Dholes, a handsome breed of wild dog native to Asia, are divided into subspecies. One type has white fur around the muzzle, on its chest and in its ears. The other is reddish brown all over . Dholes weigh about the same as border collies but their bodies are leaner and their legs longer. The dhole is a trim, muscular dog.
Also known as the Asian Wild Dog, the dhole prefers to live in dense scrub or forests. The dogs make their homes in dens—often holes vacated by hyenas and porcupines. They improve the construction, digging tunnels and adding one or more entrances. The dens may be located under or between rocks, in heavy underbrush, or on the banks of dry rivers or creeks.
The front door of the den is usually almost vertical. The tunnel behind it takes a sharp turn after three or four feet. Some dens have several entrances and many connecting tunnels. These dwellings become more elaborate over the years, as the dholes improve and enlarge them. Their living quarters are often the work of many generations, shared by the entire clan. Females give birth to their litters in the chambers of the den and raise them there.
Dholes have a complicated repertoire of sounds for communicating with each other. Sometimes they whistle or make cooing noises to coordinate their movements through thick brush. Other sounds include whining for food, growling as sign of aggression, yapping, and chattering as a warning signal (for a video, click here). When dholes attack a prey animal, they make a screaming sound. Unlike many other wild dogs, dholes do not howl.
Their body language is complex, too. A friendly greeting involves pulling back the lips as though smiling, lowering the tail, and licking. The dogs show submission the same way. When dholes want to play, they assume a play bow. Angry or aggressive dholes open their jaws slightly while pulling their lips back and snarling. The hair on their backs stands up, as well. When they’re afraid, they tuck their tails beneath their bodies and flatten their ears.
A dhole pack gets excited just before an early morning hunting trip, nuzzling each other and rubbing bodies. When they spot a prey animal, they work as a team—each with an assigned role. One or more dholes lead the chase while the rest keep up a steadier pace behind. The dogs aren’t fast runners, but they have stamina and can keep going for hours. When the lead dogs get tired, those trailing behind move up and take over. Dholes often drive prey animals to a body of water where their swimming skills and ability to leap high into the air give them the advantage.
While dholes prey on deer, wild boar, water buffalo and other large animals, they also eat plants and fruit. They enjoy various kinds of grasses, herbs and leaves. One of their favorite foods is mountain rhubarb, found in the Tien Shan mountain range (photo).
(To watch dogs at a watering hole, click here)
On rare occasions, dholes attack tigers. Tigers—fearing these determined canines—climb a tree or stand with their backs to it. If they maintain their defensive stance, the tigers have a good chance of survival. If they try to escape, they’re usually killed. While dholes will take on a tiger, they are cautious about it—knowing that the big cat has enough strength to kill one of them with a single paw strike.
The few people who have tried to raise dholes in captivity have found it difficult. The dogs are nearly impossible to tame, although they may play with domestic dogs while they’re still pups. (To watch dhole pups at play click here). When captive dholes reach adulthood, they usually become too aggressive to trust around other animals.