Wild dog, dingo-dog hybrids (feral or wild)

Common name: Wild dog, dingo-dog hybrids (feral or wild populations)

Scientific name: Canis lupus familiaris, Canis lupus dingo x Canis lupus familiaris

Other common name/s: Wild dog

Origin: Europe and Asia

Animal status

The feral and wild populations of dogs and dingo-dog hybrids are an established pest animal under the Catchment and Land Protection Act (1994) in Victoria. These animals are commonly referred to as wild dogs.

Read more about the invasive animal classifications.

To allow for the protection and conservation of dingoes in remote areas, as well as provide for the legal control of wild dogs, dingoes have been declared unprotected under the Wildlife Act (1975) in certain areas. More information is available from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) — dingoes.

Populations

History of spread

Wild dogs are defined as feral dogs, dogs-run-wild and dingo-dog hybrids.

The dingo (Canis lupus dingo) was thought to have first come to Australia around 4000 years ago from Asia. Domestic dogs arrived with European settlers in 1788. Hybridisation of these two sub-species has led to a smaller proportion of pure dingoes in Australia. Wild dogs are found in most environments in Australia.

Distribution in Victoria

Victoria has two main areas of wild dog activity.

In the east of the state, wild dogs are present in the heavily timbered areas of the eastern highlands from the NSW border in the north and to the Healesville and Gembrook areas in the south.

The north-west of the state has another population of wild dogs in the big desert region.

Animal biology

Appearance

Wild dogs and hybrids

Wild dogs can vary in their appearance depending on the breed of dog they descend from. Most wild dogs are short haired. Wild dogs can differ in size and weight. They have been known to weigh up to 60 kilograms.

Dingo-dog hybrids and wild dog dingo hybrids can appear very similar to pure dingoes and are often very hard to distinguish from dingoes on external appearance alone. Hybrids or feral dogs usually weigh between 11 to 24 kilograms.

Dingoes

Dingoes have short bristled tails and generally have a ginger coat with white points (on the ears, feet and tail). Dingoes can also have coats that are cream, black and tan or black and white. Black dingoes are not widespread in Australia. Other coat colours, such as sable, brindle, patchy ginger and white and patchy black and white indicate domestic or hybrid wild dogs. Dingoes average a weight of 16 Kilograms.

Dingoes cannot be reliably visually distinguished from wild dogs, making it impossible to ensure they are not inadvertently destroyed in wild dog control programs in any given area where both exist.

Behaviour

Generally wild dogs are most active at dawn and dusk however activity can occur day or night. The majority of this activity occurs within the wild dog's home range.

Two types of wild dog movements have been identified:

  • intense wild dog activity
  • exploratory movement.

Intense wild dog activity within a small area is usually associated with hunting, large angular turns are frequent in this behaviour.

Exploratory movement involves larger areas being covered in a more direct manner by wild dogs. This type of movement has been suggested as a method to maintain communication by the visiting of scent posts. The average distance covered per day is 15 kilometres and dogs spend 65 per cent of a day active and 35 per cent of the day taking short rests.

Wild dogs are social animals and, when conditions are favourable, can form packs which maintain distinct territories. The main function of forming a pack is to defend resources such as hunting areas. Pack territories may overlap somewhat with other adjoining packs of wild dogs. Pack members can cooperate to hunt large prey and take part in communal activities such as feeding and raising pups. Wild dog packs often form sub-groups to operate within the group population.

Individual wild dogs, that are not associated with a pack, tend to have a large range area that may cross over many different territories. These lone dogs may be dispersing from their birth group looking for new territories or a mate.

Communication between wild dogs is often vocal as individuals are often separated.

Howling is common to all types of wild dog, whether they be dingo, domestic or hybrids. There are three basic types of wild dog howl, with up to ten vocalisation variations that have been identified. Howls are used to locate other dogs, attract pack members and repel intruders. The howl sound travels over large distances, so can be heard by other wild dogs. As well as dispersal, breeding, lactation and social stability are all factors influencing the frequency of howling. Wild dogs that have descended from domestic dogs or hybrids are also capable of barking. Dingoes are unable to bark. When wild dogs come face to face, body posture and facial expressions are used to communicate.

