When the first primitive humans crossed the Bering land-bridge into North America from Asia, they were accompanied by a primitive form of dog. The animals resulted from the domestication of southwest Asian wolves in the region of Iraq a few thousand years earlier. These small, non-descript dogs moved quickly with their human companions down through the western part of North America. Skeletal remains and mummified bodies of these dogs have been found along with artifacts from primitive Southwest Indians.
From the Southwest, these primitive dogs moved into the eastern United States. Archaeological investigations have indicated their presence in the southeastern forested woodlands. There they were companions of the Indians of the Southeast long before the arrival of the first European explorers of the New World.
Recent studies of free-ranging dogs in parts of South Carolina and Georgia have revealed the continued existence of medium-sized, foxlike primitive dogs. Their appearance, as well as behavior and general ecology, suggest a close ancestry - if not direct descent of type - from the first primitive dogs to enter North America more than 8,000 years ago.
Called the "Carolina Dog," these animals most closely resemble Australia's Dingo, which may indeed be among their closest living relatives. Scientists suggest that the striking resemblance between Carolina Dogs and the Dingo stems from the way in which both animals have filled a free-living, or "pariah," niche, on the fringe of human civilization and culture.
Long-term studies of foxes, bobcats and other fur-bearers on the U.S. Department of Energy's 310- square-mile Savannah River Site (SRS) near Aiken, S.C., have revealed the presence of Dingo-like, free-ranging dogs. Their appearance suggests a loose resemblance to the primitive Carolina Dog body type described above.
In the late 1980s, scientists from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory brought these dogs into captivity from public lands bordering SRS and other large tracts of protected natural habitat, such as the U.S. Army's Fort Gordon in nearby Augusta, Ga. Studies of the dogs' behavior under semi-free-ranging conditions in a captive breeding program have revealed unique behavioral traits. These traits had never before been described in any form of domestic dog or wild canine species.
One of the most unusual of these traits is the tendency for some of these dogs to ritualistically cover their droppings with sand. But they only do this during certain seasons of the year or phases of the reproductive cycle, such as when females are nursing puppies.
Offspring born in captivity to wild-caught Carolina Dogs - when properly socialized from an early age - have proved adaptable as family pets under a wide variety of household conditions.
Ecology Laboratory senior researcher Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin has established a studbook for these animals. Also, both the American Rare Breed Association and the United Kennel Club have recognized the Carolina Dog breed registry. Now, the dogs' versatility and trainability is being demonstrated in show ring competitions, suburban homes and farmsteads.
People who may be interested in acquiring a Carolina Dog and contributing to a better understanding of the behavior and adaptability of this unique canine may contact: Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, P.O. Drawer E, Aiken, S.C., 29803. Telephone: (803) 725-2472. Fax: (803) 725-3309.
This fact sheet was produced by the Outreach Program of the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.
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Last review: April 13, 2001