The Carolina Dog: Has America’s First Dog Been Discovered in the American Dingo?

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What does it take for a dog to be recognized as a new, or old, breed? That is exactly the question Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin answered with his discovery of the Carolina Dog, also known as the American Dingo.

About 30 years ago, Dr. Brisbin was working on the Savannah River Site near Aiken, South Carolina, when he noticed some dogs running around the 300 miles of fence-protected habitat that seemed to resemble the first canines to cross the Bering Strait more than 14,000 years ago.

After capturing and studying the animals, Brisbin found they indeed were likely descendants of those first dogs, having become feral over time — the once domesticated dogs had turned wild and survived on their own for thousands of years. Brisbin made it his goal to reintroduce the breed to society, and thus the Carolina Dog was discovered.

The dog has since been recognized by the American Rare Breed Association and the United Kennel Club, but not yet by the American Kennel Club. Brisbin isn’t interested in AKC registration because he is in possession of the studbook and wants to keep it open. Once registered with the AKC, the book would be closed and Brisbin could no longer capture and breed dogs found in the wild.

According to Brisbin, The AKC demands a closed studbook because testing cannot prove what breed an animal is. The AKC must track breeding in order to ensure pure bloodlines and breed standards.

While breed standards cannot be tested, there are tests which have shown DNA of Carolina Dogs, no matter where they are found, have similar patterns. This, coupled with unique behaviors seen in these dogs, are what Brisbin likes to use as proof of a standard. And proof of a primitive past.

Characteristics of a Carolina Dog

The most obvious physical signs of a Carolina Dog include a fish-hook tail and tall, erect ears. They tend to hold an inquisitive and alert expression in their fox-like face and dark, almond-shaped eyes. The dogs are thought to resemble a small dingo or jackal, and while powerful, are of medium height and slight build.

Typical coats of the breed are shades of red and cream, deep red ginger considered most preferable.

As for behavioral signs, the dogs often possess “primitive” traits such as regurgitation of food for young, pack hunting, and shyness and suspicion of strangers. Many dig snout pits, cover their feces and have extensive and impressive survival skills. They also have a strong pack mentality.

There is fear among breed enthusiasts that the dog will lose its unique characteristics through breeding and domestication. Early signs include the dropping of ears and fewer survival skills. However, by protecting large pieces of land for the dogs to thrive naturally and continuing to capture wild dogs to breed, the traits have been mostly preserved thus far.

Carolina Dogs, Named for Their Home

Carolina Dogs can be found along roads and highway medians in the South, roaming the rural areas of Low Country plantations and military bases, and often being shuffled through shelters. There are also several breeders with a mission to propagate the breed. Most wild dogs are seen in South Carolina and Georgia, but breeders in California have ensured the dogs’ extensive reach.

Carolina Dogs Can Make Great Pets

While this dog has survived on its own for thousands of years, it has also proven to be a great house pet — and easy to care for. If properly trained and socialized at a young age, the dog can be loyal, loving and gentle. Once apart of the family, or “pack” the dog can even be trusted with children.

As a downside, the dogs have a tendency to howl and dislike strangers. They are, however, very intelligent and easy to housebreak.

Whether the Carolina Dog is seen as a wild animal or a loving pet, research is pointing to the breed being a rich part of history.