The New Guinea singing dog or New Guinea Highland dog (scientific name: Canis hallstromi, taxonomic classification: Canis familiaris or Canis lupus dingo) is a dog native to the New Guinea Highlands of the island of New Guinea. Its taxonomic status is debated. It is closely related to the Australian dingo.
The dog is noted for its unique vocalization. Little is known about New Guinea singing dogs in the wild, and there are only two photographs of possible wild sightings. In 1989, the Australian mammalogist Tim Flannery took a photo of a black-and-tan dog in Telefomin District. He wrote that these dogs live with native people in the mountains, and that there were feral populations living in the sub-alpine and alpine grasslands of the Star Mountains and the Wharton Range. The photo was published in his book Mammals of New Guinea. In 2012, Australian wilderness adventure guide Tom Hewett took a photo of a tawny, thick-coated dog in the Puncak Mandala region of West Papua, Indonesia.
In 2016, a literature review found that there is no definitive evidence that the founding members of captive populations of New Guinea singing dogs were wild-living animals but were raised as members of village populations of domestic dogs.
The NGSD is a small-to-medium-sized dog of fox-like appearance with a wedge-shaped head, prick ears, obliquely-set triangular eyes, plush coat and a brushy tail. The NGSD is extremely agile and graceful. This breed is presented in a completely natural condition with no trimming, even of whiskers. The coat is average to long in length. Colors include red or shades of red with or without symmetrical white markings, black and tan. White markings are common, but should not form more than one-third of the body's total color. White markings are permissible only in the following areas and may not form spots or patches on the body: Muzzle, face, neck (may extend onto the shoulders), belly, legs, feet and tail tip. The head is fairly broad and the body duly muscular. The jaw structure is more advanced than a dingo's. The hindquarters are lean and the medium-length tail is soft and fluffy.
All sightings in the wild were of single dogs or pairs, therefore it can be inferred that wild singing dogs do not form permanent packs. Tim Flannery's short 1989 report on dogs in the mountains of Papua New Guinea described them as "extraordinarily shy" and "almost preternaturally canny". According to Robert Bino (1996), these dogs only use their resting places under roots and ledges in New Guinea sporadically. Bino conjectured that these dogs are highly mobile and forage alone and concluded that they therefore might use several hiding places in their home range.
During research observations, the examined dogs generally showed a lower threshold of behavior (e.g., scent rolling) than other domestic dogs, as well as an earlier developmental onset than other domestic dogs or grey wolves (e.g., hackle biting at two weeks compared to other domestic dogs/grey wolves at 6 weeks) and a quantitative difference (e.g., reduced expression of intraspecific affiliate behaviors). The dogs observed did not show the typical canid play bow; however, Imke Voth found this behavior during examinations in the 1980s. Several behaviors unique to New Guinea singing dogs have been noted:
The New Guinea Singing Dog is not like your average domesticated dog and is not recommended as a house pet for most people as it is closely related to a wild dog. If properly socialized, it can be tame enough to tolerate the handling of humans, getting attached to its owners. The NGSD’s most unique characteristic is its dramatic ability to vary the pitch of its howl. They do not bark repetitively but have a complex vocal behavior including yelps, whines and single-note howls. NGSDs are active, lively, and alert. They are constantly exploring everything in their environment, using all five senses, including taste. Their incredible structural flexibility allows them to pass their bodies through any opening wide enough to admit their head. Their hunting drive is very intense and may overwhelm any training when prey is detected. They use their acute sense of hearing in addition to sight and scent to locate prey. Although gentle and affectionate with people they know, they can be aloof with strangers. NGSDs can be aggressive toward other dogs, especially of the same sex. Its howl has an eerie yet synchronized quality, which gives the breed its name. The howl can be spurred when the dog is disturbed or excited. One tone blends with the next, sending goose bumps up a listener's back. Opera singers have expressed a particular interest in this vocally skillful canine. This is a hardy and well-balanced dog. The Singing Dog is similar to the Dingo, although smaller than its near relative. It possesses the erect ears and is a swift hunter with social instincts. Unlike the Dingo, the New Guinea female cycles twice a year in captivity. This is not a dog for most people. The New Guinea Singing Dog has never been studied in the wild and virtually nothing is known concerning its behavior, social organization or general natural history under free-ranging conditions. In general, New Guinea Singing Dogs show all the behaviors described for other Canis species with the exception of the "play bow," typical to most canids but not seen in the New Guinea Singing Dog. The captive populations which have been studied were not observed to have form packs. Wild sightings are of single dogs or pairs. They have a distinctive howl, and emit a "trill," described as similar to a sound made by the Asiatic Wild Dog. As of 2004, there were less than 50 specimens (all highly inbred) in the documented NGSD captive breeding population.
New Guinea singing dogs are named for their distinctive and melodious howl, which is characterized by a sharp increase in pitch at the start and very high frequencies at the end. According to observations made by Ortolani, the howling of these dogs can be clearly differentiated from that of Australian dingoes, and differs significantly from that of grey wolves and coyotes
An individual howl lasts an average of 3 seconds, but can last as long as 5 seconds. At the start, the frequency rises and stabilizes for the rest of the howling, but normally shows abrupt changes in frequency. Modulations can change quickly every 300–500 milliseconds or every second. Five to eight overtones can generally be distinguished in a spectrographic analysis of the howling. Their howl reportedly has been compared to the song of a humpback whale.
New Guinea singing dogs sometimes howl together which is commonly referred to as chorus howling. During chorus howling, one dog starts and others join in shortly afterward. In most cases, chorus howling is well synchronized, and the howls of the group end nearly simultaneously. Spontaneous howling is most common during the morning and evening hours. A trill, with a distinctly "bird-like" character, is emitted during high arousal. It is a high-frequency pulsed signal whose spectral appearance suggests a continuous source that is periodically interrupted, and might last as long as 800 milliseconds. Such a sound is not known for any other canid; however, a similar sound (with lower frequency) has been described for a dhole at the Moscow Zoo. When they are kept with dogs that bark, singing dogs may mimic the other dogs.
Like other dingo types, female singing dogs come into heat once a year rather than twice a year normally associated with domestic breeds. Their breeding season generally starts in August and ends during December. Gestation averages 63 days. In Tierpark Berlin, 80% of the litters were born in October and November and the gestation period was 58–64 days. The litter size was 1–6 pups. Reports of 25 female singing dogs in captivity showed that when they did not conceive during their first annual estrus, about 65% have a second estrus cycle, sometimes even a third, 8–16 weeks later.
Males in captivity often participate in raising the pups, including the regurgitation of food. Female singing dogs are protective of their young and will aggressively attack their male counterpart if they suspect he poses a danger to the puppies. During the first breeding season following their birth, especially if there is a potential mate present, pups are often aggressively attacked by the same-sex parent.
Reports from local sources in Papua New Guinea from the 1970s and the mid-1990s indicate that singing dogs-like wild dogs found in New Guinea, whether they were pure singing dogs or hybrids, fed on small to middle-sized marsupials, rodents, birds, and fruits. Robert Bino stated that their prey consisted of cuscuses, wallabies, dwarf cassowaries, and other birds. Singing dogs in captivity do not require a specialized diet but they seem to thrive on lean raw meat diets based on poultry, beef, elk, deer, or bison.
Relationship with other Predators
Singing dogs have been reported engaging in kleptoparasitic behavior towards Papuan eagles In turn, the birds have been known to kill adult dogs.