In Western Europe, it’s quite rare to see stray dogs in the street. However, some of the most popular vacation spots in Southeast Asia have large numbers of stray animals, and little is done to address the issue or manage the population.
In countries where stray dogs and cats are common, the locals are used to encountering them because they live alongside them. But visitors who may be less accustomed to stray animals need to be aware of the dos and don’ts.
Many stray dogs are very friendly, especially in tourist areas – they’re used to human contact and often receive food and attention from people in the community. However, you could be unlucky enough to meet some that are less welcoming. Usually these are dogs that have had little contact with humans, or the contact they have had has made them wary. If dogs are scared, they might try to defend themselves or their litter, their food or their territory. You should bear this in mind and avoid any kind of confrontation with dogs where you risk being bitten.
If a dog barks at you from a distance, it is warning you to stay away from its territory. If you keep calm, maintain a sensible distance and walk past slowly, then you’re unlikely to get into difficulty. If in doubt, avoid any kind of confrontation. If a dog starts to chase you while you’re jogging or riding a bicycle/motorbike, don’t speed up – that would only encourage the dog to chase you, putting you and the animal at more risk of accident or injury. The best response is either to stop and wait for the dog to move away, or to carry on very slowly. A dog is much less likely to chase you if you go slow and keep calm.
Never run away.
The most important point to remember is that you should never run away from a stray dog (or any dog). Running away can trigger a dog’s hunting instinct, which tells them to chase you. It’s better to walk away slowly to avoid triggering that instinct. If you’re on a bicycle or motorbike, slow to a halt and wait for the dog to leave.
Avoid confronting a pack.
Dogs are pack animals and tend to stay in groups, where they can protect each other. If you are out walking and spot a group of dogs, it’s advisable not to go near. Dogs are territorial animals, and if they feel threatened, they could confront you. Be especially careful at night: in the dark you may not be able to see all the dogs around you.
If you do happen to wander into a pack, stay calm and move away slowly. Don’t make any sudden movements, shout or run. Keep your arms close to your body.
Avoid sending dominance signals to dogs.
Dogs are very good at reading our body language. There are some types of human behaviour that dogs find threatening. These include staring at them, yelling, waving arms about and walking directly towards them. These are behaviours that will identify you as a threat. Instead of trying to communicate your dominance, it’s better to send calming signals.
Send calming signals.
If you meet a dog that you are unsure about, don’t try to be dominant or show anger. Instead, send calming signals such as yawning, avoiding eye contact and standing sideways to the dog. You might try crouching down and letting them sniff you (if you feel comfortable doing this).
Ask locals for help.
If you feel threatened by dogs in the street or around a temple, you could try calling to a local for assistance. Many of the dogs will be regulars in the area and are likely to respond better to someone they know (such as a monk or caregiver).
As a last resort…
While we strongly recommend keeping calm and behaving in a non-confrontational way, if you feel very threatened, you could crouch down and pretend to pick up a rock. But don’t actually throw anything at the dog! Sometimes, pretending to pick something up can make a dog run away (a sad reflection of the regular abuse that many stray dogs suffer at human hands).
Worst case scenario
If the worst-case scenario occurs and you are attacked by dogs, try to fend them off with a backpack or stick. If you end up on the ground, protect your head and vital organs. Lie down and curl up in a ball, using your arms to cover your head. Then try to keep still, even though this may be difficult. The dogs are more likely to lose interest in you quickly if you stay calm. Once the dogs have moved away, slowly get up and leave. Get yourself to a safe place and visit a hospital as soon as possible.
What you can do to help stray animals
Don’t feed stray animals, even though you may be tempted to do so. Feeding strays helps to make them dependent on humans, which may not be appreciated by the local people once you’ve returned home. It’s more helpful to donate to a local animal rescue organisation. They can help with the sterilisation of stray animals, set up feeding stations and generally support animals more effectively in the long run. If you see an animal in need of medical attention, where possible you should contact a local animal welfare organisation (such as FOUR PAWS) or a veterinarian. Many local animal welfare groups depend on volunteers and are always looking for extra help. While you’re on holiday, perhaps you could help out by volunteering to walk a dog, clean a kennel or just generally lend a hand.