The Origin of the Carolina Dog or American Dingo

The Carolina dog or American dingo might just be one of the world’s oldest, still living breed of dog!


A beautiful adoption story from Sarah Nagem of the News Observer.  After getting a Carolina dog, she found out that this is an ancient species of dog, and is quite special.  Science believes that the species is so old, that they may have got to North America by crossing the Bering land bridge from Asia!  Now that is one old school breed!

When I decided to adopt a dog five years ago, I didn’t care much about the breed. But I wanted something that was both athletic and lazy, with enough energy to become my running partner and enough snuggles to lounge with me on the couch.

A floppy-eared mutt with big brown eyes looked up at me at the Wake County Animal Center, and we’ve been best friends ever since.

The folks at the shelter said Lucy the Dog was a terrier/hound mix, but I figured that was just a guess. I thought she resembled a moose, with her long skinny legs and barrel-shaped chest, so I added “The Dog” to her name – you know, to clear up any confusion.

A technician at the veterinarian’s office called her an LBD, short for “little brown dog.”

I later started dating a man (he’s now my husband) who presented a new theory:

Lucy is a Carolina Dog – a free-spirited mascot of the Southeast, a gentle but suspicious soul with kibble stuck to her whiskers.

Growing up in West Virginia, I had never heard of such a dog. But some research revealed Lucy has many Carolina Dog traits: fish-hook tail, small waist, long neck, almond-shaped eyes, tiny paws. She’s the right size and color, too – light brown and about 40 pounds.

I wanted to know more about this breed, which was discovered by scientist I. Lehr Brisbin in the swamps of South Carolina in the 1970s.

A few years ago, a study revealed that Carolina Dogs are among several breeds that lack genetic markers of European descent. Some researchers think these dogs crossed the Bering land bridge from Asia into North America 12,000 years ago, following humans through new terrain as they follow us to the bathroom today.

They made their way across the United States, eventually settling in the Southeast, where the tall swamp grasses serve as protection from predators. Archaeological investigations have shown that Native Americans ceremonially buried the dogs.

What strikes me most is that they are wild – some people call them American dingos – yet they make wonderful family pets.

“Because for thousands and thousands of years they learned how to get along with people,” said Brisbin, who got the breed recognized by the United Kennel Club.

They learned to bark only when there was trouble. No one wants to hear a howling dog all night now, and apparently no one wanted to hear it a long time ago either.

Carolina Dogs are loving and affectionate with their families but are often wary of strangers. Brisbin said they usually take on an attitude that says, “Oh, God, you’re gonna pet me, just get it over with.”

Carolina Dogs are still running wild in the Southeastern states, although Brisbin said there’s no way to know how many. Some of them, he said, “I can’t get my hands on.”

He said he has given away about 300 of the dogs over the decades. He doesn’t charge a fee.

“Native Americans felt they were a gift from the great spirit, so they should be shared,” Brisbin said.

While Carolina Dogs call this region home, they can be found across the nation, partly because breeders and rescue groups send them to families all over.

“I’m like, ‘What is this dog doing in Chicago?’ ” said Christina Pestana, who runs Saving Carolina Dogs Rescue & Adoption Network from her home in Rhode Island. Which begs the question, of course, of what a Carolina Dog would be doing in Rhode Island.

Pestana said she agreed to foster a puppy nearly nine years ago and learned it was a Carolina Dog from the South. She fell in love with the breed and later started the nonprofit rescue group, which seeks out Carolina Dogs in shelters and finds homes for them.

The dogs don’t have to be pure Carolina Dogs – mixed breeds are just fine.

After looking at pictures of Lucy The Dog, Pestana confirmed my suspicions. Lucy is part Carolina Dog. Along with other obvious characteristics, Pestana pointed out Lucy’s “beautiful eyeliner” and solid black nose.

“That’s perfect,” she said.

Jane Gunnell, who raises Carolina Dogs in South Carolina, also said Lucy is part of the breed.

“You can look at that face and see it’s a wonderful dog,” Gunnell said.

Well, I think so.

The soft-as-silk floppy ears are telling of her hound heritage. Carolina Dogs typically have ears that stand tall.

There’s no DNA test for Carolina Dogs, so I can’t know for sure. No one knows for sure, which adds to the mystique.

