Papuan Dogs – the first companions of man

Published by: Thomas Schultze-Westrum

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C. About strains and breeds


The term „breed“ to my understanding is not appropriate for distinguishing primitive dogs.

By the village people no standards were set for their traditional dog populations as they now rule the distinction of acknowledged pedigree breeds. There existed more flexible and adjusted criteria in breeding. Generally, in primitive livestock including old cattle and sheep „breeds“ for instance, a larger variation in their phenotypical appearence and overall genetic disposition is found as compared with modern breeds which are officially defined and acknowledged by the pedigree criteria of breeders associations, kennel clubs etc. (ALDERSON 1978).

Before the power of colonial administration and the dramatic impact by our western civilization disrupted the tribal structure of New Guinea society, each of the ethnic units had a fairly homogeneous stock of domesticated animals – dogs and pigs. Their general conformity in the overall population was differenciated, though, by individual variability in certain qualities (morphological features like coat colouration, but possibly also behavioural characteristics). and by a fair tolerance on the side of the keepers/breeders. There are exceptions to be noted. The hunting dogs photographed by Barry Craig in the Idam Valley of the upper Sepik region (figs. 43, 44) display a remarkable homogenity in the pattern of fur colouration – which indicates a selection in breeding that has no significance other than the breeder’s  choice preference and can be compared with modern breed manipulation.

The comparatively wide range of individual variability provides the means for dynamic adaptations in case the accustomed environmental conditions and objectives of husbandry undergo changes. Old domestic animals appear not only highly adapted – they equally remain further adaptable to eventual environmental changes.

In tribal society usually only one main strain was maintained within every ethnic unit. But there are examples in New Guinea for two distinct strains of dogs found in one village prior to the invasion of modern European breeds (cf. chapter E). We may assume that one of these ( and presumably the less frequent one) is a recent introduction from bordering areas (e.g. from the lowlands to the hill region).

Also in the much wider context of differentiation of dogs in the Old World, from south-eastern Asia to the Middle and Near East as far as Africa there is a marked conformity of (mostly village) dog appearance. In these so called pariah dogs, strains or individuals re-occur which resemble the most purely kept ancient dogs: varieties of the dingo or their closest relatives, the Papuan dogs (TRUMLER 1981, cf. chapter D). But it should be noted that this conformity is far less defined as compared with the standards set up for breeds by kennel clubs. I have already stressed above the natural variability in strains versus recognized breeds.

Altogether four main types of pariah dogs have been distinguished: besides the dingo-like appearance: a hepherd dog-like appeance, a collie–like appearance and a greyhound–like appearance (MENZEL and MENZEL 1960) For these ancient strains, but with only loose attachment to human settlements the term shensi dogs was introduced (HALTENORTH 1958); so named after their East African population.

One should observe a differentiation of grades in domestication when exploring the relationsship of any primitive dogs under traditional conditions: from the stage of loose attachment to a full and permanent (inter-) dependence of the dogs in a village community.

Papuan dogs are to be considered as the most ancient true domestic animals – as the oldest known and still continuously traditional companions of man (cf. the archaeological evidence in chapters D and E). The dingo became feral in pre-historic times to a much larger extent. On New Guinea only the highland strain found suitabe habitat to sustain feral living status: the wide secondary (= man-made) grasslands (not the forest!).

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This entry was posted on November 11, 2010 at 21:05 and is filed under Gulf of Papua, Papuan Dogs, Rare breeds, Zoological Research.

7 Responses to “Papuan Dogs – the first companions of man”

  1. Janice Koler-Matznick sagt:

    I just wanted to let people interested in primitive and aboriginal dogs know that there are now Facebook sites dedicated to them: ‎The INDog Project for the Indian village dogs, Village Dogs and Primitive Pariahs World Wide, and African aboriginal dogs. There is also a web site for the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society:

    Contrary to the statements made in the good Dr. Schultze-Westrum’s major contribution to the knowledge about Papuan dogs, the New Guinea singing dog has never been selected in captivity to any „breed“ standard. In fact, after an initial short false start with United Kennel Club, we started the NGSD Conservation Society with its own stud book and no more Singers were registered with UKC. As soon as we had genetic proof they are dingoes, we had them removed from the UKC which does not register AU dingoes. I wrote the standard (required by UKC) after surveying all owners of Singers and having them measure their specimens. All variation in the unavoidably inbred population was included in the written standard/description. The only selection that has gone on is against badly kinked tails as if continued or bred together this can result in problems in the spine. We facilitated the establishment of the NGSDCS Papua New Guinea, a recognized non-profit group in Papua, and have tried for a decade to get field work done on wild Singers, sending equipment, but so far due to lack of major funding not much has been accomplished there. We are still doing what we can but we are a tiny group.

  2. Thomas Schultze-Westrum sagt:

    Hi, many thanks indeed for your encouragement. I am still working on the assemly of papers and notes In the Name of Conservation,
    Keep in touch!

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