Many people today still think that owning a dingo is the same as owning any breed of domestic dog. This is just not the case and was a matter that concerned Berenice many years ago. This is the first part of an extract from her book “The Company of Dingoes: Two Decades with Our Native Dog” published in 1995 and based on her own experience over 20 years.
Comments from experienced Dingo people are welcome.
In our efforts to familiarise the Dingo with the general public through personal contact, there is one particular adverse side-effect: the ever-growing number of partially informed, or totally ignorant persons who are under the impression that the successes we have obtained through very specialized treatment to condition and train carefully selected dingoes, can be achieved by the average pet owner, under normal conditions.
This is, of course, totally false. The dingo is a highly intelligent animal with strong reasoning powers; it is independent, sensitive and shy, incredibly cautious, and strongly territorial. It is, therefore, never slavishly obedient or affectionate and its keeping demands patience, understanding, dedication and total selflessness. It is usually a commitment for the lifetime of that dingo.
The fact that the dingo has been culled by nature to survive independently as a wilderness animal, particularly over the last 200 years needs to be considered at all times.
Are Dingoes really savage?
The Dingo is not normally an aggressive, or savage breed but it must be remembered that it is a natural hunter of small animals and birds. The Dingo is an agile, alert, cautious breed that would prefer to retreat when feeling threatened and size up the situation from a safe distance. It is almost neurotic in its fear of being cornered and, without an escape route, could easily panic and behave unpredictably in such a situation. For example, it would be unfair to this breed in particular, and potentially dangerous to an unsuspecting person or child, to leave such an animal chained up, especially on strange territory. Dingoes usually relate well to children and women but are generally more cautious with men. During the breeding season, extra caution needs to be taken, especially with male Dingoes.
Are dingoes good watch dogs?
In the normal sense, dingoes do not make good watch dogs because they seldom bark. The usual requirement of a watch dog is that he bark to warn his owners of the presence of intruders. However, the dingo has highly developed senses of scent, hearing and sight and combined with its extreme cautiousness could well result in the breed being an excellent watch dog for an observant and understanding owner, despite the fact that dingoes seldom bark.
At the slightest suspicion of anything abnormal, or not routine, the dingo is instantly on total alert, ears twitching sensitively, nostrils flared, hackles slightly raised, every sense strained to its utmost, and will not relax until the whole area is thoroughly checked. Sometimes during such an alert, a short gruff bark, or a snort, may be uttered, but no continual barking as is to be expected from the normal watch dog. In excitement or defence Dingoes (and wolves etc) can bark in a single gruff voice. When extreme danger is sensed the Dingo will utter three or four short harsh barks which reach a crescendo in a short screeching howl which immediately alerts every dingo within earshot. I have also seen young children scream in terror at this vocalisation, recognising the danger signals.
Can Dingoes be trained?
The dingo can be trained. Training is education, and the Dingo puppy in the wild environment is trained, or educated, by its parents and the environment, to exist independently in order to survive. Nature has culled the Dingo for this life for thousands of years. The basic temperament of the breed - its independence, cautiousness with strong reasoning powers - enables this breed, and other hunting breeds, to use their own initiative to hunt (to survive), and for the same reasons, the Dingo in the domestic environment is seldom slavishly obedient, or openly affectionate except in greeting. The Dingo comes when it is ready, rather than when called, and its training is often likened to that of the Siamese cat.
The Dingo is at all times a free spirit and cannot be dominated without breaking its spirit.
A natural social animal with strong family ties, it is essential in the domestic situation that a Dingo be reared as a member of its human family; to share in family activities and outings, to develop trust and confidence; to know its place in the family pecking order, to have its rights and know its limitations. The dingo seldom recovers from a fearful experience or rejection. It is absolutely crucial to the developing Dingo, in particular, that all handling be kind but firm, with predictability, patience and understanding.
A situation where the Dingo could react fearfully, or badly, is better avoided until confidence, understanding and trust is well established, or avoided at all times. Where it cannot be side-stepped, try to distract the Dingo with talk or play, or if it is really fearful, kneel beside the animal, handling it and talking continually, or pick it up and hold gently but firmly against your body to give confidence, carefully avoiding contact with your face in case of a panicky snap. At all times, talk confidently to your dingo. He needs the reassurance of your voice.
Part of the Dingo's education in domesticity is the necessity of learning that its territory is restricted to a dog-proof back garden, or similar except when out on lead (this is not 'unnatural', as territorial boundaries would also exist in the wild state). The preferred material is heavy duty chain wire, or steel mesh, at least 1½ m high, and with a lip at least ½ m to prevent climbing or jumping. Footings are also necessary to prevent digging. ¾ m wide weldmesh laid on the ground and attached to the base of the fence provides good security.
An internal kennel with a small yard where the Dingo can be put in the owner's absence, is also an important item, as the process of, locking up the dingo, and then letting it out into larger yard helps to vary the routine. The dingo likes to lie on a high, or raised object, but make sure it is not near the fence, otherwise it could be used as a launching pad.
If your dingo chews your shoes or destroys your plants BLAME YOURSELF for leaving them within reach. Ever curious, the dingo can be very destructive.
Socialisation with strange places and people is an essential part of stabilising a Dingo's temperament, but do not allow him off-lead. The 'unexpected' can so easily occur; the ever-cautious dingo panics; and that could be the last you see of your much loved companion. The breed must be assiduously protected from this all too often occurrence.
Attendance at obedience training schools is excellent for general socialisation, and for learning new skills. Take the dingo along as a pup so it can accustom itself to the environment in preparation for the time when it is old enough to participate in classes. Neither during classes nor at any other time, allow a stranger to take over control of your dingo (remember, it is you he trusts), and never treat him harshly. Accept that the dingo will only respond if its training can be made interesting and enjoyable.
If you want a breed that you can more easily control and train, then choose one that has had generations of domesticity behind it. Unsympathetic treatment will break the spirit of the dingo, and when the opportunity presents itself, it could just 'disappear' in an effort to make a life for itself elsewhere.
Dingoes are essentially dogs of habit and routine. Their safety and peace of mind depends on these two basic characteristics. Change the routine, and you immediately have an apprehensive dingo. Regular socialising helps to overcome the stresses generated by changes, and it is a very important part of the lifetime commitment and dedication necessary for the successful keeping of this breed.
Remember, your dingo is your companion for its lifetime - your home is its territory for its lifetime. Particularly with the male dingo, a change of address could spell the end of the confidence and peace of mind of a previously well-adjusted dingo.
To be continued