding that dogs improve over time in their new home ties in with Frank McMillan et al’s similar finding for adult dogs re-homed from commercial breeding establishments

The scientists conclude that urban free-ranging dogs adapt well to their new homes. This will be reassuring to anyone thinking of adopting a similar dog. It’s especially good news given that some of these families quite literally picked a dog from the street, without going via an organization that temperament tests the dogs or provides ongoing behavioural support. 

If you're adopting a street dog, check out my post with tips on bringing home a rescue dog. And whatever kind of dog you have, rescue dog or pedigree, you will find plenty of tips on how to care for them in my award-winning book, Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy

Have you ever adopted a shelter dog or free-ranging dog?

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. She is the founder of the popular blog Companion Animal Psychology, where she writes about everything from training methods to the human-canine relationship. She also writes a column for Psychology Today and has received the prestigious Captain Haggerty Award for Best Training Article in 2017. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband and two cats.

Useful links:

Blackwell, E., Twells, C., Seawright, A., & Casey, R. (2008). The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 3 (5), 207-217 DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2007.10.008
Salgirli Demirbas, Y., Emre, B., & Kockaya, M. (2014). Integration ability of urban free-ranging dogs into adoptive families' environment Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 9 (5), 222-227 DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2014.04.006  
Lord, L., Reider, L., Herron, M., & Graszak, K. (2008). Health and behavior problems in dogs and cats one week and one month after adoption from animal shelters Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 233 (11), 1715-1722 DOI: 10.2460/javma.233.11.1715  
McMillan, F., Duffy, D., & Serpell, J. (2011). Mental health of dogs formerly used as ‘breeding stock’ in commercial breeding establishments Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 135 (1-2), 86-94 DOI: 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.09.006
Sherman, B., & Mills, D. (2008). Canine Anxieties and Phobias: An Update on Separation Anxiety and Noise Aversions Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 38 (5), 1081-1106 DOI: 10.1016/j.cvsm.2008.04.012
Photos: Yanaskaya (top) and Adya (both

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  1. My spouse and I have never interpreted our cat's following us around the house as a defect. Either she just loves our company, she wants to keep an eye on what we're doing with "her" property, or she's hoping that our activities will generate a toy or play opportunity - all of which seem perfectly reasonable. People who keep an animal behind walls 24-7 and then expect it not to pay disproportionate attention to the most interesting thing within those walls ought to buy one of those Japanese robots covered in fake fur. Sheesh.

    1. I'm very happy when my animals choose to spend time with me, too! But one thing that can happen sometimes is that a dog becomes very anxious or distressed when left alone and needs to be with the owner all the time. This is called separation anxiety or separation-related distress. When left alone, animals with separation anxiety can panic and bark, howl, destroy things, urinate and defecate. Treating it takes a long time and the owner has to put a lot of hard work in. So that's why there might be a concern.

      This is much more common in dogs as cats are generally happier to be left alone anyway. So as a cat owner you probably don't have to worry about this! Children who have been through trauma can develop separation anxiety as well.

      Thank you very much for your comment. Your cat sounds lovely and it's great that she has such a good relationship with you :-).

  2. I am currently working with dogs at a daycare/boarding facility. Among the dogs I see everyday, there is a handful of rescue dogs that live at the facility while they wait to be adopted. The rescue dogs were either found or pulled from death row to be given a second chance at a happy, healthy life. Each dog has it's own issues and areas in need of improvement, but overall, they are doing just fine. What I have observed in the time that i've been there, is that the rescue dogs either have aggressive behavior towards other dogs, or towards people-more commonly men than women. They have trust issues and a lot of fear. if you choose to adopt or foster a rescued street dog, you have to be willing to put forth the effort and time it takes to work with the dog on their certain issues. For example, separation anxiety, i've noticed begins almost immediately after bringing a dog into a new home. One way to help the dog overcome separation anxiety is to put them in their kennel for a period of time while you are still home with them. By doing this for several days in a row, the dog will eventually understand that you are not going to leave them in there forever and when you do return to them, you will greet them with love and happiness. Just like all the people in the world, dogs just want to be loved, feel safe, and have a roof over their head. I know there are several people who would disagree with me, but I truly believe there is a perfect home for every dog out there. Street dogs might take a little more time adjusting to their new lifestyle, but with the right owner coming home to them, hoe could they not be appreciative?

  3. I have picked a dog from street when it was stood one and a half month old. I had taken a lot of care of him. But as it's growing older( now it's 5 months old), it's becoming more aggressive, bites unnecessarily.. Sometimes playfully sometimes angrily when stopped to do some unwanted activity like picking up litter from street, when we take him for a walk. At that time he becomes very aggressive and attacks on us furiously. Sometimes I feel that I did a mistake in adopting it as my family members had to get injections due to his biting. Don't know what to do

    1. Your dog might have been separated too early from his mother,brothers ans sisters so he wasn't able when to learn when he bites for fun and when it is for real.

