1. Understanding the demography of domestic dog populations is essential for effective disease control, particularly of canine-mediated rabies. Demographic data are also needed to plan effective population management. However, no study has comprehensively evaluated the contribution of demographic processes (i.e. births, deaths and movement) to variations in dog population size or density, or determined the factors that regulate these processes, including human factors. 2. We report the results of a 3-year cohort study of domestic dogs, which is the first to generate detailed data on the temporal variation of these demographic characteristics. The study was undertaken in two communities in each of Bali, Indonesia and Johannesburg, South Africa, in rabies-endemic areas and where the majority of dogs were free-roaming. None of the four communities had been engaged in any dog population management interventions by local authorities or animal welfare organizations. All identified dogs in the four communities were monitored individually throughout the study. 3. We observed either no population growth or a progressive decline in population size during the study period. There was no clear evidence that population size was regulated through environmental resource constraints. Rather, almost all of the identified dogs were owned and fed regularly by their owners, consistent with population size regulated by human demand. Finally, a substantial fraction of the dogs originated from outside the population, entirely through the translocation of dogs by people, rather than from local births. These findings demonstrate that previously reported growth of dog populations is not a general phenomenon and challenge the widely held view that free-roaming dogs are unowned and form closed populations. 4. Synthesis and applications. These observations have broad implications for disease and population control. The accessibility of dogs for vaccination and evaluation through owners and the movement of dogs (some of them infected) by people will determine the viable options for disease control strategies. The impact of human factors on population dynamics will also influence the feasibility of annual vaccination campaigns to control rabies and population control through culling or sterilization. The complex relationship between dogs and people is critically important in the transmission and control of canine-mediated rabies. For effective management, human factors must be considered in the development of disease and population control programmes.