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Posts Tagged ‘dingo’

Ch. Myall, a British show dingo.

W.D. Drury writes about the show dingoes in British Dogs: Their Points, Selection And Show Preparation (1903) :

Of the Dingos that have been exhibited, Captain Burton a frequent winner about sixteen years since, was unquestionably one of the best. Like many wild animals in confinement, this dog would continue to walk round in a circle for hours together; it was for this reason that he was exhibited loose in an iron cage, as if chained up the chain soon became twisted. In later years Myall has successfully represented the breed on the show-bench. Previous to either of these dogs Lupus was a frequent winner under different judges. The high carriage of tail was a fault in this dog apparent to any one; in addition to this the writer, who owned Lupus for some years, always considered that there was something about the dog not altogether characteristic of the breed, although it would have been very difficult to define exactly what this was. He had no suspicion at the time that the dog, although bred in this country, was not a pure-bred Dingo, as was represented to be the case when he became possessed of it. It was not until some time after the dog had been given away and he was exhibited by his new owner that the writer noticed for the first time one or two small black spots at the root of the tongue. This clearly showed that there was Chinese or Chow-Chow blood in the dog, which readily accounted for the high carriage of tail, as well as for other faults not so easily discernible.

I should note that black spots on the tongue do not always denote chow ancestry. I have known a few pure goldens to have this trait.

Dingoes are not recognized as a purebred. The ANKC does not have a dingo standard, although it did at one time.

It sounds perverse that anyone would want to show a dingo. This is a creature that is the result of natural selection, not the result of selective breeding. Showing such an animal gives dishonor to its nature, denying its due respect as part of Australia’s native fauna.

Althugh dingoes are feral domestic dogs, they have been living free of human selective breeding for perhaps 4,000 years.

Instead of ch0w-chow, I think it is more likely that Myall was an alpine dingo, which have evolved a thicker coat to live in the colder places on the continent, such as the Snowy Mountains.

 

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These hunters rely upon their dogs to hunt tree kangaroos, cuscus, and feral pigs.

The dogs are derived from the semi-wild New Guinea singing dog, which is a dingo that evolved to live in the New Guinea Highlands.

This footage shows the dogs hunting in the forest. It also includes a clip of the New Guinea singing dog howling.

The New Guinea singing dog is a critically endangered subpopulation of the ding (Canis lupus dingo) that is in desperate need of genetic diversity. Because these village dogs are derived from it, I don’t see why they aren’t recruited as potential outcrosses.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the New Guinea singing dog is that too many of its advocates have considered it a separate species from the dingo and the domestic dog. Many older texts even refer to it as Canis hallstromi. Almost all of these dogs descend from a single litter that was born in Australia from imported parents.

Of course, that reality is not understood when a welfare situation pops up. When 85 of these dogs were recently discovered in Pennsylvania living in less than ideal situations, the dogs were confiscated. From my understanding, about half of these dogs have been spayed and neutered.

Now, spaying and neutering rescued dogs is required by law in so many jurisdictions. It doesn’t matter what kind of dog.

I’m very worried that big chunk of this breed’s potential genetic diversity has been compromised. Until those 85 were discovered, there were only 150 of these dogs residing outside New Guinea. There are a few still roaming the New Guinea Highland, though I would be highly surprised if these dogs were “purebred” and illegible for inclusion their studbooks.

Of course, all of this would be moot point, if their advocates were more willing to allow outcrosses to dingoes and other primitive dog breeds. The dingo and the New Guinea village dog seem to be the most logical outcrosses to increase this breed’s genetic diversity, but I have heard of someone crossing in Shetland sheepdog — of all things. There is also the Malaysian Telomian breed, another monestrous primitive breed from Malaysia that so strongly resembles the singing dog.

BTW, I should mention that the name Canis lupus dingo is controversial. Some taxonomists think all dingoes–including the singing dog– should be considered part of the domestic dog subspecies, Canis lupus familiaris. Dingoes are derived from dogs that existed in Asia or Indonesia that existed under a varying amount of domestication. Once out of agricultural societies, these dogs developed physical features and behaviors that are more associated with wolves than village dogs.

 

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(source for image)

Ah. I finally got you.

I said it was not a domestic dog. It is not.

It isn’t even canine.

It’s not even from a member of the order Carnivora.

It is a thylacine skull.

For those of you who don’t know this is what a thylacine looked like, here’s footage of the last one, Benjamin, who died in 1936:

Source.

Thlyacines were a wonderful example of convergent evolution.

