Social Behavior


African wild dogs are highly social carnivores that live in packs. Differences in the degree of sociality between wild dogs and wolves, their distant cousins, are reflected in a number of ways. One is in resting patterns in which wild dogs maintain comparatively closer physical contact between individuals. Also unlike wolves, they typically disperse in groups with lone dogs and peripheral pack members being extremely rare. Pack living is obligatory in wild dogs. Compared to wolves, aggression is generally muted. A high degree of cooperation is reflected in mostly affiliative behavior and serves as an important key to survival and reproductive success.

Pack formation in wild dogs is a social process that usually involves more than two individuals. Although this formation affects both individual fitness and population dynamics, and therefore is highly relevant to the conservation of this endangered species, little is known about it in the wild and the factors that influence outcomes.

Typically same-sex relatives emigrate and join opposite-sex groups. Our observations in the field suggest that group compatibility can influence whether stable reproductive units form. When opposite-sex groups join, they undergo a "trial courtship" that may or may not result in the formation of a stable reproductive unit. If a new pack does not stay together, it annuls. Any given instance of pack annulment may be due to one or more factors that can vary in time and place. An analysis of resting patterns suggests that spatial relationships mirror the relative strength of social bonds and thus the degree of social integration between females and males. In newly formed packs, same-sex associations are more common in those that eventually annulan outcome that suggests opposite-sex members are incompatible.

Wild dogs resting together


A pack consists of any group of wild dogs with a potentially reproductive pair. Packs are typically composed of related females, related males, and pups. If a pack contains more than two adults, the reproductive pair consists of the dominant male and female. Usually only the dominant pair breeds and subordinates help care for pups. The breeding female selects a den site, such as an abandon aardvark hole, and then contours the underground chamber prior to giving birth. The average litter size is about 8. When neonates are about three weeks, they appear above ground pug-nosed with black and white coloration, and small ears that rapidly develop into oversized proportions. Yellow markings begin to appear at four weeks. The denning season is a time of heightened vigilance. Babysitters keep an eye on pups while other family members are hunting. When successful, packs return to the den to regurgitate food to ravenous pups. During the season, pups are moved to different dens. When pups are around 10–12 weeks, packs resume their nomadic way of life. By the time they are about 4 months, as shown here, they are already familiar with what is expected of them as pack members.



The fact that wild dogs are one of Africa's most successful hunters is due largely to their high degree of cooperation. Although they sometimes hunt at night during certain phases of the moon, they usually set off in the early morning and sunset and rest during the heat of the day. When chasing prey they can run up to 60 km/h. In more enclosed habitats, packs tend to split into hunting parties, with single dogs often taking down prey before leaving it to bring back other dogs to feed. Pups are the first to eat. Prey preferences vary across landscape types. Spotted hyenas sometimes follow wild dogs on hunts and try to steal their kills.



Vocalizations provide a useful window on larger patterns of behavior in social species. Its study, in the case of African wild dogs, however, has lagged behind other scientific concerns. Wild dogs have been classified among the most social of all canids. One important way this is expresed is in the variety of sounds they make while interacting, some of which are unique to the species. Its repertoire is also one of the most complex in Canidae. Short-range vocalizations accompany many interactions within the pack and appear to play an important role in the formation and maintenance of bonds. Vocal and social complexity is also displayed in the mixing of different sound types to express ambivalence.

Preceding a hunt, pack members typically rally in at least one greeting ceremony before setting off. It usually begins with a single dog running up to one or more dogs with head held shoulder height, mouth agape, and ears folded back, while whimpering or whining. During a high-intensity ceremony many other different kinds of sounds are aired, including squeals and high-pitched bird-like sounds called "twitters."

When filtering through thick bush pursuing prey, pack members can become separated and sometimes call to reunite. These repetitive contact calls or "hoos" are short and low-pitched. They are delivered with the muzzle held lower than the shoulders and frequently while running. In contrast, the howls of wolves are mostly long and unbroken sound streams delivered with the muzzle held high while standing still.