The Carolina Dog is a breed of dog native to the United States. The Carolina Dog is believed to be a direct descent of the Native American Dogs that accompanied the first human inhabitants in the Western Hemisphere. Known primarily for its primitive appearance, the Carolina Dog also makes a highly intelligent and unique companion. Discovered living wild in South Carolina and Georgia within the last 40 years, the Carolina Dog has only recently been redomesticated. The Carolina Dog is also known as the American Dingo, North American Dingo, Dixie Dingo, Southern Dingo, Carolina Dingo, North American Native Dog, Native American Dog, Indian Dog, Indian’s Dog, Yellow Dog, Yeller Dog, Yaller Dog, and Ol’ Yeller.
The Carolina Dog has only entered the written record within the last 40 years when it was first noticed by scientists. As a result, it is impossible to say anything with certainty about the breed’s origins. A growing amount of evidence strongly suggests that this breed has a very ancient ancestry, perhaps one of the most ancient of any breed.
Archaeological and genetic evidence is very scarce prior to the invention of writing, which means that there are large gaps in history. There is substantial debate among experts in different fields, but the vast majority of scientists now agree that the dog was first domesticated from the wolf between 14,000 and 35,000 years ago. Initially, it was believed that the dog was domesticated independently several times in different parts of the world, but the evidence seems conclusive that all dogs descend from either one or two domestication events. Although the exact wolf subspecies that was domesticated and the exact location where the domesticated occurred remain a mystery, it almost certainly occurred somewhere in Asia, most likely the Middle East, India, Tibet, or China. The wolves found in these regions are usually significantly smaller than those found elsewhere and are usually less aggressive and more comfortable around humans. Many also exhibit brown and tan coats.
Wherever the first dogs were found, they quickly became highly valued companions to humankind. At the time, humans had not yet developed agriculture or settled in permanent dwellings, instead endlessly wandering the land in small bands of hunter-gatherers. In a very real sense Man’s First Friend, early dogs accompanied these hunter-gatherers on their journeys, serving as camp guardians, hunting aides, sources of meat and fur, and as companions. In the beginning, dogs did not exhibit the astonishing variety that they do today. The first dogs were all very similar in appearance, both to each other and the wolves from which they descended. These early dogs were probably virtually indistinguishable from the modern day Australian Dingo and New Guinea Singing Dog. Dogs proved so valuable (and desirable) that they eventually spread around the world. Dogs came to be found everywhere that humans lived, except for a few remote islands.
From their homeland in Southern Asia, dogs quickly spread to Northern China and Siberia. Here they almost certainly were crossed with the larger, more densely coated wolves of the north, giving them greater ability to survive in the cold. There are few more hotly contested debates in archaeology than when and how the Native Americans first arrived the New World. All that is clear is that at some point between 7,000 and 20,000 years ago, the first humans crossed what is now the Bering Strait either by walking across a land bridge or by sailing in primitive canoe-like vessels. These first settlers were accompanied on their travels by their loyal companions, the domestic dog. At that time, all dogs were still very similar in appearance to their ancestors, and were most likely indistinguishable from the modern day Carolina Dog. These primitive dogs were much more capable of surviving in the wild than modern breeds, most likely because they retained more of their wolf abilities and instincts. Wherever these early dogs went, they occasionally went feral, much as their modern descendants still do to this day. At some point, a population of primitive Native American Dogs probably went feral in the swamps along what is now the Georgia/South Carolina Border, as well as other smaller populations throughout the American South.
Over time, the feral dogs along the Georgia/South Carolina border became very well adapted to their environment. These dogs became the unique type now known as a Carolina Dog. They developed behavioral and biological features that are unknown in any other canine population. For example, the females developed a unique estrus cycle. Most domestic dog breeds have two estrus cycles per years, while wolves and a few very primitive breeds have only one. Female Carolina Dogs go into heat three times in rapid succession, and then enter a normal breeding cycle when there is an abundance of puppies. It is thought that this adaptation allowed the Carolina Dog to quickly recover its population or to continue to produce puppies in the aftermath of a major disease epidemic. Perhaps even more unusually, Carolina Dogs instinctively dig snout pits in the winter or shortly after child birth. These pits are small holes in the dirt which the dogs dig out with their snouts. The reason for this behavior remains a theory, and few are even willing to make an educated hypothesis. Perhaps the dogs are looking for some food source buried just under the soil, or even nutrient rich clay.