It’s amazing how much their skulls resemble that of a placental wolf.

When Europeans colonized Australia, the only large predator on the mainland was the dingo, an animal derived from East Asian domestic dogs, which were derived from the placental wolf. Dingoes very strongly resemble certain subspecies of wolf, and they are currently recognized as a subspecies of wolf, Canis lupus dingo.

On Tasmania, there were no dingoes at all. Instead, there was this wolfish creature with stripes.

One would have thought that the two were related.

After all, they looked so much alike and lived in relative proximity to each other.

But evolution often produces similar animals from very different lineages. The closest relatives to the dingo are dogs and wolves. The closest relatives to the thylacine are the carnivorous marsupials. The two animals evolved to hunt relatively similar prey.

However, a study from 2007 found that although physically similar, the dingo is structurally much better equipped to attack large prey. It may have had more powerful bite, but the thylacine was forced to hunt mostly smaller prey.

When the dingo arrived in Australia around 4,000 years ago, the dingo could prey on all sorts of different animals, including the biggest kangaroos.

The dingoes were also pack hunters, which meant that they could more easily pursue larger prey.

It has been suggested that the natives of Australia were also regularly managing the land through burnings mean that there was less cover for the thylacine. The thylacine preferred to hunt in the dense forest, while the dingo was more at home hunting out in the open. This has been disputed, simply because aboriginal burning increases the number of species that inhabit the desert environment.  The thylacine would have benefited from the burnings and would not have become so stressed that it would become extinct.

However, the dingo also had a complex relationship with the people– in the form of a kind of semi-domestication. That meant that the dingoes would benefit from the successes of humans.

The thylacine had none of these advantages. Humans would have been a major competitor for the thylacine for prey, and high densities of people would mean that the thylacine would have faced really intense competition from both people and dingoes. Such stresses could cause the thylacine to become extinct on the mainland.

It was forced to hunt smaller prey. It was a solitary hunter, and it had no beneficial relationship with people. Its hunting habitat was fragmented, and it simply could not compete with the dingo.

Because dingoes never made it to Tasmania, the thylacine was able to hold on for much longer.

I have never understood why people called this animal a Tasmanian tiger. It may be that it looked like a giant quoll, which are also called “native cats.” A big native cat might as well be a tiger, right?

However, it was soon the target of hunters in Tasmania, for it was widely believed to a great menace to sheep. Most the killings likely happened as the result of free roaming domestic dogs, but it was easier to blame the wild tiger than the tame dog. After all, if that 2007 study is correct, it is very unlikely that a thylacine would have risked so much to tangle with a sheep.

It is really a shame that the thylacine went extinct, because it was such a wonderful example of convergent evolution. Through the history of the earth, the doggish form has appeared several times.  The earliest large hyenas actually looked more like dogs than modern hyenas do, and the Mesonychids looked a lot like wolves (in the case of Andrewsarchus mongoliensis, a very, very big wolf!).

It should not be a surprise that an animal similar to this form would pop up in the marsupial lineage.  Mesonychids were actually related the even-toed ungulates and whales and were of no relationship to modern wolves or dogs at all.

Evolution does amazing things. Convergence is one of its most interesting aspects.

***

To read more about the thylacine, check out the wonderful online Thylacine Museum. It has lots of historical photos, including the oldest extant photograph of a thylacine.

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Lycaon pictus. It is commonly called the African wild dog or Cape hunting dog. Such a name suggests a feral domestic dog, which it most definitely is not. It definitely needs a name change if it is going to survive.

Lycaon pictus has an image problem.

But most of it seems to be in the name.

I remember hearing these animals called “Cape hunting dogs,” and some old nature documentaries treated them as if they were some sort of feral dog.

In colonial texts, I always see them referenced in this fashion. I remember reading The Man-eaters of Tsavo by Col. Patterson, and his discussion of the species is that they are something like a dingo. I also remember reading texts that discuss Rhodesian [sic] Ridgeback histories, and the  “Cape hunting dog” is listed as an ancestor. (I think they mean something else, but the terms are so nebulous that people often wind up mixing up African feral dogs with “African wild dogs.” It’s enough to confuse modern researchers.)

Because these animals have a range that extends beyond southern Africa, it became common to call these animals “African wild dogs.”

Another bad name.

Not only are there lots of other real African wild dogs (three species of jackal, the Ethiopian wolf, and several foxes), these animals are not related to any of the feral dogs.  One of my biggest complaints in Stanley Coren’s Intelligence of Dogs is that he thought this species could have contributed to several domestic dog breeds. The name is both generic and misleading at the same time.

