Personally, I have not heard of such a beast before… until I ran across a news story about how they are slaughtered so that their fur may be used for impostor UGG® boots (impostors… not the real boot out of Australia). But this post in not about the slaughter of these animals (you may google and pull up many results if you wish), but rather, here are some details about this animal which looks like an overgrown raccoon – yet belongs to the dog family.
Raccoon Dogs are a species of canine named for their striking resemblance to raccoons. Raccoon Dogs (Nyctereutes procyonoides) are sometimes called Asiatic raccoons, Finn raccoons, or Tanuki. However it is well known that Chinese fur exporters will put whatever label the buyer requests on the pelt or garment using the Raccoon Dog.
• Raccoon Dogs stand about 9″ at the shoulder, body length is 20-23″ and the tail is about 7″ long (the sizes being between a Yorkshire Terrier and a small Cocker Spaniel).
• Raccoon Dogs are mainly nocturnal and forage in “pairs” with their mate, leaving their dens one to two hours after sunset.
• Indigenous to Asia, including eastern Siberia and Japan, these small fox-sized furry animals seem to enjoy having a mate or friend close by until they reach mating age. They always live in pairs or small family groups.
• Adult Raccoon Dogs are strictly monogamous, forming a permanent pair throughout their lifetime. Only if one of the pair dies will the remaining member form a new bond with a new mate.
• Raccoon Dogs have been observed hibernating in pairs, maintaining bodily contact with one another while sleeping and resting, and engaging in social grooming — another rarity among canines.
• Male Raccoon Dogs are also helpful fathers, bringing food to their pregnant mate as well as helping to raise the young. Females will forge during the day, leaving the dad to baby-sit the pups in the den.
• In spring and summer, the Raccoon Dog is usually thin, but during autumn and winter, it adds on weight (in preparation for winter dormancy), giving the expression of a round animal with short and thin legs. Source: IUCN Canid Specialist Group
• Raccoon Dogs are unique in the Canids as they are the only one which will spend the winter asleep (especially when winters are harsh), entering hibernation in November and becoming active again in March. They rarely if ever, hibernate in captivity.
• Raccoon Dogs can also climb trees.
• Its face sports a black mask, small rounded ears and a pointed muzzle, resembling a raccoon, hence its name, but it is not related to the raccoon at all.
• There are 6 recognized subspecies of the Raccoon Dog (Ellerman and Morrison-Scott, 1951; Ward and Wuster-Hill 1990).
• Raccoon Dogs do not bark, but will growl when menaced. Their vocalizations are higher in tone than those of a domestic dog, and more or less resemble the sounds of a mewing domestic cat. Raccoon Dogs are relatively quiet overall – however they do have a broad vocal repertoire. Vocalizations usually only expressed, during periods of play, just prior to feeding or with the initial excitement of having young puppies in the vicinity.
• Raccoon Dogs are not aggressive – instead when threatened they flee, or if not able to, curl up into themselves (like a ball or as nearly as can be) for self protection.
• Raccoon Dogs are not territorial either – pairs exist in overlapping areas and ranges – although they do have a ‘fixed latrine’ spot somewhere in their ranging area.
• Raccoon Dogs are usually found near water, and they are more or less dependent upon fruits and berries. Raccoon dogs are true omnivores – in most areas, small rodents form the bulk of their diet in all seasons; frogs, lizards, invertebrates, insects, birds and eggs are consumed according to availability. Plants are frequently eaten – berries and fruits are their food of choice in late summer and autumn. Oats, maize, watermelon, tangerines and pears are also consumed when available.
• Mating usually occurs in March; females can reproduce each year; sexual maturity is achieved at 9-11 months; position is the same as canines.
• Gestation is nine weeks and both parents settle into a den about a week before the pups are born. Litters are between 4 and 9, depending upon the geographical location. Pups weigh between 3.5 oz and 4.2 oz at birth (pup weight and size of litter depends upon the availability and quantity of berries the mom was able to consume the previous summer). Their eyes stay closed from seven to ten days. Pups start emerging from the den at three to four weeks and are weaned at four to five weeks. Although independent at four months, they frequently stay with the parents for months afterwards.
• In Japan, legal culling has increased since the 1970s with 4,529 annual kills on the average each year between 1990 and 1998. Between 18,000 and 76,000 were harvested each year in Japan after World War II. Poaching is routinely overlooked in Japan.
• Raccoon Dogs life span is between seven to eight years, with a record in captivity of 13 years. Only about 1% of Raccoon Dogs live to five years, and 88% of the young (in Finland) die before their first year.
• Handled at birth, Raccoon Dog pups remain friendly – if inquisitive – throughout their lives.
• Zoos keep Raccoon Dogs as educational exhibits to present a species with a high invasive potential, or to show the only representative of the dog family going into torpor during winter. However, the only zoo in North America to have Raccoon Dogs is Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.
• In Japan the raccoon dog has been hunted to near extinction for their meat and fur, and their bones which are used in traditional medicine. The raccoon dog was introduced throughout much of its current range specifically for hunting purposes and for its fur.
• Japanese people and raccoon dogs have coexisted peacefully since ancient times. This harmonious relationship is depicted in many folk tales, legends, sayings and songs. Many quotations and episodes based on these stories from folk culture illustrate that the destiny of the raccoon dogs is the same as the destiny of humans.