Resembling a smaller version of the Australian Dingo, the Native American Dog is among the last of the native North American dogs that were companions of the original American people. Their ancestors are thousands of years old; some stayed close to human settlements, while others stayed wild and preferred to fend for themselves. Before the Spaniards introduced horses to this country in the 1500s, dogs were the Native Americans’ only “beasts of burden.” They pulled travois, helped with hunting game, carried heavy packs of supplies and protected women, children and the elderly. Over the centuries, the more domesticated of these were cross-bred with imported European dogs, making “pure” specimens of the Native American Dog few and far between. Fortunately, a few native dogs managed to survive in remote and uninhabited areas of the Savannah River region of South Carolina.
There is a split in opinion about whether the Native American Indian Dog is truly a pure descendant of the dogs originally kept by Native American or whether it is a completely separate and “new” breed. There is also disagreement about whether the NAID is the same dog as the Carolina Dog, or a very close relative. Regardless of the outcome of this controversy, dogs descending from ancient wild dogs do live today, and are commonly called either the Carolina Dog or the North American Indian Dog, depending on its ancestry and “type.”
A University of Georgia biology professor named Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin (or Brisbane) first discovered a pure population of primitive dogs living naturally in the United States Department of Energy’s Savannah River site in South Carolina. He studied and monitored this group, which closely resembled the wild Dingo dog of Australia. He and other scientists discovered that their bones were virtually identical to those of Neolithic dogs found in Native American burial grounds dating back thousands of years. These dogs are thought to be direct descendants of the ancient pariah dogs that accompanied the Asians across the Bering Strait land bridge some 8,000 years ago. Some of these dogs remain in pure-breeding feral packs in the swamps and piney woods of the Savannah River Basin. Great care is being taken by scientists and enthusiasts to protect them from human influence.
Others have been bred and reared as so-called “Native American Dogs” in a domesticated context. In the mid-1990s, Karen Markel of Majestic View Kennels began a specific breeding program focused on re-creating the appearance and versatility of the original dogs of the Native Americans. She got her long-haired foundation dogs from Native Americans living in the Sawtooth Mountain area of Idaho and Montana; those dogs differed widely from the smaller, short-haired wild dogs found in the South. Mrs. Markel apparently crossed those dogs with the Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Chinook and German Shepherd in an attempt to “re-create” rather than preserve the original pedigree of the type of native dogs favored in the Northern part of what now is the United States. She trademarked the name “Native American Indian Dog” and founded the Native American Indian Dog Registry. Today, the NAID is nationally recognized as a domestic breed resembling and exhibiting traits of the primitive dogs described above. The NAID is recognized by the National Kennel Club and by the American Rare Breed Association, but not by the American Kennel Club.
Some experts claim that any dog sold as a native “Indian dog”, including one sold as a NAID, is not really a “re-creation” of any pure breed. They reason that the original dogs native to North America now exist only in their wild state, in an isolated corner of the Carolinas. Moreover, they remind us that the American Indians never actually had a pure breed of dog. They cross-bred between tribes to prevent genetic disorders associated with tight inbreeding. When the Europeans arrived, those mixed-breed, semi-domesticated native dogs were interbred with imported dogs, further diluting any “purity” that might have remained. People advocating this school of thought claim that the Native American Indian Dog is an entirely new breed, created by one breeder, and that the Carolina Dog is the true descendant of dogs prized by the original Native Americans.
Centuries of isolation from close contact with people have instilled in the Carolina Dog and/or the NAID (depending on your opinion at to their respective ancestries) strong flight reflexes. They are incompatible with present-day companion animal lifestyles unless raised with people and actively socialized from birth. This breed does not do well as an apartment or strictly house dog, nor does it tolerate being crated for long (or even short) periods of time. In addition to being a family pet, the Native American Dog can work much as it has throughout its history: pulling sleds or carts, carrying packs, fishing and pursuing almost any type of game. They are excellent hunting companions, therapy dogs, handicap assistance dogs, search-and-rescue animals, weight competition pullers, agility competitors, skijoring dogs and fine family companions.
The average life span of the Carolina Dog/NAID is 12 to 19 years. There are no reported breed-specific health concerns for this hardy dog.