All the pet dogs in the world originally descended from the grey wolf thousands of years ago. Maybe you own a Chihuahua—the smallest dog in the world. Or you might have one of the largest species in the world—a Newfoundland, Great Dane or St. Bernard. They’re all cousins. Any dog kept by humans is called a domestic dog.
On the other side of the fence are their wild counterparts, also descended from the grey wolf. There are nine species of wild dogs: coyotes, dingoes, jackals, painted dogs, dholes, bush dogs, maned wolves, raccoon dogs, and New Guinea singing dogs.
Coyotes are natives of North America. Once found only in the West, they now live in every state but Hawaii. They also inhabit all the Canadian provinces. Although most live in the wild, some have made their homes on city streets, foraging for food in dumpsters and trash cans. Unfortunately, they also have a taste for pet dogs and cats, hunting for strays at night.
Coyotes are as tall as German shepherds but thinner. Their long, thin legs are built for speed. These wild dogs are known for their howling. When they’re in a small group, they make a lot of of noise raising their voices in long, eerie howls. The idea is to give enemies the impression that they are fierce—and numerous. They’re saying, “Trespassers beware!”
Coyotes are known for their intelligence and ability to hide from humans. That’s why they’re almost never seen, either in the country or in cities. They’re quiet, quick and stealthy.
Dingo dogs are natives of Australia, living mostly in the dry and dusty Outback—a vast expanse of land occupying more than 90 percent of the country. Few humans can survive in the Outback, but the dingoes make it their home. Considering that Australia is about three quarters the size of the United States, this is a big chunk of real estate.
A dingo dog is about the size of a Dalmatian or small German shepherd, weighing from 40 to 70 pounds. Dingoes live in dens made from hollow logs or burrows left by other animals. They also like spaces under rock piles and boulders in dry creeks.
Like coyotes, a small pack of dingoes can make an impressive noise when they howl together, telling intruders to stay away because they’re ready to fight if need be. In dingo packs, conflicts are rare. If one dog sees something interesting that another dog has, the first dog may growl or pretend to attack, but injury is rare.
The painted dog, also called the Cape hunting dog, makes its home in Africa. It has spoon-shaped ears that can pick up the faintest sound. Packs of painted dogs spend most of their time travelling and hunting in large territories. The rest of the time, they stay near their home dens to take care of new litters of puppies.
The dog is the size of a collie and is covered with patches of yellow, black, white and grey. When the dogs are hunting, their spotted coats serve as an excellent camouflage. These friendly dogs are fierce hunters and protectors, but with each other they’re gentle and affectionate. They sleep together, share food peacefully, and even take care of sick members of the pack. They seem to know that fighting would only weaken the family group.
Painted dogs are highly intelligent and know how to develop hunting strategies to bring down large, fierce prey. They work out their plans as they go along, “talking” to each other with a variety of sounds.
The painted dog is an endangered species, now found only in small areas of Africa.
Jackals live mainly in Africa, although a few have migrated to countries north of the African continent. They look like small versions of a coyote. The jackal is a brave, aggressive dog, hunting prey as large as impalas. Usually the prey is so big that they can’t eat it all. To keep other predators from stealing their meal, jackals run off with meat scraps to bury for later.
Jackals “talk” to each other using many different sounds. They yip, hoot like an owl, yelp, howl, and growl. When one is trapped or in danger, it cackles like a fox. They prefer hunting at night, especially when humans live nearby and daytime hunting isn’t safe. They don’t run fast while hunting, but their endurance makes up for it. They can run at a speed of 10 miles per hour for long distances.
Field mice are a favorite menu item. Researchers found that one jackal eats an average of 1500 field mice a year. If they can’t find prey animals they eat plants and fruit.
Dhole dogs live mainly in the hills and mountains of India. The size of a border collie, the dhole weighs only 25 to 34 pounds. Beautiful golden eyes reflect their intelligence. They make many strange noises to “talk” to each other. They whistle, scream, whine, growl, and make mewing sounds. They chatter between their teeth to warn each other of danger. Every sound has a special meaning.
When dholes aren’t travelling in packs of four to six dogs, they live in dens—usually holes left by hyenas or porcupines. After moving in, they improve the homes to their liking. The dogs dig more than one exit for quick escapes—sometimes as many as five or six.
Dholes are easy-going dogs. They like to play. The only time they’re likely to attack another animal is when they must defend themselves or while they’re hunting. Working together they can bring down animals as large as water buffalo. Their trick is to take turns running after the prey animal to tire it out.
South American bush dogs live in the Amazon rainforest, but they’re hard to find because they’re an endangered species. As the smallest of all wild dog species, the bush dog weighs only 10 to 15 pounds—no bigger than a terrier. It has a solid little body and short legs. It’s built low to the ground so it can run through the underbrush without being seen. With its webbed feet, it can dive and swim like an otter.
The dogs stay busy during the day and rest at night. They take daytime naps in caves, gaps in cliffs, or other good hiding places. These brave little guys defend their territories fiercely and would rather face a fight than run.
Because bush dogs are so short, they can’t see each other in thick bushes. They make up for this by “talking” to each other with grunts, squeaks, whines and growls that carry over long distances. Because the dogs are an endangered species, many zoos try to raise litters of pups.
The maned wolf of South America is a wild dog, not a wolf. It lives mostly in grasslands or areas with scattered bushes and trees. Because of their long legs, maned wolves stand over 3 feet tall, above the level of a kitchen table. Their height helps them spot prey over tall grass.
Unlike other wild dogs, maned wolves are not pack animals. In fact, it’s rare to see two in the same place unless it’s mating season. They gather only in places where the hunting is especially good—for example in areas where there’s been a grassfire and small prey have nowhere to hide.
Although maned wolves are hunters, meat from warm-blooded animals makes up only one third of their diet. The rest comes from insects and plants such as sugarcane and fruit. The fruit they like best looks like a tomato. Natives called it the “fruta do lobo” (wolf’s fruit).
While the first raccoon dogs came from Asian countries such as China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan, they were caught and imported to Russia in the 1930’s because their fur was considered valuable. At the time, raccoon coats were in style. When the fashion faded, thousands of these little dogs were released into the wild, from where they found their way to Finland and other European countries.
Raccoon dogs are no relation to real raccoons but they look a lot alike. A raccoon dog weighs about as much as a small terrier—between 6 and 15 pounds. Many European families keep them as pets because, when handled from birth, they’re friendly and easy going. They’ll eat almost anything, including fruit, nuts and cheese.
To get ready for winter, raccoon dogs grow huge amounts of fur during the autumn months. In the spring most of it falls off, causing a big headache for owners who keep the dogs indoors.
New Guinea Singing Dogs
The New Guinea singing dog comes from an island country north of Australia, living in the hills and mountains. These dogs have been around since the Stone Age. Thousands of years ago, families adopted them as playmates for their children. The dogs are rangy and thin, weighing only 25 to 30 pounds.
The dogs got their name from the way they raise their howling voice in a chorus like a choir. One dog starts a solo and others join in. The song rises, falls, and has a clear rhythm. Then they all stop at the same instant.
No singing dogs have been seen in the wild for several years. Owners who keep them as pets say the dogs are gentle and friendly. They never bite, but are shy with strangers. They grow very close to their human families and get upset went left alone for long. Still, they are independent animals and hard to train. They refuse to obey commands they see no point in.