Continued from 7/31/15 Amazing Gracie — I have a what?
Certainly not the shelter, who classified her as a mix of collie, shiba inu, and possibly lab. Not our vet. Not our dog training teachers, nor our agility instructor. And sure not me! Like most people, I’d never even heard of the breed.
The Carolina Dog (affectionately known as a ‘CD’) was originally a land race, or naturally selected, type of dog discovered living as a free roaming (wild) dog. CDs are probably best known by their nickname of “Old Yellow Dog” in the Southern US.
Dr. I Lehr Brisbin, Jr., a Senior Research Ecologist at the University of Georgia, first came across CDs in the 1970s while working at the Savannah River Site — a swath of isolated and undeveloped pine and cypress swamps in the Southeastern US. Dr. Brisbin had seen many rural dogs hanging around porches and doghouses in the nearby towns, and just assumed they were normal strays adopted by the residents. Many of these dogs roamed the woods and would turn up in humane traps, and he began to wonder how many more of these dogs were in the wild. On a hunch, he went to the local dog pound to further study these dogs, and was surprised by the strong resemblance they had to dingos.
The CDs’ physical appearance actually suggests to the scientific community this dog was created by, and preserved through, natural selection to survive in the remote lowland swamp and forest land in the Southeastern US. Apparently, they closely resemble the type of dog first encountered by Europeans near Indian settlements in the region, evidenced by paintings, drawings, and written descriptions made by these early explorers and settlers. Perhaps most telling is that fossils of the Native Americans’ dogs have similar bone structures to present day CDs. Most often, CDs also have a ginger-colored coat that is found on other wild dogs, including Australian Dingoes and Korea’s native dog, the Jindo. Dr. Brisbin found a resemblance between ancient dog skulls and those of the CDs, but concluded that there was too large a difference to prove any scientific connection, even though a preliminary DNA test pointed to a link between them.
Dr. Brisbin explains, “We grabbed them out of the woods … and 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.” This was not conclusive, but it did spark interest in more extensive DNA testing.
And, in 2012, the ancient Asian origin of the Carolina Dog was confirmed: CD mitochondrial DNA was found to be unique and closest to East Asian dogs. This makes sense, as CDs are thought to be the first dogs who came across the Bering Straits land bridge over 10,000 years ago with the first human settlers to North America as they made their trek to the warmer climate of the South. Even more compelling, a team led by Peter Savolainen, at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, reported in 2013 that several dog breeds in the Americas — such as the Carolina Dog — are without some genetic markers indicative of European origin, which suggests they also arrived in an earlier migration from Australasia, which explains why other DNA testing shows a strong genetic link between Carolina Dogs and other primitive breeds like the Australian Dingo.
All of this history and scientific research comes down to one thing: Carolina Dogs are unlike any other dog here in the United States, and could be considered the first Native Dog.
CDs are typically a medium sized dog, that comes in all different shades of red ginger, buff, fawn, black, and even black and tan, and often have small white markings on their toes, chest, tail tip, and muzzle. Once full-grown, most dogs will reach a height of 17-24 inches, and weigh between 30-65 pounds.
Overall, Carolina Dogs seem to include the best traits of all breeds and they make excellent house pets! CDs are smart, and easily housebroken, easily crate trained, and are not destructive as long as they are kept mentally stimulated with toys, training, play, and attention from the people they love. They are terrific with children, and genuinely enjoy attention from kids, and are protective of everyone in the family pack. They bond very quickly with their human “pack” and love to be included in family activities — even if it’s just a ride in the car or a walk around the block.
CDs also tend to get along well with other pets. They are good with cats, as long as the CD is introduced to them while still a puppy. Gracie even accepts that the cats are higher in the pack hierarchy than she. The best advice I was given was to pick up each of our cats with Gracie present, pet the cat and tell Gracie “This is Mama’s kitty.” My son even did that with some of his stuffed animals that Gracie tried to sneak off with, and it worked! She gave up trying to kidnap any of Z’s toys many years ago. Gracie has never snapped at the cats (warning, low growls only when she’s had enough of their cat shenanigans), and never once has she bitten a person. A CD’s temperament is even, and they are not high strung or nervous dogs.
According to multiple owners of CDs (myself included), one of the best things about a CD is that they do not smell. Even when wet, CDs don’t exude a “doggy smell.” As one owner says, “they are Teflon-coated dogs.” On the other hand, CDs do what is aptly named “blowing out their coats.” Twice a year, these normally soft and smooth looking dogs get wooley and lumpy looking. Owners can “tuft” their CDs: literally just pull out full tufts of fur, without the dog even noticing. As another owner says about it, “I’ve come to accept that it is a textile; a fashion accessory; a condiment; a way of life.”
The Carolina Dogs I’ve been fortunate to “meet” online with their owners not only do well in, but thrive happily in obedience and agility training, frisbee competitions and any other physical activity their pack enjoys together. Gracie and I participated in dog agility, and she loved it (the weave poles were her nemesis, however). Although they are not classified as members of the “herding” group, a CD’s drive is pretty strong to get his or her pack in order (although Gracie has pretty much given up trying to herd the cats) and sometimes I swear I’ve got a Border Collie instead of a Carolina Dog.
Best of all, CDs are a healthy breed. So far in the captive breeding program with licensed professional breeders, there have not been any inherited defects encountered! There are now 6th and 7th generation captive-bred pups that are strong, healthy, and of perfect temperament. There is a strong desire in the CD community to continue breeding programs that ensure a wide-ranging variety of genetic “material” so the breed can grow safely and in the healthiest way possible. In the meantime, we CD owners are blessed with very healthy dogs, unfettered by traditional pure-bred ailments such as hip dysplasia, vision issues, and others found in popular breeds today.
At this time, Carolina Dogs are recognized by the United Kennel Club (UKC) and the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA). ARBA classifies CDs in the “Spitz and Primitive Group.” This group includes the dingo and Canaan Dog. The UKC has classified them as a “Pariah Dog”, a class which includes other primitive breeds such as the Basenji of Africa and the Thai Ridgeback.
Although they aren’t currently recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), there is an application pending for inclusion into the American Kennel Club Foundation Stock Service (FSS) program, which could eventually lead to full AKC recognition. For those unfamiliar with how the AKC “recognizes” breeds, the main gist is that there should be a large enough breeding pool (number of dogs) in existence. However, once a breed is recognized, it effectively shuts the door on any other dogs in that breed to be registered unless they are born from the established stock. There are, of course, exceptions to every rule. As a true fan of any breed, you actually hope the recognition comes later rather than sooner to include as many different blood lines as possible.
All this history of the oldest known breed of native domesticated dog, and yet such a “new” breed by our own standards.
I’ve never known a dog like Gracie before. Would I have another Carolina Dog? Absolutely! But in keeping with our family’s commitment to adopting, we would contact a rescue or shelter. Too many loving animals are waiting for a home.
Webster’s dictionary defines serendipity as “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”
I’d say the entire Carolina Dog breed defines serendipity; but I think our journey with Gracie is the definitive illustration!
Until Friday, Friends. From me and Gracie — Cheers!
P.S. I’ve had several questions as to whether or not I included any pictures of my own Gracie-girl; every picture in this series is of Gracie, from puppy-hood to present. The only exceptions are 1) the grey cat curled up with Gracie is my cat, Miss Coco, 2) the 3 dogs with the caption “we’re adopted?” are not my dogs…
If you would like to know more about Carolina Dogs, here are a few good websites and groups to check out:
on Facebook: Carolina Dogs
on Facebook: Saving Carolina Dogs Rescue & Adoption Network
on Facebook: Carolina Dog History and Research