Left on its own in the wilderness, the Carolina Dog used its remaining wolf instincts to survive. Female Carolina Dogs instinctively dig burrows when they are about to give birth, in the same manner as a wolf or coyote. Carolina Dogs almost always bury their feces in the dirt to prevent other predators from catching their scent. Almost all of these dogs display very keenly developed pack instincts. Carolina Dogs establish a firm hierarchy with other dogs, although disputes sometimes erupt. Natural pack hunters, Carolina dogs work in tandem to bring down prey. This dog specializes in small to medium game such as raccoons and opossums, but will also occasionally bring down larger creatures such as deer and wild hogs. The Carolina Dog also exhibits a hunting behavior unique among canines. These dogs actually hunt snakes in packs. The dogs kill the snakes in a manner unknown in other dogs, by biting their tails and cracking them in the air like a reptilian whip. Such a behavior would be extremely useful in a region with very large populations of rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and other serpents. The Carolina Dog also retains a very high degree of intelligence and adaptability, trademarks of the wolf.
It is unclear how long the Carolina Dog was living feral in the American South, but it was probably for hundreds of years. The breed greatly benefitted from the many predator eradication campaigns undertaken by the federal and state governments. These campaigns exterminated the wolf from virtually the entire contiguous United States and almost drove the red wolf to complete extinction. The black bear and mountain lion were also exterminated in Georgia and South Carolina, leaving the Carolina Dog and the Bobcat (whose habits and diet do not put it in direct competition with the Carolina Dog) as the only large predators in the region. These dogs were well-known to the people of the region, who often referred to them as Yellow Dogs or Yaller Dogs, but it was assumed that they were strays or perhaps Chow Chow or Husky mixes.
The modern history of the Carolina Dog truly begins in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. One day Dr. Pam Brisbin, a professor at Aiken Technical College in Aiken, South Carolina, went to a county dump near New Ellenton. She found a small puppy with no collar and took him home. It did not take the Brisbin family long to realize that Horace (the puppy’s new name) behaved differently from other dogs. At the time, her husband Dr. I. Lehr “Bris” Brisbin Jr. was working at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, a world famous environmental research facility. The laboratory is located on the Savannah River Site, formerly a cold war nuclear production facility. The nuclear facility and the protections that accompanied it allowed the region to become one of the most wild and pristine in all South Carolina, quite famous for its deer. Dr. “Bris” Brisbin and other researchers at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory had long noticed the packs of dogs that roamed the woods, but assumed they were no different than other strays.
Several years after Horace became a beloved part of the Brisbin household, Dr. “Bris” Brisbin had an epiphany. He realized that Horace was virtually identical in appearance to the Australian Dingo, easily the most famous feral/semi-wild dog in the world. He began to think of the packs of strays in the woods, and realized that they were all very similar in appearance and closely resembled the Australian Dingo. He began to collect a number of the strays and observe their behavior in captivity. The results fascinated him because they were strongly indicative that the dogs were indeed extremely primitive. Naming his find the Carolina Dog, he began to conduct genetic tests. If the Carolina Dogs were in fact the descendants of recent strays, their DNA would show a relationship to a large number of breeds. The tests showed that the Carolina Dogs were all closely related to each other, and had almost no DNA from more modern breeds. Brisbin and other scientists began to conclude that the Carolina Dog was in fact a unique population, and that it was most likely a remnant of primitive dogs. Comparisons between the Carolina Dog with Dingoes, New Guinea Singing Dogs, and Pariah Dogs from India and the Middle East showed that all were very similar physically, behaviorally, and genetically.
Dr. Brisbin and other scientists he inspired began to comb the woods of South Carolina, Georgia, and other parts of the American South for more pure specimens. They recruited a number of interested breeders to work with them, among them Jane Gunnell who was personally recruited by Dr. Brisbin. After several generations, the Carolina Dogs were still breeding true to appearance and behavior, proving that they were a homogenous population. However, those who worked with the Carolina Dogs noticed that there was something very different about them when compared to other semi-wild and feral dog populations. Unlike Dingoes and New Guinea Singing Dogs which are essentially impossible to turn into house pets, the Carolina Dog adapted very well to life as a companion dog. Although Carolina Dogs still exhibited many primitive features such as dominance, training difficulties, and protectiveness, they often exhibited them to a lesser extent than popular companion breeds such as Akitas, Shiba Inus, and Alaskan Malamutes. Experienced dog trainers found that they had substantial success working with their Carolina Dogs. The breed also proved to be quite gentle and affectionate with children.
Several breeders decided that they wanted to turn the Carolina Dog into a full-time pet and began keeping studbooks of their dogs. Eventually, these breeders developed a written standard for the breed and began to organize a club. In 1996, the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted formal recognition to the Carolina Dog as a member of the Sighthound& Pariah Group. The breed was subsequently granted full recognition with the American Rare breed Association (ARBA). The Carolina Dog has achieved rapid success in the show ring and several individuals have earned championships. Efforts are currently underway to formally apply to the American Kennel Club (AKC) for recognition with the Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS) the first step towards full AKC recognition. The Carolina Dog is currently rapidly growing in popularity. The breed is gaining a loyal and devoted following with many families as a companion dog. Some fanciers are also beginning to use Carolina Dogs in a number of canine sports such as agility and competitive obedience. The breed has already proven to be a highly skilled competitor at many of these competitions, and is also earning a following among canine sports enthusiasts. The domestic population of Carolina Dogs is now quite secure and growing rapidly.
