The Interesting History Of The Dingo Dog

The Interesting History Of The Dingo Dog

What is the dingo? Is he a direct descendant of the wolf or is he a wild dog which was once domesticated, then turned wild again? This puzzle is as frustrating as the proverbial chicken-and-egg progression.

Genetically, the dingo is homogeneous to the pale-footed Asian wolf (canis lupus pallipes), presumed still to exist in certain remote, mountainous regions of Asia. It is believed that he has altered very little from his prehistoric forebears, which were widely distributed throughout Africa. 

It is believed further that he came to Australia in a semi-domesticated condition during the last phase of the Ice Age (15,000 B.C.), and that he was in the company of nomadic aborigines who had trekked across the Indonesian archipelago. 

He wandered as far as New Guinea, where he developed into a smaller variety of dingo (which is called New Guinea singing dog because of its opera-like howling at sundown), but he did not make it to Tasmania or Kangaroo Island. It is interesting to note that the singing dog's diminished size may be the result of selective breeding.

What Do Dingo's Look Like & How Do They Live?

The average dingo is about 24 inches high, which is somewhat smaller than the Asian wolf, but his legs are longer than the wolf's. Many other wolf-like characteristics distinguish him from the domesticated dog. For example, his massive skull and his heavy jaws, his powerful masticating muscles and his deadly, razor-sharp teeth all indicate that he has always had to hunt and kill for his living.

His bushy tail, which he carries low between his legs, has the function of disguising his scent or allowing it to be released. This enables him to both hide from his enemies or to announce his whereabouts. He is also like a wolf in that his ears are pricked and situated well forward, and that he always carries his head erect when he runs. 

His low brow is characterized by a well-marked stop, indicating that he was once indigenous to a cold climate and that he sprang from a species of wolf other than the one responsible for jackals, coyotes and greyhounds, which have no stop at all. 

Triangular in shape, his short-muzzled face has that fierce forward look which is far more typical of the wolf than of canis familiaris. Unlike the average dog, the dingo howls rather than barks – but he can pick up the habit of barking from his domesticated fellows.

In color, the dingo is generally yellowish white, although some are black. His short undercoat is gray. His muzzle is occasionally black and his tail sometimes terminates in a white tip. 

Another characteristic which distinguishes the dingo is that he breeds only once a year, whereas the domesticated dog does so in six-month cycles. The dingo mother usually produces litters of six to eight pups. In the wild she builds a type of nest for them, preferably within the shelter of a hollow tree. Because the dingo has interbred freely with the European house dog, pure specimens are comparatively rare today. Nevertheless, dingo characteristics are dominant in the crossbred pup, especially where posture, shape of skull, and habits are concerned.

The dingo has been compared to the pariah or shenzi dog, which is distributed throughout Africa, the Far East, Malaysia and India. Both hunt in packs, for example, but the shenzi is nearly always a scavenger, whereas the dingo is more a hunter than a gleaner. Nor is he as savage as the shenzi, who is sly and elusive like the jackal, with whom he is believed to have intermingled liberally. The shenzi is also different from the dingo in that he carries his tail curled up and is stockier in conformation.

In Africa, the shenzi has developed into two domesticated breeds of dog. One is the Rhodesian ridgeback, which is a cross between shenzi and European breeds; the other is the basenji, which is said to be very little changed from the dog of ancient Egypt.

Left to his own devices, the dingo hunts nocturnally in packs of five to six. Sometimes these packs comprise family units. However, groups consisting of as many as a hundred have been seen from time to time. The dingo shares with the wolf his highly developed territorial sense, which means that he not only defends his own territory, but respects his neighbor's. 


The Domesticated Dingo

He has always lived and bred in the wild, but some of his fellows were domesticated for the hunt as far back as the Paleolithic Age. It is thought that the aborigines reared stolen pups in their settlements. 

Apparently, they received more care and affection than did most dogs kept by primitive peoples, who treated them as slaves rather than as companions. Not only did the dingo serve his masters by hunting for them, but he cleared their camps of refuse. In other words, the early aborigine and his dog had a good working relationship. However, by the time the white man came to Australia, the dingo had completely reverted to being a predator and scavenger.

Today, it is generally presumed that the dingo is vicious and untrustworthy, although in his domesticated state he has time and again proven himself friend to man. He is by nature an excellent hunting dog and was invaluable in hunting rabbits when the great extermination movements were underway in Australia. 

Perhaps some day man will again make him part of the household. Certainly his superlative characteristics would go a long way towards improving some of the domesticated breeds.