Did the Wolf become a Yellow Dog?

Carolina Yellow Dog

Thinking about ancient breeds of dogs lately has me wondering — is the yellow dog a basic step between the wolf and domestication? I’m not the first one to ask this question by the way – the March, 1999 Smithsonian Magazine has an article about Dr.I. Lehr Brisbin, a researcher in South Carolina who has been studying the Carolina Yellow Dog for years under the theory that the broad geographical distribution of the basic type of dog known variously as yellow dogs, pariah dogs, and dingos indicates that they are an early version of the dog that was domesticated and thus the forerunner of many breeds we know and live with today.

Young Carolina dogs – black muzzle is common

While there is a small amount of geographical difference in size overall, whether found in Africa, the Americas, or India, these are a medium sized, squarish built dog with perk ears, wedge faces, and curl tails.  Initial genetic tests done by Dr. Brisbin on the Carolina Dog (now a rare breed being bred by a handful of fanciers) show they are near the “base” of the genetic dog tree, i.e. they’ve been around a long time and aren’t just a run of the mill mutt. They have unique genetic characteristics as opposed to a mixed breed dog that just happened to be running around wild.

Dingos in Captivity

The Carolina Dog has also been called the American Dingo, both due to the physical similarity between the two breeds, and to the fact that they were known to be living wild in the Carolinas as long as people could remember. Similarly, in other areas, these dogs seemed to live either independent of people or around people without actually being domesticated pets.

INdog also called Indian Pariah dog

In India for example, these dogs often live on farms or compounds with people but have a looser association with the people — they may forage off of dead animals, garbage, and hunt pests like rodents.

INdog that belongs to family

Other times, the INdog does live with a family – again though not necessarily in the house with them so much as in their yard and maintaining the same territory as the family does. Even when ‘domesticated’ these variations on early dog are not like the domesticated family pets we tend to think of. Another commonality amongst these widely geographically distributed types of yellow dogs are characteristics that include independence, self reliance, an ability to climb and jump — including jumping into and climbing trees with lower thick branches. Finally, these dogs are noted to howl or sing more than bark. Anyone familiar with Malamutes will recognize the difference of howling/singing compared to standard barking.

New Guinea Singing Dog

While these dogs all tend to be rare now, some people are interested in breeding and raising them in captivity. The New Guinea Singing Dog does live with a few tribes people who share the same dense old growth forest areas where they hunt and gather alongside each other. Other New Guinea Singing Dogs live wild and are heard but never seen even by the tribes people who live in the area. Now that is a wiley dog.

Australian Dingo

While all variations of these genetically early or “primitive” dogs are healthy, very smart, able to hunt and self-sustain, overall they are not ideal pets. They are independent, have a high prey drive which is hard on the smaller animals in a family, climb onto all manner of things, and howl to communicate. One wonders then how the further transition was made from this kind of doggy prototype to the dogs we ended up living with — the breeds like the Chinese Shar Pei, Basenji, Afghan and Saluki that were developed as the earliest breeds of truly domesticated dog — dogs that were modified for characteristics that suited human needs as opposed to being co-minglers around the camp.

Captive New Guinea Singing Dog

As noted in a previous blog about ancient dog breeds, it certainly isn’t hard to see the similarity between these earlier dogs and the breeds that people developed from them. A New Guinea singing dog for example could in looks be mistaken for a mix of many breeds — Shiba Inu, Akita, even Shepherd — if one did not realize that one was looking at a pure version of something much older than any of these breeds.

The other interesting point of speculation is where along the way did the wolf that hung out at the edges of man’s camp fires transition to these early doggy prototypes of yellow dogs? Obviously, not all wolves probably did make this transition — the northern breeds suggest that some dogs became dogs while maintaining more in common with the looks of their wolf ancestors. So how did the yellow dog develop and why did the yellow dog develop when other dogs went the route of Malamute and Husky?

Dingo with Dingo pups – note pup coloration

Or are these latter breeds – Malamute and Husky- actually throw backs to early ancestors that still came about after selective breeding of some lost ancestor that looked a little more like a yellow dog? Yellow dog young of all  varieties have more in common with wolf coloring than with the adult coloring of their own parents, and many maintain the darker muzzle… Certainly some interesting questions to ask ourselves as we sit with our own domesticated little wolvies around our own living rooms this winter.

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