Canids Specialist Group

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ResourcesDingo ethological and comparative studies: Examining dingo biology and behaviour

Summary: Although the genus Canis is one of the most widespread mammal genera, the dingo is the only representative of the genus in Australia. The dingo is easily mistaken for a dog, but it is distinct from dogs in terms of genotype, phenotype, and ecological function, and that they live in the wild completely independent from humans. The canids from which dingoes are descended arrived in Australia over 5000 years ago, either with people or independently via a land bridge. Their domestication status on arrival remains uncertain. Dingoes were either descended from fully domesticated canids that reverted in Australia to a semi-feral state; partially domesticated and subsequently the process of domestication was frozen by the absence of conditions needed to support it; or were never domesticated. Either way, the dingo is close to being a “missing link” in the process of the evolution of the dog and thus a highly sought-after research subject for those concerned with domestication and other phenomena. For over a decade I have been conducting hands-on non-invasive experiments with captive and free ranging dingoes, and using them as comparative models to domestic dogs and wild canids around the world. Published examples of behavioural studies I have conducted in this area include exploring spatial problem solving, tool use, responsiveness to human social cues, reliance on humans for assistance during problem solving, the function of play bows, the personality and behaviour of dingoes living as companion animals, parental behaviour (such as nipple use and diurnal patterns of nursing), cannibalism, denning behaviour, and the reaction to the death of conspecifics. Biological studies I have conducted include encephalisation (brain size), reaction to stress in captive environments, and reproductive traits. I have also conducted several unpublished works have been conducted on comparative anatomy between dingoes and domestic dogs, including hyper flexibility of joints (neck, hips and thoracic limbs) as well as orbital angle. The conclusions from these studies, and those of other researchers, highlight how dingoes are a unique wild Australian canid, and in all ways are more akin to wild canids than domestic. More broadly, this work has been used to promote dingo conservation by enabling a greater understanding of the species, as well as providing useful information that can be built upon in the development of effective dingo management programs. Various studies in this space remain ongoing.

Researchers involved: Bradley Smith and various collaborators.

Links to project: None.

Photo credit: Bradley Smith