    2. Hi Ritu,

      I may be a little late in my response to you here, but my Mother went through a very similar thing. She adopted a dog from Romania. The first day or so, the dog was shy and cowered in the corner. She soon came out of her shell though and became more playful and vocal. She bonded very well with my mother but showed signs of aggression towards my Father. About a week later, she bit my Dad as his back was turned. As time went on and her confidence grew, she attempted many more attacks and would constantly growl at him, despite his patience and attempts to approach her gently and calmly. He would pet her and as soon as he left the room and came back, she would growl again.

      She became more aggressive and confident, so when my Mother took on another rescue dog, it proved that there was another major issue. She attempted to control the new rescue and would guard her bed and growl at her to control her. One day, she attacked the new dog, without any provocation. My Mum had to pull her off, but she was in a frenzy. My Mother ended up at the vet and was referred to an animal behaviorist. She was told that the dog would be impossible to train out of the aggression, as it was based on growing confidence rather than fear and as this was a street dog, the patterns were now set. After a very long and detailed conversation, the behaviorist told my Mother that the only step she could now take, would be to put the dog down before her confidence grows so much, that she attacks to kill. My Mother was devastated, as she recently lost her much loved spaniel to cancer and she truly loved this new rescue dog. It was heartbreaking and I wouldn't wish it on anyone. I hope that the issues you experienced with your dog have now resolved, but if you are still concerned, I would advise that you contact a specialist and talk it through, to see if they can offer some help.

  4. I have adopted a Romanian street dog, after arriving here in my haom after 6/7 weeks he has become aggressive to me and my other dogs and myself and has bitten me twice and bitten my other dog which needed vetriney treatment, its not easy to deal with this.

  5. I have 2 from #croatia, they are an absolute joy, they stay home all day and just sleep, i know this as i watch them on a camera. I had toilet issues with one but perseverance and lots of wee walks solved the issue. One moves my clothes and shoes around when im not there but neither destroy anything. They are extremely greedy and will eat anything, bin day is a challenge on our morning walk. One is very dominant over the other but only when his food or attention is threatened, there is a quick scuffle and then its over. I would take loads if i could afford to look after them properly.

  6. I have a Romanian street dog, i adopted her 7 months ago when she was about 8/9months old. She is a challenge to say the least! She is dominant with my little male chinese crested, especially over food. She attacks him quite a bit and i have to seperate them. She also has a bad habit of weeing on beds. She is very demanding and protective of me and she seems to be rather hyper active. Having said that she does have good points. Her recall is good especially off lead when on woodland walks and she is very loving. Would i adopt another Rommie rescue? Doubtful

  7. I adopted a dog from Turkey. The dog was 2 years old so she had some history...She was shy in the beginning but had some dominant traits. She always obeyed me and leaving her alone at the house was never a problem. She didn't like strangers, cats or other dogs. I learned how to deal with it. The dog was the greatest dog for me. She died 10 months ago. I miss her every day.

  8. I adopted a Romanian dog when she was approx. 7 months old.She was very nervous of humans and quite nervous of other dogs at the start. She is much better now but, still lacks confidence with strangers.

    I have 2 other UK rescue dogs and she has integrated with them well.She bullies our boy in a playful way but, he is all muscle and could quite aggressive himself - he still does not retaliate - I think he is quite fond of her.

    She was quite hard to house train it took about a month to 8 weeks - longer than the others. She is also still quite destructive (we have had her 10 months now) but, I hope she will grow out of it. She particularly chews cables and footwear.

    On the plus side, she is loyal and never runs off when out on walks, even when the others do. She is loving and very affectionate. She is obedient and is never aggressive with other dogs when out on walks or with humans. Strangely, she is less greedy concerning food that the other dogs and we have to ensure she gets her food before they try to steal it.

    She is very attached to me and has been from the start. It took her longer to bond with my husband but, she has now. I was able to go away for a week and leave her with him, and all was OK. She was very pleased to see me though, when I returned.

    Street dogs are more work but, some of the problems mentioned here I have encountered with UK rescue dogs and even non rescue dogs. My male UK rescue dog was very aggressive with other dogs when I first got him. 5 years on, he has gradually got better and better. I found that distraction was the best solution (in his case, with a ball) and a lot of love.

    I wouldn't be without any of my rescue dogs - I love them all to bits. And I would not hesitate to have another rescue dog in the future - probably another Romanian one.

    I would suggest (and I am not being judgemental in saying this) that people who have problems with dogs really need to consider what they can do or change to improve things for the dog rather than just expecting the dog to improve their behaviour on it's own.

    Any dog that you take on is an unknown quantity. The only generalisation that I can make is that I have found by my own experience that female dogs 'seem' to be easier but, I am sure that there are many exceptions. And I have also found that having a male and a female (or 2 females) seems to work quite well.

    I hope that anyone reading this forum is not put off from adopting a rescue dog, even though they should also understand that they may need to put in more effort to compensate for previous mistreatment and lack of good early training. Rescue dogs seem to really appreciate a good home and a kind owner because they have have often known what it is like to have neither.And one things they seem to learn without any problem is how to receive and return love, even if they hadn't had it previously.

