Wild dog biology, behaviour and ecology

It is important when managing wild dogs you also understand their biology, behaviour and ecology. This page answers some frequently asked questions on this topic.

What’s the difference between a dingo and a wild dog?

Wild dogs and dingoes are the same species (Canis familiaris) and will readily breed with each other. Studies have shown that there are more hybrids in Eastern Australia and hybridisation occurs more quickly around larger settlements (see Distribution of pure dingoes and dingo-dog hybrids in Australia).

Do dingoes and wild dogs have the same colouring?

Yes. Dingoes are predominantly sandy or ginger in colour but black and tan and white also commonly occur. Hybrids can be any combination of these colours as well as those seen in domestic dogs such as patches and brindle colouration. You cannot distinguish between a dingo and other wild dogs simply by looks alone. Only DNA testing will verify the genetic makeup of a wild dog.

What effect have domestic dogs had on wild dog populations?

Since European settlement, there has been continuous cross breeding between dingoes and domestic dogs and also among hybrids. Domestic dogs have increased the genetic diversity amongst wild dog populations. As a result, there will be differences in body shape, coat colour, breeding cycle and behaviour of individuals within wild dog populations.

What time of year do wild dogs mate?

Traditionally, dingoes mated once per year in autumn to early winter. However, with the increase in hybridisation, breeding occurs over a longer period of the year.

Can wild dogs breed twice a year?

Yes, they can breed twice a year based on information on domestic dog breeds but this has not been recorded or observed in the wild. It is unlikely given the nutritional requirements of gestation and lactation that a bitch would be able to raise two litters of pups in a year. Given hybridisation and the longer breeding period, it is possible that pups will be observed throughout the year. This is not as a result of one bitch breeding but more likely to be more than one bitch breeding or having a litter of pups at different times of the year.

How many pups can they have ?

Wild dogs can have between 1-10 pups but on average, they have 5. The litter size will depend on resource availability and the condition of the bitch at time of mating. Similarly, survival of the pups will vary depending on local conditions and food availability.

What structures do wild dogs use for den sites?

Wild dogs commonly use hollow logs, caves, overhangs, timber piles, burrows of other animals such as wombats, and fox dens. They may also use man made features such as water pipes and culverts.

Do hybrid wild dogs breed twice a year?

There have been no recorded cases of dingoes breeding twice a year.  The idea that hybrids might breed more often comes from the  fact that domestic dogs can breed twice each year while dingoes  only breed once. So if they were combined in a hybrid, perhaps the  more hybridised ones could breed twice? While the idea is plausible,  the environmental pressures faced by wild-living dingoes and  hybrids alike almost certainly limit them to one breeding cycle each  year. Wild dogs and dingoes usually have litters in mid-to-late winter, but they have been known to give birth in most other months in some circumstances.

Is there any evidence that wild dogs are getting bigger?

The average weight of a wild dog is between 12 and 20kgs depending on sex, landscape and hybridisation but individuals over 20 kg are likely to be the exception and not the rule. There is little evidence to suggest that wild dogs are getting bigger although there is a significant amount of variation between body weights of populations of dogs depending on their environment. There are also roaming domestic dogs that cause impacts with the largest recorded being a 72kg cross breed.

Is there any evidence that wild dogs are becoming more aggressive?

There is no doubt that some wild dogs can be aggressive by nature however there is no evidence that hybridisation is resulting in more aggression. Given that wild dogs are becoming more common in urban and public areas, the opportunity for aggressive interactions between wild dogs and humans is becoming more frequent. Aggression is often the result of people feeding wild dogs. There is no evidence that pure dingoes are more or less aggressive than hybrid dingoes.

Do wild dogs always live in packs and how big are they?

Social groups of wild dogs are very flexible and can vary from a single breeding pair to broader groups of dogs containing multiple individuals of various ages. The social structure varies depending on resource availability, habitat and population density. Social group structures are maintained through territorial behaviour and may diminish if resources are readily available and competition is reduced.

Do wild dogs only eat wildlife?

Wild dogs are generalist predators and will eat wildlife and livestock if available. They will also scavenge on carrion and attack domestic pets from time to time. Wild dogs can kill more animals than they need for food, which is referred to as surplus killing

Wild dogs have a role to play in the environment so we should not be controlling them.

Wild dogs have a variety of roles in the environment. These roles can be beneficial, neutral or harmful, and can change from time to time. Wild dogs are controlled to reduce the impacts on livestock and other animals. Balancing the roles of wild dogs from environmental and production perspectives is an important challenge for land managers.

Are there fewer dingoes in Australia since European settlement?

No. There are probably more wild dogs, including dingoes, now in Australia than ever, given the ample food (e.g. rabbits, pigs, kangaroos and livestock) and water resources created since European settlement. However, in some sheep- grazing areas wild dog populations have been significantly reduced. Overall, this means that wild dog numbers have increased but the proportion of pure dingoes is decreasing through hybridisation with other dogs. Pure dingoes are still found in most parts of Australia, although there are fewer in places with the longest history of European settlement.

The authors of these documents have taken care to validate the accuracy of the information at the time of writing. This information has been prepared with care but it is provided “as is”, without warranty of any kind, to the extent permitted by law. The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions the authors work for or those who funded the creation of this document.

How to reference this page:

Centre for Invasive Species Solutions 2015 Wild dog biology, behaviour and ecology. Factsheet. PestSmart website. https://pestsmart.org.au/toolkit-resource/wild-dog-biology-behaviour-and-ecology accessed 22-05-2024