​​​New Guinea Singing Dog



​New Guinea Singing Dog

A Living Fossil

The New Guinea Singing Dog, also called NGSD, singer, singing dog and singing dingo, is the captively bred variant of the HWD. 

With only two to three hundred living in zoos, private facilities and private homes, the NGSD is one of the oldest and rarest canids currently living. 

It is not yet known how closely related or even identical the NGSD and HWD are to one another.

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Phenotype describes the physical characteristics of a species.  The NGSD has a primitive phenotype, which includes erect ears, musclular body, robust paws, full canid dentition, short coat with undercoat and "wild" coloration.  Beneath the coat, the skin is pink with occasional mottled patches of white, grey and black coloration.
The NGSD is a small to medium sized canid standing 12-20 inches tall and weighing 20-40 lbs.  Many describe them as fox-like in 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, ginger, cream and roan.
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.

The limbs and spine of singers are very flexible, and they can spread their legs sideways to 90°, comparable to the Norwegian Lundehund. They can also rotate their front and hind paws more than domestic dogs, which enables them to climb trees with thick bark or branches that can be reached from the ground; however their climbing skills do not reach the same level as those of the gray fox.

The eyes, which are highly reflective, are almond-shaped and are angled upwards from the inner to outer corners with dark eye rims. Eye color ranges from dark amber to dark-brown. Their eyes exhibit a bright green glow when reflecting light. Researchers believe there are two reasons for the bright reflective glow; not only do the pupils open wider and allow in more light than in other dog varieties, there is also a higher concentration of cells in the tapetum. These two features would allow singing dogs to see more clearly in low light.

Coat colors of the NGSD; Tri-color black (above) and tan, red/roan (see below).

Many NGSD experts believe there are two distinct variants of NGSD.  A heavier, more robust variant, similar in build and body structure to the dog above on the right, and a thinner, slighter variant similar to the dog above left.  Some speculate that this is simply a result of captive breeding, others speculate that the heavier variant represents a dog from a mountain forest eco-niche (highlanders) whereas the lighter variant represents dogs that settled to occupy a more coastal, lowland eco-niche (lowlanders).  We're very excited to learn more about the variant hypothesis as more testing is accomplished.
Ecology, or Ethology as some still call it, is the external manifestation of the animal's internal emotional state.  In other words, Behavior.  The NGSD has ecologies and behaviors different than any other canid.  Many people describe NGSD behaviors as cat-like.
Behaviors unique to the NGSD include:

  • Head on, face to face, direct eye contact greeting with both humans and other dogs.
  • Ear inspection upon greeting to evaluate social status and tolerance.
  • Head and cheek rubbing, utilizing scent glands on the cheeks (very similar to how cats rub their faces on people or things).
  • Flehmening, mostly observed in males in the presence of estrus females, where they appear to chatter their teeth together which allows them to collect and sample scent.
  • Head Toss, which is a bid for notice and attention or food, or sometimes a sign of frustration, displayed in various degrees depending on level of arousal.  This can manifest as a slight flick of the head to a rapid full 360 degree rotation.
  • Copulatory Contractions, which occur in the female midpoint during reproductive tie and manifest as rhythic contractions of the skin along the flank and abdominal area.  The function of this is unknown.
  • Tree climbing - many NGSDs will climb high into trees or other structures.
  • Infanticide.  This behavior is unclear, however many anecdotal reports suggest that adult singers, especially males, may pose a significant risk to pups of any breed under about 4 mos of age.  Given the exceptionally high prey drive in the NGSD, some speculate that this is a prey drive behavior gone awry.  It is not known if this is true in HWD populations or is unique to captive NGSDs, suggesting a potential inbreeding component.
NGSDs seem to do best when kept in opposite sex pairings and seem to have a high recognition and affinity for other NGSDs.   Intact, sexually mature females kept together may fight, especially during estrus season, with fights resulting in serious injuries not being uncommon.  As with any primitive canid, early socialization is critical to a social, well adjusted animal.  Some NGSDs live outdoors in enriched containments at zoos or facilities, others live in the home with owners as pets.