You see, Lycaon pictus is a relative of the interbreeding and interfertile species in the genus canis, but it’s not that closely related to them. It is more closely related to those interfertile species than the two species of “Africa-only” jackals (the black-backed and the side-striped).

Here’s the dog family phylogenetic tree:

(Image comes from this study)

Ethiopian wolves and golden jackals are the most distant relatives to Canis lupus (which include dogs, New Guinea singing dogs, dingoes, and wolves) with which it can interbreed and produce fertile offspring.

See where “African wild dogs” are on that tree?

They are too distantly related to interbreed with domestic dogs or wolves.

But calling them “African wild dogs” suggests that they are related to dogs. It even suggests, if one gets sloppy enough, that these animalss represent a form of feral African dog.

It wouldn’t be so bad, but Lycaon pictus is an endangered species. The IUCN lists them as endangered, and the populations that do exist are fragmented. The land they live on is needed for people to raise crops and graze livestock.

When people encroach on Lycaon pictus’s habitat they unleash several threats.  One of these is domestic dogs, who are carriers of canine diseases.

People also shoot, trap, and poison them.

In the old days they were shot to protect game herds. The same rationale was used in the early days of the conservation movement to kill off wolves in America’s nation parks. Kill of the predators to save wildlife.

Today they are shot to protect livestock.

And if we believe that African wild dogs are just feral dogs, then what is to stop people from killing them?

To make things worse, Lycaon pictus requires vast expanses of territory. They need lots and lots of room to be able to hunt enough prey to survive.

Most African national parks and private game preserves are too small for them.

And then those preserves are much more interested in promoting “sexy” animals. They do a lot to promote lions and hyenas, which are major predators and competitors of Lycaon pictus.

And if the park managers believe that Lycaon pictus is some kind of  feral animal, they aren’t going to do much to promote their conservation to either their investors or their governments.

So to solve this problem, one conservation has decided that a name change is necessary to save the species.

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff writes about the efforts of conservationist Greg Rasmussen in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe:

We humans are suckers for certain kinds of wildlife, from lions to elephants. I hadn’t known I was a zebra fan until I drove my rented car into a traffic jam of zebras here. My heart fluttered.

As for rhinos, they’re so magnificent that they attract foreign aid. Women here in rural Zimbabwe routinely die in childbirth for lack of ambulances or other transport to hospitals, and they get no help. But rhinos in this park get a helicopter to track their movements.

Then there are animals that don’t attract much empathy. Aardvarks. Newts. And, at the bottom tier, African wild dogs.

Wild dogs (which aren’t actually wild dogs, but never mind that for now) are a species that has become endangered without anyone raising an eyebrow. Until, that is, a globe-trotting adventurer named Greg Rasmussen began working with local villages to rebrand the dogs — and save them from extinction.

It’s a tale that offers some useful lessons for do-gooders around the world, in clever marketing and “branding,” and in giving local people a stake in conservation. For if it’s possible to rescue a despised species with a crummy name like “wild dogs,” any cause can have legs.

***

Wild dogs are not dogs, which split off from wolves only in the last 30,000 years. In contrast, wild dogs last shared a common ancestor with dogs or wolves about 6 million years ago. They are the size of German shepherds and look like dogs, but they don’t bark and have different teeth and toes. And although many have tried, they have not been domesticated.

“Chimpanzees and gorillas are closer to us humans than wolves are to painted dogs,” Mr. Rasmussen said.

Note that terminology: “painted dogs.” Central to Mr. Rasmussen’s effort to save the dogs has been a struggle to rename them, so that they sound exotic rather than feral.

Do-gooders usually have catastrophic marketing skills. Pepsi and Coke invest fortunes to promote their products over their rivals, while humanitarians aren’t nearly as savvy about marketing causes with far higher stakes — famine, disease, mass murder.

Mr. Rasmussen is an exception, and his effort to rebrand the species as “painted dogs” caught on. The name works because the animals’ spotted coats suggest that they ran through an artist’s studio.

Mr. Rasmussen runs the Painted Dog Conservation, a center that offers the animals a refuge from poachers and rehabilitation when they are injured. But most of all, he works with impoverished local villagers so that they feel a stake in preserving painted dogs.

Conservation efforts around the world often involve tensions with local people. But you can’t save rainforests if their advocates are 5,000 miles away, and conservationists increasingly are realizing that they can succeed only if they partner with local people.

