Jeannette Barnes DVM
 
 
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FEATURED: NEW GUINEA SINGING DOG

Few animals on the planet are more mysterious and elusive than the New Guinea Singing Dog.

These extremely isolated animals are believed to have followed early explorers from Asia and Africa six to ten thousand years ago as companions. When they isolated themselves to New Guinea, they were severed from breeding with the richer gene pool of the mainland.

During some ancient shake up in the natural world, these dogs avoided relations with people. The local New Guineans neither tame nor domesticate them. For reasons unknown to us, these animals took to the highlands, setting up their housekeeping in this territory. Some are still spotted at over six thousand feet.

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Because of shy temperament and very limited range, the NGSD was not known to the outside world until the eighteen-nineties. Unfortunately, a naturalist named Sir William MacGregor procured one of these animals. I say ‘unfortunately’ because it was customary at that time if one discovered a new species for the animal to be sacrificed and brought to the so-called civilized world to be studied. The naturalist spoke of the beautiful singing voice he had heard, and wanted to know more about the animal.

This was the only known specimen until the 1950s, when the NGSDs again sparked interest. A breeding pair was captured and brought to a native animal park run by a man named Sir Walter Hallstrom. The dogs were found to have a several octave “song” or howl. When several dogs participated in the song, it was quite melodious.

Hallstrom, certain that the animals were unlike the typical mutt dogs of New Guinea, packed them off to a zoo in Sydney, Australia. A specialist there returned the favor by naming the animals after Hallstrom, thereby declaring the animals to be a separate species named Canis hallstromi. It is easy to be charmed by this animal.

 

What is it like to be a New Guinea Singing Dog? You climb trees. Your forearms seek the curve of branches as you scale high points on the trees of your native land. Your paws are soft and well-cushioned to withstand the rigors of treading rocks and boulders as you run. Catlike in many ways, you often rub the scent of your face on the ground.

Your spine is flexible. You can slither in and out of tight spaces. And you are lean and small, only twenty to thirty pounds so that you can maneuver quickly after small prey. Your eyes are well-proportioned, with eyelids that turn up at the edges and ears that prick forward, giving you a fox-like look.

You signal other dogs with a series of melodious howls, one after another, reaching into the higher octaves at the climax. When your companions sing with you, the sound is a complex chorus of compelling beauty.

Your sexual habits are unique. During your mating, if you are female, you emit a three-minute-long howl given the descriptive name of “the copulatory scream.” Rhythmic contractions of your belly muscles accompany this outburst. All this activity is not lost on your fellows, who seem extremely aroused by the proceedings.

If you do not get pregnant during this encounter, you will start another estrus cycle within a few weeks, and a third cycle if necessary.

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You are a perfectly fashioned small predator. Much like the snow leopard which also prefers high altitude, you do not travel in packs. Your solitary existence is difficult to trace. Only a handful of your kind have been spotted in the wild in recent years. Whatever the numbers in your population pool, there has to have been quite a bit of inbreeding.

     In recent years, several pure NGSD have been captured or bred outside of the boundaries of New Guinea. Observers are curious about your behavior with other dogs and people. You are represented to be quite shy on first meeting, and are absolutely not aggressive toward humans. You greet other dogs with submission.

What I find fascinating is that the New Guinea Singing Dogs do not whimper or paste themselves against the other end of the room when humans enter. Deep within their canine brains, they must possess a human face recognition area. And it must be genetic, and it must be reproducible, because it was passed on to all progeny of this ancient breed.

Relatively few NGSD pairs or groups exist in zoos or private homes. Only recently has there been a collective desire to preserve this group of animals as a link to early domestication of the dog. This animal appears to be a completely sound emotional, physical and spiritual being, at one with its environment.

Where did the New Guinea Singing Dogs originate from? A natural choice, the most likely ancient dog, is a clever, fierce tribal dog of India and Bangladesh. Named the Pariah dog, this breed is referred to as a “landrace” or aboriginal dog of Asia. Some scientists believe that is the dog found in the ruins of Pompeii. There is evidence that tribal peoples migrated and brought these animals over most of southeast Asia and Australia.

These animals were domesticated at some point, and exist in a spectrum from tame to wild, but they can be fierce when needed for hunting. Mostly, they are not selectively bred, so they have very few of the health concerns such as hip dysplasia which plague other dogs. Usually these dogs thrive with very little maintenance, being a naturally evolved perfected breed, as chronic health issues are selected out by nature’s hand.

Whether few or many in number, these ancestral dogs give us a perspective on the original species we call dogs.