African Dogs Are Actually Social And Affectionate Pups, Not Bloodthirsty Killers

While many nature shows depict African wild dogs as elite and bloodthirsty killer creatures, they are actually gentle wildlife animals when hanging out with their pack. As members of the canidae family, they may share some traits with their wolf and coyote relatives, but the beautifully marked coats that give them their "painted wolf" name sets them apart in more way than one. They may be able to take down a gazelle with an astounding success rate, but the truth about African dogs is they're actually quite affectionate and social with one another.

Some fun facts about African dogs include their complex social structure, communication methods, and teamwork mentality that comes with hunting and caring for their young. Researchers have even discovered African dogs vote by sneezing. These dogs are obviously highly intelligent, creating strategies for hunting and even figuring out how human-made contraptions work. African wild dog packs just might rival some human communities in the way they stick together and look out for one another, making the fact they are becoming highly endangered all the more worrisome.


  • African Wild Dogs Are The Definition Of Teamwork

    African Wild Dogs Are The Definition Of Teamwork
    Photo: Charles J Sharp / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA 4.0

    One advantage of sticking together in large groups is the ability to take care of the pack's other members. African wild dogs are one species of mammals that practice respect for their elders and have been observed taking care of the old, injured, and sick members of their group. Although there is only one couple in charge, the pack gets along so well that there is often very little fighting and dogs will follow the dominant pair without issue. Wild dogs will bring food back from the hunt for other members of their pack and regurgitate meals for pups and their mother. In fact, packs are so close knit, every member shares responsibilities, including caring for the young.

  • They Are Able To Break Human-Made Traps

    They Are Able To Break Human-Made Traps
    Photo: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

    Although African wild dogs tend to act skittish and anxious when faced with a possible dangerous situation, they are also observing at the same time. Conservationists attempting to encourage more packs to form attempted to capture a breeding pair inside a cage trap. A hunk of meat was hung inside in order to tempt the dogs and they kept their distance until a pair eventually entered and was trapped. The rest of the pack immediately began circling the cage, picked up the rope attached to the door, and pulled it to open the door and free their friends. The dogs' ability to observe the situation before entering and understand how a contraption they had never seen before worked adds intelligence to their list of awesome traits.

  • They Vote On Group Decisions By Sneezing

    They Vote On Group Decisions By Sneezing
    Photo: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

    Researchers following five different African wild dog packs around the the Moremi Game Reserve discovered a perculiar way packs communicate with one another. When the dogs came together as a group before hunts or moving to a different location, each would often sneeze. Researchers noticed the more sneezes there were, the more often they moved or began their hunt soon after. They reasoned the dogs' sneezes were serving as a voting system, allowing each to contribute their opinion to what the pack did. The dominant pair still had partial control over the pack's decisions, as their sneezes appeared to have greater significance than those of the other dogs. Sneezing as a form of communication has been observed with jackals, coyotes, and domestic dogs in order to display anxiety or excitement, but it has never been seen used for the process of voting.

  • Packs Hunt Cooperatively With Finely Tuned Choreography

    Packs Hunt Cooperatively With Finely Tuned Choreography
    Photo: Brian Gratwicke / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    African wild dogs have a nasty reputation partly due to the way they hunt and how efficient of a system it is. They work together in groups and make a cooperative attack where every dog has a role. Remaining organized at all times, the dogs will identify a worthy target, and a team of several dogs will begin the chase. If the first wave of dogs gets tired before the kill, they switch with another team and the chase continues. Using this method, African dogs can run much longer than their prey, which eventually tires and is killed. Although they are fond of hunting antelopes, by working together they can also attack wildebeests or other large prey.

  • They Have Vocalizations And Rituals To Greet Each Other

    They Have Vocalizations And Rituals To Greet Each Other
    Photo: Tambako The Jaguar / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

    Unlike the lone cheetahs and badgers of the world, African wild dogs are extremely social and enjoy hanging out with one another. They can be very talkative as well and communicate with each other through different sounds, including whining, howling, and barking. Tail movement and touching each other with their noses or paws also give signals to each other. African wild dogs have been observed engaging in rituals when they greet one another where they may jump, shake their head, or vocalize their happiness at seeing their friends. Before a hunt, they may also help pump each other up like a sports team before a big game by licking, wagging, and yelping.

  • Packs Contain Six To Twenty Members And Are Led By Monogamous Breeding Pair

    African wild dog packs often contain a lot of members, both in order to better take care of each other and to hunt more efficiently. Packs contain as many as twenty members and each pack is dominated by a couple who breed only with each other. The rest of the pack is made up of other male dogs who do not breed, but occasionally another female will join. She sometimes becomes a pair with another male and they'll create their own offspring while still acting as subordinates. Long ago, wild dogs used to band together in greater numbers and some packs may have contained as many as 40 members. Since becoming endangered, wild dog packs have become much smaller.