Painted Dog Conservation does a lot of work with local people who live near these animals.  Rasmussen understands that the people aren’t as into conserving this animal because it’s not believed to be something unique.

It’s just a dog.

But if it’s a “painted dog,” it might be worth protecting.

***

You may note on this blog, I’ve usually called them by their scientific name or the direct English translation of that name. Lycaon pictus means “painted wolf.” Lycaon means wolf in Greek. Pictus means painted in Latin.

I think this is actually a better name than “Painted Dog.”

Why?

Well, I know they aren’t wolves as we understand them.

But neither is the South American maned wolf.

And what about the extinct the Tasmanian wolf?

Or the hyena the Namibians and South Africans call a Strandwolf?

Or the the little termite eating hyena called the aardwolf?

It seems to me that there are lots of things we call wolves but really aren’t.

The maned wolf is more distantly related to the real wolves than the Lycaon pictus is.

And the maned wolf does not have the same social structure that characterizes both Lycaon pictus and real wolves.

It seems to me that we could get away with calling this animal the “painted wolf” far more easily than we could by calling a marsupial carnivore a “Tasmanian wolf.”

And there is another thing:

North Americans and most Europeans view wolves rather strangely.

Where we once believed them to be the epitome of all evil in the wilderness, we now believe them to be the symbols of our wild heritage.

Calling Lycaon pictus a “painted wolf” would at least get people thinking about it in those terms.

Just look what has happened to the animal formerly referred to as the Simien jackal.  DNA studies told us that it was actually closely related to the wolf and coyote, and its name was changed to “Ethiopian wolf.”

People now care about it because they think of it as a wolf.

It doesn’t matter than more recent studies have found that the golden jackal is more closely related to the wolf and coyote line than the Ethiopian wolf is.

People want to conserve wolves.

They don’t want to save the jackals or the feral dogs.

It’s unfortunate, I know.

But words have power.

And so do symbols.

The wolf of Eurasia and North America has been saved largely because the symbols it represents have changed in the public imagination.

I don’t see why the symbolism of the wolf can’t be used to save Lycaon pictus.

Calling them painted wolves would certainly elevate their status in the developed countries, and it might even help generate revenue (in the form of ecotourism and various foundations) that might be used to save this species.

Whatever we call it, Lycaon pictus needs some rebranding.

But maybe not.

There are Australians who are trying to save the dingo, which is a feral breed of domestic dog!

But Australia is a much more affluent place than many African countries, and it might be easier to get people excited about something like this if their bellies are full and they have money to spend.

So a rebrand is necessary.

***

Before the dingo people assail me:

I am classifying the dingo with the domestic dogs for a very simple reason.

They all descend from domestic Asian dogs, not wolves. All dogs, including the dingo, descend from wolves, but their direct ancestors were domestic dogs.

I do not deny that they are pretty wild animals and are not typically suitable as pets.

However, dingos are currently listed as Canis lupus dingo. I have some issues with this classification.

I believe there are two main reasons for its subspecies status– to keep people from owning them and to ensure that governments and individuals will do all they can to preserve them as native Australian wildlife.

I certainly don’t disagree with those objectives.

But I think we need to be careful about assigning it a subspecies status.

Where does it stop?

Couldn’t we say golden retrievers a unique subspecies of C. lupus?

I guess it’s just the taxonomic lumper in me coming out.

***

You note that I don’t use the name Canis familiaris for domestic dogs.

I think it’s a pretty stupid name.

We call domestic pigs Sus scrofa domestica because it’s derived from the Eurasian wild boar (Sus scrofa).

We call the domestic horse Equus ferus caballus because it’s derived from the Eurasian wild horse (Equus ferus).

Because most domestic ducks (save the Muscovies) are derived mallards, we call them Anas platyrhynchos (no subspecies given).

I don’t get why there is so much resistance to calling domestic dogs Canis lupus familiaris.

I think it may have to do with the long held belief that domestic dogs couldn’t possibly be wolves because wolves are evil.

I am sure this thinking has tinctured a lot of discussion about dogs and their origins.

And Darwin didn’t help.

Darwin believed just about every wild dog played a role in developing the domestic dog.

It’s not true, of course.

Then Konrad Lorenz posited the theory that some dogs were derived from wolves and others were derived from golden jackals.

So far, we know of only one dog that has direct ancestry from jackals: the Sulimov dog.

Now, there are differences between dogs and wolves, but wolves themselves are pretty diverse animals.

In their wild forms, they have come in so many different forms and ecological niches throughout their natural history.

