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  • Writer's pictureBushwise Student

Dogs, but Wild

This blog about wild dogs was written by Allison Sponder. Special topic blogs are written by Bushwise students during their course, and all facts included are based on their research.

Read time: 4 mins

African wild dogs are my absolute favourite and have been for quite some time – long before I even thought I would witness them in person. Unfortunately, I think many people either do not realise just how fascinating they are, both as individuals and as a pack, or have been misled by misinformation. 

What’s in a name

For quite some time, but even more so recently, there has been a push to change the common name from wild dogs to painted wolves. Many people think the name wild dog makes them sound basically like stray dogs, which is one reason there are many misconceptions about them. While I understand the thought process, I also believe we should rethink why the term “wild” or even “dog” has such a negative connotation. Although wildly different, they do share similarities to our domestic breeds of dogs. People both underestimate domestic dogs and misunderstand wild dogs, but that’s a whole other issue. 


Wild dogs are fantastically unique, both in terms of behaviour and physical characteristics. The coat colour of wild dogs is highly varied; it can include red, black, white, yellow, and brown. Each individual has a completely different fur pattern that can be used to identify them. Some of the dogs have larger patches of white fur on them – which I personally find just stunning. 

They have large, rounded ears, almost seemingly too big for their body. They are not large in size; they are actually quite similar in size to many domestic dogs, weighing anywhere between 18–36 kilograms and roughly one metre in length. Their lifespan is roughly 10–12 years as well. 

Wild dog packs

Each individual not only has their own look but their own personality as well. Which makes for quite an interesting pack. The packs can consist of anywhere from two to 30 dogs, but generally a minimum of six dogs is ideal for consistent successful hunting. 

The female alpha is in charge of the entire pack, making many decisions and choosing where to den. The alpha male and female are the only two dogs allowed to breed in a pack, but the priority of the group is to take care of the entire pack. All of the dogs look after each other, care for each other even when sick or injured, and take care of the pups. 

Everyone in the pack will look after the pups. When the pups are still denning, and it is time to hunt, generally the alpha female will stay with the pups. The rest of the pack will head off on a hunt, and after they are successful, they will return and regurgitate the meal for the pups and mother. After the pups are old enough to join in on hunts, they will be allowed to eat first at a kill. 

Wild dog hunts

One of the most fascinating behaviours exhibited by wild dogs is their hunts. They practise something unknown to most other species, democracy

Okay, it’s not that complex. However, they have been observed basically voting on whether or not to pursue a hunt. They do this by sneezing. If the majority of the pack sneezes, the hunt will be a go. Mind-bending! 

The hunt itself is also unique. Firstly, they are one of the most successful predators in the area with roughly 80% of their hunts ending in a kill. Although wild dogs can rely on surprise and quick bursts of speed, they generally take a different approach. These individuals have unmatched endurance even at high speeds, up to 60 kilometres per hour. They often will chase their prey until it exhausts and can no longer run. They eat quickly in order to consume as much as possible as fast as possible, because unfortunately for them, there is a good chance a much larger and more powerful predator is lurking nearby ready to steal the kill. 

Wild dog packs eat a variety of things and the size of their prey generally depends on the size of the pack. They generally consume small-to-medium-sized antelopes such as impala, and warthogs, but can even take down wildebeest, kudu, or small buffalo – although quite rare. 

There is so much to observe and learn about this species. Their behaviour, social structure, and capabilities endlessly fascinate me. Not to mention, they are stunning. Unfortunately, they are quite endangered with only around 6,600 individuals left in the wild. One of the biggest threats to these dogs is the loss of habitat, one pack can cover a range of roughly 1,500 kilometres which is incredibly large. Since habitat is shrinking constantly, they are running out of room to roam which means they are also running into other predators and in conflict with humans, specifically farmers. There are many efforts in place to conserve them, however we still have a long way to go.

Out here we’re constantly discovering new things about the birds, plants, and animals that call the African savanna their home. Join us where the wild becomes home.




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