THE AUSTRALIAN DINGO - PET OR PEST?
Updated: Oct 10, 2020
This article was written for a Seminar I attended in Hawaii, some years ago. It was attended by 93 Trainers from all over the World, and I was asked to give information on this fairly proud creature. I have decided with recent events occurring around Australia it was perhaps time to re - circulate this information on THE DINGO. Hope you find it informative and interesting reading. Is very relevant for us to understand, after the recent attack of a young boy on Fraser Island this Easter 2011. Still relevant in 2013.
The Dingo is probably the only pure-bred dog in the world - that is, directly descended from a single race of Wolf. This was written in 1970 in "The Living World of Animals."
That really is some quote, and I guess it would require a lot of substantiating. However, lets talk about this Australian Dingo. In the outback of Australia the most common term used for it is "Dog" or "Wild Dog" in areas like South Australia's South-east the common term given to it is Warrigal. However the overall term for Dingo: Canis familiarise dingo. Is it a direct descendent of the Indian Wolf?
In the wilds of India there still exists the Pariah dogs (which is a dingo) or the Basenji from Central Africa - or the singing dog of New Guinea, all morphological dingoes.
How did the Dingo get its name? According to my sources the first printed word of "dingo" was used by a man named Trench in 1789 who stated "the only domestic animal the aborigines have is a dog, which in their language is called Dingo This dog/dingo resembles in many ways the fox of England." The first picture that was printed of a dingo was shown in a book called "Voyage to Botany Bay in the same year. (1789). It should be said here however, that the Aborigines had nothing to do with the introduction of the dingo. They - the aborigines were here some 40 to 50,000 years before the dingo. They were not a seafaring race of people and there is absolutely no evidence of them bringing or taking the dingo to Australia or any of the other countries that the dingo exists in - not even in their Dreamtime legends. There is some evidence that the Aborigines of at least two tribes up in the northwest of Australia, celebrate in their dances the arrival of the dingo. They show the arrival of the boats and of dingoes running up and down the decks of the boats, and finally coming ashore and running up and down the beaches. They depict people as being of different colour to themselves.
It is thought that the Dingo originated in South East Asia, and it is believed they came to Australia via Asian Seafarers. Records suggest that Australia has been visited on and off from Indonesia and South East Asia for many hundreds or even thousands of years.
It is thought that Dingoes were bought on board ship about 4000 to 5000 years ago. It is thought that they were carried for several reasons.
Records suggest that The Thialsine (Tiger i.e. Tasmanians Tiger) was the main predator in Australia that time as the Dingo proliferated across the country the Thialsine diminished in numbers and eventually was wiped out. I guess because it was out competed by the Dingo.
Reasons for this could be that the Thialsine was a solitary hunter, but the Dingo hunts in a pack. The Dingo is very much in the business of destroying any competitor, and uses it high intelligence to hunt in number. This gives them the advantage over any animal which chooses to hunt singularly.
As the Asian wolf (Canis Lupus Pallipes) is still in existence, we can measure the genetic drift of not only the wolf itself by its fossils, but by measuring the genetic changes of the dingo from its ancestor. Obviously, environmental factors play a big part in change, but even so, it is rather incredible that it is still surprisingly close. It is interesting to note that the Thailand Dingo is almost identical today to its 5,500 year old ancestor fossil. Because the Australian Dingo has been fairly isolated from any cross breeding for the past 4000 years, it has remained relatively pure and it was only when the Europeans brought their domestic dogs here some 200 years ago, that cross breeding (hybrid) took hold and the trouble really started for the Dingo. This hybridisation also applies to other countries and the pure dingo has declined at an alarming rate.
It is interesting to note that in Australia it is estimated that close to 80% of dingoes in the southern and eastern areas of the continent already carry domestic dog genes, but in the more remote areas of tropical and desert Australia, there still exists fairly large populations of pure dingoes in places like Fraser Island and here in Qld. The Dingoes on the Island are said to be the purest of all Australian Dingoes. This has come about primarily because the Island can only be reached by boat, and visitors of which there are many, as it's a great fishing spot, are not allowed to take any form of animal onto the Island. Therefore it used to be that no dogs were found on the Island so there was no possibility of any Domestic Dog going Feral and mingling with the Dingo Pack. This is really not the case in 2009. or now in 2011.