Scent marking is another form of communication between wild dogs and this is an effective means of interaction due to their highly developed sense of smell. The dogs will use chemical signals derived from their scent glands, urine and faeces. Dogs will repeatedly mark landmarks, odours and new objects with their scent and it is thought that this is to familiarise and reassure animals when they enter a strange or threatening situation. It has also been suggested that secondary functions of scent marking are to bring together the pack members and sexes as well as maintaining the pack's territory.

Wild dogs use a range of hunting techniques both individually and in packs. The technique used by the dog depends on the prey, time and group size. Generally larger groups of dogs are more successful at hunting large kangaroos and livestock, while solitary dogs are more successful when hunting rabbits and small macropods.

Diet

Wild dogs eat a variety of domestic animals including sheep, cattle and goats. The main diet of wild dogs consists of:

  • kangaroo
  • rabbit
  • wallaby
  • rodents
  • birds
  • brushtail possum
  • common wombat.

They also feed on a variety of other species dependent on location.

Preferred habitat

Wild dogs live in a range of habitats provided there is adequate water, food and shelter. Forests, woodlands, grazing land, rural residential areas and the urban fringe are all inhabited by wild dogs and dingoes. The territories of wild dogs and dingoes can vary and is influenced by the availability of food.

Wild dogs primarily shelter in dens that provide protection from the elements. These can be made from:

  • enlarged rabbit warrens
  • old wombat holes
  • logs
  • caves
  • rock ledges
  • tussock grasses
  • debris.

Predators

Adult wild dogs have no major predators in Victoria, although foxes and wedge tailed eagles may prey upon wild dog pups when they are small.

Diseases and parasites

Wild dogs are prone to many different types of diseases and parasites, many of which also affect domestic dogs. There are 38 species of pathogens and parasites which have been identified in wild dog populations in Australia, with another 50 infectious organisms found in domestic dogs which have the potential to establish in wild dog populations.

Mortality and sickness rates caused by disease or parasites are not wildly researched in Australia but, it in most cases, diseases have little effect on adult wild dog survival. Exceptions to this include:

  • canine distemper (Paramyxovirus)
  • hookworms (Unicinaria stenocephala and Ancylostoma caninum)
  • canine heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis).

Reproduction

Female wild dogs can have two oestrus cycles per year, so have the potential to breed twice a year, although unlikely to occur.

Dingoes are monoestrus (only capable of producing one litter per year). Wild dogs are fertile throughout the year. Wild dogs have an average of 5 pups per litter (with a range of 1 to 10) with an average gestation period of 63 days.

In a pack situation, the dominant female will usually come into oestrus before subordinate females.

Male wild dogs reach sexual maturity at 1 to 3 years while the females usually reach maturity at 2 years. Young female dogs may remain with the pack to help raise the following year's litter.

Dispersal

Wild dog dispersal is influenced by food availability and social pressures, and the highest rates of dispersal occurs when there is a high dog population and low food supply. Dispersal is also related to the availability of vacant territories.

Wild dogs disperse an average of 20 kilometres but this depends on several factors, such as food and water availability. Wild dogs have been recorded to disperse up to 250 kilometres.

Lifecycle

The peak breeding season for wild dogs is Autumn to Winter. They breed 1 to 2 times per year and the average gestation period is 63 days.

Wild dogs may have litters of between 1 to 10 pups, with a mean litter size of approximately 5 pups.

Wild dogs reach sexual maturity in females at 2 years of age, and in males at 3 years of age.

The lifespan averages between 5 to 7 years but some animals can live up to 12 years.

There are several causes of wild dog mortality. These include limited food supply, human intervention, density of the population and the occurrence of disease or parasites.

