Thursday, October 22, 2009
By Ruthie Bently
I became aware of a newer “rare breed” of dog recently, when I was asked to write about the New Guinea Singing Dog for this blog. CANIDAE has actually been supporting several New Guinea Singing Dogs at the Tautphaus Zoo in Idaho Falls, Idaho for almost two years now. These dogs came to the zoo from their original owner who was unable to care for them because they were not fully domesticated.
Prior to CANIDAE sponsoring their exhibit, these handsome dogs were being fed any dog food the local grocery store donated. Now, CANIDAE team members Chris Milliken and Diane Matsuura make sure they are fed with the finest all natural nutrition available. CANIDAE is very happy to help these “threatened” dogs that have a unique voice, and this is their first opportunity to sponsor a zoo exhibit.
Although several kennel clubs recognize them, the New Guinea Singing Dog is not one I would suggest owning. According to the United Kennel Club (UKC) they should be 17 inches high (43 cm) and weigh 25 pounds (11 kg). They have a double coat, which ranges from red to brown, and some dogs have a mask. Their life expectancy is between fifteen and twenty years of age. Their group affiliation in the UKC is the Sighthounds and Pariah Dogs Group, and they are considered a rare breed. They can also be registered with the American Rare Breed Association, in the Spitz and Primitive Group, as a dog breed.
The New Guinea Singing Dog (aka NGSD) was brought to the island of New Guinea about 6,000 years ago by stone age aborigines. They had been isolated until about fifty years ago, and little is known about them. They are a primitive breed of dog, although they were tame enough to accompany prehistoric man on hunts. The NGSD predate the dingo by 2,000 years, but like the dingo it is believed they come from the subspecies of Indian wolf. Sir Edward Halistrom discovered them in 1957, and took the first pair from Papua-New Guinea to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia. They were named for him (Canis hallstromi) and were reclassified in 1969 as a domestic dog breed, in the same subspecies as the dingo.
New Guinea Singing Dogs have not been studied in the wild. Because many consider them feral dogs, little is known about their social organization, behavior or history in the wild. When glimpsed in the wild, they have been seen singly or in pairs, never in a pack. Most of the NGSD in North America are descended from the original pair from the Taronga Zoo. Five others were taken to the Domestic Animal Institute in Keil, Germany from the Irian Java, and one was seen by a British climbing expedition below Mount Trikora in 1991. They have their own conservation group, and their status is “threatened.”
They are called Singing Dogs because of their voice. While they are able to howl like a wolf, they can modulate the pitch of their howls. They also trill, which has been compared to a sound made by the Asiatic Wild Dog. They do not repeatedly bark, but have a vocal range that includes whines, yelps and howls of a single note, which show a quality of synchronization. They blend their vocal tones and the howl can be spurred if the dog is excited or disturbed.
While it is said they can be loyal and affectionate dogs, they do have their detriments and I would not suggest having one as a family pet. They are still considered a wild animal by many, as they have strong roaming and predatory instincts, and will escape fenced areas. Training sessions can become difficult if prey is detected because of their drive to hunt, and they use not only their scent and sight but their hearing as well to find prey. Because of their incredible flexibility, they can get through any opening large enough to fit their head through. They explore their environment constantly and utilize all five senses.
New Guinea Singing Dogs are extremely intelligent and can become bored easily. They are a very active breed that needs lots of attention and exercise. If not properly trained they can be destructive. While they can develop a strong bond with a human they will become upset when separated. They have catlike qualities and show more independence than a more domesticated dog, so don’t expect them to come when you call. They need to be well-socialized early to tolerate humans and can be shy and aloof around strangers. They can also be dog aggressive, especially to their own sex, and there are reports of their misunderstanding another dog’s attempt to play with them.
Because New Guinea Singing Dogs live as long as they do, I would consider very carefully before owning one. Twenty years is a long time to live with a semi-domesticated dog that could become a handful very quickly.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently