Why are these lions intimidated by a dog?

I am pretty sure they knew that dog well. The lions have long associated the dog with the humans who do the patrols and did not see that dog as a serious threat, more of an annoyance. Lions won’t always kills something that is just annoying them.

Two quick thoughts, neither with back-up cites:

  1. I was told and it stuck in my head that hyenas are–anthropomorphizing naturally–the only animals that lions hate and will actually kill not in defense or out of hunger

  2. What’s up with the breed(ing) of Rhodesian Ridgebacks? You don’t run into them that often in NYC dog parks, but it’s obligatory for either you or the owner to say “let’s go find a lion to tree” or the equivalent.

As someone born in Rhodesia, and having more than a passing acquaintance with numerous Ridgebacks (my sister had a couple, my wife’s parents have a couple) and the various do parks I frequent have many… I can safely say that I have never heard anyone say that.

They were originally bred as hunting dogs, including hunting lions. I guess the absurdity of a lion in NYC is what triggers the remark, but in this country, where lions are numerous (though not in the cities) it falls a little flat.

I once read that the Masai would use dogs to lure lions into an ambush. Maybe these lions have caught on to the trick.

Anyway, it’s impossible to know the lion’s motives but here are some thoughts:

  1. The dog was a “non-food” animal. Lions and other predators have certain prey which they prefer to hunt, and a dog did not fit this lion’s idea of what “food” looked like.

  2. The lion was tired, or recently feasted, and just didn’t feel like killing something. Many animals, even lions, will co-exist with smaller animals and even allow them to take leftover food. There are plenty of prey animals in the background there, and the lions don’t seem interested in them, either.

  3. The lion was amused by “play.” It seemed to tolerate the dog the same way it would tolerate a playful cub. IMHO, the lion looked bored rather than intimidated.

  4. The lion didn’t feel like wasting energy or accepting risk to kill an animal it knew was not a threat.

This is correct. An adult dog mentally similar to a juvenile wolf. Dogs have disproportionately smaller brains than wolves. I’m tempted to say a dog is a wolf who went “full retard,” but this isn’t exactly true.

Some experiments indicate dogs are less capable problem-solvers but better at understanding social interaction. This is exactly what one should expect to see from a wolf who was (over thousands of years) selected for obedience and socialization rather than hunting ability.

It doesn’t always go so well for smaller animals when they try to back down lions. This baboon found out the hard way not to push his luck. Should have headed for the trees rather than act macho.

That is at the least overly simplistic. Domestic dogs may not be as smart at hunting or survival as wolves or coyotes, but they are far better at social communication with human beings. In the case of dogs bread for hoarding and guarding like the Akita, Bullmastiff, Appenzellar Sennenhund, or Romanian Mioritic Shepherd Dog, they are often bred with an instinct to protect their “social group” even in peril of their own welfare, which doesn’t negate their manifest intelligence. Such instincts may be retained even in toy breeds that are not large enough to seriously threaten a large predator.

As for the mountain lion or other large predators, the potential for even a mild injury that could prevent hunting is instinctually weighed against attacking an aggressive animal, even one that is smaller and less dangerous. Mountain lions typically attack from behind and if possible above, grabbing the neck area and breaking or throttling from behind before the prey has a chance to respond. Unless cornered or desperate for food, they very rarely attacked prey that is aware and showing defensive behavior.


Interesting that the first lioness avoided combat until her sisters showed up, thus minimizing risk. Scary how quickly the sisters moved in and got the job done. Yikes!

It doesn’t look to me like the dog is attacking the lions. It doesn’t growl or snarl or bare its teeth, and it wags its tail much of the time. I think it’s playing, and I think the lions know it. They probably know each other and have had encounters like this before.

If the lions wanted to kill the dog, they would do it, and if they wanted to get away from the dog they would do that. They did neither - just jumped back a little bit when the dog lunged. At the beginning they actually approached the dog. Again, it looks like play to me, with no actual hostility.

Why did the annoying Basenji/Chihuahua mix at the dog park insist on trying to corner my Pit Bull/GSD? Or why did the Italian Greyhound keep trying to mount her? In both cases, my dog just ignored the other dog. She kept shaking the Italian Greyhound off her leg like it was a grasshopper, or something. It was pretty funny.

Growling and baring teeth are social cues that dogs display toward each other (or sometimes to humans) as a way of communicating fear or anxiety. A wagging tail does not necessarily mean playtime in a working breed; the fact that we associate it with playful behavior is because most non-working breeds (those well suited as household pets) are bred for neotenous behavior, but in an adult herding or guarding dog it is a sign of preparing for aggression (which play in puppies is a practice for). Also, when dogs play they typically nip at the body up to the neck, but this dog targets directly at the face which is a highly aggressive move.

I’m just guessing but this looks to have been filmed in or around the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya, which has a native “breed” of Masai dogs which is their version of a dingo or Carolina dog; semi-feral dogs that live on the outskirts of villages, subsisting off of scraps and rubbish, and serve to protect people and their livestock from predators just as feral dogs have done since the dawn of human civilization.