Dingo

Male Dingo playing with its pupMale Dingo playing with its pup

Dingos are not a just another breed of dog. DNA testing had proved that Australia's wild dog, the Australian Dingo is a unique species all of its own. Technically called "Canis Dingo", it is Australia's top predator. Although it may it vary a little according to whether it lives among the mountains, on desert plains or among forest areas of this vast country, as a hunter-gatherer, centuries of environmental factors have shaped the Dingo.

The Dingo's unique characteristics include its bark-howl, which allows communication within their family pack for up to 200 meters regardless of environmental conditions[1]. The Dingo also has an absence of a fat layer combined with an inability to digest fat which means it is always a lean animal. The Dingo also has amazing flexibility in its joints. Blended with its intelligence and its ability to see, hear and smell better than any other canine, our Australian wild dog is quite different to any other dog.

History of the Dingo

DingoDingo

Modern science and DNA technology believe the dingo has been present in Australia for 10,000-18,000 years, possibly even longer! Their DNA tells us they have been developed separately, but probably in parallel with Wolves, Coyotes and Jackals. These can interbreed with similar wild canid species when living on fringes of other canid habitations and human settlements. However, DNA and molecular biology tells us Dingoes have not directly descended from these other species. Instead it has evolved separately, developed over millennia for solving tasks nature presented across this vast Australian continent. Consequently, studies have proved they also developed amazing intelligence without any interchange of other wild or domestic genetic material.

The development of the Dingo we know today has evolved without the human influence that interfered with the make and shape of our domesticated breeds of dogs. Over a four-year study of intelligence by instinctive behaviour in problem solving, the  prestigious Universities of Yale, the Canine cognition lab ranked our Australian Dingo top of all the canids tested. This ability sets not only to survive, but also to function as the top predator in Australia's such a harsh environment[2].

Male Dingo Playing with its PupMale Dingo Playing with its Pup

While we provide all the 'mod-cons' for our various breeds of dog that have been developed to enhance our lives, Dingos had be self-sufficient and live independently alongside rather than with humans. That meant Dingoes have to not only chase down their own meals, but also construct their own dens and move around their own territory, concealing themselves and their entire family packs from any perceived enemy.

A Word Picture of the Dingo

This 'Word Picture' describes our Australian wild dog, the Dingo. This is not meant to be a Breed Standard describing physical components some person might believe the Dingo should have if it was a pure breed. Instead, this is a Word Picture which attempts to explain the Dingo's characteristics we see today. However, to describe the Dingo's natural instincts that have made it so unique, is beyond the scope of this Word Picture.

General Appearance

Dingo (Black and Tan)Dingo (Black and Tan)

The Dingo is lean with no fat layer weighing between 15 and 20 kilos (33-44 lbs). They are mostly ginger in colour with various white markings, while in forested areas the fur can be a darker tan to black. In other words it can also be black and tan. During late autumn the Dingo can grow a second thicker coat for warmth which usually sheds by mid to late spring.

Dingo Reclining with elbows crossedDingo Reclining with elbows crossed

The wide head together with its long, narrow ribcage prevents the dog from squeezing into very small nooks and crannies when hunting. The Dingo also has the ability to flex usually fairly static joints to both straight and acute angles, sets it apart to most of our domestic dogs. For example, the Dingo pictured is comfortably lying with its elbows crossed!

Variations in the Dingo

Indigenous to the entire Australian continent, the Dingo had to hunt to survive in Australia's various ecosystems. Although all the same species, the Dingo has adapted in coat and general build according the whether or not it lives in the following habitats:

Desert DingoDesert Dingo

1. The Alpine Dingo evolved in the Australian Alps of Eastern Victoria. It has a thick double coat with a voluminous soft, warm undercoat and a particularly full, bushy and luxuriant tail.

2. The Desert Dingo evolved in the wide open spaces of Central Australia. With its slightly longer legs than other Dingoes, it can run swiftly across desert sands. Additionally it does not have the thick double coat of the Alpine Dingo. Instead it only has a short coat on its body which is somewhat harsh, but it retains a somewhat bushy tail.

3. The Tropical Dingo which evolved in the forests and wetlands North and North Western Australia. They are smaller in stature so can climb up rock faces, and have a far smoother coat[3].