In their domestic forms, these differences can become even more greatly magnified.

The cognitive adaptations that dogs have to live with people are interesting and worth noting, but how are these different from the Arctic wolf’s white pelt or the Arabian wolf’s large ears?

Why can’t we just accept that C. lupus is a very magnificently diverse species and domestic dogs are part of it?

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Source.

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dingo wolf dad

Now, what I am about to mention is something now widely considered in the discussion about dogs and wolves.

The common assertion is that dogs are not wolves because when dogs go feral, they don’t become the large, big game hunting wolves that we all know from nature documentaries and zoos. I’ve always found this argument to be rather faulty for reasons I shall explain.

I submit that the reason why dogs don’t become wolves is because it is far easier to scavenge off of people than return to their ancestral lupine form in terms of phenotype and behavior.

We do, however, have an example of a domesticated dog reverting back to a wolf form. However, the form it returned to is more of one of the subtropical races of wolf, rather than moose and elk-hunting wolves from the northern reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. No dog has ever returned to that particular form, simply because in all cultures in the northern part of  Northern Hemisphere there are both garbage dumps and a cultural tradition of dog keeping (and I use that term very loosely). Both of these features make it easier for dogs to remain dogs.

The dog I am talking about is the dingo. The dingo is sometimes considered its own subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus dingo). However, it actually descends from East Asian pariah dogs that came to Australia 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.

4,000 years ago, pariah dogs in Southern Asia looked a lot like pariah dogs do now. They  probably had floppy ears and curled tails. They were like the pariah dogs we find throughout the Third World. They are the pot lickers and primitive sanitation engineers of these societies. A few are used as hunters, especially in New Guinea, and a few are used as livestock guardian dogs (like the ones in the Ethiopian wolf video I posted yesterday).

The pariah dogs arrived in Australia through trade from Indonesia.

The native peoples of Australia did keep the dingoes as pets, but every account I’ve read of them, the dingoes were not fed. They had to go hunting on their own.  Not all bands of Australian natives were interested in them, and as the dogs spread through the continent, they became more and more wolf-like.

In fact, I’ll submit that a dingo is a domestic dog that became a wolf.

They do form packs and hunt on their own. They pair bond, and the males help their mates care for their young.  Most feral domestic dogs don’t do these things. However, there have been cases of some pariah dog males helping bitches rear their litters.

For generations, Indonesian dogs arrived in Australia, where they were absorbed into the dingo population.

I find it very interesting that the original theory about the dingoes derived from the Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes). However, we know that Indian wolves are rather unique genetically, and they probably had no role in the development of the domestic dog.

It is also a bit bigger than the typical dingo, weighing as much as 70 pounds. Most dingoes are around the 30 to 40 pound range. (The given weights on US dog sites insanely over-estimate the dingo’s size).

However, there is a wolf subspecies that does aproach this size and conformation, and what’s more is that it evolved for a similar arid environment.

This subspecies is, of course, the Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs). It stands about three inches taller at the shoulder than the tallest dingoes, but in terms of head and body size, it is very similar to the dingo of Australia.

Arabian wolf

It is because of the similarities between dingoes and Arabian wolves that I think we can make that the case that this is a good example of a pariah dog evolving back to a wolfish form.

It punches a large hole in the argument that feral dogs never become like wolves. They become like wolves when they are forced to hunt for a living.

I have never understood why we assume that all wolves are like the ones from Northern Eurasia and Northern North America. Those may be the most numerous wolves, and they may have played a role in the development of the domestic dog through the ages.

But not all wolves are of this type. The subspecies that are subtropical in origin, like the red wolf, the Indian wolf, and the Arabian wolf are all smaller animals, with slighter bodies and smaller heads.  (The red wolf may be a separate species, but no one has convinced me yet.)

The only way to test my hypothesis is to get rid of humans. If  humans were to disappear from the Northern Hemisphere, I think we could see the gradual evolution of domestic dogs toward a big game hunting wolf phenotype and behavior. Just like the Asian pariah dogs in Australia had to become wolves to survive in the bush,  domestic dogs would have to become wolves to live without us.

The old saying is that “Dogs make us human.”

Well, the corollary is that humans keep dogs in their dog-like form. Without our waste or  our dog-keeping cultures, dogs have no reason to remain as dogs. Without us, the niche that dogs fill no longer exists, and the organism is better off becoming a wolf.

