Posts Tagged ‘New Guinea singing dog’

new guinea dingo

One of the most annoying things about “dog people” is the constant jockeying for the prize of the “most ancient breed of dog.”  If you watch Westminster on television, I would say a third of the breeds are described as “ancient.”

Most of them aren’t that old, and even if they do resemble ancient forms of domestic dog, the modern day representative often has very little genetic connection to them.

So it was with jaundiced eyes when I saw the latest headline that “The world’s rarest and most ancient dog was discovered in the wild.”  The headline is clickbait, of course, because most people don’t have a clue about what was actually found.

Some camera traps caught images of a type of dingo called the “New Guinea Highland Dog,” which is a new name for the “New Guinea Singing Dog.”  It is a dingo that lives a semi-feral existence in the highlands of New Guinea. Note that I said “semi-feral,” because different indigenous groups in New Guinea have used these dogs and their descendants for hunting.  It lives in the wild, but it can be tamed.

Genetically, these animals are not vastly different from Australian dingoes, which lived in much the same way.  They could breed in the wild, but indigenous people used them to hunt things like tree kangaroos.

These dogs exist where there are no wolves and are found in cultures that are mostly involved in hunter-gatherer societies. These animals might give us a window into how hunter-gatherer people in the Paleolithic may have related toward wolves and perhaps give us an insight onto how domestication may have occurred.

But the problem with these dogs is that there are fantastical claims about them. When someone says this is “the most ancient breed of dog” one needs to understand something. The most complete genetic studies we have on dogs have revealed that this type of thinking is quite flawed. One of the big problems is that no domestic dog is more closely related to wolves than any other. The only exception are dogs that have actual modern wolf ancestry.

Dogs are derived from an extinct population of wolves, and yes, a recent genome comparison study says we have to call this ancestor “a wolf” if we are to adhere to cladistic classification.  The reason is that dogs split off from Eurasian wolves at about the same time Eurasian wolves split from North American wolves.

genome comparis fan wolves and dogs

Arbitrarily declaring dogs and dingoes a species makes the entire Canis lupus species paraphyletic, according to Fan et al.

Dingoes are commonly used in genetic studies about dogs and wolves. When compared to a large number of samples of different breeds and different wolves, they almost always group with East Asian domestic dogs, as this dingo did with a Chinese street dog.

Another study, which found initially reported dogs originating the Middle East (but has since been retracted in light of more recent evidence), also found that dingoes fit with East Asian domestic dogs.

dingoes fit with domestic dogs wayne

It is well-known that New Guinea dingo-type dogs can be recognized as dingoes using a genetic test that looks for only certain dingo markers.

So the animal that was found in the New Guinea Highlands is a dingo, and a dingo is an East Asian domestic dog that has gone feral.

Now, about the question of this dog being “the most ancient.”

One of the problems with saying a breed is the most ancient, as I pointed out before,  is that no breed of dog is more close to modern wolves than any other, and the other major problem with saying a breed is ancient using genetic studies is that many of these so-called “ancient breeds” are actually just populations of domestic dog that have been isolated from the main swarm of dogs. This gives a “breed-like” isolation that confers upon it some antiquity that really doesn’t exist.

Thus, we really can’t say that a breed is the “most ancient,” even with genetic studies.

What I think is more interesting in regard to dingoes and New Guinea singing dogs is that they represent a different permutation of domestication than the bulk of domestic dogs.

Domestication is a cultural process as well as biological. The vast majority of dogs in the world today are street and village dogs, which are very easily tamed if captured at the right age. This is the permutation of dog domestication that arose after the Neolithic Revolution, and it is still the rule when dealing with societies that have not engaged in extensive selective breeding for working characteristics in domestic dogs.  We also have a permutation in which free-roaming and freely breeding livestock guardian dogs accompany herds across grazing lands. Any dogs that show aggression towards stock are driven off or killed. Another permutation, which is older than either of these two, are the people who actually rely upon their dogs as hunters. Here, I am thinking of the laikas of Russia, which are used to bay up boar and moose and tree gamebirds and furbearers in much the same way the Jōmon relied upon their hunting dogs for survival.

The Western permutation of dog domestication has been to breed many specialized dog breeds and types. We’ve selected for much higher levels of biddability in some of our dogs. We’ve bred out quite a bit of aggression and predatory behavior. We’ve accentuated certain predatory behaviors, like pointing and retrieving, and we’ve produced dogs that look you right in the eye for approval.

Western dogs have been removed very much from wolves, and from our perspective, it looks like the dogs of different cultures are more ancient than our own. But that’s from our perspective. Our own Eurocentric perspective.

For example, the indigenous people of the Americas were very much involved in producing specialized dog breeds. The Salish bred their own wool dogs.  The Tahltan bear dog actually was used to hunt bears, even though it was quite small.  The hairless trait that exists in most hairless dogs actually originated in Pre-Columbian Mexico.

The truth is people all over the world have produced dog breeds and types that are distinct. The various forms of dingo that exist in Australasia are exactly the sort of dogs that would occur in hunter-gatherer societies that were not engaged in the selective breeding of working animals. Instead, they are societies that relied upon feral dogs to provide their own hunting dogs, which often reverted back to the feral existence once they hit breeding age.

This is not the permutation of Western dog domestication at all, and because it resembles the ancient way man may have related to wolves, a lot gets read into these dogs.

These dogs aren’t more or less ancient than any other dog on the planet, but they are dogs that give us a glimpse of what might have been.

That is the amazing story.

But, of course, dog people can’t leave an amazing story to be told on its own, so claims about these dogs are made that simply aren’t backed up by serious inquiry and scholarship.

