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Ancient Breed

By Kyra Kirkwood, Correspondent for Pasedena Sun Times, published January 13, 2005

Descended from coyotes and wild dogs, American Indian dogs are smart and seem part human and part cat.

A breed of dog with a history stretching back 30,000 years is making a comeback, thanks to dedicated breeders and passionate owners.

The American Indian dog looks like a Technicolor coyote, moves like a cat and behaves with almost humanlike intellect. And those who love them can't get enough.

At a recent get-together in Monrovia, eight American Indian dogs and their owners met at the home of Karen Knight, the Southern California representative of a group devoted to the breed. Knight has two of these canines of her own. Considering there are only a few hundred American Indian dogs scattered across the nation, a grouping of eight in one place was remarkable indeed -- a fact that was not lost on Knight, a legal secretary in Arcadia.

Having a core of passionate owners surrounded by their charges for one afternoon was enough to make them all reflective about their love of these dogs, and how they don't seem like dogs at all.

Erin Wildman, 14, of Agoura Hills, with her dog, Amber.

"They actually are a thinking breed," Knight said. "They are alert. They miss nothing."

Along with her other friends from the International Indian Dog Owners and Breeders Association, Knight has become well-versed in the breed since she discovered it two years ago. Descended from coyotes bred with wild dogs, the American Indian dog emerged about 30,000 years ago as the Plains Indians sought canine companions to hunt, baby-sit the children, carry items like a pack animal, provide wool and guard the family.

"They wanted that intelligence, that alertness, that primitive instinct" of the wild animals, she said.

Because of their resemblance to coyotes, many of these American Indian dogs were killed in the past. But breeder and American Indian dog expert Kim La Flamme of the Song Dog Kennels in Selma, Ore., painstakingly brought the breed back to its original roots, keeping strict control over breeding practices.

American Indian Dogs have unique traits, Knight said. They learn quickly, test their owners regularly and seem to constantly have their brains engaged. Interestingly enough, many claim these dogs possess some sort of spiritual quality that transfers to their human guardians.

"They are just a healing influence in your life," said Knight, who is a tribal member of the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation.

These dogs are not wolf-hybrids or coyote mixes. They are members of an historic breed with unique characteristics, she said.

They look like a trim and sleek Husky or a colorful coyote. American Indian dogs stop traffic with their stunning eyes, either arctic blue, glowing pale or warm yellow. Their large ears prick up like those of a German shepherd, and their feet are small and catlike.

Their medium-length coat with the plush undercoat comes in a variety of breathtaking combinations: black, blue, white, golden, red, gray, tan, chocolate, cream, fawn and silver.

Full grown, these medium-sized dogs weigh between 25 and 45 pounds. Their feline ability to spring up in the air and move gracefully from one area to another make them extraordinarily agile.

Austin Vilardi, 9, of Riverside with Meeka
Each dog is different -- they are not bred to be carbon copies of each other nor a breed ideal.

Yet despite their beauty, physical attributes and marked intelligence, these dogs are not for everyone.

"You have to be alpha all the time with them," Knight said, referring to the need for the humans to claim the boss role in the house. "They can own you easily if you don't continue to maintain your alpha position."

While they may look like exotic wild animals, American Indian dogs are domesticated. They are good with people and children, and they love to play endlessly, especially with others in the breed.

The melodious sounds they emit when playing are akin to the baying of a coyote. They're not vicious, but are often cautious around strangers.

And, as Knight points out, they are definitely not "outdoor only" dogs.
"They require your presence," she said.

Breeders such as La Flamme are selective about who takes a puppy home. In fact, the contract on his kennel's Web site,, outlines the requirements of a potential American Indian dog owner. Potential owners must agree to research the breed and become educated about it, regularly exercise and mentally stimulate their pups, constantly and consistently train, spay or neuter their pets, join International Indian Dog Owners and Breeders Association, and register with both the American Indian Dog Registry and the International Progressive Dog Breeders Alliance.

Interviews are required. The wait for a puppy is often long, and requesting a particular color only extends the waiting period.

American Indian dogs are tough to get, a challenge to keep in their place, mentally superior to many other dog breeds and exotically primitive with a true working-dog demeanor. Why does anyone clamor for them?

Robert Gandrup of Aromas (Monterey County)with his dog, Tulip.

"They can teach you as much as you teach them," Knight said. "There's something about these dogs that make the owners become very, very consumed with them."

-- Kyra Kirkwood is an Orange County-based freelance writer.

Karen Knight of Monrovia gives crispy rice treats to her dog, Waya, which means wolf in Cherokee
-- As American Indian Dogs are so rare, there are few respectable breeders across the nation. Do your homework if you wish to get one. To make sure you get a registered American Indian dog, ask for the breeder's number, the litter number and check with the Registry for American Indian Dogs before purchasing.

(541) 597-2871


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