Many dogs are the products of decades of selective breeding at the hands of humans. Others have been free to adapt to their environment, whether it's the streets of Dubai or the jungles of New Guinea. Feral or semi-wild dogs aren’t just mutts: Many are distinct breeds with unique features and abilities. From America’s Carolina dogs to the tree-climbing dogs of New Guinea, here are the five types of free-ranging dogs you should know.
In between snorkeling and lounging on the beach, tourists to Turks and Caicos should find time to interact with the local dogs. Potcakes are the islands’ own feral (and adorable) dog breed. Weighing 40 to 55 pounds, the medium-sized dogs are likely a hybrid of the pets brought by the indigenous Arawak people, rat terriers left behind by supply ships, and the dogs of the British loyalists who moved to the Bahamas during the Revolutionary War. The dogs became a fixture of the region in the 20th century, earning the name potcakes because locals fed them the caked-on food from the bottom of their cooking pots. Today, potcakes can be found wandering Turks and Caicos begging for scraps like their ancestors. They’re also available to adopt—or take for a no-strings-attached walk on the beach—from the dog rescue charity the Potcake Place. The Bahamas have their own breed of potcake, too, which is officially known as the Royal Bahamian Potcake.
2. Carolina dogs
You don’t need to leave the U.S. to find wild dog breeds. Visit certain corners of the American South and you might find roving packs of Carolina dogs, also known as American dingos. As their nickname suggests, the feral canines closely resemble their cousins in Australia. They have pointed ears, long snouts, and muscular bodies that help them survive in the wild. Carolina dogs are the oldest dog breed in America—with their earliest ancestors arriving on the continent 9000 years ago after crossing the Bering land bridge with the first Native Americans—but they weren’t recognized as a distinct breed until the 1970s. That’s when a University of Georgia ecologist named Dr. I. Lehr Brisbin noticed a pack of them near the Savannah River. The dogs are thought to be the only wild dog breed native to the country, and though they are instinctive hunters, they also make great pets.
3. New Guinea singing dogs
The New Guinea singing dog is an ancient dog breed that arrived on the island of New Guinea more than 4000 years ago. They stand about 17 inches tall at the shoulder and look like a cross between a dingo and Shiba Inu. But this wild dog is unlike any other on Earth: It has a flexible spine like a cat that allows it to scurry up trees after prey. Its high-pitched howl has been compared to the vocalizations of a humpback whale, which is how it got the name “singing” dog. (You can hear it in the video above.) The canines are also incredibly rare. Before a population was recently discovered in New Guinea, scientists feared that they had gone extinct in the wild.
4. Indian pariah dogs
Indian pariah dogs have been present on the Indian subcontinent for thousands of years. They arrived in India by way of China, the country thought to be the home of the world's first domesticated canines. The lanky pariah dogs have adapted to living among people, often populating urban areas, but they generally fend for themselves. Unlike other so-called “village dogs,” the Indian pariah dog is a distinct breed and not just a general term for stray mongrels. They’re remarkably friendly for a semi-wild dog breed, and many people adopt them into their homes.
5. Sato dogs
Sato is slang for “street dog” in Puerto Rico. Though they tend to vary in size and appearance, they’re typically small dogs with folded ears and short coats. Experts believe they descended from the first hunting and working dogs brought to Puerto Rico in the 1500s. The dogs have been abused and neglected for centuries, with so many people abandoning their unwanted pets on one part of the island that it earned the nickname “dead dog beach.” The strays are still stigmatized, but rescue groups are working to rehabilitate their image. The Sato Project is dedicated to rescuing, sterilizing, and finding forever homes for Sato dogs, with many of them ending up in the U.S.