Brisbin is a definitive voice – if he says it’s a Carolina Dog, then it’s a Carolina Dog. So I asked him if he’d mind if I call Lucy a Carolina Dog, even though she is clearly a mix.

“Please, be my guest,” he said.

These days, I talk about Carolina Dogs to anyone who will listen. A few years ago I didn’t know they existed, so I figure lots of other people don’t know either – especially us Northerners who have made our way south.

I look twice every time I see a medium-size brown dog with a fish-hook tail. I take note of the ears and paws. I look for big brown eyes.

I’d love Lucy The Dog just the same if she weren’t a Carolina Dog. She trained with me for my first half-marathon. She snuggles with me during lazy evenings at home.

When I fell in love with the man who became my husband, she fell in love, too.

In a way, Lucy represents everything I cherish about North Carolina, my new home. She’s a little wild, but she’s also serene. Family is everything to her, second only to food.

She’s not just my Carolina Dog – she’s my North Carolina Dog.

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24 thoughts on “The Origin of the Carolina Dog or American Dingo

    1. You’re right. They look alike, because they are close to the earliest canines. There are two paths. Straight line from the basic canines and indiscriminate breeding, which leads to the distilled survival characteristics of basic dogs. The world over, village dogs or “pariah” dogs share similar characteristics. Carolina dogs are the American version. They are more varied than island versions like Jindos or Australian Dingos or the managed “breeds” like Caanan Dogs or Basenjis–all village dogs at one time. The NY Times had an article last week about the resilience of non-pet dogs.

    1. we have a 16 year old american dingo. got him from the pound he is beautiful brillant and sweet. he is almost too smart. he unlocks the door so he can run. so manipulitabive with those big brown eyes

  1. Had one in Alabama when I was a kid. My parents adopted her from our local shelter. Sissy was the best dog ever. Very well behaved, loved everyone and loved going to the beach more than anything. She died of cancer when I was 17. Hardest loss for me to this day.

  2. This is basically the throw-back breed that all dogs would eventually evolve back to if left alone. We have 3 of these in various forms. We call them “rez dogs” because all of ours are from First Nation reserves across Alberta. Rez Dogs rock!

    1. My female CD, Sara, will be 12 in August 2017. Amazing dog and an amazing breed. I’ve often thought they would make fantastic service/therapy/companion dogs.

  3. Wow…this looks just like my Goldie. Her mom was Shepherd, Chow and Wolf and her dad was American Pit Bull. I met her parents and mom had the long goldren soft coat and looked like a GSD and wolf mix except for her black tongue we thought she was as Shepherd/ Retriever mix, her dad was a big headed redidsh Pit Bull.. My Goldie was one of many litters but only 2 that came out with the beautiful golden coat.

  4. This is my Carolina dog, Lily. She was rescued in Virginia. Sadly, we lost her last year after 16 years, but she was one of the best dogs I ever had.

  5. Found our girl,Coosa at roughly 6 months old wandering alone along the Coosa River in rural Alabama. She reluctantly came to me as it looked like she’d been on her own for a while,very hungry and ribs protruding. At the time I just wanted to save her life,but not add her to our family…my husband and I took all of about five minutes to fall in love with her! Like others that I am reading about we couldn’t figure out her breed and I’m a dog groomer! I brought her to a dog park one day and someone asked me if she was a Carolina Dog or American Dingo and that was it,started my research and it opened my eyes to this breed. She probably is mixed,her ears do not stand straight up unless she is highly focused,but her dominate characteristics are all CD!

  6. We rescued “Daisy” from a shelter and didn’t know she wad a Carolina Dog. She is the perfect addition to complete our family. Wr have a daughter about to go to college and decided on a dog to fill the gap as empty nesters. It has worked out wonderfully. Wr absolutely adore our Daisy and can’t imagine life without her!

    1. I also had a Carolina Dog named Daisy. Four years ago I had her put to sleep due to her failing kidneys . She was 15 and one-half years old. Daisy was a very energetic dog and really liked to run a lot.

  7. I had a German Shepherd Carolina dog mix whom I rescued as a senior. She loved me, liked other people but hated dogs. She would growl terribly at every dog she saw across the street.
    Has anyone else had this problem?

  8. I have a Carolina dog who found me he was running wild and came to me so I brought home I’ve never had to train him he does everything I ask on his own I’m curious do they’ have webed toes ?

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