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Is My Dog a Mutt or a Carolina Dog?

I owned a Carolina dog for 12 years before knowing what breed she was.

Carolina dogs are often mistaken for mutts—usually some mix of German Shepherd or cattle dog. They are recognized as a breed by the United Kennel Club.

I myself owned a Carolina for 12 years before I learned what she was. And once I did it sure explained a lot!




Carolina dogs are usually light tan to ginger in color, some have black sabling along their backs and tails. These black hairs are coarser than the softer tan fur.

Occasionally some Carolina dogs are more black than tan. However, tan or ginger is "preferred" according to the United Kennel Club. Their ears have very fine fur that is extremely soft to touch. A distinguishing factor for Carolina dogs is that they have two distinct coats. Their summer coat is much lighter than their winter coat.


The underside of their tails is white, or very pale tan. This is used in the wild to signal other members of the pack when they have located prey. When alert their tails are curved up in a fishhook-like shape.


The ears of a Carolina dog are fairly large. They are incredibly sensitive and can pick up very faint sounds. They are designed to rotate slightly on the head in order to aid the dog in hearing and hunting prey.

When alert, the ears are always straight up, however, they can be folded back along the head, especially when running. Eyes are almond-shaped, round, and have black rims around them.


Behavior and Temperament

Carolina dogs are not fully domesticated. They are still a wild breed. They need a lot of exercise and a lot of room to run around. Their prey drive is high. They tend to stalk their prey before attacking.

These dogs can also climb. They can catch animals that have climbed a few feet up a tree. The fact that they can climb enables them to escape many fenced-in yards. Usually, a six-foot fence is not enough. Eight feet is usually sufficient, however, these dogs also love to dig.

Two feet of underground fencing is recommended to make sure the dogs can't crawl under the fence. These dogs like to escape and outsmart others. As an example, we had an invisible fence for our Carolina dog. She knew the beeping collar meant she had to stop. So she would lay down where the collar was beeping. Eventually, the batteries would die and she would run out of our yard. We only realized she did this about eight years after we got the fence. Who knows how many times she snuck away in the middle of the night! Sneaky girl!

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Carolina dogs are incredibly intelligent animals. However, they are also ornery. When it comes to training, they can be difficult. They will know what is being asked of them, but if they don't want to do the trick, they simply won't. On the bright side, their intelligence enables them to learn a lot if they are willing. These dogs are also clean animals.

They are usually easy to house train because they don't like to urinate or defecate in the house. And the "dog smell" that is so common with most domestic breeds is not present in Carolinas. In fact, it is rare that a Carolina dog ever needs to be bathed or groomed. Nail clippings and occasional brushings are all that are usually necessary.

Overall, Carolina dogs are not very social. They are extremely cautious of strangers and unfamiliar situations. Therefore, if friends come to your house, don't expect your Carolina dog to greet them kindly. They will likely ignore them or, especially if the dog has not been socialized well (maybe rescued at an older age), show aggression towards them.

These dogs don't necessarily want to sit in your lap and have you pet them. They'll accept your affection, but they'd much rather go for a run with you or go hunting together.

Pack Mentality

Carolina dogs believe they belong to a pack. They are more than willing to accept people into that pack, but as owners, it's important to establish that we are the pack leader. They are incredibly loyal to their pack and would protect other members, including the people members, with their life.

Often times they will take small children as pack members and protect them as if they are their own. In general, Carolina dogs are not aggressive, especially not when unprovoked, but they will fight for their pack. The alpha in particular will step up and fight.

Growing up, I had a Carolina dog. I got her when I was seven, but I was very small. We rescued her when she was almost two, and she was most definitely an alpha! Nobody messed with Hannah. But she protected our whole family. I have no doubt she would have died to protect any of us from any hurt or violence that came our way.

She protected me in particular. When I was growing up and my parents and I would get into a fight she would get in between me and them. She'd turn to them and give them a small warning bark as if to say, "Back off." And then she wouldn't leave my side for the rest of that day and night.

Benefits of Owning a Carolina Dog

Once you are part of a Carolina dog's pack, you are a member for life. You have a companion that will put you above themselves. These dogs are relatively independent, but they don't ignore their owners. They want to be around their pack.

It is so incredibly rewarding to be around these dogs, that the only way to understand and appreciate it is to experience it. If you ever get the opportunity, I urge you to take it. Although they may not be incredibly friendly upon first meeting, they will warm up to you once they trust you won't hurt them or their pack.

How Can You Help?

  • Saving Carolina Dogs Rescue and Adoption Network
    SCDRAN is a network of volunteers dedicated to saving Carolina Dogs. They are so often overlooked or misunderstood, this group makes sure they are taken care of. They search for people willing to foster, adopt, aid in transportation, or donations.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

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