    1. Thank you. I just adopted a Romanian street dog a week ago. She is a challenge. She was house trained in two days - miracle! She is not food aggressive either. She is boisterous to say the least which my two small very laid back dogs find challenging. Down side so far, yes, early days is her recall is terrible and getting her in the car is an ordeal. She's become very needy with me so going back to work tomorrow will be difficult. I'm hoping that in time I can let her off the lead. Your comments were encouraging. Thank you

  9. İ live in İstanbul where there are plenty of street dogs and street cats. It is wonderful to share the urban life with them. İ know all the free roaming dogs in my neighbourhood, they display a perfect adaptation to city life. All my present and past dogs are from the streets. i took two of them because they could not find easily someone to care for them as they were paralyzed (they are still with me and without any behavioural problem). Two of them were very old street dogs and came home after road accident, they got well and lived without any behavioural problem until they passed away. Two of them were healthy dogs very well adapted to live in streets but they chose to come home and live with me, i could not say no. One passed away a couple of years ago, she was very loving with people, cats and other dogs. The other is still with me. She is very intelligent, the only thing i can qualify as "problem" is that she doesn't like strangers (especially men) and children, if i introduce them with a sweet tone of voice she calms down and makes no harm. All my dogs had/have very good relations with those of my cats (they are all street cats who come and go or who stay at home as they wish) who accept to play or sleep with them. i cannot understand the silly prejudice of adopting dogs (or cats) from shelters or streets. i have the concrete evidence that shelter and/or street dogs can wonderfully adapt to life at home. Most behavioural problems are man-made problems.

  10. I have had a stray female dog from mexico, which a friend of mine picked up in the street. she was about 5 years old at that time and very much afraid of men and children. both of which reduced over time and exposure. she was the least aggresive dog i have ever met. she never barked and stayed home for long hours without any problems. she never needed any houstraining, she just was, same with wlkingon the lead, she never pulled and she did eveything for food, so training her to run free and recall was easy. she did have preydrive but only hunte on sight, so as soon as she lost side of her prey she would return. very sadlyshe passed avay last summer, she got to be 16 years old.
    i now have a stray dog from romania, he is male and about 2 years old. i only have him for 4 months and he seems more attached to me than the other dog but he stays home easy as well, sometimes i think he cannot wait for me to leave as he knows he will get a bone when i do. he only had four wees in the house and all of them were in the first month, so housetraining not a problem. his recall is great but do to his high preydrive i am stll working him on a 10m training lead. he is great with other dogs unless they are very exuberant than he tells them off and thats it. he is very afraid of men with loud boisterous voices and people throwing things. when i went to visit my parents, my dad cept staring at him, so he started to growel and eventually bark. i tried to gt my dad to talk to him in a nice voice and give him treats but he refued. he has no problems at all with some of my frinds who are rather layed back ad have softer voices, he likes them, so i think that my dad displaying aggressive behaviour by staring at the dog is creating the problem. he is very carefull around the kids and i watch him very closely and them to make sue that everyone is in theyre comfort zone so that nothing happens.
    i would allways get a stray again but people have to be aware that they have to put in the work as they have to with any other dog. you have to give a dog an alternative to the unwanted behaviour, not just tell them what not to do but what to do instead.

  11. I've learnt a lot from everybody's comments it will be easier for me to take care of my two tiny stray pup's. 1 is a female 2 month's old but very intelligent and the other puppy is 21 day's old male,i also have a 2 yr old Labrador who is very gentle with both my puppies. Thank you so much.

  12. Stray's was very intelligent and lovable pets. Really awesome

  13. I have a Greek street dog, he was in really bad shape when a rescue found him. When I got him he was about 2. He now lives with me and another male dog. We had a lot of problems at first. He bonded to me quick, but bit 3 other people out of fear, including my boyfriend...who is now his best friend lol. He also fought with the other dog and both had a few trips to the vet over it. A year and a half later he is doing amazing. He went though a ton of obedience training and lots of socializing. It required patience and work, I wouldn’t recommend anybody take a street dog unless there willing to put the time in. I wouldnt leave him alone with children or ever trust him completely. He does follow me around and I occasionally trip over him. But In the end, it’s a happy story and he has a forever home.

  14. Hi I've rescued two dogs from Serbia, they are both bonded males who were on the streets together. One is a spaniel x, he's 4 this year and a yellow Labrador who was 3.
    I had a few issues with house training but they picked it up within a few weeks.
    The lab is very dominant over the other, which is getting less each month, he is very clingy to me and he had a lot of separation anxiety, but this has slowly started to wear off, he likes to take my slippers with him if I go out for a while.
    Although I've had them for nearly two years they still have a problem with other dogs, they tend to bark and lunge at them, but have found if I give them enough space there a lot calmer. I'm still working with them on this issue and they are getting a lot calmer.
    I will never be able to let them both of the lead at once as they will just run, I can let one off at a time and this will be fine, they also have a very strong prey instinct too.
    They are very loving dogs and I wouldn't change them for they world, like people have said they take that bit extra to train and settle but are so worth it in the end 😁


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