Your best friend Fido is part of a large taxonomic family called Canidae whose furry representatives range from iconic animals like the gray wolf to the tiny and adorable fennec fox (34 species live under the Canidae umbrella). Fido is also member of the Canini tribe, what scientists call "true dogs" – and that separates him from "true foxes" (or tribe Vulpini). But "true dogs" themselves are a motley crew of strange and fascinating characters. Meet some of our favourites...

Bush dogs

They might look more like squat little badgers (or long-lost cousins of the rock dassie), but bush dogs belong firmly among their canid kin. The species (Speothos venaticus) has a wide range across South America, but you're unlikely to spot a bush dog in the wild – the little-known canids are notoriously rare and elusive. Fun facts? The dogs are quipped with webbed feet for their semi-aquatic lifestyle (check out a group near the water here), and their strong-smelling urine has earned them the moniker "vinegar dogs". And while they might not look like particularly ferocious predators, when a group of bush dogs gets together to hunt, animals as large as capybaras need to watch out. 


Asia's foxy-looking dhole (Cuon alpinusis also known as the whistling dog thanks to its amazing repertoire of vocalisations – from distinct high-pitched whistles, to screams, mews and even chicken-like clucks! The dholes' reputation as lethally efficient pack hunters is well deserved: they regularly take down prey ten times their size and each pack member can consume a kilogram of meat in under four minutes! Hunting in thick forests, dholes rely on scent to locate prey and have developed the extraordinary ability to leap up to 3.5 metres straight into the air in order to see above the vegetation. Sadly, rampant hunting, habitat loss and a shortage of prey have caused their populations to dwindle to around 2,500 in the wild.

Ethiopian wolves

Meet the most endangered canid in the world – and Africa’s most threatened carnivoreWith fewer than 500 of these beautiful, long-limbed wolves still roaming the Ethiopian highlands, the future of Canis simensis depends on urgent conservation measures to preserve its habitat from human encroachment, and to protect the species from deadly diseases carried by domestic dogs. Thanks to their fox-like attributes, the animals were known as Simien foxes (and Simien jackals) until fairly recently, so the title of wolf is a new acquisition. But unlike their wolf cousins, there's no pack hunting here: Ethiopian wolves evolved to become solitary, mole rat-killing specialists (though they don't always get it right – check out the epic hunting fail at 02:28).

African wild dogs

Those spectacular, mottled coats have earned African wild dogs the scientific name Lycaon pictus, meaning "painted wolf", but when the species was first discovered in the early 1800s, it was incorrectly classified as a type of hyena! Africa's wild dogs are one of the world's most distinctive and sociable canids, living in large, close-knit groups that can occupy vast territories and communicate using an impressive range of vocalisations. Hunting packs are capable of running down prey as large as kudu and zebra (they can reach speeds of up to 70khp!), and the dogs outperform much larger carnivores like lions with their hunting success rate. Sadly, the species is endangered, threatened by habitat loss, disease and conflicts with humans.


That furry eye mask screams raccoon (and the resemblance is why they're sometimes called "raccoon dogs"), but tanukis are canids through and through. And their appearance isn't the only strange thing about them – dig into some cultural history, and you'll find a few bizarre tales about tanuki testicles. And don't bother looking for raccoon dogs in winter. They'll be holed up in a cosy burrow hibernating their way through the cold (the only canids known to do so). But unlike the other animals on this list, the tanukis' exact place on the dog family tree is a source of debate, and they're generally not considered part of the Canini tribe. Just about anything else you want to know about the tanuki (and then some), you'll find right here.

Maned wolves

Maned Wolf 2015 05 29

It looks like a fox on stilts and they call it a maned wolf, but this orange-haired canid is actually the only member of its very own Chrysocyon genus (meaning "golden dog"). Thanks to its exceptionally looooong limbs, this South American canid stands almost a metre tall, and like its Ethiopian relative, it prefers to hunt alone – armadillos, birds, reptiles, insects, fish and deer are all on the menu for this adventurous eater. But here's the surprising thing: a large portion of the maned wolf's diet is not meaty at all ... its favourite snack is actually a tomato-like fruit called lobeira (also aptly called wolf's fruit).

Short-eared dogs

Scientists discovered the short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis) all the way back in the 1800s, but the species remains a bit of a mystery to this day. Sometimes called the small-eared zorro (zorro is Spanish for fox), the cryptic carnivores are thought to be semi-aquatic, with largely fishy diets and webbed feet adapted for life around rivers and creeks in the Amazon rainforests.