Dholes are highly social animals and they live and hunt in packs that closely resemble those of the African wild dog (Lycaon pictus). These packs seem to consist of more males than females and usually contain around 5 to 12 members, although groups of up to 40 have been observed on occasion. There is a strict hierarchy within the pack and the group will defend a territory that can be as large as 84 square kilometres depending on the availability of food; territories are marked by latrine sites at trail intersections. Usually only the dominant female will breed, giving birth to a litter of three to four young, or occasionally ten, after a two month gestation period. The mating season occurs from September to February. Pups are born in a den, which is usually the abandoned burrow of another animal, and all members of the pack help to care for the mother and her litter. Individuals feed the pups by regurgitating food for them, and will help to guard the den; when the pups are old enough to accompany the adults on hunting trips they are allowed to eat first at the kill.
Cooperating in a pack to hunt prey, dholes are capable of killing animals over ten times their own body weight in size. Their diet is almost wholly carnivorous, predominantly made up of medium-sized ungulates such as spotted deer (Axis axis), sambar deer (Cervus unicolor) and wild sheep. Hunting in thick forest, dholes rely on scent to locate prey, occasionally jumping high into the air to get their bearings. Pack members either move forward in a line or stand guard on the edge of dense cover whilst other members flush out the prey. Dholes are capable swimmers and sometimes drive their prey into water. Like the African wild dog, these animals have acquired a vicious reputation due to the speed with which they eat, and their method of disembowelling prey before it is fully dead. Attacks on humans are, however, extremely rare.
Dholes previously ranged throughout the Indian subcontinent, north into Korea, China and eastern Russia and south through Malaysia and Indonesia reaching as far as Java. Today, information on dhole numbers is lacking but the range appears to be greatly reduced and remaining populations are isolated in fragments of former habitat. There are 11 subspecies of dhole and these vary in range with the most common being Cuon alpinus dukhunensis found in central and southern India.
Dholes are found in forested areas throughout their range from dense montane forest in Thailand to alpine areas in Russia, and thick scrub jungle in India. In general, factors such as prey and water availability, den sites and relatively open forest areas with grassy meadows (usually having high prey densities) are required to support dholes.