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Meet the Carolina Dog – ‘America’s First Dog’

Carolina Dog in the woods


The Carolina Dog, accepted by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as a Foundation Stock Service Breed (FSS), is a primitive breed and is likely the first dog that crossed the Bering Land Bridge into North America from Asia.

Paraphrased from the Carolina Dog Breed Standard: Several lines of evidence confirm that when the first humans crossed the Bering Land Bridge into North America from Asia, they were accompanied by primitive dogs resulting from the beginnings of the original domestication of Middle Eastern wolves. It is thought that these dogs moved quickly with their human companions across to the North American continent and then through the western part of North America, Mexico, Central America, and eventually, into the Eastern United States.

Skeletal remains, cave paintings, and mummified bodies of these dogs have been found along with human artifacts. Archeological investigations have documented ceremonial burials of these dogs, suggesting that they were valued companions of Native Americans long before the arrival of Europeans.

In the 1970s, Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, a scientist and ecologist with the University of Georgia, working in South Carolina, saw and trapped free-ranging dogs in natural habitats of the Southeastern United” States, and began to call them “Carolina Dogs.

Carolina Dog


Why the Name ‘Carolina Dog?’

When the early explorers were coming to America, almost the entire Eastern Seaboard was called “Carolina.” As they discovered new species of animals and plants, they named them after the location of the discovery, such as the “Carolina Wren.” Thus, Dr. Brisbin’s reason to call the breed the Carolina Dog, and not just because he found them in South Carolina. The breed can be found across the United States.

Dr. Brisbin hypothesized that these dogs could be descendants of the canines that originally crossed the Bering Land Bridge. Some studies support this hypothesis, though additional ancestry and genetic studies are still needed. These free-ranging dogs had the general appearance of most Middle Eastern pariah dogs, and “dingos.” Both their behavior and general ecology were consistent with derivation from such free-ranging dogs. Pariah dogs, also known as village dogs, exist all over the world, living on the fringe of human civilization. They commonly have upright ears, pointed snouts, lean bodies, and fish-hook tails. Their characteristics are those that confer survival advantages under free-ranging conditions in areas of tall grasslands, bottomland swamps, deserts, and forest habitats of the Southern United States.

The Carolina Dog is a breed built for survival and adaptation throughout its journey to America. Since the breed crossed from Asia, a number of changes have distinguished them from dogs in general. Breeding with other canids, such as wolves, coyotes, and some of the purebred dogs from Europe by early settlers, has made the Breed Standard of utmost importance.

Selection for hunting in packs required some adaptations in social behavior, and these occurred during the crossing of the land bridge from Asia where they encountered abundant herds of large prey such as horses and prehistoric camels (ancestral to today’s llamas and humped camels).

Carolina Dog

Here’s what makes for such an animal; these are integral parts of the Carolina Dog Breed Standard:


General Appearance

The dog has the outline of a sighthound, rectangular in shape, with a deep brisket and a tucked waist. The back is straight, although there may be a slight rise in the loin.

Think of today’s racecars and racehorses. Built for speed, the Carolina Dog is, by nature, similarly built.


Head and Muzzle

Skull: The skull is refined and consistent with that of a sighthound. It is never blocky or thick. The skull gives the dog the appearance of a jackal or small wolf. It is broad and may be slightly rounded between the ears and has ample muscle with an overall wedged shape. There is usually a distinct furrow extending down between the eyes. There is a prominent occiput.

Muzzle: The length of the muzzle is approximately equal to the length of the cranial portion of the skull. It is elongated, pointed, and well developed, free from throatiness. The muzzle should never appear to be coarse or blocky. The jaws are powerful, clean, and deep. The tight-fitting lips are black.

Carolina Dogs must have black eyeliner as well as black lips.

The dog shown here (above left) has the almond-shaped eyes of a Carolina Dog. Eyes are brown, yellow, or amber.

A Carolina Dog has a bright-eyed, intelligent, and thoughtful expression.

Carolina Dog



Carolina Dogs are narrow or medium width in the chest, although it should be deep. The front legs are straight and more closely set together than in other breeds.

