In 2016, biologist, Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin, gave a talk in which he said, “We know more about pandas in China, polar bears in Spitsbergen, and gorillas in Africa than we do about Carolina Dogs in Aiken County.”
As they say, “They’re working on it.” We know that the breed has an interesting estrus cycle, and that it has an unusual behavior that results in “snout pits” (created by more females than males). We know that they hunt in a range and with a technique not usually seen in domestic dogs. They hunt in packs and move like wolves, and signal to each other by flashing the white undersides of their tails. They’ve been seen hunting snakes in a pack formation, and killing them by cracking them like a whip into the air. We know that all Carolina dogs bury their excrement with dirt in a highly ritualized manner: The dog circles their pile, and pushes sand on top of it using their nose in a perfect circle and working vigorously to cover it completely.
After that, what is known is conjecture: It’s thought that the Carolina Dog’s ancestors were dogs that came from Asia to North America 20,000 years ago with the Paleo-Indians who crossed the Bering Land Bridge. This is a strong supposition because the breed lacks some of the genetic markers that indicate a European origin. DNA analysis also hints that these are very primitive dogs, and indeed, the breed is the United Kennel Club‘s only North American member of its Pariah group, something that happened after Brisbin successfully petitioned the UKC to get the dogs classified as a breed unto itself. Why a Pariah dog? As he later said, “I based it on three things: First of all, what do you look like; second is how to do you behave; and third, where did you come from. Every one of those dogs traced back to the swamp dogs.”
The dog that rural Southerners call the “yaller dog” remains the object of studies.
Image of I. Lehr Brisbin with a Carolina Dog comes from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory’s website biography