Unfortunately, we’re always going to be dealing with these sorts of clickbait stories about ancient feral dogs, but that’s not what the genetic studies are revealing. And it is quite sad that we’re still dealing with the erroneous Canis hallstromi classification for the New Guinea dingo, as well as its attendant “dogs are not wolves” hypothesis, which has been as thoroughly debunked as the “birds are not dinosaurs” hypothesis.

So it is interesting that the New Guinea dingo still roams in the Highlands,  but I wish peole would be very careful of clickbait canid taxonomy.






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A few days ago, I posted about the discovery of a New Guinea singing dog in the wild.

Again, here is the photo of the supposed dog:

New guinea singing dog in the wild

I am a professional skeptic, and when I hear or read something that just doesn’t sound right, I question it.

Note that I am just questioning it. I am not saying that this is the case.

But could someone provide me evidence that this photo is not a photoshop of a “fawn” kelpie that has been placed in a jungle?

Here’s a fawn kelpie:

This particular color is called “fawn.” It’s actually a liver dilute, which means it has the brown-skinned allele and the dilution factor. This particular one has tan points, but they can come in solid colors, too.

This color is not common in dogs. It just isn’t.

So it would be very unusual for a wild dog from New Guinea to have this coloration.

So I’m skeptical.

The problem with being a skeptic is you’re bound to piss off people who want to believe things.

I don’t care if it actually is what people purport it to be.

I am okay with that finding.

It’s just that no one seems to be questioning the coloration or offering any sort of skeptical inquiry about its origins.

Prove me wrong.

The claim that this is a New Guinea singing dog in the wild is an extraordinary claim.

And as the old saw goes “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

It is possible to photoshop a fawn kelpie into this landscape, and until someone provide evidence that it cannot be a photoshop, then I’m going to continue my skepticism.

Skepticism, in general, is something that is very lacking among the New Guinea singing dog community. If one goes through their literature, virtually every fantastic claim is written down a biological fact.

That’s not good science.

At all.

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New guinea singing dog in the wild

The photo above clearly beats my thylacine photo from yesterday.

It is supposed to be the first photograph of a New Guinea singing dog in the wild.

There are some problems with this assertion.

One of them is the animal in the photo appears to have the brown-skinned trait.  All the ones in captivity, which are supposedly pure and derived from “wild” ones, have black skin.

That means that this animal likely has some Western dog blood.

The other thing is the New Guinea singing dog isn’t really what people thin it is.

For decades, there were many otherwise rational people who swore that this was a unique species. If you dig through texts from even just twenty years ago, you’ll find people promoting Canis hallstromi. It was later found, when the DNA was examined, that the New Guinea singing dog was a subset of dingo.

Dingoes are not a unique species. They are not ancestors of domestic dogs, and they are not the missing link between wolves and domestic dogs. They are feral dogs with a Southeast Asian derivation.

That’s all a New Guinea singing dog is.

What’s more the indigenous people of New Guinea have kept dogs like this for thousands of years. They’ve been modified through selection and the introduction of Western blood, but they readily admit that their dogs are derived from that “wild” source. The New Guinea singing dog as a landrace isn’t rare or going extinct. It’s just the purely feral form that is.

Indeed, if people were actually wanting to ‘save” the New Guinea singing dog, they’d use the blood from these hunting dogs.

But no, that would make too much sense, and it would also take away from their mystique as being the “wild dog of New Guinea.”

Of course, they’re going to say that the village dogs have Western blood in them, but if this photo is being used to claim that this is a wild New Guinea singing dog, then that argument simply holds no water.

Like its relatives in Australia, the New Guinea dingo (which is its more appropriate name) has incorporated the blood of other dogs into its gene pool, which isn’t really all that crazy. If you turned a bunch of domestic dogs from “rare, genetically distinct” breeds loose and let them freely breed, they’d probably incorporate a lot of German shepherd, Labrador, beagle, and pit bull blood into their gene pools.

Dogs have never voluntarily sequestered their genes. They didn’t do it for thousands upon thousands of years. It’s really only been in the West for the past few centuries that people have gotten of on contriving morphologically distinct populations into things we call breeds.

It’s that same sort of thinking that suggests we can save the New Guinea singing dog and the dingo as pure entities.

They simply cannot.

I find some of the obsession that New Guinea singing dog enthusiasts give to this animal to be somewhat disconcerting.

It’s a feral animal.

It’s interesting as a landrace and a subset of dingo.

But it’s still a dog.

It’s not a unique species of any sort.

If you want to impress me, get me some photos of Sir David’s long-beaked echidna of Indonesia Papua Province on the island of New Guinea. It’s a very endangered species of monotreme that was only described to science. It was only described to science in 1961, and it was named for Sir David Attenborough.  No one has seen one in the wild for decades.

Sir David’s long-beaked echidna actually is a very rare species. It actually is endemic to just a tiny part of New Guinea.

I would love to see photos of a wild one.

It’s not a feral dog.

It’s not a dingo.

It’s actually something that could be found only in a remote part of New Guinea.

But then it’s not a dog or a “wolf,” so it’s much harder to get people to get worked up about it.

How amazingly fickle are humans.

We lose our minds over a photo of a feral dog, but we seem to forget that the island of New Guinea has lots of really unique wildlife, much of it quite critically endangered.

But Western man’s cultural biases in favor of dogs and wolves make us worry about the local breed of bush mongrel instead.

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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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The New Guinea singing dog is New Guinea’s indigenous “primitive dog.”

And yes, you can have one as a pet.

However, do you want a dog that can make that noise?

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