So, essentially, we have an aerodynamic head shape, allowing the muzzle to puncture the air which glides seamlessly down the sides. A deep chest allows for large heart and lungs to circulate the necessary blood and oxygen needed for speed. The close together front legs are set so that the more powerful back legs can come forward, with no interference, to propel the dog forward. A tucked waist and an elongated, elegant neck allow for agility movement and capture of prey. Eyes are set forward, as the dog has no natural enemies other than other wild canids such as wolves and coyotes. Eye color allows for sight during their primary hunting times of dawn and dusk.


Fishhook Tail

The Carolina Dog shown above is exhibiting a nice example of a fishhook tail. When down and relaxed, such as trotting, it should resemble a pump handle. As you can see in the photo, the tail at the base is a tiny bit straight as it leaves the body, and is set high enough so that when the tail is down, combined with the “hook,” it will resemble a pump handle. The tail serves to allow the pack to know where everyone is. Most, but not all, Carolina Dogs have a white tip on their tail, to enable the location of pack members. It also serves as a silent “flag” to indicate that game has been located.

Carolina Dog


Prick Ears

This same dog above is exhibiting rotating ears. The ears, which are slightly rounded at the tip, taper elegantly down to a wide base. Ears are also set pointing slightly outward from the head to the side. (Not straight up-and-down as in the German Shepherd Dog.) This type of ear serves as a temperature gauge to regulate body temperature. Its ability to rotate, forwards, backwards, and side-to-side, allows for directional hearing of both ears simultaneously and independently; enabling the need to listen to (or for) the pack—or danger—while also listening intently for game.

You may also see an example of the “angel wings” in the ginger-colored dogs, though this is not a mandatory requirement, as black and piebald dogs do not have them. This is often seen in other breeds of dogs as well. There is no theory as to whether this serves a purpose.

Carolina Dog



A generally shy and suspicious nature is often characteristic of this breed, but excessive fear and aggression or resistance to examination is not desirable. No individual should be expected to be friendly and outgoing, or to enjoy physical contact with strangers.”


Carolina Dog’s Coat

The length of the close-lying coat may be affected by the seasons. The winter coat and those of dogs living in colder climates may be distinctly heavier than the summer coat. On the head, the ears, and front legs, the hair is usually short and smooth. Coarse, longer guard hairs (longer than the undercoat) may extend over the neck, withers and back. When aroused, parts of this hair may stand erect. Guard hairs may be slightly darker giving the appearance of a ridge. The coat behind the shoulder blades is often lighter in color (angel wings) in ginger-colored and in some of the black and tan dogs.”


Carolina Dog’s Color

The most common coat color is any of various shades of ginger. The ginger coat may vary in color ranging from a reddish ginger to a lighter straw-color to a pale-yellow, or buff and at times may vary on different areas of the body. For example, the back of the neck, withers, and trunk may often be of a darker shade of ginger than the flanks and other, more ventral parts of the body below them. The ginger coat usually has pale buff markings over/behind the shoulders (angel wings) and usually includes lighter shadings on the underside, chest, and throat, sometimes being nearly white on the throat. The muzzle may also have pale buff or white along the sides and underneath the lower jaw.

Some white on the toes and feet is common and is not to be penalized. Some dark sabling over the back, loins and tail in a ginger dog is permissible. Dogs less than two years of age may have dark muzzles, but this is not required.

In addition to ginger coats, the following coats/patterns are permitted: solid black, with or without minor white markings; black and tan (may have buff or red accents), and piebald.

Ticking is permitted only on white socks and feet.

Ticking is not permitted throughout the body of the dog. A few gray hairs from age or injury may be allowed, especially on the muzzle.

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Now that you know the basics of identifying a Carolina dog, you may want to know what they “do.”

Being that this is a primitive dog (built to adapt and survive under natural conditions) makes it surprising that they can be such close companions. They are used to hunt small game, and they excel at sports like FastCAT and Barn Hunt. They can learn tricks, and since early times with Native Americans, they can gather stock. Their vocal alarms are protective of their canine and human tribes. When raised in the wild, the fathers can be active in raising the puppies; eating and regurgitating food, and feeding their young.

So, you see, the Carolina Dog is not only “America’s First Dog” it is “America’s Family Dog.

Carolina Dog

Currently, there are only a few people who naturally raise this dog. So, if you are looking for a breeder, or want more information on this breed, feel free to visit the website where you will find articles and videos about the breed, as well as the Breed Standard and a Breeder’s Directory. Look out for the breed at your next Open Show; we already have had a few Carolina Dogs take Best in FSS and Open Shows.