These dingoes while they are the purest Genetically, are being ruined by people allowing and often encouraging them to come into camp areas and feeding them. This of course is very much discouraged by the powers that be, and I believe there is a heavy fine imposed if the Campers are caught Feeding the Pack. However the Dingo will often sneak into camp and steal any food which has been left around, and he is often seen sitting in the Dunes, watching and waiting as the Fisherman fishes. With more education perhaps people would do the right thing and discourage very quickly the Dingo when it comes anywhere near their camp. They would be doing the Dingo a favour, because then it would not be suffering from confusion and distress. With more education the problems that have arisen over the past few years, with Dingoes attacking children and others would have, should have, NEVER should occur.
The colour of the dingoes coats vary slightly. About 90% are the typical ginger, brown, about 3-4% are a creamy white, and about 4-5% are black with ginger brown markings. The remaining 1-2% are black, although the pure black dingo is very rare. As we can see by these percentages the Dingo is predominantly Yellow,or a red with White Underbelly, White sox, White Tail Tip can have little black points on top A percentage of Black Dingoes exist and have since they first evolved. They have either tan or white similar to a Doberman, except the tan does not extend. Just a little under the belly and on the feet. If this colour extends a lot across the body, this is a pretty good indication of Domestic dog influence and the Dingo is a crossbreed. This has caused many people to think it is a black dog and this has at times been disastrous You can also have a pure white dingo (Alpine) These are not terribly common.
The dingo is different to the domestic dog both in body structure and behaviour - first structure.
The teeth are larger. The canines are much longer and narrower at the root...The double teeth at the back are much broader and closer together. As a result, they have very powerful jaws.
The ear drum are larger.
Nasal passages are larger.
It is suggested by many researchers that their peripheral vision is better than the domestic dog.
Their breeding cycle is different in that it only comes into season once a year. This season is anytime from April,May to June. Could this be the reason for this very recent attack.
They howl- like their relations the wolf - but do not bark. They have a "snuffy woof" which they blow down their noses when they are surprised or scared - but no bark. Their howl is three distinct types - with around ten variations to each type, This gives them a wide vocabulary. They use this vocabulary in different circumstances - calling to their own pack, warning a interloping pack to stay away, or sometimes even as a group for mere enjoyment. Two dingoes will never howl in the same key - one will immediately change key (just like the wolf.)
The skull is broad with the brain about 30% larger than the domestic dog. The main part of the brain is the "sense impression" area. This unfortunately diminishes in size as cross breeding takes place.
DNA, of course.
The dingo is rather a shy animal in the wild A better word may be cautious. It has an inherent mistrust of humans. Its social rank, submission, social organisation, behaviour and even hunting strategies are identical to the wolf. The main differences which have been noted are the subordinate breeding suppression, size of packs and size of territory. .It is considered in some circles that the Dingo is the forebear of the Domestic Dog. The pale Footed Wolf adapted to co-exist with man and at some time back about 10,000 years they think there was this interaction with man which resulted in the basic Dingo type animal and from that basic animal most of the domestic breeds as we know them have evolved. If this is the case, then the Dingo is the link between Wolf, Man and Dog, so I guess he really is a very important animal. Unlike its domestic counterpart however, the Dingo is very much in the business of destroying any competitor, and uses its high intelligence to hunt in number. This gives them the advantage over any animal which chooses to hunt singularly.
During my talks with Ranger David Kengton from the Brisbane Forrest he reported to me that People often report that they have lost a large dog i.e. Rottweiller in the park, but it will be okay because of its size. Wrong. Because of this pack hunting the singular do does not have much of a chance. The Dingo being very environmentally conscious will not tolerate invasion of its territory and this lost dog will have very little chance of survival should it run into a pack of Dingoes.The Dingo is smart enough to calculate just how many it need to eliminate that dog. They attack in number, moving in biting, ripping, and smartly moving away, then turning and coming back again. They put themselves individually at very little if no risk. This of course if different to for example the Pig Dog (Bull Terrier) which will go straight in and stay there. This then puts this dog at great risk, and their life expectancy when used for pig hunting is not great.
