Tuesday 31 October 2017

The Truth about Dingoes 9: Pack Structures

Dingoes are social animals...

Where conditions are favourable, they form stable packs that maintain distinct territories that overlap little with neighbouring packs. 

However, regional variations are seen, reflecting the flexible nature of dingo social structure. This flexibility is not surprising in view of the wide variety of habitats, prey species, climatic conditions and the levels of human exploitation encountered across this country.

Specialisation on larger prey such as kangaroos and wallabies favours increasing sociality and the formation of larger groups.

The primary function of dingo packs is to defend hunting areas and other essential resources.

As an example, in the north-west of Western Australia, where kangaroos are the main prey and natural water is widely distributed the dingoes are organised into stable packs occupying discrete territories that overlap little with neighbouring packs. Packs comprise of a dominant male and female (alpha) and their offspring of various ages. Territory boundaries are stable and between pack encounters are rare.
Packs vary in size and range anything from 3-12 individuals, with the smaller packs tending to occupying the poorer areas and larger ranges.

Pack members cooperate to hunt prey and take part in communal activities such as feeding, resting and raising pups.

Lone dingoes are sometimes seen; they have no pack affiliation, occupy larger ranges that overlap the mosaic of pack territories and avoid encounters with packs. They are usually seeking a mate and a vacant area in which to settle.

In a more fluid situation, in the northern tropical Territory stable packs occupy territories, but alter where and what they hunt according to season and prey availability.

In the arid pastoral regions of central Australia most dingoes are seen alone, although they are loosely bonded in small groups sharing a common living area.
A similar pattern also on the Nullabor. Here the dingoes prey mostly on rabbits. Water is sparse and shared by other groups.

Groupings of dingoes are most common during the months leading up to mating, during the raising of pups, and when dingoes are feeding on larger prey like the kangaroo.
These are just examples of a couple of locations to give you an idea on pack structures, taking into account, water and the seasons menu....

Information reproduced with permission from http://jennyleeparker3.wixsite.com/aussie-canis-dingo

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Dingoes and Sighthounds

Berenice believed the dingo was a primitive breed of dog not a wild dog. 1 Was she right? Will we ever know for sure? Her article here, written in 1998 makes for interesting reading.
Just How Unique is Our Dingo?
By Berenice Walters c. 1998
After fifty years (well, forty-eight to be exact) experience in the breeding, training and exhibiting rural working dogs as co-owner of Wooleston Kennels, I consider myself well experienced in matters relating to rearing, breeding, handling and training of dogs generally. However, as with my introduction to obedience training in the late 60's, and later to Dingoes, whole new dimensions were revealed; i.e. I still had a lot to learn.
Over the 18th and 19th centuries in particular, knowledge of dogs centred on rural working dogs and dogs used for hunting and sport.  The Dingo certainly differed from these.  But is it truly unique. 
Let's look at the following:
  • Females often do not have first season till between two and three years of age; have only one annual season, may not ovulate until day l6 or later, even as late as day 24. 
  • Can be more sensitive to certain anaesthetics than other dogs because of low amount of body fat and decreased liver metabolism of some anaesthetics though suitable anaesthetics are now available.
Interesting stuff, you say!   Dingoes sure are way out.  But wait for it, the above is an excerpt from articles on sighthounds Anaesthesia in Sighthounds by Michell Kornet. D.V.M. and Sighthound Breeding and Whelping by Karen Lee.
Our first Dingo to be anaesthetised was one morning in 1976.  At 10pm he was still flaked out in front of the fire.  Concerned, I contacted our vet, Jim Della-Vedova, who suggested I closely monitor him, making the comment that Dingoes appear to be sensitive to anaesthetic as do sighthounds.  Three days later he was fully recovered. 
I was intrigued by Jim's comment on sighthounds and thereby digested all the information I could on these very ancient breeds of dogs - the Pharaoh, Ibezen, Greyhounds, Whippets, Saluki, Afghan to name a few with whom I have had contact.  Despite thousands of years of domestication these sighthounds remain unique in so many ways, so similar to Dingoes. I wonder how the wolf compares.  I would expect it to have similar problems.
I was recently informed that some Dingoes in captivity were already coming in season outside the normal breeding season, the time of declining light.  Well, in the 24 years I have been with Dingoes, with documentation covering hundreds of individuals, only one, a hybrid, had an out of season heat, in November, and that was a very short and a one off occasion.  I just wonder how many of these so-called Dingoes are really Dingoes!  From my experience they are probably hybrids as some zoo bred animals have proven to be.  This is very sad for the breed.  Unfortunately, we also have case histories of genetic diseases such as hip dysplasia (we have been x-raying for this deformity since 1978), monorchids, over and undershot jaws, valgus deformity of the pastern, the latter two found in wild bred stock.  In the wild, dingoes with such deformities would be unlikely to breed, even survive, nature being such a stringent culler, but in the hands of ignorant or unscrupulous breeders and a very limited gene pool, our magnificent native dog could become a derelict of its former self.
Being a woman in a man's world of dogs, I have been rubbished by the best but have managed to carry on regardless fuelled by my obsession with Dingoes.  I have never seen a Dingo in the wild.  However, the behaviour attributed to the Dingo in the wild is frequently enacted in captivity.  For instance, when I let the Dingoes out of a morning, they rush to carefully check out their territory boundary; to very slowly and methodically check the fence line for any intruders. 
If I've returned home with a house Dingo, particularly a male, he will excitedly rush to get back into the yard to first check the fence line, particularly gateways, then every item in the house.  The scenting ability of our native dog never ceases to amaze me.  There have been many instances of dogs bred at Merigal picking out mail after it has been several days in the post and coming in contact with thousands of other articles. 2
By contrast, Cattle dogs released into their day runs exuberantly run up and down fences, barking and generally having a ball and with no thought of survival tactics such as searching for evidence of intruders.
Yes, Dingoes are very different from rural working dogs, but they certainly fall into line with sighthounds in many respects.  Years ago, some believed that if the Dingo was ever accepted as a registrable breed of dog it should be within the Working Dog Group!  We vehemently disagreed and were very pleased, and relieved when the National Kennel Club followed our lead classifying the Dingo as a Hound breed.
Edited by Pamela King © 2015
  1. It should be remembered that this article was written before the dingo was declared a separate species to both domestic dogs and wolves.
  2. What is even more amazing than Berenice’s experience occurred more recently when I mailed copies of Berenice’s book to two people who had dingoes. The books had been stored with Berenice’s records for several years.  In both cases the dingoes of the people who received the parcels would not leave they alone. They continually sniffed and pawed at the packages.