Although many people think that their dog will be able survive after being abandoned on the street, the sad truth is that the vast majority are not. Most abandoned dogs perish within a few days or weeks, from starvation, disease, accidents, thirst, predation, or other causes. The Carolina Dog, recently descended from feral dogs, is one of the few breeds which is often capable of living as a stray. Additionally, untold thousands of Carolina Dogs may exist throughout the south, roaming in feral packs. For many years, hunters have captured these strays to use as tracking and hog hunting dogs, tasks at which the breed excels. These factors combine to mean that a highly disproportionate percentage of feral dogs in the southern United States possess some Carolina Dog ancestry. Animal shelters throughout the United States often have dogs which may be partially descended from the Carolina Dog, or at least its relatives. Many Americans probably have Carolina Dogs without ever knowing it because many shelters were unaware of the breed until quite recently. In recent years, the breed’s growing fame has actually had the opposite effect. Many animal shelters now label any small brown dog a Carolina Dog, especially if it has upright ears.
Although the Carolina Dog is rapidly increasing in popularity as a companion, its wild population is declining dramatically. The last undisturbed woods where the breed survived have become increasingly developed. Stray dogs introduced by man have introduced new diseases to the Carolina Dog population, many of which they may have had no natural immunity too. These dogs have also begun to hybridize with the Carolina Dog, destroying its purity. While these factors are playing a major role in the Carolina Dog’s decline, they are probably not nearly as important as the arrival of the Coyote. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the Coyote was limited to regions west of the Mississippi. The Coyote’s spread eastward was limited by the wolf and red wolf. The elimination of these larger predators allowed the coyote to move into lands where it was never found before, including the range of the Carolina Dog. As well adapted as the Carolina Dog is, it is nowhere near as well-suited to life in the wild as the coyote. The breed is also smaller and weaker than the large coyotes that live in South Carolina and Georgia, which regularly kill any dogs that they find. The increasing Coyote population is beginning to put a serious strain on the wild Carolina Dogs, and it is feared that the wild Carolina Dog may disappear entirely as a pure type within a few decades.
The Carolina Dog is virtually identical in appearance to other Pariah-type dogs from around the world, especially the Canaan Dog, Dingo, and New Guinea Singing Dog. This breed is among the most primitive-looking of all domestic dogs, and probably is very similar to the very first dogs. The Carolina Dog is a medium-sized breed. The average breed member stands between 17 ¾ and 19 5/8 inches tall at the shoulder, although it is not uncommon to see a variation of up to 3 inches in either direction. Weight is heavily influenced by height, gender, and build, but most breed members weigh between 30 and 44 pounds. Female Carolina Dogs tend to be more lightly built than males, but the difference is considerably less than is the case with most dog breeds. The Carolina Dog is generally quite squarely proportioned, although some individuals are somewhat longer from chest to rump than they are tall from floor to shoulder. In general, this is a very lightly constructed breed, and many have bodies that resemble slightly heavy sighthounds. It is not uncommon for these dogs to have clearly visible ribs, even when healthy. Although thin, Carolina Dogs are usually quite muscular, and are very clearly athletic.
The tail of the Carolina Dog is one of the breed’s most important features. This tail is very expressive, clearly showing the dog’s emotions. When the dog is at attention, the tail is carried in a distinctive upright fish hook shape. When the dog is in motion, it is carried in a pump handle shape. The dog frequently holds its tail low or between its legs when at rest or nervous, but the tail should never appear slack. The tail has a distinctive brush which is thickest on the underside. The bottom of the tail is always a lighter shade or color than the upper portion.
The head and face of the Carolina Dog are very primitive looking. The head forms a wide triangle, which is accentuated by the tapering muzzle with strong jaw muscles. The muzzle and head blend in very smoothly and are only semi-distinct from each other. The muzzle itself is approximately the same length as the skull, and had tight-fitting black lips. The teeth of this breed are quite large and well-developed, and meet in either a scissors or level bite. The nose of the Carolina Dog is black, large, and has well-opened nostrils. The ears of the Carolina Dog are among the most expressive of all dogs, and clearly show the breed’s mood. It is not uncommon for this breed to move its ears independently. The ears should stand straight erect and face forwards, although the exact size varies significantly from dog to dog. Semi-prick and fully drop ears are found in a number of Carolina Dogs, but they are heavily penalized in the show ring. The eyes of the Carolina Dog are almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the ....-shaped, set obliquely, and dark brown in color. The overall expression of most Carolina Dogs is soft and intelligent, but highly cautious and somewhat wild at the same time.
