To Donna Brisbin, the Carolina Dog is as close to perfect as a canine can get. A cofounder of the Carolina Dog Fanciers of America and an advocate of the breed for more than 20 years, her conviction stems more from nature than personal opinion. That’s because, while the Carolina Dog is a newly recognized breed, it’s likely a descendant of prehistoric dogs that migrated with humans across the Bering Land Bridge from Asia to North America thousands of years ago—and you don’t last that long in the wild without being exceptionally hardy and clever.
Donna’s husband, Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, first noticed these free-ranging dogs in the 1970s while working as a researcher at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab in Aiken, South Carolina, and hypothesized that they had ancient origins—a hypothesis that has received support from recent research.
Dr. Brisbin dubbed them “Carolina Dogs” (although you may also hear them referred to as yellow dogs, yaller dogs, American dingos, Carolina dingos, and Dixie dingos) and wrote their breed standard. The Brisbins have also been instrumental in securing the Carolina Dog’s acceptance as a Foundation Stock Service Breed by the American Kennel Club, and in preserving and promoting the breed in general.
With their typically ginger fur; thin, athletic frames; triangular heads; and pointed, upright ears, the Carolina Dog often gets mistaken for a dingo or jackal. As Dr. Brisbin writes in the breed standard, “The distinctive characteristics of the Carolina dog breed are those that seem to confer survival advantages under free-ranging conditions in the remaining remote areas of tall grasslands, bottomland swamps, deserts, and forest habitats of the southern United States.”
Though they can appear somewhat stoic, Carolina dogs have highly expressive ears and tails, and are able to form loyal, loving relationships with their family members.
Caring for a Carolina Dog
As you would expect from a breed that has survived for millennia on their own in remote habitats, Carolina Dogs are relatively low-maintenance when it comes to grooming, and require minimal brushing and bathing. Providing the right environment for them to thrive, however, will take more consistent work and a savvy, dedicated pet parent.
Carolina Dogs need a family with the time and energy to exercise their bodies and minds every day. And while these are medium-sized dogs (24 inches tall and 50 pounds max) that could fit in an urban apartment, it’s not an ideal setting for a dog that tends to be uneasy around strangers.
Donna says Carolina Dogs are happiest when they have space to explore outside, such as on a farm or in a home with a yard. Just be forewarned that Carolina Dogs have a strong prey drive, so you’ll need to keep them in a fenced area or on a leash to prevent them from following various scents.
Donna doesn’t recommend Carolina Dogs for first-time pet parents and says most of the people she knows with the breed don’t have children at home. Given their pack mentality, Carolina Dogs can do well with other dogs that are similar in size; smaller dogs might be mistaken for something to chase.
Carolina Dog Health Issues
The Carolina Dog is a particularly healthy breed with a lifespan of 12–15 years. However, Donna says she has seen some with a genetic mutation that makes them sensitive to ivermectin, a commonly used medication to treat and prevent parasitic infections in dogs.
Multidrug Resistant Mutation
Dogs affected by Multidrug Resistance 1 (MDR1) drug sensitivity are at risk of serious and even life-threatening complications after receiving specific doses of certain medications. The condition is caused by a genetic variant that allows drugs and toxins to build up and even cross into the brain.
Dogs with this mutation are significantly more sensitive to ivermectin, though it’s worth noting that all FDA-approved heartworm prevention products use doses lower than those known to affect these dogs.
Signs of drug toxicity related to MDR1 drug sensitivity include:
What To Feed a Carolina Dog
Every Carolina Dog is unique. You’ll need to partner with your veterinarian to develop a feeding plan that’s nutritionally complete and balanced for your pup’s age, size, and health history.
How To Feed a Carolina Dog
Most adult dogs should eat two meals a day: once in the morning and again in the evening. Because Carolina Dog puppies have a higher metabolism than adult dogs, it’s generally best to add a midday feeding for a total of three meals. Your vet can help you determine the best feeding schedule for your dog’s age.
How Much Should You Feed a Carolina Dog?
The nutrition label on your dog’s food bag includes a feeding guide that will give you a general idea of how much you should feed your Carolina Dog based on their weight. But for a more precise answer, ask your veterinarian. Your vet will tailor their recommendation to your dog’s age, weight, body condition score, lifestyle, and health needs.
Nutritional Tips for Carolina Dogs
If your Carolina Dog is eating a complete and balanced diet of dog food approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), they shouldn’t need anything extra.