Thursday 19 October 2017

Jedda and Snowdrift – Perfect Dingo Parents

Snowy and pups

Snowdrift was first mated with Sunny. When his first litter was due he was the most attentive mate.  As Sunny was young it was decided to put her into the whelping kennel about twenty metres away. 

But Snowdrift became very agitated.  He rushed into his kennel dragged out his trampoline bed and sat with it at the gate ready to move house.  He'd packed his bags.  That won Berenice over. 

Gathering him and his belongings, she put him into the kennel with Sunny who decided that she'd prefer to whelp on his bed rather than the whelping box.  So here she was in the middle of the bed going into labour, with a very subdued Snowy circling trying to join her.  In the end he was moved him into an adjoining kennel where he could keep an eye on proceedings. He was content.

When he was mated to Jedda he immediately started to build their home by digging a den under their kennel for his prospective family.  During the birth and the early days after the birth, he was ever watchful of his pups but did not dare to touch them, patiently waiting for the time when he would be allowed to share in their care. 

Jedda, the perfect mother
Jedda was the perfect mother. The pre-birth period was relaxed, the birth quiet and without drama. Mother and pups were so contented Berenice had the greatest difficulty in recording any vocalisations from the pups.

The five males and one female thrived. However, at around four weeks of age, Jedda's natural shyness with strange people indicated that this could have an adverse effect on the litter and gradually, one at a time over several days the pups were allowed to run with their father. Up to that time Snowy had not had free access to the pups as he was only just over 12 months of age. Jedda was 5 years old and it was thought he could cause stress to her.

Deprived of the constant company of his offspring caused Snowy to become very depressed as the male Dingo has a natural role in the rearing of the pups. Up to five weeks Mum does most of the work, but after that time Dad gradually takes over.

Right from the time the first pup was placed in his enclosure, he encouraged them to share his bed. That first pup he actually gently lifted up with his nose between its back legs.

Snowdrift was a marvellous father and insisted sharing the responsibilities of caring for them.  At five weeks he virtually took over the daily care of his offspring, relishing the role of educating them, teaching them to hunt through play, to respect their parents, and to be kind to one another.  He would encourage a shy pup, take in hand and discipline an unruly pup; snuggle and cuddle them all in bed.  His bed always seems to be packed with pups. 

He played with them, ensuring all had a fair go, and came down hard on any that showed a tendency to bite. All had to submit to him and respect his authority as 'top dog'. Discipline was never harsh or brutal, although the screams of the pups at times could be rather alarming, none was ever hurt. Each pup got its turn at being the 'underdog' when Dad and the whole litter chased it and forced it to roll over in submission.

Family unity and strength depends on respect, good manners, and discipline. At feed time, Snowy stood back and allowed the pups to have their fill before he ate. When Berenice entered their enclosure, he leapt up on her, jumping into the air in excitement, but never once did he land on a pup, or accidently hurt one.

Unfortunately, Snowdrift trained his pups not to trust strangers and jumped on them when they try to approach the fence.  As the society socialised pups to be friendly this was counterproductive.  One day, Berenice’s daughter, Christine, called the pups to her.  Snowdrift jumped on them and they retreated.  Christine kept encouraging them to come to her whereupon Snowy marched over to her and bit her proffered finger.  "He bit me" she shrieked.  Snowy no doubt considered she was undermining his authority and did something about it.

Jedda was content to let Snowy take over and more often than not Snowy and his brood would be seen snuggling up together in their box while Jedda relaxed on the roof of the kennel. 

Snowdrift would gently but firmly let her know they were HIS pups. He nipped her on the shoulder as she ran around the yard checking everything out. The pups mobbed her mouthing her and trying to suckle, and she very quickly jumped onto the roof of the kennel. After the initial excitement the mood quietened and they all got along fine.