The coat of the Carolina Dog is among the breed’s most unique features. The coat is in many ways more like that of a wolf than a domestic dog, and changes greatly depending on the season. The coat in winter is noticeably heavier and possesses a much denser undercoat. This dog substantially thins its coat for the summer, and visibly sheds when the seasons change. The head, ears, and fronts of the legs are covered in hair that is very short and smooth. Coarse, longer guard hairs are found over the rest of the body. These hairs bristle straight out when the dog is at attention or cold. The Carolina Dog is found in a number of different colors, although certain ones are greatly preferred in the show ring. According to the official UKC standard:
“Preferred color: a deep red ginger with pale buff markings over the shoulders and along the muzzle.
Acceptable colors: variations in color, grading from straw-colored through wheaten to pale yellow buff.
The preferred and acceptable colors usually include lighter shadings on the underside, chest and throat, sometimes being nearly white on the throat. Some white on the toes is common and not to be penalized. Dark sabling over the back, loins and tail is permissible. Dogs less than two years of age often have all-black muzzles, but this is not required.
The following color patterns are permitted, but not to be encouraged: black and tan, piebald spotting and black blanket back. “
The Carolina Dog has a unique temperament. This breed generally has a primitive temperament, although it is substantially softer tempered than most other primitive breeds. Carolina Dogs often form very close attachments to their owners to whom they demonstrate great loyalty. While some Carolina Dogs are more affectionate than others, this breed is generally quite reserved. When properly trained and socialized with them, most breed members are very good with children. This breed is willing and able to handle a fair amount of roughhousing, but usually does not especially enjoy it.
This is definitely a breed that prefers the company of its own family to strangers. Most breed members are very suspicious and nervous around strangers, although they are generally not aggressive towards them. Proper training and socialization will ensure that most breed members are tolerant and polite around strangers, although most will always remain uncomfortable. A lack of socialization in this breed may lead to fear and nervousness issues. The Carolina Dog has keen senses and is usually very alert, making most breed members very capable watchdogs. Some Carolina Dogs make effective guard dogs that will challenge intruders, but others are typically not aggressive enough.
Carolina Dogs have very strong pack instincts and form very close bonds with other dogs. Most of these dogs would probably greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one canine companion. However, these dogs also have a very strong pack instinct and initiate a rigid pack hierarchy. Many will initially engage in dominance struggles with other dogs upon meeting them. When Carolina Dogs are properly trained and socialized with other animals such as cats, most (but not all) will do fine with them. As a result of being forced to survive on their own in the wilderness, this breed also has an extremely strong prey drive. If left alone in a backyard for any length of time, these dogs will almost certainly bring their owners presents of dead animals.
Carolina Dogs can be very difficult to train. This is not a breed that lives to please, and most of these dogs are less responsive than other breeds. Training a Carolina Dog requires extra time and effort, and may never bring the desired results. That being said, most Carolina Dogs are considerably more trainable than other primitive breeds. Almost all who have worked with these dogs have commented on their high degree of intelligence. Those who have done extensive training with these dogs have found them to be highly trainable, and breed members have competed at the highest levels of canine sports such agility and competitive obedience with great success.
Carolina Dogs are naturally very active and few are couch potatoes. These dogs will spend the entire day wandering, especially if they have a yard. This breed absolutely must get regular daily exercise, at least a long walk every day and preferably play time in the yard as well. A Carolina Dog will take any exercise that it is given, and make excellent hiking, camping, and jogging companions. Without this exercise, a Carolina Dog will almost certainly develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, hyperactivity, over excitability, excessive barking, and nervousness. That being said, the average dedicated family will be able to meet the needs of this breed. This breed is not ideal in an apartment setting, although it adapts well to the suburbs.
The Carolina Dog has minimal grooming requirements. This breed should never require professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Carolina Dogs do shed, and most shed quite heavily. Shedding level is highly dependent on the season, and twice a year Carolina Dogs become extreme shedders while in the process of changing their coats.
The Carolina Dog is generally regarded to be a very healthy breed. Several breeders who have worked with Carolina Dogs since the beginning of the redomestication process began have noted that they have not seen even a single case of genetically inheritable disease in their dogs. Many problems common in other domestic dogs are entirely absent from the Carolina Dog. Until recently, the Carolina Dog was entirely subject to natural selection. Any genetic defects would have been quickly eliminated by the demands for survival. However, the Carolina Dog still has a very narrow gene pool and breeders must be vigilant to ensure that no problems develop in the future.
Although skeletal and visual problems are not thought to occur at high rates in this breed it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
Even though some of these problems have not yet been identified in the Carolina Dog, problems common to most domestic dogs include: