Gray Fox in a Tree
Credit: Wikimedia Commons photo by Sapphic, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Gray fox in Belize, Central America.

Two dog species can climb trees

Dogs can’t climb trees, right? Wrong! At least, when it comes to two species, which are the gray fox of North America, and the raccoon dog of Eurasia.[1][2]

Dogs, more scientifically known as canids, comprise 35 species. They live on every continent except Antarctica, and include many subspecies. A well-known example of a subspecies is the common domestic dog, which is descended from the gray wolf of North America and Eurasia, although they are not so different as to warrant being classified as a separate species.[3]

Domestication of gray wolves began at least 24,000 years ago in Europe,[4] and although there are a few cases of humans being killed by other species, gray wolves are the only canid species that is really known to sometimes prey on humans.[5]

Evidence points to canids originating in North America, likely during the late Paleocene Epoch around 55 million years ago. They spread to Eurasia via land bridge around eight million years ago, and to South America via the Isthmus of Panama about three million years ago.[3]

About the gray fox

The first tree-climber is one of two members of the genus Urocyon. The other member of this genus is its close relative, the Channel Islands Fox, which is found on six of the eight Channel Islands near the coast of Southern California.[6]

The gray fox lives throughout most of the area from Southern Canada to northern South America. They are not often seen, due to being nocturnal and sneaky. They primarily live in hollowed logs or trees.[1]

The animals typically weigh eight to fifteen pounds (3.6 to 7 kg), in the range of small to medium-size domestic house cats. They are omnivorous, eating small animals, and also fruits when available.[1]

Gray foxes have strong, hook-shaped claws which allow them to climb trees for the purposes of escaping predators (such as domestic dogs or coyotes), and reaching foods in trees (animals they want to catch, or fruits). They can jump from branch to branch, although not so nimbly as a tree squirrel, and overall their climbing abilities approximate those of a domestic house cat.[1]

Raccoon Dog
Credit: From Wikipedia by Pkuczynski, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Raccoon dog of eastern Asia.

About the raccoon dog

Overall, candids are divided into two tribes, those that are “wolf-like,” and those that are “fox-like.” However, two species don’t fit into these convenient categories. They are the last remaining members of an ancient group, the canid subfamily Caninae, and they are considered to be more primitive than other canids. The two species are the bat-eared fox of Africa, and the raccoon dog of Eurasia.[3]

Along with the gray fox, the raccoon dog is the only other canid on Earth that climbs trees. Named for their resemblance to raccoons, they are not closely related, even though canids are part of the same suborder of mammals as raccoons, called Caniformia.[7]

Raccoon dogs are native to eastern Asia, particularly China, Korea, and Japan. They have been introduced to Europe, and are now widespread. This is the only canid species that hibernates, and like gray foxes, they are omnivorous and eat a wide variety of foods.[2]

They are heavily hunted in Europe, where they are considered an invasive pest. The introduction of these animals in Europe began in 1928 as an attempt by the Soviets to improve their fur quality. The furs are so highly prized that they unfortunately continue to be heavily hunted in their native regions of eastern Asia. Despite this, however, they are not considered to be a threatened species.[2]

Raccoon dogs typically weigh 14 to 20 pounds (6.5 to 9 kg), and their main predators are wolves. They do not bark like foxes and many other canid species, but they do growl and whine.[2]

Like gray foxes, they have hook-shaped claws which allow them to climb trees. Also like gray foxes, they climb trees to escape predators and to get food, particularly fruits and berries.[2]

So now you know: Two of the 35 species of canids (a.k.a. dogs) can climb trees.