Free Roaming Dogs

A Survey in the Mariana Islands
By Karen B. London PhD, March 2018, Updated June 2021

Though many of us know dogs as beloved and cherished household pets, we also know that lots of dogs throughout the world do not live as ours do. Living on the streets is common for dogs in many regions, and often the people there are not as enamored with these free-roaming animals as we are with our best friends of the canine variety.

Dogs have been introduced to many new areas by humans, and that has often resulted in negative effects to the local vegetation, trouble for domestic and wild animals, nuisance issues such as barking and fecal waste, bites, accidents with cars and the spread of disease. Difficulties with introduced dogs tend to be most intense on small and isolated islands. On the island of Saipan (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), there is a large population of dogs that was introduced during World War II to serve as scouts, sentries, trackers and explosives detectors. A basic demographic study of the dogs and a survey of people living there revealed much about the population and the public perception of them as well.

The general conclusions were that 1) the population of free-roaming dogs is estimated to be over 21,000 individuals, which equals 44 dogs for every human living there (not including household dogs), 2) The more urban an area is, the greater the density of dogs there, 3) Most adults exhibited aggressive behavior such as baring their teeth, lunging, barking or  growling as opposed to being neutral, friendly or fearful, 4) Dogs were equally likely to be solitary or in social groups, and 5) Members of the public were interested in changes such as leash laws, registration requirements and sheltering services because they perceive the dogs as a public health concern, a nuisance and an environmental problem.

This study is a good reminder of just how different dogs’ lives and the relationships between people and dogs can be, depending on the situation.

Photo: Bianca Ackermann / Unsplash

Karen B. London, Ph.D. is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression. Karen writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about canine training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life