And the dingo is a dog that became wolf for precisely that reason. Hunter-gatherers may have liked them,  but they didn’t have the conditions that allowed them to live as dogs. Those dogs had to hunt for a living.

And that’s why I still consider the dog to be subspecies of Canis lupus,  which is in keeping with the tradition of classifying domestic animals with their wild forebears.

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dingo wolf dad

Now, what I am about to mention is something not widely considered in the discussion about dogs and wolves.

The common assertion is that dogs are not wolves because when dogs go feral, they don’t become the large, big game hunting wolves that we all know from nature documentaries and zoos. I’ve always found this argument to be rather faulty for reasons I shall explain.

I submit that the reason why dogs don’t become wolves is because it is far easier to scavenge off of people than return to their ancestral lupine form in terms of phenotype and behavior.

We do, however, have an example of a domesticated dog reverting back to a wolf form. However, the form it returned to is more of one of the subtropical races of wolf, rather than moose and elk-hunting wolves from the northern reaches of the Northern Hemisphere. No dog has ever returned to that particular form, simply because in all cultures in the northern part of  Northern Hemisphere there are both garbage dumps and a cultural tradition of dog keeping (and I use that term very loosely). Both of these features make it easier for dogs to remain dogs.

The dog I am talking about is the dingo. The dingo is sometimes considered its own subspecies of wolf (Canis lupus dingo). However, it actually descends from East Asian pariah dogs that came to Australia 3,500 to 4,000 years ago.

4,000 years ago, pariah dogs in Southern Asia looked a lot like pariah dogs do now. They  probably had floppy ears and curled tails. They were like the pariah dogs we find throughout the Third World. They are the pot lickers and primitive sanitation engineers of these societies. A few are used as hunters, especially in New Guinea, and a few are used as livestock guardian dogs (like the ones in the Ethiopian wolf video I posted yesterday).

The pariah dogs arrived in Australia through trade from Indonesia.

The native peoples of Australia did keep the dingoes as pets, but every account I’ve read of them, the dingoes were not fed. They had to go hunting on their own.  Not all bands of Australian natives were interested in them, and as the dogs spread through the continent, they became more and more wolf-like.

In fact, I’ll submit that a dingo is a domestic dog that became a wolf.

They do form packs and hunt on their own. They pair bond, and the males help their mates care for their young.  Most feral domestic dogs don’t do these things. However, there have been cases of some pariah dog males helping bitches rear their litters.

For generations, Indonesian dogs arrived in Australia, where they were absorbed into the dingo population.

I find it very interesting that the original theory about the dingoes derived from the Indian wolf (Canis lupus pallipes). However, we know that Indian wolves are rather unique genetically, and they probably had no role in the development of the domestic dog.

It is also a bit bigger than the typical dingo, weighing as much as 70 pounds. Most dingoes are around the 30 to 40 pound range. (The given weights on US dog sites insanely over-estimate the dingo’s size).

However, there is a wolf subspecies that does aproach this size and conformation, and what’s more is that it evolved for a similar arid environment.

This subspecies is, of course, the Arabian wolf (Canis lupus arabs). It stands about three inches taller at the shoulder than the tallest dingoes, but in terms of head and body size, it is very similar to the dingo of Australia.

Arabian wolf

It is because of the similarities between dingoes and Arabian wolves that I think we can make that the case that this is a good example of a pariah dog evolving back to a wolfish form.

It punches a large hole in the argument that feral dogs never become like wolves. They become like wolves when they are forced to hunt for a living.

I have never understood why we assume that all wolves are like the ones from Northern Eurasia and Northern North America. Those may be the most numerous wolves, and they may have played a role in the development of the domestic dog through the ages.

But not all wolves are of this type. The subspecies that are subtropical in origin, like the red wolf, the Indian wolf, and the Arabian wolf are all smaller animals, with slighter bodies and smaller heads.  (The red wolf may be a separate species, but no one has convinced me yet.)

The only way to test my hypothesis is to get rid of humans. If  humans were to disappear from the Northern Hemisphere, I think we could see the gradual evolution of domestic dogs toward a big game hunting wolf phenotype and behavior. Just like the Asian pariah dogs in Australia had to become wolves to survive in the bush,  domestic dogs would have to become wolves to live without us.

The old saying is that “Dogs make us human.”

Well, the corollary is that humans keep dogs in their dog-like form. Without our waste or  our dog-keeping cultures, dogs have no reason to remain as dogs. Without us, the niche that dogs fill no longer exists, and the organism is better off becoming a wolf.

