The Australian Dingo is frequently misunderstood. Here are the Facts.
The Australian Museum identifies the Australian Dingo as Canis lupus dingo, as opposed to the domestic dog which is Canis lupus familiaris, and the Wolf, which is Canis lupus lupus. It has it’s roots in the south Asian Grey Wolf, and is believed to have arrived in Australia around 5,000 years ago, with Asian sea traders. It’s believed that humans first arrived in Australia around 30,000 years ago, so the Dingo arrived much later, not with the original migrants.
One thing is clear; the Australian Dingo is NOT actually a dog. I include it here in order to differentiate it from the American Dingo (aka. the Carolina Dog.)
Australian Dingo – Temperament
Dingoes are opportunistic hunters, preferring to hunt alone at night, although they may also live in a pack of up to 10 animals. They are more likely to hunt in a group if they are after a larger mammal, such as wombats, wallabies and even kangaroos.
This is one reason why kangaroos are generally so aggressive towards any dog, as thousands of years of evolution have engineered a negative response to anything that looks like a dog. A similar reaction is that of most human’s response to snakes, for example.
The Australian Dingo is thought to have contributed to the disappearance of the Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacine) on mainland Australia, as dingoes competed for the same food sources, and they were more successful, depriving Thylacines of food.
Modern-day dingoes will tend to hunt smaller animals such as rabbits and Red foxes. Both of these were introduced species to Australia (ie. non-native), and have threatened to disrupt the ecology of the continent. Dingoes have been very effective at containing population levels of rabbits and Red foxes.
The Dingo is extremely intelligent and smart. This a territorial animal, and as an adult they will establish their own territory and fiercely defend it against other dingoes, although they will share part of their territory with other members of their hunting pack. Territories may be as large as 45 square miles.
The Australian Dingo does not bark, or rarely barks, but will howl, particularly at night. This can be to demarcate its territory, or to summon other pack members for hunting.
Some Dingoes have been tamed, by Aboriginals and also by European settlers in years past, and also more recently. But they will not behave like a domesticated dog, sleeping on your sofa or by your fireside. If you can tame one at all, it simply means you are the food source; the Dingo doesn’t need to hunt, and your farm or rural property becomes the Dingo’s territory. But there are legal requirements to keeping a Dingo – see below.
Dingoes are NOT aggressive, and usually will not attack anything larger than itself. Rather, they are shy, and prefer to keep their distance from humans. They would rather escape a threatening situation than fight their way out.
On the other hand, they WILL attack children if they have been startled, or do not see an adult around. They can rotate their wrists, and so can open doors. With their extreme intelligence, they can work out how to enter a house if they think something interesting (ie. edible) is inside.
They are much stronger than a domestic dog of the same size. They are as strong as a Wolf. Their neck is thicker than a dog, and their teeth are longer. They can easily carry 20lbs in their jaws for a long distance.
Australian Dingo –
Most authorities agree that the ancestors of the modern Australian Dingo arrived in Australia with sea-faring Asian traders around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.
Some DNA studies suggest that the Dingo has been in Australia for longer than that, even up to 18,000 years ago. However the only solid archeological evidence – where bones have been found – points to 3,500 years. Either way, this is an ancient breed that originated in Asia and is descended from the Asian Grey Wolf.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, most experts regard the Australian Dingo as being a sub-species of the Wolf, while other experts believe that the Dingo is it’s own sub-species. However you look at it, the Dingo is not a dog in the usual sense of the word. It is more Wolf than dog, and most people tend to misjudge the animal because it looks like a dog.
As the earliest Dingoes were brought by Asian traders, it is likely that they were companions and pets at that time. As years passed, they made their way into the Australian bush, and became feral animals.
Their Wolf heritage stood them in good stead, and they became very successful hunters, at first of larger mammals like kangaroos, wallabies and wombats. As years passed and other animals were introduced into Australia, the Dingoes started to hunt for rabbits and foxes, as well as birds, amphibians and even some plants. They will eat just about anything.
With the colonization of Australia by white settlers just over 200 years ago, the Dingo started to develop a bad reputation. Whereas the indigenous Aboriginals had co-existed and even tamed Dingoes, the new settlers established pastoral farms for sheep and poultry.
If Dingoes became hungry and were in the vicinity of a farm, they would often attack the livestock, bringing them into direct conflict with the farmers. They were regarded as a pest, and shot on sight. They were effectively eliminated from the countryside around farms.
However, for every Dingo shot there were ten more in the Outback. To prevent (or reduce) Dingoes from simply invading from the vast interior, the Australian Government built a Dingo fence nearly 3,500 miles long. This was a massive undertaking, and was finished in 1885.
Nowadays, the Dingo is classified as a Vulnerable Species, partly because their territories are being encroached upon by human development and suburban expansion, and partly because Dingoes will mate with domestic dogs, diluting the Dingo gene pool.
Dingoes have also been crossed with English Drover’s dogs and Border Collies by breeders trying to develop a cattle herding dog capable of withstanding Australia’s harsh environment, resulting in the Australian Cattle Dog, also called the Blue Heeler (or Queensland Heeler).
Height; 20 to 24 inches at the withers
Weight; 35lbs to 50lbs, but some weigh 65lbs.
Life span; 8 to 12 years
This depends on where the Dingo lives. Desert dwellers will be pale yellow, while those in more of a forest environment may be darker.
Ease of training
As wild animals, not many people have managed to tame a dingo, but it can be done. It is legal to keep a Dingo as a pet without a permit in Western Australia and New South Wales. In Victoria and the Northern Territories, a permit is required. In all other states it is illegal to keep a Dingo as a pet.
They must be taken from a litter at under 6 weeks, and trained intensively from Day One. In any case, they need an environment with room to move, such as a big securely fenced back yard. They are NOT suitable for city or apartment living.
An Australian Dingo will always be very territorial, and will not welcome strangers. The owner must make t clear from Day One that the home is HIS territory, even urinating along the boundaries of the yard to leave his scent, so that the Dingo respects him.
Early socialization is VITAL to make sure the Dingo is reasonably accepting of modern human life. They MUST get used to sights and sounds around the home from a young age, if you are to stand any chance of domesticating this animal.
Dingo Facts – Protection
As a watch dog, the Dingo is pretty good. They normally hunt at night, and so are alert through the night. They will howl if they want to raise the alarm.
BUT as a guard dog, they are not so good. With a feral background of survival, and no human intervention to breed and train them as guards (such as Livestock Guardian Breeds), they would rather flee a confrontation than try to intimidate an intruder. Therefore, they are NOT good guard dogs.
Dingo Facts – Grooming
This is hardly an issue. If you DO have a Dingo as a domestic pet, it doesn’t really need any grooming, other than a weekly brush down with a soft slicker brush. But you will need to do this every day while the Dingo is a puppy, to get it used to the process.
As long as the animal is outdoors in a yard, it’s claws should wear at a normal rate, and not need attention.
There are no known health issues with the Australian Dingo.
Famous Australian Dingoes
Unfortunately, for many people, the Australian Dingo will forever be associated with the disappearance of baby Azaria Chamberlain, dramatized in the film A Cry In The Dark, starring Meryl Streep and Sam Neill.