Dr. I Lehr Brisbin began his work with the Carolina Dogs in the 1970s. While working at the Savannah River Site, a 300 square mile enclosed research site, he discovered the dogs that are now known as the Carolina Dog/American Dingo. First assuming these were no more than feral domestic dogs, he one day had a eureka moment and said to himself, “My god, you look like a Dingo!”
As any scientist would, Dr. Brisbin first questioned whether he was creating something out of nothing or if he in fact stumbled upon an undiscovered canid species. After further exploring the wild dogs, he found there were many more dogs with the same appearance: Tall, long bodies, double ginger coat with a white underside, fish hook tail, high pricked ears, coal black rimmed eyes, and prehensile feet. If these were just mutts that turned feral, they would not have this consistent phenotypic expression! Indeed, Dr. Brisbin found a curious and scientifically unknown animal. Very aloof and cautious by nature, these were not house dogs. Dr. Brisbin noticed the wild dogs did not bark like a domestic, but rather had different vocalizations. The dogs also had no odor like a domestic dog would have.
After watching their behavior, he noticed several unique behaviors by the dogs: digging conical shaped “snout pits”, covering their excrement with fallen brush by using their nose rather than kicking their hind legs, creation of elaborate dens, and accelerated heat cycles of the juvenile females. He also noticed the white underside of the tail was being used to flag other members of the pack when hunting.
Based on archeological findings, we pre-date the dogs to the immigration of European domestic dogs. If these dogs were in the United States before domestic dogs arrived with European settlers, where did they come from and when did they get here? Dr. Brisbin has developed a hypothesis on the origin of these dogs.
This hypothesis holds that the ancestors to the dogs arrived in the North American Continent as early as 13,000 years ago by crossing the Bering Land Bridge. The end of the last Ice Age was the last time sea levels were low enough to permit man or animals to cross Beringia. The early Carolina Dog would have encountered the North American Wolf, Coyote, and freezing temperatures in the Northwest. Due to these pressures, the dog continued to head southeast and eventually settled in the lowland swamps and forests. At this time, coyotes were not present this far southeast, and therefore the dogs did not have competition for food, resources, or mates.
There are, however, new archeological findings that suggest an alternative possibility. Through the expansive study of early North American man, known as Clovis people, we now have an alternative migration theory that may hold the key to where the modern day Carolina Dog came from. While controversial, this migration theory holds that modern man entered not from Beringia, but rather from the eastern shores. This theory holds that man encountered the Atlantic Ocean in its quest for discovery and used early water tight vessels to make it to the shores of eastern North America. This dates to the approximate time of 13,000 years ago, the end of the last Ice Age. The oceanic currents were much different at this time which would have allowed safe passage through the Atlantic. Arriving on the shores of modern day Virginia, the Clovis people may have brought dogs and other animals with them. Shortly after their arrival, however, these Clovis people would have met their demise through vast dust storms that rampaged the Eastern United States. It is possible that these humans brought a remnant of the Carolina Dog with them, and at the start of the dust storms that wiped out the human population, the dogs deserted their human counterparts and headed south- away from the cold of the receding ice in the north and the dust storms in the east. This hypothesis as to the origin of the Carolina Dog would support why the dogs did not hybridize with coyotes. It would also support why they were not outcompeted to the point of extinction by the wolves and coyotes of the Northwest or why they didn’t fall victim to these animals’ predation. A nicely documented and coherent film on these new findings can be seen in the History Channel film called “Journey to 10,000 BC”.