Living with New Guinea Singing Dogs

Behaviors of Interest in Singing Dogs

This Singer pup has learned to open kitchen cabinets by himself.
Singers are very curious and quite fearless as this standoff between a NGSD and garter snake illustrates.
Here is a singer busily 'brushing ' her teeth after a meal.
The 'head toss'. This singer may not want to walk in the direction his owner is taking: an adequate stimulus to elicit this behavior.
Yes, singers can climb trees.

 

Living with New Guinea Singing Dogs is a challenge but can be very rewarding. Owning a Singing Dog is not suited to many people as NGSDs are very independent, more similar to a cat than a domestic dog breed in some ways. Although they are affectionate and attached to their owners, they do not seek the level of ‘approval’ from their human companions as do domestic dogs. This contributes to the challenge of training a Singer.

NGSDs are very inquisitive and also adept at problem solving. Therefore, cabinets in kitchens and elsewhere may need “child-proof” locks installed.(Note photo top left.)

Singers also are skilled climbers as the bottom left photo shows. Although some singers may be more talented than others in this ability, (or the motivation to attempt it) this behavior suggests the need to insure that there are no climbable trees next to their fence!

One can speculate that the climbing behavior and the preference for a higher elevation perch may be related to the NGSDs behaviors that were adapted for the habitat they normally live in. In New Guinea these canids reside in mountain ranges reaching great heights  (the tallest peak towers over 16,000 ft.) and therefore it is likely that good climbing skills and use of natural perches to scan their territory for prey is a useful trait.

A few additional curious behaviors of Singers include teeth brushing (see photo on left), intention licking and the perplexing head toss. Often these three behaviors are witnesses more frequently in younger Singers (under 5yrs. or so).

Teeth brushing is a fascinating behavior to watch. The Singer, often after a meal while ‘relaxing’, will use its nails in a scraping manner across the teeth near the gumline (no dental floss needed!)

Intention licking (a somewhat baffling behavior) occurs when a Singer is restrained behind a gate or a window that it would like to ‘remove.’ The Singer will continually lick at the ‘barrier’ , though this has never been seen to produce the desired effect!

The head toss (photo on left) is probably one of the behaviors that is most age-oriented and is often not seen after about 3 yrs. old. The head toss is first an extension of the head followed by at least a partial rotation of the singer’s head, but may encompass a full 360 degrees rotation! This is quite impressive and signifies annoyance or frustration as it is often seen when a young singer is either confined or out on lead.  

Singers are very prey driven. They will go after any smaller dog, cat or critters in the wild, including birds, rodents and snakes. This prey drive also makes it imperative to have very secure fencing (discussed below) and vigilance about closing gates, doors etc. Singers must be walked on a secure leash at all times when outside their fenced yard or kennel. Recall of a loose singer is extremely difficult, particularly if the singer spots squirrels or other prey. Singers embrace their freedom if loose and will quickly disappear at a very fast pace.

 

New Guinea Singing Dog Security Requirements

The photo above is illustrative of perching behavior in  NGSDs

A Safe Singer is a Contained Singer

Singers are escape artists. Singers are escape artists. Singers are escape artists. The rule in education and public speaking is to say a thing three times to impress it upon the audience. This is the most important message that can be imparted to Singer owners and potential owners: Singers will take every opportunity and work with concentrated determination to escape confinement. If they are bonded to their humans and well treated, they are not interested in “running away,” but they have a strong instinctive urge to go exploring and hunting. All of the Singers on record that have escaped came back, except for those that were hit by cars, captured by animal control personnel, or shot for attacking livestock or pet animals.

Once loose and aware that it is loose, a Singer will come to a familiar person only for some extremely desirable reward or out of curiosity, not because it is commanded to “come!” The prospect of a bird in the bush or a mouse in the grass is much more interesting than a known human, and the possibility of finding prey can pull a Singer, joyfully oblivious to traffic, for great distances.

The best way to catch a loose NGSD is to have a lure, such as an old white sock or strips of white cloth tied to the end of a rope, to entice them back to play, or to drop to the ground and make strange noises until their curiosity draws them close enough for you to calmly and securely take hold of them.They are so fast and agile there is no hope of catching them unless they get into a small enclosed area, so running after a loose NGSD, or grabbing wildly at them, is the worst possible thing to do. That is how they learn they are faster than humans. Keep-away is favorite NGSD game.

