Unlike their domesticated relatives, which have five toes on the front paws and four on the back, African wild dogs have four toes on each paw. Their coats are a mixture of black, yellow and white in such a wide variety of patterns that no two individuals look exactly alike. They stand about 65 cm (25 in.) at the shoulder, and have a long, furry tail and large ears. African wild dogs are widely distributed across the African plains, but primarily in the east. They do not live in jungle areas.
They are social animals, living in packs averaging about 10 individuals. Two hierarchies exist within the pack, one for females and one for males. Behaviour within the pack is remarkably amiable. The young have priority at a kill, and even infirm individuals get a share.
Usually only the two dominant animals breed. A litter usually numbers between 6 and 10 pups, but not all will survive. After they are weaned, pups are fed on food regurgitated by all adults of the pack.
By the smells on the wind, prey can be alerted to danger, and hunters can locate prey, but the African wild dog uses its sense of sight to find its prey, not its sense of smell. They also do not use cover when approaching their prey. They can run up to 66 km/h (41 MPH) for several kilometres. Fast and ferocious, they excel at hunting the speedy Thomson's gazelles and impalas, but they will also attack warthogs and any mid-sized antelope (such as the springbok and the impala), and the young of large antelopes such as the common wildebeest. Hunting in a pack, they catch their intended prey about 70% of the time. (By comparison, a lion succeeds 30 to 40 times out of 100).
The survival of the African wild dog is endangered by growing human populations, which have decreased or degraded its habitat, and that of its similarly threatened prey. Road kill and human persecution have also had a negative impact on African wild dog populations. Wild dogs have also proven to be highly susceptible to disease carried by domestic dogs. Conservation of the African wild dog's natural habitat must have the highest priority, as these animals suffer in habitats modified by human intrusion.