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04.08.2021 11:26 News >> Tanzania Animal Behaviorists Train Stray Dogs To Trust Humans

Tanzania Animal Behaviorists Train Stray Dogs To Trust Humans

Canines in sanctuaries treated, immunized, conditioned to understand complex human gestures.

Like other stray dogs roaming the streets of Dar es Salaam, Max has experienced the worst kind of physical and verbal assault in her life.
Children loudly chatter while pelting stones at her. Passers-by trade wild Swahili insults -- "mbwa koko" – meaning, "frightened dog with its tail tucked between its legs."
Fearful, confused and distraught, the 11-year-old canine who was rescued and confined by her captors to a kennel, is still extremely aggressive when approached by strangers but at least she rubs her front paws with glee.
"She's trying to adapt to a new environment. We are showing her empathy. She will slowly change her aggressive behavior," says Mary Nyallu a seasoned veterinary doctor with a passion for stray animals.
Charming personality
Max, who is blind and deaf on her right side, scars she has sustained in her arduous street life, shows glimpses of a charming personality -- repeatedly fluttering her ears and wagging her tail whenever her captor brings a bowl of soup.
As the world celebrates International Animal Welfare Day, a social movement to raise the standard of animal welfare, animal rights activists in Tanzania are working to raise awareness and empathy toward the welfare of stray dogs.
One such organization is Every Living Thing, a donor-funded charity based in Dar es Salaam striving to rescue stray dogs, rehabilitate and prepare them for adoption.
The group has in the past few years rescued and rehabilitated hundreds of dogs.
Stray animal sanctuaries
On average about 50 stray dogs are rescued from the streets of Dar es Salaam every month and sent to sanctuaries by animal rights activists who are increasingly troubled by their worsening plight.
Globally, there are as many as 300 million free-roaming canines who often come into conflict with humans, posing a serious public health risk as carriers of rabies, a deadly virus responsible for up to 20,000 fatalities every year, mostly children, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Abuse and neglect
Across Dar es Salam, a fast-growing metropolis and a home to 5 million souls, stray dogs are often beaten, starved, neglected or killed daily since a culture of loving animals is largely absent in Tanzania.
Abandoned and left to fend for themselves in dustbins, animal rights activists say dogs are abused as most city dwellers do not realize animals deserve empathy, too.
Although dogs are generally used for security, many are abused, beaten and left to die in unbearably hostile environments, say activists.
However, under the country's 2010 Animal Welfare Act, whose enforcement is hard to fathom, ill-treatment of animals is prohibited. The law calls for animal keepers to provide, house, care, and attention to animals under care.
"A person shall not train a company of animals in a way that causes unnecessary pain, suffering, injury or distress," it states.
Some rescue centers have an adoption program whereby once rescued, dogs are medically treated, vaccinated and trained to trust humans. They are then placed for adoption for a fee of up to Tanzanian shillings 100,000 ($45)
"It's about fostering empathy and extending justice and mercy to those who are different from us," says Brittany Hilton, founder of the Every Living Thing organization.
Complex human gestures
While experts believe pet dogs are highly receptive to commands from their owners, a recent study published in a journal Frontiers in Psychology in January, suggests 80% of untrained stray dogs can understand and respond to complex human gestures without training.
"As a rescuer who feeds and takes care of stray dogs, the big challenge is to persuade them to trust humans," said Nyallu, who runs a sanctuary on the Kimara area on the outskirts of the city.
"Many people have asked me why it takes so long to gain trust from stray dogs. I tell them it depends where the dog came from and what they've been through" she said.
Amani Kitegile, a senior animal behaviorist at Sokoine University of Agriculture said the managing stray dogs requires patience and skill.
"You don't just give them food to win them. You need to walk with them, play with them to cement the trust between yourselves," he said.
Nyallu said training a stray dog to have more confidence or be comfortable with people approaching is the same as training any other dog.
"You should find what motivates the dog and use that to help you throughout the training," she said. "Like most dogs, stray dogs would be growling or barking and moving closer to the rescuer out of fear of who is approaching."
Nyallu said the more time you spend training the dog, the faster you will restore his trust.
"When your dog feels safe by your side, she will actively try to understand your instructions such as telling him to sit down or run," she said.
Shackled and confined
While dogs in Tanzania are often seen as a means for protection, animal behaviorists say most spend their entire lives shackled or confined to a kennel.
"Dogs will naturally want to protect you if they feel a bond toward you," said Kitegile.
While some Tanzanian families leave the responsibility of washing, feeding and walking their dogs to housemaids, Nyallu said to create a strong bond with the dog and build a trusting relationship, the owner must be fully involved.
She said showing a dog love, companionship, exercise, a healthy diet and regular veterinary care are necessary.
Back at Kimara, Max is still not sure whether strangers visiting her cage want to pet her on the forehead, hurt her or trade "mbwa koko" insults. -



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