Bush Dog Fact File
The bush dog is a small canid from South America which stands just 30cm (12in) tall at the shoulder and is covered with a coat of reddish fur.
Their alternative name is the vinegar dog due to the distinctive smell of their urine which is used to mark their habitat. Alternatively they may be known as the savannah dog or zorro meaning ‘fox.’
A pack is led by the alpha pair who breed while the other 6-8 members of the group provide food and support to care for the young.
Read on to learn more about these magnificent mammals.
The bush dog has a long body with short legs. Their body shape is closer to that of a mongoose or weasel as opposed to that of other dogs. They are covered with a coat of thick fur which is colored reddish brown. The fur darkens towards the back of the body. Under the throat is a light patch of fur.
At birth the pups are darker in color which helps to camouflage them from predators.
Their feet are slightly webbed to help them with swimming. Each toe has a sharp claw allowing them to dig out prey.
At the end of the body is a tail reaching 12.5-15cm (5-6in) long.
An average bush dog will measure 57-75cm (22.5-30in) long with a weight of 5-7kg (11-15lbs). At the shoulder they stand 30cm (12in) tall.
Bush dogs are carnivores. When hunting on their own they feed on ground birds and rodents as large as agoutis. When in a pack they are able to take down larger animals such as capybaras and rheas.
Their is significant variation in prey across their range. In the Pantanal they primarily feed on nine-banded armadillos while in the Atlantic forest in Paraguay they mostly feed on agoutis and pacas.
In some parts of their range they have been recorded to eat fruits including banana and papaya.
South America is the native home of the bush dog. Here they can be found in the following countries – Argentina; Bolivia; Brazil; Colombia; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guyana; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname and Venezuela.
Bush dog are considered habitat generalists which can be found in forests, shrubland, savanna and grassland. Along the coast they have been reported from wetlands. They are often found near water courses such as small streams where prey densities tend to be higher.
Some reports of the species exist in fragmented ranchland, secondary and fragmented forests.
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Breeding takes place during the rainy season. Only one pair in the group, the alphas, will breed with the subordinates helping with caring for the young. The other females oestrous cycle is suppressed to prevent them breeding.
Females give birth to an average litter of four pups following a 67 day gestation period. Litters of up to 10 have been recorded in some cases.
While the female is suckling the pups the male will bring her food.
Sexual maturity is reached by one year old. Females tend to mature slightly earlier than males.
Bush dogs will live in packs of up to 10 individuals which hunt together. Each group is led by the alpha female who will produce all of the pups.
They are active during the day and at night the group will seek shelter together. They hide out in burrows abandoned by other animals, hollow logs and under rocks.
These animals are efficient swimmers and will enter the water to hunt prey.
They are considered to be highly vocal and use this to communicate with other members of their pack.
Their territory is marked out using scent. Males will lift their leg similar to dogs while females perform a handstand against a tree.
Predators and Threats
Bush dog populations are declining. While they enjoy a large range and live in a wide variety of habitats they appear to naturally be rare.
Numbers of this species have reduced by 25% over the last 12 years.
A range of major threats are facing the bush dog in their range. This includes habitat loss and conversion of their habitat to agriculture, reduction in prey due to hunting and the risk of diseases which are spread by domestic dogs.
The habitat of bush dogs living in a family group means that diseases can quickly spread.
Some hunting of the species occurs for trophies and food. In Native American tribes they are occasionally raised to be pets.
A captive breeding program for the species exist but as yet no attempts at reintroduction have been made.
The bush dog has a strong scent which is similar to vinegar.
As a result of the smell the locals have given this species the nickname, “cachorro-vinagre’,which means vinegar dog. Another nickname is “zorro” meaning fox or the savannah dog.
Bush dogs were known from fossil records before one was sighted alive. Until this discovery they were presumed to be an extinct species.
They are the only living member of the genus Speothos. Their closest living relative is the bush dog.
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