 

Reality story

One young Singer was turned loose in an area surrounded by a six-foot tall wrought iron fence. The spaces between the vertical bars were about five inches, just narrow enough to prevent the Singer from sticking his head through. However, as in all handmade fences, not all the spaces were identical. The Singer tested one opening and found he could not easily get his head through. He then trotted up and down the fence a few times. Suddenly he turned and slipped between two bars. The space there was just slightly wider than average, and he had noticed this immediately. He did not pause, test the opening and then proceed through. He just went through. Fortunately, the owner was watching and with a “jolly routine” and the aid of his other dog, he was able to capture the Singer. Young Singers can get their whole bodies through any opening wide enough to admit their heads, which could be only a little over four inches in width.

 

Doors and Windows

Singer keepers must at all times be cautious entering and exiting doors to the outside when Singers are loose inside. A whole new set of behaviors must be learned to the point of their becoming habitual. Instead of swinging the door wide, stepping through and pushing the door closed casually behind you, you must learn to squeeze through as small an opening as possible.

The door routine sequence is: (1) If inside, look around while approaching the door to locate the Singer: if outside and there is a glass window in the door or next to it, look through; (2) If inside and the Singer is in the room, tell it to “stay back” or “wait” in a firm tone; (3) Open the door slightly if outside, and there is no handy window, open the door a crack and look through to see where the Singer is; (4) Turn your body sideways, stepping through the smallest possible gap; (5) Begin to close the door as the trailing leg passes through, so there is no large gap around the leg; (6) Test the door to be certain it is firmly closed.

If you are exiting from indoors, turn your head as you step through and be sure the Singer is staying back a few feet, not approaching close enough to dart past your leg. Most Singers quickly learn to remain a few feet back when asked to “wait” and then admonished a few times for trying to follow people through doors uninvited. If more than one person is going through the door, they should do so one at a time, the first one holding the door almost closed until the second person is ready to step through. This is the same way those who live in frigid climates conserve heat when going through doors to the outside: use the smallest opening possible and slip through sideways.

After closing, doors should be tested by pushing or pulling on them to ensure they are tightly latched. If the Singer owner has older children, they must be instructed in the correct way to use outside doors or if too young, not to open without assistance unless the Singer is confined. If the children are too young to follow directions faithfully, latches should be installed above the reach of children on all outside doors. If visitors arrive, a loose Singer should be held, picked up, or put on leash before the door is opened.

Screen doors without sturdy grills or glass on the lower half are not much of a barrier to a Singer. They can chew or claw a hole in it in seconds. Metal grills with small mesh should be installed on all screen doors. If the latch on the screen door is not sturdy enough to hold the door firmly shut, a second manual latch should be installed.

Singers quickly learn to manipulate the lever-type door knobs. They must either be replaced with the standard round type or the door must be actually locked or latched to keep the Singer from letting itself out. Even the round knobs are not impossible for Singers to use. There have been reports of Singers using their mouths to turn the knobs and even unlatching and clawing open sliding doors.

Windows are another potential escape route that many people do not consider. As mentioned for screen doors, window screens are not much of a barrier for Singers. With their exceptional jumping ability and agility, Singers can easily jump up onto window sills and balance there. If the window is open and the Singer becomes excited by the sight of an animal they can quickly tear the screen to get out. It is safest to leave windows open only a couple of inches, with a “stop” to keep them from opening wider. If they must be open wider, they should have protective grills installed either on the windowsill or the screen frame.

If windows are positioned so that the Singer can look outside and they have a place to sit or lie down, they will spend extended periods of time watching the world go by. This is great environmental enrichment for them. However, Singer keepers who allow their Singer a window view need to place curtains and drapes as far back as possible. Pull down blinds and slat blinds must be completely raised. Otherwise, an excited Singer may claw at them or grab them with their mouth, causing damage.

 

High chain link fence with angled inward extension attached.

 

Climbing Barriers

An unmodified six-foot fence is only a minor challenge to Singers. They easily jump up high enough that their heads are about five feet off of the ground and with front legs extended they can scramble over the fence. There are reported instances of Singers leaping up to grab opossums off of the top of six-foot fences. If there is a tree that has rough bark or limbs next to a fence to use as a ladder, Singers will use it.