When the Dingo was bought into Australia by Asians all those years ago, it was taken up by the Australian Aborigine. Originally it was thought that the Aborigine was responsible for the Dingo being here, but that has been disproved, because of the /Asians import - for want of a better word- of this animal into the country. When you look at the Asian Wolf Genetically the Dingo and Wolf are very similar.
The Aborigine is thought to have used the Dingo as a companion, a hunter, and for some protection. The aborigine however, really didn't try to domesticate the Dingo as we would like to do today. He treated it with respect, and seemed to instinctively understand that while he could utilize the Dingo traits, he would never actually own it. This worked well for both man and dog, and a relationship of a sought existed. If the Dingo got in his way, the aborigine would throw something at it, and this made the Dingo very aware of its place within the confines of man. It has been said fairly recently, that you never own a Dingo, it owns you.
In a Forrest environment the Dingo will occasionally allow a Domestic Dog to join its pack, these are usually dogs with some form of Dingo in its background like a Cattle or Kelpie, they will be tolerated, but as soon as it is time for the Dingo Bitches to come into season, the pack will wait for the last minute and then they will kill the Domestic Dog. If it should be a Bitch that has come into the pack, at breeding time should she have puppies the Alpha Bitch will kill any puppies she may have, or even stress her out enough during her pregnancy to cause her to ingest her own puppies, thereby not having any. More often that enough the Dingo will not allow to run with the pack any Domestic dog. There are of course the occasion when the Dingo pack for some reason known only to itself will allow the Domestic dog to integrate with the pack. If this became too common the Dingo as we know it today would cease to exist, and the Dingo seems to know this.
Up in the Mt. Nebo area, the Township is completely surrounded by Forrest and there is a pack of about 7 Dingoes running in this area. As the urban areas encroach on the Forestry perimeters, the Dingoes get used to the people, and will walk through the township en group. The people have to be educated into leaving these dingoes alone., Education of the public in this area is done to help people to understand how the Dingo fits into the natural system.
It was noted that a Mastiff Dog was on the Sand Dunes one day, and it was observed that a Dingo Bitch approached in a very playful manner. The Dog responded as expected the Bitch actually lured the dog over the sand dune and up behind a further sand dune where the pack was waiting.
They then preceded to attack and kill. Amazing. Why? Is it because they are natural Predators, were they hungry and needed to kill for food? QUESTION - how would you explain this?
Dingoes have a different breeding population Control system. WOLVES actually refrain from mating. The Alpha Bitch being the only one to mate, but in the Dingo pack all the Bitches are likely to mate. The Alpha Bitch will kill all other pups, only allowing her own to survive.
Its been recorded that if there has been mortality in the pack, for instance half the bitches have been killed , trapped or whatever, the Alpha may then allow some of the other pups to survive. This way they keep Control over the numbers they have. They have a great ability to adapt to what is happening within their pack and within there Environment.
For Instance. Should the feed within the Forrest be really poor the Alpha Bitch will control very severely the numbers of new pups, even destroying all but one of her own. Should the feed be prolific, then she will allow more pups to survive, because there is enough food to go around.
As I've already explained they normally only come into season once a year between April and June. There have been recorded the odd time when a Bitch will Season out twice in the one year. This is very unusual.
What happens of course during this mating time, the Dingo becomes quite a menace. As people keep moving in on the fringe of the Forrest reserves, they get quite annoyed when a dingo comes down and steals a Fowl or other reasonable small livestock. Small pigs etc. occasionally a small dog. Dingoes need a strong message to move off and out. Shooting them or poisoning them is often the results, and this then gives the Dingo a very strong message and it will move back deeper into the Forrest. They respond very rapidly to this type of stimulus. Remember they Carnivore, and if they way up the odds and they are hungry enough they'll come back. April and June are often Drought time and this is the time when Dingoes will raid. They tend to make a particular point of killing the Domestic Dog at this time,as this is their territory just the same as they will do battle with another Dingo Pack if it comes into their territory. They are very possessive of their Environment (territory).
