Carolina Dog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Carolina Dog
Tomc1977 / Wikipedia.org

Having only been domesticated a few decades ago, it is incredible just how well adjusted the Carolina dog has become to modern family life. Originally found roaming wild in the United States, these dogs have been taken into the local homes, and with consistent training from a young age, can become good pets, though are often shy and suspicious of new people. Closely related to wolves, they share much of their DNA, and are the closest thing to a wild dog possible without being feral.

With a high exercise requirement, this dog benefits from an active and outdoor lifestyle, and loves to be brought up in a pack of dogs whenever possible. Naturally bright, they can be a handful to train, and benefit from an experienced owner who has plenty of time to work with them. Surviving without intervention for such a long time, they tend to be a hardy breed with few health issues.

About & History

The history of the Carolina dog is incredibly fascinating; this is in fact a dog that has only been domesticated in the last few decades. Thought to have originated from the ancient dogs owned by Native Americans, they were discovered in South Carolina and the neighbouring state of Georgia in the United States, less than fifty years ago. Seen as a ‘semi-wild’ dog, the Carolina dog is also known as the American Dingo and is classed in the ‘Pariah’ Group of dogs, along with the Indian Pariah dog.

An authentically primitive dog, we can assume that the original domesticated dog of over 10,000 years ago looked similar in appearance to the modern-day Carolina dog. Adapted to survival in the wild with little or no human intervention, this breed is incredibly resilient and self-sufficient.

Several intriguing behaviours exhibited by the Carolina dog are not typically seen in our modern-day dogs. The first of those behaviours is a unique breeding cycle. The bitches of the breed will go into season three times in succession, likely ensuring they develop a healthy pregnancy when young. The next unique behavior we have witnessed is an unusual custom that they practice – the reason for which remains unexplained. Carolina dogs have been seen to use their muzzle to dig hundreds of tiny pits in the ground, often in winter time. It is thought that they may be searching for sources of nutrition. Interestingly, the female will also dig a den for herself and her litter before she gives birth, much like a female wolf. Carolina dogs will also instinctively mask their scent by covering their faeces with dirt and urinating in streams when possible. Successful hunters, they will often hunt in packs, bringing down anything from a deer to a snake.

Their recent written history began when Dr. Pam Brisbin of South Carolina found a small puppy in a dump and brought it home. The Brisbin family soon realised that their new pup Horace was not like other dogs. Her husband, who worked in a laboratory at the time, tested the dog’s DNA, and made the shocking discovery that it did not share the DNA of other breeds of modern dog. The conclusion was made that the Carolina dog was truly a descendant of genuinely primitive canines.

The population of Carolina dogs in the wild was closely studied, and it was found that they adapted to family life relatively well, though still possessing several unwanted traits of wild dogs, such as dominance and potential for aggression. The United Kennel Club recognised the breed in 1996. Due to industrialisation and the loss of unoccupied space, while the popularity of the Carolina dog increases in American households, the wild population is steadily declining.

Appearance

Carolina Dog Large Photo
Calabash13 / Wikipedia.org

A medium-sized dog bearing a close resemblance to other ‘Pariah’ dogs such as the Canaan dog and Dingo, the Carolina dog is thought to look like the original primitive dog of ancient times. Naturally slim, these dogs are strong though elegant, measuring 45-61cm and typically weighing 15-20kg.

Their muzzle and head are triangular in shape, and the muzzle should blend into the face almost seamlessly. Their nose is dark black, with wide-open nostrils. Their eyes are brown, almond-shaped and expressive. They have a narrow chest and tucked in belly, while their legs are long and their paws moderately large.

Both the Carolina dog’s bushy, hooked tail and their long ears are known for being incredibly expressive and will change position and move according to the mood of the animal. Many describe their coat as ‘wolf-like’, and they have a thick and dense undercoat, particularly in the winter. They shed heavily with the seasons. The coat colour can vary from light yellow to a deep ginger and may have pale markings in places, such as the muzzle.

Character & Temperament

A dog that has existed by itself for so long in the wild will understandably retain many of its instinctive traits. The desire to bury its excrement, its fantastic hunting abilities and its naturally reserved behavior around humans, are all understandably still seen in the breed. Despite their recent domestication, they will bond well with their family and can make affectionate pets. They do, however, harbor mistrust towards strangers, and it is critical that they are adequately socialised with children and other animals when young to increase tolerance. Not automatically aggressive, they will likely try to avoid people they don’t know.

Their recent hunting history means their prey drive remains high and care must be taken when outdoors or when smaller animals are around. Separation anxiety can become an issue if left alone for long periods of time, particularly when under-stimulated. Not surprisingly, the Carolina dog makes a natural watchdog. Observant and alert, they are quick to inform their owner of any intruder.

Trainability

While certainly intelligent, this is a difficult dog to teach, and one that requires a skilled trainer to overcome their independence. They can be notoriously stubborn. The Carolina dog does not have a natural instinct to please people and needs a firm and consistent owner who is willing to dedicate a lot of time to the training, which will not necessarily come naturally to them. All training and socialisation should start as early as possible in this breed.

Health

An incredibly healthy breed of dog that has developed organically over time through natural selection, the Carolina dog does not suffer from many of the inherited diseases we see in other dog breeds. While they are not known to suffer from any medical condition in particular, it is advisable that they are regularly checked over by a vet, and that if a dog does develop an inheritable disease, they should be removed from the breeding population.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Typically an incredibly active breed, the Carolina dog will constantly patrol their territory, rarely taking a break. Of course, they love to be in the great outdoors, and make superb hiking or jogging companions. An hour long daily walk is a minimum, and a fenced garden should also be provided. While this dog can feasibly live in a non-rural setting, they should be provided with ample living space. Without their exercise requirement being met, they are highly likely to become bored and display unwanted behaviours, such as constant digging outside or destructiveness within the house.

Grooming

This breed of dog is a seasonal shedder and will shed large quantities of fur when the seasons change. In between sheds, this dog only requires minimal maintenance and brushing once or twice a week should be enough. Keeping in mind their recent domestication, it is understandable that Carolina dogs may perceive everyday grooming tasks, such as tooth brushing and claw clipping, as foreign and intimidating. It is vital that these grooming necessities are introduced as early as possible in the dog’s life.

Famous Carolina Dogs

Probably the most famous Carolina Dog is Horace, potentially the first ever domesticated example of the breed, brought home from a dump by a family in South Carolina.

Cross-Breeds

There are no well-known Carolina Dog crossbreeds yet. In the wild, however, where many undomesticated Carolina dogs continue to live, they will commonly breed with other breeds of stray dogs, resulting in a huge number of cross-breed Carolina dogs making their way in shelters. This is serving to ‘dilute’ the breed and means that purebred Carolina dogs in the wild are becoming decreasingly uncommon.

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