The social networks of free-roaming domestic dogs in island communities in the Torres Strait, Australia

V. J. Brookes, K. VanderWaal, M. P. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Social structure creates heterogeneity of interactions between individuals, thus influencing infectious disease spread. The objective of this study was to describe and characterise the social structure of free-roaming dog populations in three communities in the Torres Strait, Australia.

Dogs in Kubin, Saibai, and Warraber communities were collared with GPS units that recorded locations at 15 s intervals for up to 1 week, and datasets were obtained from 24 (62% of the dog population), 23 (53%) and 21 (51%) dogs in each community, respectively. An association (potential contact) between dogs was defined as proximity within a spatio-temporal window of 5 m for 30 s. Networks were constructed for each dog population: 1. nodes were individual dogs, and 2. edges were weighted according to the duration of spatio-temporal association between pairs of dogs as a proportion of their simultaneous time monitored. Network statistics were calculated for each population and the robustness of networks to the duration of association between pairs of dogs was assessed in terms of efficiency, degree distribution and fragmentation (number of components).

Dog social networks had ‘small-world’ structures, with characteristic clustering and low average shortest-path length between individuals. Overall, all three networks were highly connected in terms of degree distribution and global and local efficiency, but the median tie strength (2–13.5 min) was low. Centrality and the duration of association (tie-strength) between dogs were significantly different between communities. The Kubin network was least robust to fragmentation when ties of short duration were successively removed (14 components with minimum tie strength of 2 h). In contrast, the Warraber dog network was relatively robust with 7 components at minimum tie strength of 2 h as well as high local efficiency within components.

We conclude that whilst infectious disease that requires a short duration of contact for transmission is likely to spread rapidly between and within clusters in all three networks in this study, fragmentation of networks ― once ties of short duration are removed ― is likely to limit spread of disease that requires a longer duration of direct contact. The network information in this study is useful as a foundation for disease spread modelling and to investigate control strategies such as movement restrictions in dog populations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104534
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalPreventive Veterinary Medicine
Early online date12 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2020


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