One of the benefits to come out of this ownership, is the effect the Dingo has on Foxes. In this particular park there are not many Foxes, but in other areas there is a huge problem. The reason there are not many Foxes in this area, is because of the healthy Dingo population. The Fox is considered to be extremely intelligent and is possibly second to none in its ability to avoid being caught. They are solitary, and again this gives the Dingo a huge advantage. Most of the Fox population will be found around Housing, up cleared gullies, etc. On the flip side of that in areas where you have very small Dingo population you have very large population of Foxes. They are also very territorial, they are omnivores and very adaptable. The Fox hunts everything, from birds, reptiles, owls, moles, virtually everything. The Dingo hunts mainly the Wallaby, kangaroos, possums and usual animals associated with the Aust. Bush. Only about 10 species. If we were to wipe the Dingo out of the Wild environment again which has happened before this would create huge problems. Foxes would take over and would have a major influence over natural wild life.
Take the Dingo out, and it's possible we would be overrun by wild pigs. Pigs that have been caught and trapped or killed have all been found to be fat, so they are eating well. The only thing keeping the balance for nature is the Dingo. Loss of Dingo would result in Overrun of Pigs and invasion of Foxes. Remember Foxes will move in on houses, and so will pigs. . Yes Dingoes are a problem to agricultural areas with the killing of some stock, sheep etc. it needs to be recognised that the Dingo has a place in the Forrest and that the dealing with the problems having the Dingoes raise, we still need to keep that core Dingo population. If we leave them alone and our methods of dissuading them from coming out is solid enough, we will be able to maintain the balance. If we go with full scale baiting we run the risk of killing the lot.
On the subject of Domestic Dog and pack of wild Dingoes, should a Domestic Bitch get lost and catch up with the Dingo pack sometimes she will be tolerated by the pack, but usually the Alpha Dingo Bitch will destroy any puppies the interloping Bitch may have. As far as cross breeds are concerned, this normally happens when a Dingo dog transgresses into the Urban area which infringe the Forest and mates with a Domestic Bitch.. To maintain the integrity of the Dingo, it would be much better if the progeny from these matings were not allowed to survive. Any domestic dogs who pack and run feral find it very difficult to survive in the Forest area, as they have to compete with the Dingo in all area, including the finding of food. It's much harder for the wild dog packs, as having once been domesticated they have lost a certain amount of their natural hunting instincts. This happens of course when the dog has been living in a domestic environment, where all his basic needs have been provided for him for so long by his human owner.
The dog that really does become a real problem to the environment is the domestic dog who lives at home, but is allowed to roam free at night, and sometimes because the dog is a carnivore after all, can become a killer. He thrill kills, not to eat, and then goes home and lies on the mat again, and owner thinks it's been there all night, possibly it then gets fed. From the dogs point of view this is great. I have all the food I need without any effort, but I enjoy the thrill of killing. Many times Dingoes have been blamed in the Rural areas for the loss of sheep, goats, etc, but it has been eventually found to be a lovely, quiet, domestic pet. Usually one of the larger Breeds. Remember Dingoes can be Black, but so are Rottweilers, Dobermans, and German Shepherds.
Once the need to kill for food and existence is taken away from the Dingo, by keeping it in captivity, and giving it plenty of food, it can then become a thrill Killer also, and hill solely for the fun of doing it. This is what a carnivore is all about, and unfortunately we as human beings tend to forget this.
The general public through education programs in the Mt. Nebo area, where their home infringe on the Forrest park, now understand that the only time the Dingoes really create a problem for them is during this mating season, when it comes in closer looking for food.. They now lock up their own dogs, and put away any small livestock that may be a temptation to the hungry dingo. As this bad period only lasts for approx 2 weeks, they are learning to live with the Dingo. If necessary they will put out baits behind their chook pens. Once a dingo has been baited in an area, the rest of them will give the area a big miss. They are extremely intelligent when it comes to self preservation. It is becoming more and more important that we continue to try to understand these animals or they could be lost to us, and our children and grandchildren.
The Dingo was here long before us, and yet we have a pond, we put ducks on them, and they complain most vigoursly if a Dingo comes in a pinches one. Perhaps we could leave one out for it and hide the rest, especially as stated during the mating season. Perhaps we should learn to share, and then all could equally in the environment.
Remember if we don't have Dingoes in these Forest areas, the Fox will take over, and it will kill everything. They'll dig under the fences, sneak into your house even. Which would you prefer? The Dingo Fence will keep the Dingo out. We need to keep instilled in the Dingo a certain Fear of man. He will stay away from human habitat if no encouragement is given. There can be no problem if the Dingo does not come within the Urban areas. The Dingo needs to understand that the Human is to be feared enough to stagy away from Just throwing something at it will help.
