African Painted Dog

African Painted Dog

[ Lycaon pictus ]

Quick Facts


30 to 40 inches

TAIL LENGTH: 12 to 16 inches
HEIGHT: (at shoulder) 30 inches
WEIGHT: 40 to 88 pounds
WILD DIET: mostly medium to large antelope (wildebeests, impalas, Thompson’s gazelles) but also hares, gazelle fawns, and zebras
ZOO DIET: zoo canine diet, beef/bison/elk bones, whole and partial carcasses
DISTRIBUTION: Africa, south of the Sahara but in isolated populations; there are fewer than 5,000 African painted dogs left in the wild, making them one of the most endangered large mammals in the world; populations have declined because of hunting, habitat change, and the spread of distemper from domestic dogs
HABITAT: savannah, grassland, woodland, semidesert to alpine areas


Africa’s Efficient Predator

The painted dog
African painted dogs are medium-size dogs that live on the savannah and in the open woodlands of central and southern Africa. They have a distinctively patterned coat, and no two are exactly alike. Black, yellow, white, and dark brown are the main colors in the wild dog pallet, and these colors are in an almost unlimited combination of patterns.

Painted dogs have big, rounded ears, a medium-length snout, and a thin tail with a brushy tip of white. Their body is slender, but they have a deep chest and long legs.

Canid carnivores
African painted dogs belong to the family Canidae, which also includes domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, and jackals. Canids are classified as carnivores---meat eaters---but some, such as coyotes, eat almost anything. African painted dogs, by contrast, are exclusively meat eaters. As such, they have only shearing cheek teeth instead of the broad, flat molars of omnivorous canids.

Successful hunters
African painted dogs are among the most successful hunters because they hunt in large numbers and have great endurance. They also use an effective strategy. Once they detect prey, usually by sight or sound, they set off in pursuit at a fast run that they can keep up for miles. When the prey tires, one dog grabs the victim’s tail and another holds onto its upper lip. The rest of the pack finishes off the immobilized animal. African painted dogs capture their prey approximately 60% of the time, one of the highest success rates of any predator species. The entire pack shares in a kill. Since they hunt cooperatively, wild dogs can take down prey large enough feed all of the group's members.

Top dogs
Most canids have loose social organizations and a dominance hierarchy. In African wild dogs, this organization is highly developed. A mated pair, an "alpha" male and female, leads the group. Generally, only these two breed. The sexes have separate hierarchies, each led by the alpha animals. There are usually between two and 20 animals in a pack, which uses a home range of up to 700 square miles.

Urine my home range
Like their cousins, gray wolves, wild dogs are an extremely tightly knit group. They have elaborate modes of communication that keep the group together. They greet each other excitedly, licking and nibbling at each other, tails wagging away. All of the members of the pack vocalize during such meetings. Tail position is a good indication of a dog's mood. The normal tail position is hanging down. When the dogs are aggressive, they hold their tail up stiffly in the air. Submission means a tail curled up under the body. The alpha pair urinates at strategic sites throughout the pack's home range to dissuade outsider dogs from entering the home range.


Check out the video of African painted dog puppies
receiving a physical at Brookfield Zoo.

With painted dogs, the entire pack helps bring up the youngest members of the group. Pups are born helpless in a den lined with grass, leaves, and twigs. After about 10 weeks in the den, the pups venture out under the watchful eyes of the adults. Shortly after weaning, they begin accepting regurgitated food from the adults returning from a hunt. When the pups are three months old, they began to accompany the pack on its travels. When they are grown, female wild dogs migrate out of their birth pack to other packs, where they establish themselves in the hierarchy.

African painted dogs at Brookfield Zoo

You can see African painted dogs at Habitat Africa! The Savannah. Brookfield Zoo is part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for African painted dogs. SSPs strive to build strong, healthy populations of endangered animals in captivity through selective breeding. Lead Keeper Stephanie Rhodes maintains the North American studbook for African painted dogs.


Get Involved

Conservation Fund of the Chicago Zoological Society