All fences where Singers will be left untended must therefore be at least five-foot high and have a barrier at the top. This can be 45-degree, inward angled arms at least 16 inches long made of metal or wood, with wire mesh or fencing attached. Chicken wire is fine enough to have low visibility but strong enough that a Singer clinging momentarily to the fence cannot chew through it. An alternative is an electric hot wire system. Consult a fence or garden specialist about the appropriate type for use with smaller animals. The insulators are small and the wire almost invisible. One disadvantage of some hot wires is they go off if the power goes off. However, there are chargers with backup batteries/ rechargeable batteries. Another problem with hot wires is designing their installation at gates so it is easy to use them.

An additional way to prevent climbing escapes is to use chain link or other heavy duty wire fence at least seven feet high, and attach it to posts on the outside of the fence only up to the five foot level. This leaves about two feet of loose wire at the top. This looks like a “regular” fence until a Singer tries to jump up and climb over. Then the fencing will bend inward and the Singer will drop off.

 

Collars

Singers should never be walked outdoors using only a buckle collar. If a buckle collar is adjusted to be comfortable to wear, the Singer could back out of it. If it is tightened up enough so it will not pass over the head, it will be too tight for comfort. Singers being taken outside of secure fencing should always be wearing a buckle collar with license and name tag, just in case they escape. However, a martingale collar or slip collar, commonly called a choke collar, should be used with the leash. These collars will tighten around the Singer’s neck if they fight the leash in a panic or try to back out of them, and so are the most secure. The nylon choke collars won’t wear off the Singer’s fur. Slip and martingale collars for walking can be made of chain, round nylon or flat nylon tape. Martingale collars are adjustable and should be sized to just slip over the Singer’s head. A martingale harness, which has a chest piece shaped like a Y is also secure for walking Singers. A regular dog harness, with a single horizontal front strap, is not suitable, as Singers are flexible enough to twist out of them.

 

      The singer above is double secure wearing both a martingale collar and a harness. 

Digging Barriers

Singers are very efficient diggers. They can quickly tunnel under a fence and will move even fairly large rocks to do so. A digging barrier must be put on the bottom of any fences where Singers will be left unattended. Wire fencing two feet wide can be attached to wooden fence with fence staples and to wire or chain link fence with “pig rings.” Pig rings are usually available at livestock supply stores and are open brass rings closed with special pliers. The smallest size holds the fencing tighter. The wire footing can be recessed a few inches in the ground by digging a shallow trench before attaching the wire to the fence, or just be pegged down with tent stakes on the loose edge and covered with soil. Ground cover and other plants can be planted on top to conceal the footing. If you use a wire digging barrier, be sure to check it a few times a year, as they will rust out.

 

              NGSDs are extremely dexterous, this NGSD was able to dig down about 7 inches, almost its leg length, through 2 X 2 inch wire openings.

 

Some choose to put a cement digging barrier about 18 inches wide around the inside of the fence. This must extend under the fence if it is wire or chain link and right to the fence if it is wooden, and needs to be about two inches thick. A third alternative is to run a hot wire along the bottom of the fence just above the ground.

 

Gates

Whatever barriers to jumping and digging are utilized, the gate areas must be equally secured. It is advisable to have keyed locks such as padlocks, on all gates to the outside, and to have these locked whenever the Singer is loose in the yard. This prevents the casual opening of the gate by someone not aware the Singer is there, or the malicious opening of the gate to purposefully let the Singer out.

If possible, the yard should be secured as outlined above as an area for the Singer to run in only when it is being supervised. A separate, smaller Singer-proof pen should be erected for times when the Singer will be left unattended or when the backyard is being utilized by people who may not enjoy Singer attention. A minimum size for a pen for one or two Singers that get some free running each day and are confined for no more than 12 hours daily (the remainder of the time being in the house or running supervised, etc.) is about 6 foot wide by 12 feet long. The nicest, easiest way to build such a pen is by using chain link panels set on railroad ties. Chain link fabric can then be laid in as a dig barrier, attached to the ties, and gravel added to about three or four inches in depth. If gravel is to be used with regular in-ground chain link, 1 X 12 boards can be installed around the inside of the fence to keep the gravel from being pushed out. The chain link digging barrier should be installed before the boards.  If the pen is erected in an area with poor drainage, French drains need to be installed to direct runoff away from the pen.

 

Singers prefer a good view such as this tall tree stump affords.

Perches

Given the choice, Singers like to perch up off the ground. They appreciate flat-topped dog houses, stumps, tables, and as in the photo above, platforms at various levels. These must be far enough from fences to prevent them being used as springboards for jumping over the fence. Note that the pen with the “jungle gym” climbing platforms, the top half of the fence is angled inwards and has a few inches of loose fencing at the top.