Most of the problems incurred with the Domestic dog stems from the fact that the dog has no respect for its human owner. He's allowed to get away with anything he chooses. People loose sight of the fact that the dog even domesticated, is a carnivore, descends from the Wolf, and does not have a human physiology. He doesn't think, talk, walk, or act like us. He's wholly Canine and there is nothing human about him.
The Dingo Dog weighs in at about 22klo and the Bitch anything between 16 and 18 klo. Heavy furred ones may way a little heavier. They have pricked ears, a long snout, broad at the eyes,ands their Canines are as we've already discussed almost twice as long as a Dogs. This allows it to kill and eat better. The Skull is thicker.
Can a Dingo be raised as we would a domestic dog. ? This of course in Qld. Is illegal I might add. Like all Dog Breeds, the characteristics will eventually come out, and in the case of the Dingo, this will of course be among other things, a great desire to hunt and roam, and own its territory. Territorial dogs are bad enough, but a territorial Dingo could be a huge problem. It would need to be very well contained in a Dingo proof fence, would need to have some of the natural objects like large rocks to climb on, dams, logs and trees within its compound.
There are several areas in Australia where the Dingo is kept, and has been domesticated. Chris Johnson in N.S.W. has several Dingoes living with her and her German Shepherds. Chris is a great follower of the Dingo and is considered quite an expert on them.
The cattleman of many years ago saw the dingo which didn't bark, could withstand heat, they mated it with their smooth Blue Merle dog to create the original cattle dog, as we know it today. Those who own cattle dogs, will I am sure agree that he is a wonderful herder, who normally likes to come in from behind, nip, turn and run and then come in again. It sounds familiar doesn't it. Today we call them Blue Heelers.
Here in Australia we have a Dingo Fence. This is the worlds longest fence, some 5,500 km long and goes from the coast of South Australia across the Great Victorian Desert, winding through the Great Dividing Range and finishes on the Darling Downs in Queensland. We have boundary riders who patrol this fence. They sometimes lay dingo traps when it is necessary. This fence was built in Queensland in 1914, and it was built against all the odds of a hostile environment, high cost, shortages of materials and labour during two world wars, as well as the Great Depression. This fence is actually longer than the Great Wall of China.
The land the fence crosses is very hostile. It has shifting sand dunes which often bury it without a trace, it is flooded in the wet weather and this flattens it, acid soils eat away the wire, and the dingo often dig under it. Brumbies (wild horses) and kangaroos damage it, and white ants eat the posts. To maintain (look after) this fence is almost impossible.
The fence is still considered necessary, but it is and will always be, a costly nightmare. Cattlemen and sheep farmers are often the most affected by the maurding dingo, but they can still see the danger of upsetting nature's balance if the dingo is destroyed. Plague proportions of Kangaroo's could be a result of this imbalance.
CAN PEOPLE KEEP DINGOES AS PETS?
Victoria - Yes - permit required
New South Wales - Yes - permit required
Australian Capital Territory - Yes - permit required
Northern Territory - Yes - NO PERMIT REQUIRED
South Australia - NO
Western Australia - NO
Queensland - NO
Tasmania - NO
It is not permitted to sell or export dingoes overseas.
This is just a very brief look at the Australian Wild Dog THE DINGO.
As students who wish to become Dog Trainers, it is important for you to understand the differences between the Australian Wild Dog, and your Domestic Pets.
We must always remember that a Dog is a Canine and is directly descended from the Wolf. The Domestic Dog is a product of its Heritage and Instincts.
Its environment (living with its human pack) also plays a large part in how it will perform and act with the humans with whom it lives.
Remember - what a dog learns between the ages of 8 to 16 weeks is the Basis of its Adult Life. This is a Learning period which can never be replaced. It is a period of time when all the good things we wish to teach the dog can be instilled and never forgotten.
You never own a Dingo, it owns you.
But a dog is your friend for life, and we need to treat it as an important part of our family. It may sometimes need correcting, but it always needs praise, love, consistency, and calmness of handling.
Val Bonney. (Canine Behaviourist & International Trainer)