DingoDingo

The Dingo's head appears wide in comparison with its body. This prevents it from entering narrow crevices between rocks when searching for food and water. After all, if the dog could not retreat back out of the chasm again, it would get struck and die an agonising death!

The wide head is triangular in shape. The broad skull gives its mobile ears hood shaped ears plenty of room to rotate dynamically, swivelling the opening to the rear to pick up sounds not only in front, but also behind! Dingoes also have equally strong jaws and teeth which close in a normal scissors bite. 'Bad Mouths' that  judges and breeders call deviations like teeth that are open or wry, are never seen in Dingoes.

Body

Dingo Double Suspension GallopDingo Double Suspension Gallop

Behind the Dingo's shoulders is a long, narrow ribcage and a driving rear end. The natural flexion of the hindquarters' joints enables it to convert an usually moderate angled joint to be straightened or alternatively extremely bent. This enables the dog to not only to move in the double suspension gallop pictured, but also to leap, climb and dig.

British Settlement and its Effects

As stated above, the Dingo has lived in Australia for thousands of years. Their instinctive respect of the land holds a significant place in the spiritual and cultural practices of some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities as well as a growing number of modern thinking Australians.

British Dingo Painting 1772British Dingo Painting 1772

When the British invaded Australia in 1778, they introduced several species which changed the Dingo's life forever. With colonisation came farming which decimated much of the Dingo's natural habitat. The British also brought domesticated dogs with them which mated with our Dingoes. On the positive side, when selectively bred in captivity the resultant hybrid gave our Australian sheep and cattle dogs the stamina required to work in this harsh environment. On the negative side, random crosses with Dingoes resulted in hybrids with different DNA, different construction and different instincts.

It is unimaginable today that the British could introduce rabbits and foxes purely for recreational and sporting purposes. These species thrived, decimating many of Australia's indigenous native marsupials which had previously lived for hundreds of years in harmony with the Dingo. To compound the issue, the British who claimed land ownership trapped, poisoned and shot thousands of pure bred Dingoes, blaming them for the damage caused by the hybrid dogs that killed and maimed their sheep.

The Dingo Fence

Red Line illustrating the Dingo FenceRed Line illustrating the Dingo Fence

Their extraordinary efforts to keep Dingoes off their properties included building a ridiculous Dingo Fence, which stretches from Nullarbor Plain across to the west of Brisbane. Built during the 1880s, its purpose was to keep dingoes off the relatively fertile south-east part of the continent. At nearly 5,000 kilometres (3,500 miles), it is among the longest structures in the world! However, because pure breed Dingos are so intelligent, clever and physically flexible, they managed to find holes to squeeze through or make holes to tunnel underneath it!

The new settlers obviously did not understand or appreciate the thousands of years of natural selection it took the Dingo to develop its compatibility with Australian environment!

Go the Dingo!

DingoDingo

However, times and attitudes are changing. After many scientific and practical studies, some land owners are beginning to understand the instinctive predatory behaviour of the Dingo. Contrary to former attitudes, the Dingo has the intelligence to recognise that foxes, rabbits and feral cats do not belong here. After all, the Dingo has been Australia's top predator for thousands of years!  Consequently, the Dingo instinctively kills foreign animal species, treating it like prey. Given time, let us hope that instead persecution, the use of the Dingos predatory behaviour will be its saviour. Go the Dingo!

References and Further Reading

Material on this page kindly supplied by Lyn Watson, Dingo Discovery Centre https://dingofoundation.org/australian-dingo-foundation/

[1] Déaux EC, Charrier I, Clarke JA (2016a) The bark, the howl and the bark-howl: Identity cues in dingoes' multicomponent calls. Behavioural Processes 129, 94-100. doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2016.06.012

[2] Smith, B. 2015. Dingo intelligence: A dingo's brain is sharper than it's teeth. Pp. 215-249 in The dingo debate: Origins, behaviour and conservation, edited by B. Smith. CSIRO Publishing, Melbourne, VIC.

[3] Favell Parrett, 'Wandi' 'All About the Dingo, Australia's Native Wild Canid' by Kevin  D Newman, Sanctuary Supervisor, Canine Discovery and Research Centre  Pages 123-127


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