 

Multilevel perch/ play gym. Note the inward angled fence top.

 

Fencing

Most wire fencing is not sturdy enough to stand up to a Singer determined to be on the other side. They have very powerful jaws and can bend and break even heavy gauge wires. Welded wire fence is the least useful as the welds are easily broken. Wrapped wire fencing with mesh no larger than 2 inches by 2 inches is best used only to line the “dog side” of wooden fences, or as barriers in places the Singer is not likely to be left unattended.

Chain link is the best all-around Singer fencing. Pre-made are ideal for Singer pens. They are usually more securely attached at the ends and bottoms than in-ground chain link fences. Inspect the bottoms of chain link gates and panels to ensure the fabric is rigidly attached to the bottom rails. Pull up and out as hard as possible. If the fabric can be pulled even an inch above the rail for more than a couple of inches distance, it is not secure enough. In that case, add more wire retainers.

 

Attaching a Singer-secure pen to the house allows the Singer to use a dog door to go outside unsupervised safely if the property perimeter fence is not Singer-proof.

 Wooden fences in areas where Singers will be left unattended should be lined with wire fencing to prevent chewing. In their desire to get out of the boring enclosure and into the exciting rest of the world, they will chew on wooden poem to chew a hole in a one-inches and boards. With their strong jaws it takes only minutes for th thick board or through plywood. Any exposed edges of boards, posts, etc., should be covered with metal edging. Singers do not like the feel of metal on their teeth. The metal corner beads made for drywall installation are inexpensive and easy to work with. They can be cut with tin snips or cut by scoring and bending, and attached with screws. Screws are better than nails, as they are harder to pull out and easier to remove or replace.

Leashes

Leashes should be made of flat or round nylon, leather, or cotton web. Chain leashes are uncomfortable to the person’s hands and heavy for the dog, and are only as strong as their weakest link. The hardware on leashes and collars should be strong and well made, with neat and complete welds, especially on the rings. The most secure type of snap is called a “bull snap”. The tongue of a bull snap is designed so that it pushes inward easily to attach but cannot open unless the tongue is pushed backward. Bolt snaps are the most commonly used type on leashes. The drawback of bolt snaps is if they have weak springs and are hit just the right way by the collar ring of a dog jumping hard at the end of the leash, they can accidentally open. Check any bolt snaps to be certain they are sturdy and that the tongue fits tightly into its groove.

Before a Singer is taken out on leash in an unfenced area, the equipment should be safety-checked. Look at the snaps and rings, and the stitching on the leash and collar, to be certain they are in good working order. Stitching can be reinforced by hand or by a cobbler or harness maker. Adding rivets can also reinforce stitching. Some leashes, especially leather ones, have only rivets and this is fine as long as the rivets are in good shape.

Regular walking leashes should be about six feet long. This gives the Singer enough length to investigate and jump around but is not so long as to be cumbersome. The extending automatic cord or belt leads are wonderful for casual walking of Singers. They allow from 16 to 26 feet of play room so that the Singer can wander around and investigate a bit, while still under control. Only American or German made extending leashes of quality construction should be used for Singers. Although Singers rarely are over 30 pounds in weight, extending leashes should be designed for at least a 40-pound dog, as Singers are strong for their size. The weakness in the cord type extendable leashes is the rings that connect the snap and the first part of the leash to the cord. These should be checked before each use to ensure they are not bent or opening up. Another rare problem is that the cord can come loose from the reel, especially if the dog forcefully hits the end of the extended leash. It can be re-attached by opening the case. It is best to “brake” the Singer’s run before it hits the end of the leash.

 

Permanent Identification 

All Singers should have a tattoo or a microchip ID, or both. Tattoos on the inside of the thigh or on the stomach are visible because the hair in those areas is thinner. All animal control agencies and shelters check animals for tattoos. Most shelters also have universal microchip readers and check each animal with them.  There are microchips that are half the size of the regular and so are inserted with a much smaller needle. The chip should be registered with one of the major pet recovery sites. AKC has a Companion Animal Recovery System, which for a small fee will register any animal that has either a tattoo or chip (of any brand). These services can be called toll free in the USA to locate owners. If the ID is noticed, the personnel will realize that the Singer is not an unwanted stray but a dog whose owner is concerned about its welfare. Also, if the Singer is lost or stolen, the owner can positively identify it.

                                                                                                                                          – Information provided by Janice Koler-Matznick

 

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