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West African Village Dog

African village dogs live in many different environments: desert, plains, forest, woodland, mountains, and more. As such, African village dogs vary as widely as African cultures. Despite their differences, they all tend to be independent and resourceful, and can make excellent companions if adopted young and raised in the right environment.

Illustration courtesy of the Swedish Kennel Club

About this Breed

Dogs first arrived in Africa over 6,000 years ago. They came from the Middle East and seemed to flourish immediately in Africa. They can be found in Egyptian artwork on pots, in heiroglyphics, and even buried next to Egyptian royalty. They served several important roles in Egyptian society including companionship, hunting, and guarding. The Egyptians held dogs as important in religious and cultural ceremonies. Their god of the afterlife, Anubis, has a dog’s head with a man’s body, and nearly 8 million dogs were buried in the catacombs of Anubis in ancient Egypt, probably to help their owners’ journeys into the afterlife.

Dogs traveled south with humans through the Sahara and then throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, reaching the southernmost parts of Africa well over a thousand years ago. In between, they adapted to many different environments. Dogs in the Sahara and Sahel regions are adapted for hot, dry weather, having lankier bodies. Dogs in the Congo forest basin became somewhat smaller, to run through dense forests after prey (and away from predators) all the better. Dogs in the vast grasslands of southern and eastern Africa are generally a bit larger and adapted to run fast — away from lions!

People across Africa value dogs for companionship, hunting, and guarding to this day. Although most dogs live free (off leashes and outside), many go back to the same house each evening to sleep and serve as guards.

Village dogs in Africa generally live near humans, but also interact a lot with the wildlife. While most of their nutrition often comes from trash or discarded scraps, they do sometimes hunt or scavenge prey. They have been important in contributing to rabies and distemper outbreaks in humans and endangered wildlife (like lions, African wild dogs, and jackals) throughout the continent, but vaccination programs are having increasing success.