Dog Family, group of intelligent, carnivorous mammals that includes domestic dogs and their relatives, coyotes, wolves, foxes, jackals, dholes, raccoon dogs, and bush dogs. The dog family is known scientifically as Canidae, and its members are commonly called canids.
Black-Backed Jackal Scavenging: A black-backed jackal in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, flees with a piece of scavenged meat. Although jackals hunt small prey, they also scavenge from the kills of larger predators, stealing food when they can or waiting for the predator to depart before eating.
The earliest known doglike animals can be traced to the Eocene Epoch, dating from 55 to 38 million years ago. Today, canids live on every continent except Antarctica. Their presence on many islands—including the island continent of Australia—is the result of introduction by humans. Wild Australian dingoes, for example, were probably brought to the continent as domestic dogs by aboriginal people thousands of years ago.
Dingo: The dingo, which inhabits only Australia, probably descends from Asian domesticated dogs brought to Australia by prehistoric peoples. Although dingoes are primarily carnivorous, feeding upon insects, carrion, birds, mammals and reptiles, they also occasionally feed on plant material.
Canids thrive in a variety of habitats. Bush dogs, for example live in the humid tropical forests of South and Central America, while arctic foxes inhabit the ice floes and arctic tundra of the far north. Fennecs survive in the arid deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. A few dog species, such as gray wolves and red foxes, have extraordinarily broad distributions that span several continents with a variety of environmental conditions. Some dogs have evolved adaptations for hunting and evading predators in unique habitats—gray foxes are able to climb low trees; many dogs are excellent swimmers; and the bush dog is even an accomplished diver.
Miacis: An artist’s interpretation of an Eocene ancestor to dogs and cats shows a weasel-sized, tree-climbing carnivore.
Currently, there is considerable interest but little consensus about how members of the dog family are related to each other. Domestic dogs, wolves, most foxes, coyotes, and jackals are clearly closely related. The relationships of raccoon dogs, African hunting dogs, bat-eared foxes, bush dogs, and dholes are less clear. Scientists agree, however, that the nearest relatives of the dog family are the bears, raccoons, weasels, and probably seals and sea lions.