Dingo (Canis lupus dingo) appears in the archaeological record of Australia at 4230 years before present. They ruled the continent as apex predators together with the now extinct Tasmanian tiger within the last few thousand years. Dingoes successfully colonized the continent spreading into diverse habitats including tropical rainforests, temperate Eucalyptus forests, mountainous highlands and grasslands. The only exception is the dry inhospitable central deserts.
Dog domestication is the earliest among other animals going back to 40,000 years ago. The Dingo represents a very early breed. Researchers hypothesize that the Dingo was brought into Australia from Southeastern Asia and perhaps from India by Austronesian seafarers. The Aborigines of Australia arrived in the continent 40,000-50,000 years ago long before the dog domestication. Even after the Dingo was introduced into the continent there was no interest from Aboriginals to tame them. In the mainland dog domestication went ahead in full steam and selected for outstanding behaviors such as sheep herding border collies that we all marvel at.
On the other hand, dingoes continued to roam the Australian continent as any wild canine would do. During this time, any earlier signature of selection by Humans decayed. Despite the reversal of domestication, they still represent an intermediate form between wolf (Canis lupus) and modern domesticated dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). Canine teeth size is intermediate. Behaviorally they fall into both sides of the spectrum. Wolves keep their tails down. Dingos hold their tails upright just like domesticated dogs do. They almost never bark but howl like the wolves. They also follow seasons for breeding like wolves. Dogs under domestication have lost this hormonal reproductive regulation. Directed by Gary Steer, an earlier 1986 documentary “Wild Dog Dingo” focuses on the natural history of dingoes including the life cycle and social behavior as well as the Human-wildlife conflict that still continues to dominates the agenda in this country. As semi-domesticated “proto-dogs” dingoes have retained many of the ancestral wolf characters including the “dominance hierarchy” well-reflected in the documentary.
Another interesting evidence that earns Dingoes their ancestral status is their digestive system. Most domestic dogs have the capacity to digest starch, which is a hallmark of farming by Humans. Farming which defines the Neolithic period is a recent stage in Human evolution therefore dogs must have acquired this ability much later. The dingo does not possess the genes needed to digest starch. They may have separated from their dog relatives before the Human farming way of life emerged. The dingo represent the descendants of the first dogs that evolved from a wolf-like ancestor.
Arrival of the Europeans brought the biggest change. Dingoes began to mate and hybridize with the domesticated dogs brought by Europeans. Today up to 90 percent of Australian dingoes have mixed genetically with European dogs. Interbreeding usually leads to sterile offspring but in rare occasions it may lead to evolution of outstandingly successful species as has been documented among dog-wolf-coyote hybrids known as “Coywolf” in the Eastern United States. Coywolves carrying dog DNA tolerate people and noise. These adaptations increase their success by enabling foraging in urbanized areas which provide abundant resources: cats, squirrels, pumpkins you name it. In the wild coyotes and wolves need large territories. Abundance of city resources reduces the territorial requirements. Coywolves are so well-adapted that they even look both ways before crossing a road. Squirrels never got this road ethics.