The Dingo

Australia’s Dingo has counterparts throughout the world


Dog breeds all over the world are noteworthy because of their differences. Some have upright ears, others have drop ears, and still others have long droopy ears. The variety of canine colors and patterns is amazing as is the disparity in size, body shape, and coat type. A tiny Chihuahua and a giant Newfoundland are both Canis lupus familiaris even though one weighs less than five pounds and the other weighs more than 150 pounds.

Most breeds have been refined over hundreds of years to do a variety of chores from bed-warming, and vermin hunting to sheepherding, water rescue, cart or sled pulling, livestock and property guarding, and game hunting and retrieving. There is a group of dogs that has escaped this modification, a group that has relatives spread throughout the world yet has managed to retain its ancient form by preserving a loose association with man. In some cases, this association is mutually beneficial, in others it simply provides the dog with a steady supply of food.

These are the pariah or aboriginal dogs, canids that are generally undomesticated and therefore wear their survival instincts close to the surface. They tend to be hyper-alert, ready to flee at the slightest hint of danger, real or imagined. They are apt to have protective coloration that allows them to blend into the background and to be adept at hunting small animals. They have upright ears, coats that protect from the elements and the environment without being either excessively long or soft, and well-muscled, agile bodies to aid in hunting and escape.

‘Pariah’ means ‘outcast’ and refers to the habit of these dogs to live at the edges of human settlement. ‘Aborigines’ are the first colonizers of a place; aboriginal dogs traveled with nomadic people until they settled down, then took up residence on the outskirts of those encampments. ‘Feral’ refers to dogs that were domesticated at one time but have been turned out to fend for themselves.

Some of these dogs have been captured and bred to work and live in human households. The Canaan Dog is an example of a primitive dog that lived (and still lives) in concert with desert people but was not bred to a standard or trained to do particular work until the middle of the 20th Century. Today the Canaan Dog has two national clubs in the US to conserve its type and heritage, is exhibited in events sanctioned by the American Kennel Club and the United Kennel Club, and is kept as a pet.

The Carolina Dog, a reddish tan Canaan Dog look-alike from the southeastern US, is a feral dog believed to be descended from dogs that came to North America with migrating tribes that formed the basis of native American populations in that region. The Carolina Dog now has a breed standard and is exhibited in rare breed shows.

The Dingo is a feral dog inhabiting all of mainland Australia. It either arrived on the continent with aboriginal people or with traders and other seafarers who brought the dogs along to eat or to use as barter. Whichever is the case, the Dingo resembles semi-wild dogs of Southeast Asia and the New Guinea Singing Dog found in the jungles of that island.

The Dingo (Canis lupus dingo) is a muscular, medium-sized dog with a short coat, erect ears, an angular head, and strong claws. Although it can be black, the Dingo is generally reddish ginger, rusty, cream, yellow, or brown in color with white markings on feet, snout, and tip of the bushy tail. Breed size varies from 19-22 inches tall at the shoulders although individual dogs can be a bit taller or shorter, and weight ranges from 30-50 pounds. Bitches are smaller than dogs.

The Dingo rarely barks (although it does howl, yelp, yodel, and even purr) and is well-adapted to life in Australia’s harsh outback country. These two traits made it an obvious choice for crossing with Smooth-coated Collies in the development of a cattle dog to aid ranchers in the roundup of semi-wild herds and the long drive to market. The resulting Australian Cattle Dog had the stamina, intelligence, and technique to do the job but not the Dingo prey drive towards calves and lambs.

Australia has a great diversity of environment, so it follows that the Dingo would adapt to particular habitats throughout the country. The most conspicuous adaptation is the breed’s coat which varies from the short single coat of the dog in tropical regions to the thick, moderately long double coat in the mountains. In each region, the winter coat is considerably heavier than the summer coat.

Like the Canaan Dog, the Dingo has been domesticated but needs an owner who is tuned in to his wild side. Young Dingoes can be trained with patience and firmness, but maturity brings independence and a sense of territoriality. Combined with a tendency to form lifetime attachments, these characteristics make it difficult for Dingoes to adjust to changes in living circumstances.

The agile, adventuresome Dingo also needs a secure enclosure to keep him safe at home. Fences should be capped to prevent climbing out and sunk into the ground to prevent digging under. Those who would consider locating a Dingo breeder and passing the screening process necessary to buy a puppy should think twice and twice again before indulging the whim. Dingoes need constant reinforcement of training and socialization and a willingness to be gentle yet firm at all times.

The New Guinea Singing Dog is a feral canid inhabiting the mountainous regions of New Guinea. This extremely rare and very shy dog came to the attention of scientists in the 1950s when a pair was captured and taken to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. Originally classified as Canis hallstrami after Sir Edward Halistrom, the NGSD has been re-classified as Canis lupus dingo, a subspecies of the Australian Dingo.

A pair of NGSDs came to the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, in 1987, the same year a male and several females were imported to Canada. The Canadian dogs failed to reproduce, and in 1994, the male went to the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory in Aiken, Georgia where Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin Jr. had already had success in breeding the Carolina Dog. In 1995, an estimated 300 NGSDs were in captivity, all descended from eight wild-caught pairs.

Feral dogs like the Dingo, Canaan Dog, Carolina Dog, and NGSD have much to teach us about dog behavior and adaptations. They are at once in tune with and wary of their surroundings, characteristics that help them survive. These dogs are definitely to be studied and admired but not necessarily to be owned as pets, especially by novices who know little or nothing about canine behavior or training methods.

Information for this article came from The Dingo Sanctuary, www.dingosanctuary.org; Unique Australian mammals, home.mira.net/~areadman/aussie.htm; The American Dingo/Carolina Dog website, www.carolinadogs.com/; and the New Guinea Singing Dog Conservation Society, www.canineworld.com/ngsdcs/.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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