Wild dogs on the shelf

by Steven Simpson


While the common cat is the most widespread terrestrial carnivore on earth, dogs are the most common and are very nearly ubiquitous across the globe. A majority of these dogs – particularly in the developing world and very often here in rural areas, whether owned or unowned, pedigree or stray – spend a large proportion of their time as unfettered, free-roaming animals, ultimately crossing the boundaries between human communities and the natural environment.

With wild dog predation on livestock of great concern, and the evolution of the native dingo into a dingo/feral dog hybrid a topic very much in the news, the following books are a few good choices for interesting reading on the subject.

Free-Ranging Dogs & Wildlife Conservation brings together a review of the effects of dogs on native wildlife. With an emphasis on how free-ranging dogs may influence wildlife management and species of conservation concern, chapters address themes such as the global history and size of dog populations; dogs as predators, competitors and prey of wildlife; the use of dogs as hunting companions; the role of dogs in disease outbreaks and in maintaining diseases of wildlife; and the potential for dogs to hybridise with the various species of wild dog.

Additionally, the role of the dog in conservation conflict is assessed, including the important role of dogs as livestock guardians; the potential for dogs to aid researchers as free-ranging detection dogs locating rare wildlife species of conservation interest; and the recognition that some populations of dogs such as dingoes may have a long history of genetic isolation and are themselves of important conservation concern. The original native Australians who introduced the dingo to this continent saw their dogs as a means to improving their way of life. How the world has turned and many people now hold radically opposing views!

Editor Dr Matthew Gompper, a Professor of Mammalogy active in the field of conservation biology, has done a sterling job bringing together the work of 35 authors, including eight Australians. The book offers a staggering degree of detail in a dozen separately referenced chapters of fundamental importance to the subject. This is a title for constant reference; keep it to hand, it is very useful indeed.

Inevitably, books of this nature rely highly on previously published material, which in itself is not a fault, as the high degree of referencing provides a goldmine of information for further reading. However, it can leave practical operators or landowners overrun with wild dogs feeling like they are a little ahead of the curve.

The last scientific book on the dingo in Australia was in 1995 (although,  have heard that a new book on the dingo from the CSIRO was released in August 2015) and now, especially for skull collectors, is the time for dingo-hybrids revisited. Wild dogs are not fixed in time; they are continuing to evolve. Elsewhere in the world, the feral dog has natural predators from the apex carnivores such as bears, big cats and wolves, down to the hyenas, jackals and coyotes, all of which prey on wild or feral dogs. Here, the loss of your neighbour’s buck stops with you. Culling and recording will get you further down the road in the long run than simply culling alone. Perhaps it is time to start taking measurements and join in.

Free-Ranging Dogs and Wildlife Conservation is aimed at professional wildlife and conservation managers, graduate students, ecologists, and researchers with an interest in human-dog-wildlife interactions. It will also be of relevance and use to dog welfare researchers, veterinary scientists, disease ecologists and all readers interested in the interactions of domestic animals and wildlife.

I’m all for dogs having a purpose in life. A specific dedicated use can make an individual dog’s life and save it from dying of boredom. It’s hardly surprising that without guidance, training and control, dogs left to their own devices will and do run amok. For those with a dedicated interest in feral dogs, Johan Gallant’s The Story of the African Dog is a vital contribution and a book that I would not ever be without. This is not a book on the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus), also known as the painted dog, or the Cape hunting hound now tragically endangered and much disturbed by eco-tourists and film crews. It’s a book on the original domestic dog of southern Africa, known as ‘Africanis’.

In countries where rabies is endemic (and let’s make absolutely sure there is never a serious outbreak here), it is most frequent in feral dogs encountered in parks and on the outskirts of major cities. Rabies is endemic in feral dogs in South Africa and that is food for thought. Additionally, the feral dog in South Africa has been shown to be virtually free from internal and external parasites and it is worth repeating that wild dogs are not fixed in time, they are continuing to evolve. Johan Gallant was originally a paratrooper with the Belgian army. He’s done the mileage and his book is excellent. It contains some interesting parallels with the feral domestic dogs you see closer to home and is well worth buying.

Brad Purcell, in his excellent book, Dingo, offers a great review of dingo biology and conservation, backed by many dedicated years of practical experience and research. He will be familiar to many readers through his work on small native mammals, feral pigs and feral deer. This is a book aimed at natural resource managers, zoologists, students at all levels and for everyone who has an interest in the wildlife of Australia. Whatever your point of view, it is essential that we all try to see an issue from both sides. This very well illustrated book looks to the conservation of the dingo and a greater understanding of their natural history through the use of new technologies such as GPS telemetry and camera trapping.

We are all aware that direct predation on livestock by wild dogs is responsible for the losses of hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the combined grazing industries in Australia. Wild dogs are also a source of the spread of serious zoonoses (animal-borne diseases), including hydatids and neospora. Hydatids are a tapeworm that very commonly infects dogs. A person who comes into contact with infected dog faeces may contract hydatid disease, which is when tapeworm cysts form in your vital organs such as the liver and lungs. This is a very nasty and potentially fatal condition, and symptoms may occur a long time after the initial infection.

Neospora are a protozoan pathogen in dogs and cattle that cause a disease called Neosporosis, which manifests itself in both endemic and epidemic calf abortion patterns. Elsewhere in the world, dogs are the number one transmitter of rabies to humans (rabies is thought to be the oldest communicable disease of humans), and should the worst ever happen, the presence of growing wild dog packs countrywide would make containing a rabies outbreak in Australia almost impossible.

Clearly, the presence and activities of wild dogs have a negative impact on our rural communities and if you are unfortunate enough to contract hydatid disease, it will seriously spoil your day. Real-life observations of decreased fear in wild foxes around the world are timely and telling, and you don't need me to spell it out. Any tool that can help provide practical solutions to this huge problem is welcome.

In Dog Behaviour, Evolution and Cognition (second edition), we have a new and updated edition of a standard reference for all dog specialists. Whether you are operating at the sharp end of local dog control, working as a veterinarian or doctor, or are hundreds of miles away coordinating national wild dog strategy, you will find this book up to date, relevant and useful. The first edition was published in 2007 and some eight years later, the second edition is more than 40 per cent bigger, reflecting the increase in interest in the subject. It covers a great deal of ground, all of it interesting and useful, and for me, as a practical user, the most important parts consider evolutionary biology and problem-solving behaviour in dogs; how dog behaviour changes over the lifetime of the dog; and social organisation in free-ranging feral dogs.

Early dog remains have been dated in Australia to greater than 40,000 years ago. They have been here a while before us, they are dead smart and are very persistent. Keep up with the latest research and get ahead if you are able. I am a dog lover and I own a trained hunting dog that means the world to me, but the last thing we need are further misguided calls for the protection of wild dogs from the Green lobby. Scaring wild dogs away does not bring the numbers down.


Book specifications


Free-Ranging Dogs & Wildlife Conservation

The Story of the African Dog


Dog Behaviour, Evolution and Cognition (second edition)


Matthew E Gompper

Johan Gallant

Brad Purcell

Adam Miklosi


Oxford University Press

University of Natal Press


Oxford University Press











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