And the dingo is a dog that became wolf for precisely that reason. Hunter-gatherers may have liked them,  but they didn’t have the conditions that allowed them to live as dogs. Those dogs had to hunt for a living.

And that’s why I still consider the dog to be subspecies of Canis lupus,  which is in keeping with the tradition of classifying domestic animals with their wild forebears.

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This breed was once banned Down Under.

This breed was once banned Down Under.

Although German immigrants to Australia  had brought their herding dogs with them in early days of settlement and were actually part of the early herding dog scene, the standard German shepherd breed was actually subject to an importation band in that country for many decades. How such a policy developed is a very good example of what happens when the public’s perception is based upon nothing more than a name.

How did such a crazy idea get started?

Well, keep in mind that in many Anglophone countries, this breed is almost never known as the German shepherd dog. Because the dog had been evident in Britain before World War I,  it was decided to name the breed the “Alsatian” or “Alsatian wolf dog.” As someone of German ancestry, I’ve never much liked that name. Alsace is part of a German-speaking region in France called the Alsace-Lorraine ( Elsaß-Lothringen). It is on the western side of the Rhine, and because of its German-speaking population, it has been part of the German Empire. It is currently in France. (I have some ancestry there because the surname Metz appears rather close in my genealogy, and Metz is a city in the Lorraine.)

Now, I am not sure if German shepherds have any wolf in them or not. I’ve heard some rumor that wolves were crossed into them at some point. However, I do know that the two breeds that were created through crossing wolves and GSD’s (the Czechoslovakian wolfdog and the Saarloos wolfhond) have generally been failures at doing the German shepherd’s work. I’ll just say that GSD’s are most likely comprised of dogs.

The term “Alsatian wolf dog” is an utter lie. The dogs aren’t necessarily from Alsace, and they most likely aren’t part wolf.

But such a term could get the Aussie graziers all fired up, and the federal government of Australia banned the import of GSD’s to Australia in 1928.

However, maybe some of this hysteria was warranted–but for a very different reason.

The fear was that these dogs would go wild and breed with the dingoes, introducing “wolf” genes into the population.

Now, I have to say that domestic dogs are destroying the pure dingo through interbreeding. Dingoes and dogs are the same species. Indeed, it is much more likely for a dog to breed with a dingo than it is with a wolf in the wild. In fact, pure dingoes are slowly disappearing in Australia. Only in the remotest parts of that country can one find pure dingoes.

Some of these dingo-dogs are larger than pure dingoes and are less afraid of people. They can truly reek havoc upon a flock of sheep.

However, dingoes will breed with just about any domestic dog, and German shepherds were chosen as a scapegoat simply because the Brits had renamed it the “Alsatian wolf dog.” If collies had been called the “Highland wolf dog,” my guess is they would have also been demanding to restrict the import of that breed.

I’ve always found this story to be somewhat ironic. After all, Australia does love its sheep-herding dogs. In fact, one of them, the koolie, is derived from the ancestral German sheep-herding landrace today called an “Altdeutsche Hütehund.”  Some of these dogs resemble German shepherds and other continental shepherds, while others resemble a shaggy dog called a “Schafpudel” (sheep poodle). Another variety comes in merle. Some of these look like Australian [sic] shepherds, and others look like koolies or rather unusual merle German shepherds. These are the famous “tiger dogs.”

So one of the staple sheep dogs of Australia is actually a close relative of the German shepherd.  That most likely means that if the British had called this dog a German shepherd, there would have been no ban. Indeed, I think they would have imported them by the score.

It has been legal to import German shepherds to Australia since 1973.

However, it just amazes me how a name like “Alsatian wolf dog” can cause so many misconceptions.

It reminds me of how it was commonly believed that bloodhounds (as in the heavy pack hound) are fierce. They usually are anything but aggressive. This misconception comes from dogs that were kept by the Spanish conquistadors and colonial authorities in the Spanish Empire in Latin America, which were used to attack the indigenous population. These dogs are often a cross between the war mastiff and the heavy Spanish scent hound, which was something like a bloodhound. In Cuba, there were specially kept for tracking slaves. These dogs became legendary, and the Southern slave-owners in the US imported them to track runaway slaves. Everyone seems to know the scene from Uncle Tom’s Cabin in which Liza runs across a frozen river, while the bloodhounds nip at their heels.  We also have the poem by Longfellow called “The Slave in the Dismal Swamp” in which another bloodhound is the villain.

This poem inspired a painting by Ansdell, which is quite instructive. The dogs in that painting aren’t bloodhounds as we know them. They are of the catch dog type, with maybe some traces of scent hound.