However, nutritional supplements and even prescription diets are sometimes used to treat or prevent certain health conditions. Talk to your veterinary team before adding anything new to your dog’s diet.
Behavior and Training Tips for Carolina Dogs
Understanding their unique characteristics is key to providing Carolina Dogs with a safe, healthy home where they can flourish.
Carolina Dog Personality and Temperament
Carolina Dogs exhibit traits that one would expect from a dog that has survived in the wild for thousands of years. They are intelligent and athletic, requiring daily physical exercise and mental stimulation. They may be standoffish around people and pets they don’t know, but are loyal to the humans and animals they know and love.
Carolina Dogs need opportunities to roam and explore outside, and don’t do well in settings where they spend much of the day indoors. They also have a high prey drive, which means you’ll need to keep them leashed when on a walk or within a fenced area. Their prey drive is also why they may not be the best companion for smaller pets, like cats.
“Carolina Dogs are known to eat any wild prey they may capture in your yard or outdoors,” Dr. Brisbin adds.
Carolina Dog Behavior
Carolina Dogs may not be particularly cuddly, but they do thrive with close companionship—particularly if it involves active outdoor pursuits like jogging and hiking. Without proper attention and opportunities to use their brain and body, the breed can become bored, leading to unwanted behaviors like barking and chewing.
Consistent positive training that uses rewards instead of punishment is the best way to teach your pup while building the human-animal bond.
One behavior that may be unique to the Carolina Dog (and a backyard hazard for your ankles) is their creation of “snout pits,” wherein they burrow their nose into the ground. No one knows exactly why the breed creates these funnel-shaped holes for their muzzles, but some have hypothesized that they’re getting nutrients from the soil—or even hunting for and eating subterranean insects or other invertebrates.
You may also notice your Carolina Dog covering their feces with dirt by using their nose instead of their back legs.
Carolina Dog Training
All dogs go through a critical development period from birth to around 16 weeks old. During this time, they learn how to interact with humans and other animals. Talk to your Carolina Dog breeder about how they approach socialization, as this can have repercussions in adulthood, especially considering the Carolina Dog’s mistrust with strangers. Shyness is normal; extreme shyness and fear isn’t.
Carolina Dogs are active, intelligent canines that are often eager to please. Consistent positive training that uses rewards instead of punishment is the best way to teach your pup while building the human-animal bond. The training process is also a great way to provide Carolina Dogs with the mental and physical exercise they need.
Fun Activities for Carolina Dogs
Carolina Dog Grooming Guide
Carolina dogs are low-maintenance when it comes to grooming.
Carolina Dogs don’t require special skin care. However, be sure to check their skin for ticks after outdoor play.
Most Carolina Dogs have short, smooth coats that need minimal brushing and bathing. In fact, some of these dogs groom themselves like cats.
Considerations for Pet Parents
Here are some questions to consider before adding a Carolina Dog to your family:
Am I an experienced dog parent?
Do I live in a home where a dog could have daily access to the outdoors?
Do I live in a home without small animals or small children?
Do I have time to provide a dog with mental and physical exercise every day?
When outside, can I keep a dog either on a leash or within a fenced area?
Do I have the skills and patience to train a dog using positive reinforcement?
Can I give a dog daily companionship?
Am I OK with snout pits dotting my yard?
Am I financially prepared to provide veterinary care?
Can I provide a dog with a loving home for his lifetime, which could be 15 years or more?
If you can answer these questions with an enthusiastic “Yes!” you may be ready to parent a Carolina Dog.
Carolina Dog FAQs
Is a Carolina Dog a good pet?
Carolina Dogs are smart, athletic animals that do best in homes with access to the outdoors (such as a farm or a house with a yard). They need experienced pet parents who have the time and energy to provide daily exercise and companionship. They are typically reserved around strangers, and are generally not ideal for homes with small pets or small children.
That being said, Carolina Dogs form loving, loyal bonds with their family, which can include both humans and other dogs.
Is the Carolina Dog a rare breed?
The Carolina Dog is indeed rare, both as a pet and as a free-ranging dog. Donna says there aren’t many left in the wild because most have bred with stray dogs and coyotes.
How much does a Carolina Dog cost?
The price of a Carolina Dog will vary by breeder, but you can reasonably expect to pay $500 to $1,000. Be sure to research the breeder to ensure the pup’s parents meet the breed standard. Visit the Carolina Dog Fanciers of America breeder directory to find reputable breeders.
Featured Image: Courtesy of Donna Brisbin
Help us make PetMD better
Was this article helpful?