The Carolina Dog: The American Dingo
By Anne-Marie Burger, Executive Assistant
Part of Jaguar’s staff contribution series
In the 1970’s, while studying the origins of the world’s remaining wild dogs, Dr I. Lehr Brisbin Jr. discovered a secretive, tan-colored dog living in isolated parts of the southeastern United States. Brisbin was surprised to learn that these dogs were not feral, but a truly wild, landrace pariah dog*. The current theory is that Carolina Dogs are related to the primitive dogs that migrated to North America alongside humans thousands of years ago, and are descendants of a group that split away from the line becoming domesticated. Brisbin was fascinated to discover not only similar physical characteristics between Carolina Dogs and other wild breeds (especially those across the Bering Strait), but very singular behavioral characteristics as well.
Perhaps most exciting to Brisbin and others now studying this theory, is that beyond their appearance and behavior, the DNA of Carolina Dogs shows that they are not just long-feral dogs, but are actually a very ancient breed. Brisbin found that their DNA does not appear all over the canine map, as might have been expected, but rather at the very origin base of that map – or, as he put it: “If they were just dogs their DNA patterns should be well distributed throughout the canine family tree. But they aren’t. They’re all at the base of the tree, where you would find very primitive dogs.”
The number of pure strains of the Carolina Dog is threatened as their natural habitat becomes less isolated, and interest in them rises. Although they are now a registered breed with the American Rare Breed Association and the United Kennel Club, researchers like Brisbin don’t consider them a “breed”, but rather a separate strain of wild dog. Although they are not as easy to train as domesticated dogs, they are more and more commonly being bred as companion animals for their superior tracking and watchdog attributes, leading Brisbin to push for protections of their unique but small gene pool.
*Ancient breeds which evolved with little or no human influence.