July 26

Hyena vs. Wild Dog | How Different Are They Really?


By Megon Venter on
July 26, 2018

For centuries there has been confusion between similar-looking animals, such as cheetahs and leopards or crocodiles and alligators. Now we broaden our scope to look at two other animals suffering from a case of mistaken identity, the hyena and the wild dog. We’ll focus here on the African wild dog and the spotted hyena, just to avoid even more confusion! Once you venture out on safari, you’ll be certain which is which with our five helpful comparisons.


In terms of ears, the wild dog has more rounded spade-like ears that stand up, as if listening for predators. On the other hand, the hyena draws its smaller ears back towards its head.

A wild dog looks different to a hyena
A painted wolf (wild dog) Photo Credit: Jaci’s Tree Lodge


The wild dog is also known as ‘the painted wolf’, owing to the patterns on its coat that resemble a random array of paint splashes. These splashes or patches vary between white, ochre and black colour palettes. It’s counterpart, however, (being the spotted variety mainly found in South Africa) has a brown-coloured coat with small dark brown spots dotting it all over. It also has a mane-like hairline along its spine that is longer than the rest of its fur.


Hyenas are generally more aggressive creatures, spending most of their time fighting amongst each other. They are also nocturnal creatures, which may be the reason they are mistakenly seen as scavengers by most people. The wild dog tends to be elusive as they are more wary of stronger predators. Being team players, they tend to be more caring about other members of the pack, never leaving anyone behind.

A spotted hyena lies in the grass
A spotted hyena Photo Credit: Simon Watson


Female dominance can be observed in both packs with hyenas being more competitive over food sources. Wild dogs work together on every aspect of pack life, even raising all of their pups collectively.


Both creatures make dens in the ground or in smaller rock enclaves where they sleep and give birth. Female hyenas, interestingly, leave the den of the clan and make a new den where they can birth their cubs in private. Wild dogs tend to move their dens around according to predator threats or hunting grounds where they can teach their pups to hunt.

Now that you know all there is to know about these two species, you’ll find there are in fact similarities but that ultimately they have a very complex individual make up. Read more about how you can help the future of wild dogs with Wildlife ACT.

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About the author 

Megon Venter

This wannabe blogger comes all the way from a little town called Nelspruit in the province of Mpumalanga. After taking on The Mother City, she hopes to explore more of the world, all the while keeping her focus on sustainability and equality.

  • Thank you for differentiating the Wild dogs & Hyenas. City living doesn’t bring you close to either, but very interesting.

  • Hi Megon,
    Thank you so much for differentiating these two species! There are so many beautiful animals in Africa. I love them all!!
    Wishing you the best always!

  • Wow Thank you so much for this thanks to you i can use this information to pass my summative i can put some of my own words in there but otherwise this article was extremely helpful.

    • Hi there Ben,

      Thanks so much for your message, I’m glad we could help 🙂

      We hope you are all well over there.

      Sunny regards from Cape Town,
      The Rhino Africa Team

  • I searched up “Will a mother African wild dog leave her den to fight hyenas.” and it gave me this, this was a helpful article but may you please answer my question if you know this. Thank you.

    • Hello Grace,

      A challenging one to answer; so we asked for help from our friends at Wildlife ACT, our response incorporates some of their words. The most realistic option is for the mother to stay and protect the pups in the den, rather than come out to fight. There are quite a few variables as you can imagine, but the most prudent strategy is to stay with the pups and stop the predators from coming in.

      We hope this answers your question somewhat, and we thank you for leaving a comment Grace.

      See more majestic images and captured moments by visiting our Instagram feed.
      And See you in Africa!

    • There’s a great documentary series called Serengeti by the BBC. Series 1 regularly features a pack of wild dogs and a pack of hyenas, and their interactions. From watching that, it seems wild dogs are more than capable of defending their young and their food from hyenas. Wholeheartedly recommend watching this insightful documentary!

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