Indoors as a pet, the well socialized NGSD is a clean, well mannered companion.  They adapt quickly to the household culture and routines, including adjusting behavior to better communicate with domestic dogs, and while they learn quickly and are easy to train, they're not as biddable as a purely domestic breed, such as a labrador.  Still, they seem almost hard wired to live in cooperative symbiosis with humans.  Even shy, untouchable, unsocialized dogs seem to prefer to be indoors in close proximity to people. 

There are reports that NGSDs are not suitable as pets because they are "wild".  I think most private owners would strongly disagree, especially owners with animals that hold titles in obedience or barn hunt competition, or are working as therapy animals.


How could we have a discussion about New Guinea Singing Dogs and not hear them sing?

​​These videos provide examples of the unique NGSD howling vocalization.  NGSDs will howl in response to stimulus like sirens or other dogs, as well as begin howling for reasons that aren't always clear.  NGSDs also chorus howl, which is when all animals howl together in sustained unison for 30 seconds to several minutes before all animals abruptly cease simultaneously, which is why NGSDs living without conspecifics howl less than multiple dogs.

​In addition to their unique howl, which is different from that of wolves or even dingoes, the NGSD has a full repartoire of vocalizations.  Whines, yips, short staccato barks, chuffs, sneezing, chortling, snorts, growls, groans and howl variations are all heard.  As with most primitive breeds, NGSDs do not engage in repetitive or sustained barking.


True to primitive canid physiology, NGSDs have an annual breeding season.

​​Like other wild or primitve canids, NGSDs have an annual breeding season.  Females come into estrus once a year, typically in the fall, but some as early as mid-July or as late as November.   Many have noted that a fall breeding season does not make sense from a biological and survival perspective, but remember that south of the equator, seasons are reversed, meaning that while it's fall here, in New  Guinea, it's springtime.  Females that do not conceive during their first estrus will often repeat the cycle, having two to three  additional, consecutive back-to-back cycles, which is unique to the NGSD. 

​Gestation is typically 63 days, at which time the female gives birth of a litter averaging from 1-6 pups.  Some owners and facilities report having to remove the males as they pose an infanticide risk to the pups, other reports state the males participate in pup rearing, to include regurgitating food.  (Infanticide is a topic of conversation among breeders and further study is needed.

​Pups are born all black or dark brown with a melanistic birth mask, and begin phasing to their adult colors within the first two weeks.  The melanistic mask remains visible until it begins phasing white or to match the coat at about six months of age, although some adults still bear traces of their masking.

Taxonomy Classification

NGSD taxonomy classification has changed several times and remains undecided.

​The NGSD was first collected and described in 1897 by Charles Walter De Vis at approximately 2400 m on Mt. Scratchley.  In 1956, two specimens were collected by Albert Speer and JP Sinclair in the Lavani Valley located in the Southern Highlands, Papua New Guinea.  The pair was sent to Sir Edward Hallstrom's animal study center in Nondugi, then on to the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia, where they were examined in 1957 by Ellis Troughton who classified them as ​canis hallstromi  ​in honour of Sir Hallstrom.

​In 2005 the NGSD was listed as ​canis lupus dingo​ by W. Christopher Wozencraft in the third edition of Mammal Species of the World.  Most NGSD experts disagree with this listing as it places the NGSD as a subspecies of the grey wolf, and though in debate, most experts feel the NGSD is an independent species (​c. dingo) ​that evolved from a yet uncertain ancestorand migrated out of Asia.

​The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the NGSD as ​c. lupus dingo ​with a conservation status of Threatened.  One of the most important early tasks the NGHWDF will pursue is to identify the correct taxonomy and phylogeny for the NGSD, HWD, and Australian Dingo.