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African Wild Dog vs Domestic Dog – What’s the Difference?

21 Jan 2020 | By Author Thornybush | Wildlife

If you are very very lucky and accompanied by an experienced game ranger and tracker, you might come across a pack of Lycaon Pictus during your South African safari.

Otherwise known as painted wolves, Cape hunting dogs and African wild dogs, these canids are none of the above. Neither are they related to hyenas, although they were initially classified as a type of hyena.

Lycaon pictus, while belonging to the family Canidae, is only distantly related to any of the other canines in their family and is considered a distinct species of one. Lycaon do not interbreed with any other members of the dog and wolf clans, and they have a few other distinguishing features too.


Tooth and Nail

  • A wild dog’s paw print may look similar to that of a large domestic dog’s, but it has only four toes on the front foot.
  • The fifth toe and dewclaw found on our domestic breeds are absent.
  • WIld dogs have shorter muzzles and fewer teeth than both wolves and domestic dogs. 
  • Lycaon has only 40 teeth, whereas other canids have 42.

Born to Run

  • In proportion to their bodies, wild dogs have longer legs than their domestic counterparts – all the better to run with.
  • Wild dogs can reach a top speed of 70 km per hour (44mph) which is only just slower than a greyhound’s top speed and almost double that of the average horse. 
  • As a species, the domestic dog averages out at 30km per hour (19 mph).
  • Not only are wild dogs fast, they’ve got staying power and an intelligent hunting strategy with an 80% success rate.
  • Like wolves and feral dogs, Lycaon live and hunt in packs, chasing their prey down until it gives up from exhaustion. They then proceed to tear it apart rather than suffocating it. This hunting method may seem savage but it’s remarkably effective and quick.
  • Unlike wolves, which are found in the forests of Europe, and domestic dogs which are most often found on the couch, Lycaon sticks to the open plains and savannahs of Africa where it can hunt most effectively.

The Sad Truth

Unfortunately, the main difference between domestic dogs and Lycaon is in the numbers. While kennels and shelters overflow with unwanted and abandoned pets, wild dogs continue to teeter on the verge of extinction. With only 5 000 left in the wild, time is running out for this round-eared, beautifully coloured creature. Their restrictive breeding habits and limited gene pool make it difficult to breed them in captivity, the only chance they have is in their natural environment.


When you take a South African safari, you are helping in a small way towards the conservation of the wild dog and building awareness about the species. Get started today by getting in touch with Thornybush and we’ll do our best to track down the wild dogs for you.