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Wild, semi-wild or feral dogs are an increasing problem in many urban and suburban areas. While some of these dogs have actually been born in a feral state, a great many are someone's pet that has been lost, abandoned or has run away and simply cannot find his or her way back home. Often these dogs are abused by other people, chased by packs of other dogs and often they are injured, malnourished and highly protective and aggressive. This is not because of the dog's temperament, but rather the cruel and savage environment they find themselves thrust into on the streets.
Generally feral dogs or semi-wild dogs congregate in smaller to relatively large packs, which is when they are the most problematic. A lone dog typically will hide and try to avoid other animals and humans, but once in a pack situation they can become more territorial, more aggressive and more likely to attack. Many groups of dog lovers, animal welfare advocates and concerned citizens get together in communities in an attempt to humanely manage these feral dog populations. This often includes live capturing the dogs, vaccinating, spaying or neutering and attempting to socialize and train the dog so they can be adopted out to a loving home.
This process is not short and is certainly not something that a first time dog owner would want to take on. Only people that have experience with feral dogs or working with abused animals should be managing these programs, although other interested individuals can certainly be trained to participate in the process. Since these dogs have a huge distrust of people, socialization and desensitization to human contact is going to be one of the highest priorities in training and working with the animals.
Feral PuppiesFeral puppies are puppies born to two domestic types of dogs that have become feral or semi-wild. In other words these are puppies that have been whelped and lived without human contact until the time they are captured and brought into a home or a rescue. Ideally a feral puppy that is captured at around the eight week mark or even before weaning will have little difficulty in adjusting to human contact and will typically develop a bond between their handlers and themselves.
Puppies learn about socialization and humans during the first two months of life as this is when they are the least aggressive, territorial or frightened. Puppies over 2 months of age but under 6 months of age are often more fearful and timid, but may also be starting to become highly territorial and aggressive if they feel threatened. Generally desensitization to human voice and presence, then touch and training is effective even at this age. It is essential that the handlers and trainers never use sudden movements or loud noises, and all training is positive reinforcement, never harsh or punishment based with these older puppies. Housetraining using a crate training method is often effective with these older puppies, younger puppies can be trained using any positive reinforcement method that would be appropriate for fully domestic litters.
Juveniles And AdultsMore mature feral puppies from about six months to one year of age are increasingly more challenging to work with. This doesn't mean that they cannot learn to be outstanding pets, but it does mean that handlers and trainers have to be realistic about how these dogs will work within different families. If a young dog has been hunting for its food, it will continue to have a very high prey drive all through its life. After all, the very survival of the animal depended on their hunting and scavenging skills for the first year or so of their life.
The dog may also be genuinely fearful of people since living in a feral state typically includes being chased, abused and having any number of very negative experiences with people and other dogs. Often even the very process of live capture in the no-harm traps is very threatening and highly traumatizing to the feral animal. In addition they are now confined in a cage or run, further causing distress to the dog.
The key with these animals is to just allow them to become comfortable in their surroundings. A large, fully enclosed run is the best option. Too confining a space will only add to stress levels. The dogs should also have a place where they can hide when they feel the need. A doghouse or a crate that is in a quiet area of the run is the best option. People need to give the dog space and time when he or she is in the house or crate and that should be their secure and isolated area. Never use the crate or house to confine the dog unless absolutely necessary for medical attention or emergencies. Keep in mind these dogs will often have diseases and health conditions that require isolation until treated.
Start by simply sitting beside the run or kennel area. Avoid eye contact as this can be threatening to the dog. You may want to just read a good book or relax. Break this up into several shorter sessions a day, gradually adding talking to the dog in a calm, relaxing tone of voice. Playing a radio or a TV softly in the background can also help desensitize the dog to typical sounds and noises. Never use any sudden movements or loud sounds during this process.
Feeding the dog should be done through the fence or run, don't actually get in with the dog until he or she is comfortable with your presence. Ideally two people should always be present in case the dog acts unexpectedly. This process may take weeks or months, depending on the age of the dog and his or her temperament and trust level. Over time and with the comfort level of the dog, gradually include feeding treats closer and closer to you, eventually out of your hand. Never attempt to hold, grab or restrain the dog, they have to learn about trust before they can learn obedience.
Many feral dogs that are captured when they are mature animals never become fully trained, but they can be terrific dogs. Some are very challenging to housebreak and may be better suited as outside pets with appropriate shelter for year round comfort. In keeping with their hunting nature, feral dogs, at least mature dogs, are generally not a good match for households with cats, other smaller pets or dogs and small children. Some of the feral puppies do very well with kids and other pets, but this is largely dependent on their age and the socialization that owners engage in with the puppy within the first few weeks of captivity.
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