5.4.16. What dog population management tools are currently recommended?

Dog population management (DPM) is a multifaceted concept which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of free-roaming dogs and reduce problems they may present, within which permanently reducing the size or turnover rate of a dog population may be a goal.

A combination of approaches is usually required for a successful dog population management programme. Here we consider interventions that could be added to a dog rabies vaccination programme to support and enhance rabies control. Planning of such additional DPM interventions should follow an initial assessment phase and analysis of the local dog population to ensure the approaches are both desired by the community and appropriate.

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Photo courtesy of Serengeti Carnivore Disease Project

Currently advocated components in addition to rabies vaccination include:

- Promotion of Responsible Dog Ownership (RDO) through educational initiatives. The aim is to improve the guardianship of dogs and their offspring, ultimately leading to healthier, longer lived and safer (vaccinated) dogs that are not abandoned. RDO involves owners accepting their duties to: (1) provide the resources (e.g. food, water, shelter, health care, social interaction, exercise and opportunity for natural behaviours) necessary for dogs to maintain an acceptable level of health and well-being in their environments; (2) act in accordance with the legislation in place (related to registration, identification or vaccination); (3) minimise any risks (aggression, disease transmission, nuisance or injuries) that dogs may pose to communities, other animals or the environment.

- Registration and identification of dogs is also used to formally and physically establish ownership. Read here about laws and recommendations available for dog identification and registry. Commonly used methods for dog identification can be permanent (e.g. microchips and tattoos) or temporary (e.g. collars and tags), and they are described here and here.

- Legislative measures (e.g. tie-up orders, abandonment legislation, mandatory registration, identification and regular rabies vaccination), which can be found in the legislation section.

- Interventions aiming at controlling dog reproduction. The currently recommended technique for reproductive control is surgical sterilization, which requires trained personnel, infrastructure, equipment (listed here), appropriate anaesthesia and pain management. It should be noted that sterlization of female dogs will be much more effective at reducing dog population size and turnover than the sterilization of males.

Surgical sterilization programmes are enacted either by owners bringing their dogs to a fixed point, or using teams that capture dogs on the streets. The latter involves bring dogs to temporary facility for sterilization and vaccination and then releasing the dogs after recovery in the location where they were captured (often called Capture-Neuter-Vaccinate-Release, CNVR) programmes. See here for some examples. Both methods involves a long term strategy and considerable resources. Where throughput of combined programmes (sterilization and rabies vaccination) is low, additional vaccination (alone) efforts will be needed to reach the required number of dogs to prevent rabies transmission.

Research is currently being carried out to develop safe and effective methods for chemical sterilisation or contraception. Click here for information on non-surgical methods for controlling the reproduction of dogs and cats and here for specific advice on chemical castration. A non-invasive and inexpensive method is the isolation of females in oestrus, which could be implemented by dog owners through education. Additional vaccinations and parasite control are often provided alongside sterilisation to improve the health of individual dogs, hence enhancing owner interest in engaging with the intervention, increasing the value of individual dogs to reduce abandonment and reducing population turnover by improving survival.

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- Removal of unwanted dogs for re-homing. Re-homing is only appropriate when there is a reasonable chance that a rescued dog will be adopted by a responsible family. Sheltering dogs that have no prospects for adoption will lead to overpopulation in rehoming centers and compound health and welfare issues. Needs for opening re-homing centres must be carefully evaluated and when a re-homing centre is required in a given area building and managing it must follow published guidelines, provided here and here. As an alternative to re-homing centres, networks of foster homes involving dedicated volunteers have been successfully created in some parts of Asia, as described here.

If animals removed from the streets cannot be re-homed, and can no longer be sheltered, they will need to be humanely euthanized (see here).

- Habitat control. Areas without adequate garbage disposal are especially prone to attracting large populations of roaming dogs. In specific areas where dogs are not tolerated (e.g. schools and hospitals) access to these resources should be restricted using measures such as animal proof bins and regular removal of garbage and education to prevent purposeful feeding and careless food disposal. Any new sites that could provide high value resources such as slaughter houses or must include regulations to control disposal of waste. Any significant alteration in access to resources must be done with care to ensure that dogs are not left without food leading to greater movement of dogs, potentially higher levels of competition and aggression over food and ultimately starvation.

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DPM may be desirable to reduce the risks of dog bite injuries and other nuisance factors. However, if rabies control is the only, or primary objective, of a programme, then there is currently insufficient evidence of the benefits of DPM to justify the considerable additional expense. It is very important that programmes including DPM have clear objectives and that they are assessed to see if they are producing the desired results. A Guide to Monitoring and Evaluating Dog Population Management Interventions can be found here .

DPM = Dog Population Management
RDO = Responsible Dog Ownership
WSPA = World Society for the Protection of Animals (now World Animal Protection)

previous page: 5.4.15. Should dogs be removed as part of rabies vaccination campaigns?

next page: 5.4.17. Our programme has been successful and we have eliminated dog rabies from an area - how do we keep this area rabies-free?

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Version 4 - last updated May 2017