The wild dog of Africa – also known as the African wild dog, hunting dog, African painted dog or painted wolf – is one of the most enchanting and elusive mammals in the African bush.

Their canine appearance, beautiful colouration and playful nature means they are high up on most people’s safari bucket list and always make for thrilling sightings.

What Are The Wild Dogs of Africa?

The wild dog is the most successful predator in Africa and sadly, also the most endangered. They are a canid species as their name suggests, and are native to sub-Saharan Africa.

These incredible animals are highly social and live in groups called ‘packs’. They have one of the most sophisticated social structures of all wildlife species.

african wild dog
African wild dog skipping through the bush | Andrew Danckwerts (@andrewdanckwerts)


What do African wild dogs look like?

The wild dog has a typical canine appearance. They are tall with a slender build, designed for endurance rather than power or speed. They have a short yet shaggy coat that is detailed with a brilliant, patchy pattern that perfectly blends hues of black, white, brown and grey. These are formed from stiff bristle-like hairs and no underfur. Their coat gradually falls off with age, and very old individuals can be almost bald.

Their pattern varies significantly and can be used as a means of identification. Colouration also varies according to geographic location with northeastern species being almost black with slight patterning, and southern African species being brightly coloured. Much of their patterning occurs on their body and legs. A black muzzle with brown cheeks and forehead is pretty standard.

Other defining features include large bat-like ears and a bushy, white-tipped tail that acts as a flag during coordinated pack hunts.

African wild dog running away from 2 zebra
Wild dog running away from a pair of zebra in Kruger National Park | Ryno Vosloo (@rynovosloo_safari)

How big are wild dogs in Africa?

The African wild dog is the most solidly built canine on the continent. They are also the bulkiest, although this doesn’t really stack up to much when it comes to the canine species.

Mature adults stand between 24 and 30 inches (60-75 centimetres) at the shoulder, and will weigh between 40 to 80lbs (18-36 kilograms).

They will measure 28 to 60 inches ( 70 -140 centimetres) in length from head to tail.


What do African wild dogs eat?

The wild dogs of Africa are fully carnivorous and prey on a range of mammal species. Although they are opportunistic hunters, their diet mainly consists of impala, wildebeest, gazelle, springbok, kudu, warthogs and baboons.

Painted dog feeding on an impala leg
Wild dog feeding on an impala leg | Matthew Uys (@tommy_ice)

Why are they called the hunting dogs of Africa?

They were honoured with this name due to their incredible hunting success rate, as well as the technique they use and the frequency of hunts.

Wild dogs are specialized pack hunters, and among the most efficient hunters in Africa. Prey targets very rarely escaping. Especially without intervention of other predators.