Similar species

Wild dogs are often dingo and domestic dog hybrids and therefore difficult to distinguish from pure dingoes. Dingoes often occur in areas inhabited by wild dogs, appear morphologically similar to wild dogs and are extremely difficult to differentiate from wild dogs. This means that wild dog control programs have the potential to directly impact on dingoes.

The management of wild dogs in Victoria is complex because they cannot be readily distinguished from dingoes in the field. In Victoria, the dingo (Canis lupus dingo) has been listed as 'threatened' under the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988) and is protected on most areas of public land under the Wildlife Act (1975).

Dingoes have been declared as unprotected on all private land in Victoria.

To allow for the protection and conservation of dingoes in remote areas, as well as provide for the legal control of wild dogs, dingoes have been declared unprotected under the Wildlife Act (1975) in certain circumstances. More information is available from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) — dingoes.

Impact

Impact on ecosystems and waterways

Predation by dogs can have an impact on remnant populations of endangered animal species. For example, the dingo has been implicated in the extinction of the Tasmanian native hen (Gallinula mortierii) from mainland Australia. It seems endangered species with small populations are more vulnerable to predation by wild dogs than larger populations, which are more resilient.

Control methods used to manage wild dog numbers have the potential to harm some native species. A positive impact of wild dogs is their predation on other feral species such as goats and deer fawns.

Agricultural and economic impacts

The primary agricultural impact of wild dogs is stock losses. Wild dog attacks cause an average 1900 sheep deaths annually. Sheep are not the only livestock attacked by wild dogs, often cattle and goats are also targeted.

Sometimes dogs will chase an animal without killing it, which can stress the animal resulting in mismothering and the loss of production. Total economic impact must also take into account the loss of potential genetic gain, the redirection of resources away from farm activities to control effort and land values.

Impact on social value and health

Wild dogs can have significant impacts on farming communities. They also have the potential to impact human health. All dogs can carry a parasite called the hydatid tapeworm (Echinococcus granulosus), which has the potential to cause fatality in humans.

Another potential risk of wild dog populations is rabies. Although rabies is not found in Australia, canids would be the most important vector of this disease if introduced to Australia.

Management

Recommended control measures include:

  • baiting
  • trapping
  • shooting
  • exclusion fencing
  • animal husbandry
  • guardian animals.

Integrated pest management using all available control measures implemented in a coordinated manner at a landscape scale is the best control method for wild dogs.

Management should occur in accordance with the relevant legislation and animal welfare requirements.

References

Department of Environment and Primary Industries (Victoria) 2007, Wild Dogs and Dingoes in Victoria, Landcare Note LC0317 ISSN 1329-833X, State of Victoria, Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Department of Environment and Primary Industries (Victoria) 2009, Hydatids – A Disease of Dogs that Affects People, Agnote AG1166, viewed 9th February 2010.

Fleming, P, Corbett, L, Harden, R and Thomson, P 2001, Managing the Impacts of Dingoes and Other Wild Dogs, Bureau of Rural Sciences, Canberra.

New South Wales Government - National Parks and Wildlife Service NSW 2005, Pest Management in NSW national parks Wild Dogs fact sheet, ISBN 1 74137 767 6, Department of Environment and Conservation NSW, Sydney South NSW.

New South Wales Department of Primary Industries 2007, Vertebrate Pest Control Manual – Wild Dog Biology and Control, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange, NSW.

Queensland Government Department of Natural Resources and Mines 2005, A guide to pest animal management in Queensland – Vertebrate pest manual, The State Government of Queensland, Queensland, Australia.

Queensland Government – Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries n.d., Dog Aware Fact, Biology, ecology and behaviour of wild dogs, Fact Sheet, Queensland Department of Primary Industries, Queensland.

Van Dyck S, and Strahan R (2008) The Mammals of Australia (3rd edn). Reed New Holland, Sydney.

Page last updated: 12 Apr 2021