Normally, dingoes live in the Outback–a vast arid region covering most of inland Australia. They avoid human settlements. In times of drought, however, the dogs are forced to migrate in search of water and food, taking them into areas populated by humans. Since sheep and cattle ranches are so common in Australia, many dingoes end up on ranch land. This has given them a taste for livestock, especially sheep. Sheep are easy marks because they seldom run away. Instead, they huddle in groups, undefended.
Understandably, most sheep ranchers have zero tolerance for dingo dogs. Because the dogs also feed on dead livestock killed by other predators, they’re sometimes blamed for deaths they didn’t cause. When dingoes are hungry enough to wander into towns and villages, they scavenge from garbage cans and even kill pets—a practice that earns them no friends, either.
On the other hand, some ranchers have befriended dingoes, using them as working dogs. Owners say they’re as tame as domestic dogs when raised by humans. Dingoes are smart and friendly, though they can get touchy during breeding season. Sheep ranchers who use them for herding report that their dingoes never attack sheep. Dingoes take their jobs seriously and obey commands well. Some families keep dingoes in their homes and find them to be good pets. (The practice is illegal in some parts of Australia.)
The person lucky enough to spot a dingo in the wild usually sees the dog traveling alone. While they belong to small family groups, the members seldom meet unless it’s mating season. Then they spend most of their time together breeding and raising pups.
Dingo packs have clear territories and avoid the ranges of other dingoes. Each pack is fierce about protecting its own range. An unfamiliar dingo who wanders into their territory is likely to be attacked and killed. This seldom happens, though, because unrelated groups are careful to avoid each other. Dingoes rarely fight with members of their own pack.
Dingoes are excellent hunters, working out their tactics ahead of time. At least two lead dogs are responsible for locating a target—a kangaroo, wallaby or smaller animal. They chase their prey to a place where other pack members are waiting in ambush. With their agility and skill, they know how to steer a prey animal just where they want it. Those lying in wait are good at cornering the animal by dodging this way and that.
Dingoes “talk” to each other by howling, whining, and sometimes growling. (To watch a dingo howl click this link. They growl for the same reasons pet dogs to—as a warning. Unlike other dog species, they bark very little—and then only to indicate aggressive intent. Sometimes the bark is followed by a long howl that rises and falls. They also howl to show affection when they greet each other.
The government of Australia classified dingoes as an endangered species in 2004—a step toward protecting them as a form of wildlife found only in Australia. Some wildlife experts say that it’s impossible to preserve the species in purebred form because dingoes have already interbred too widely with pet dogs. Interbreeding started as far back as the 1800s when immigrant families brought their dogs from Europe. Over the years, many of their pets escaped or were let go. A large number joined dingo packs. As the dogs mated and raised litters, the numbers of dingo hybrids multiplied.
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