But even today, I am sure that there are bloodhound owners who tire of people asking them about how aggressive their dogs are. Again, it all goes back to the public’s perception.

And sometimes the public has about as much rationality as a flock of sheep with lobotomies. And in those cases, words do matter.

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The kelpie is the Australian sheep-herding dog. It is definitely descended from collie stock, but it may also have dingo in its ancestry.

The kelpie is the Australian sheep-herding dog. It is definitely descended from collie stock, but it may also have dingo in its ancestry.

I found an interesting page on Australian kelpies, and some good documentation of their dingo ancestry.

It’s well known that the Australian cattle dog (Queensland heeler, red heeler, or blue heeler) is a mixture of collie, dingo, Dalmatian, and bull terrier. However, the dingo ancestry of the kelpie is always denied, mainly because it’s a sheep dog and dingoes eat sheep. To say that the sheep killer is in your good working dogs is to give the dingoes a little break. And to say anything good about dingoes in the very rural parts of Australia is bit like saying anything good about coyotes in  virtually any rural part of North America. Also, many Australian states did not allow dingo ownership, so the people who were interbreeding dingoes into their dogs probably did deny any such crossing.

I don’t know if this website is true, but I find it a bit convincing. The kelpie does have dingoish features, and black and tan dingoes are not unknown, although it is usually said that the black and tan coloration comes from interbreeding with domestic dogs.

Depending upon your perspective, the dingo is either an Australian wolf, a feral dog, or a primitive breed of dog. I take that all three are accurate. It is the “wolf” of Australia, and it is derived from an Asian animal that was somewhere between wolf and dog. It was kept as a dog in Asia, but when it arrived in Australia, it soon moved into a semi-domesticated position. The thousands of years of benign neglect on that continent gave the dingo a chance to become fully wolf.

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Before I get comments denouncing me for putting a post on Coppinger’s theory, I need to make some things clear. Coppinger argues for a self-domesticating dog that evolved from the wolf because wolves that lacked fear of humans were better able to scavenge off of people. This happened when hunter-gatherer humans began to form the earliest agricultural settlements and were able to stay in one place. He bases this theory on the fact that wolves are almost impossible to domesticate. Wolf puppies must be captured early, as in within a few days of their eyes opening, in order to become imprinted on people. Modern domestic dogs can become imprinted on humans up to three months of age. I think Coppinger is a great behavioral ecologist, and he does apply the methodology of behavioral ecology to domestic animals.

However, there are some holes in his thesis. One is I have read several historical records of wolves living in North America during the early years of settlement.  The Diaries of Lewis and Clark is a great account of wolves living on the Great Plains. Their behavior is very different from modern wolves, which absolutely fear humans and avoid us at all costs. These wolves were curious of people, and I believe one wolf was killed with a knife during this adventure, Modern wolves will kill domestic dogs that roam into their territory, although it’s not a hard and fast rule (very few things with wolves is).  Lewis’s dog, “Seaman,” a Newfoundland (a bit different from the modern breed), never suffered attacks from wolves. I think the difference is this. Wolves in Europe, North America, and Asia have suffered a great persecution. It’s like the selection of Belyaev in reverse. The only wolves that remain are descended from ancestors who were nervous enough to avoid man. How this affects the way wolves develop as pups can only be up for conjecture.

It is possible that wolves living at the time when humans were hunters and gatherers were curious about people.  Their pups possibly had a longer period for imprinting. This could easily lead to hunter-gatherers keeping wolves as pets. BTW, pet keeping is something known to all people, except the Bushmen (San) in their original state. The natives of Australia kept dingo pups as pets. Women would nurse them as their own babies. However, once the dingo pups reached maturity, they were no longer fed. They would be released into the bush to fend for themselves. These were people without agriculture. However, they had a relationship with the dingo. The dingoes hunted on their own and were never used for hunting. The only purpose the dingoes provided was as a living blanket during the cold nights. The colder it got, the more dingoes were needed. A really cold night, might need three dingoes. Hince the name of the band “Three Dog Night.” This could explain some of the early interactions with humans and early dogs and ancient wolves.

However, again, this is largely speculation. We do know that dogs have been found that are older than the time period in which Coppinger postulates that dogs evolved from wolves, making the hunter-gatherer or “captured cub” thesis a little bit stronger.

James Serpell of the University of Pennsylvania promotes this theory of the dog’s origins. His book on dogs is easily the equal of the Coppingers’.

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