From the Editor: A Virtual Fan Hitch
Inuit Sled Dogs Achieve Distinguished Visibility
Sledge Dog Memorial Fund Update
New Resource of Polar Exploration Images
In Passing: Remembering Kevin Walton
Book Review: Huskies/My Friends, the Huskies
Evolutionary Changes in Domesticated Dogs:
The Broken Covenant of the Wild, Part 2
Comparative Behavior Studies in The Netherlands
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The black and white marked sire dog, Timber,,a pup from
Parka and Dobra of the second litter. photo: ter Berg
Inuit Dog Behaviour Study in the Netherlands
by Stijn Heijs
For over a decade my wife, Hélène, and I have been involved with working dogs. We started with owning and mushing Alaskan Malamutes and for the past three years we have also become more and more interested in the Inuit Dog. Last year, Hélène began a study in canine behavior and since then all kinds of dog behavior books and DVDs are entering our home.
Recently, in her search for books with photographs of dog behavior, Hélène found an old book written in 1982 by a Dutch writer named Evert Jan ter Burg. The book had the title Honden Natuurlijk which means "Dogs Natural" and in it ter Berg describes observations of his dogs kept in packs in the natural way without human interference. When we received the book, to our surprise, the majority of the pictures were of Inuit Dogs he kept and studied in his own backyard in the north of the Netherlands. Our interest was born and by searching the internet I was able to contact ter Berg. Although he hasn’t Inuit Dogs anymore, he was very willing to share his experiences with us and The Fan Hitch readers. So I visited him for an interview.
Evert Jan ter Burg has always been interested in animals and animal behavior. Therefore, he studied biology and found work as a teacher in biology. He got an opportunity to work with animals in Africa and went to live there, working as animal caretaker and counting animals. When he came back to the Netherlands he was interested in canine behavior and decided to study that on his own dogs, keeping them in a more natural way, living in a pack amongst themselves. The reason for his interest was purely personal and not linked to any scientific research program. For his study he used a group of German Shepherd dogs and a group of Inuit Dogs.
Evert Jan received the Inuit Dogs by accident from the Dutch Princess Margriet and her husband who received two Inuit Dog puppies as a royal gift. After some time they found out that the dogs were not really pets and looked around for a new home for them, which they found with Evert Jan in 1972. The dogs were two-and-a-half to three years-old. Their origin was from Yellowknife, N.W.T. (now Nunavut), Canada and the pair was a male and a female. A year later, Evert Jan got a third one, a male, from a Frenchmen who brought an Inuit Dog back home from a polar expedition. He too found out that arctic sled dogs are not easily kept in populated areas outside of the Arctic. So this dog, also originating from northwest Canada, ended up in the dog yard with the two others.
The dogs were kept together as much as possible in a natural way as a group. They had a big dog yard where they lived in a pack with almost no human interference. ter Berg fed the dogs slaughter by-products from the butcher and dead animals from a farm in the area. Two times a week he fed an abundant amount, leaving the food on different spots in the dog yard. The pieces were big so the dogs couldn’t swallow them directly. They had to tear off pieces first before eating them. This was simulating the natural way of living.
Showing submissive behaviour by body position
towards a more dominant dog photo: ter Berg
While eating, the Inuit Dogs clearly showed more pack jealousy than the German Shepherds. In both breeds the pack leader had the first choice when feeding but the difference was that with the Inuit Dogs the alpha dog always used this first pick privilege. But within the German Shepherd group, the more dominant dogs frequently allowed the first pick to go to other dogs of their group. The saving of food for later consumption by burying happened in both breeds, especially by bitches during their pregnancy.
During the total period of keeping the Inuit Dogs (from 1972-1989) the dogs produced six litters of puppies. On average, they had three to four pups per litter. During the period when the bitches were in heat, both breeds showed an increased level of aggression within the pack. The number of real fights in this period was substantially higher among the Inuit Dogs as compared to the German Shepherds. At the moment of mating, the Inuit Dogs showed a clear avoidance of mating with family members. The father tried frequently but the daughter never let it happen. This was not the case with the German Shepherds where family mating was common. Around three weeks before giving birth, the bitches of both breeds had an increased level of activity in digging holes in the ground. But this behavior was much stronger within the Inuit Dog group than among the German Shepherd group. At the moment of giving birth, the bitches were not separated but kept within their pack. The German Shepherd easily accepted a special crate for giving birth. The expectant Inuit Dog mother preferred to dig her own hole in the ground. For the first two to three weeks after giving birth the sires were not allowed to come close to the litter. After three weeks the sire was allowed closer and he became involved in caring for the pups. The Inuit Dogs, both sires and dams, regurgitated food for the pups when they were three weeks old. Later, when they ate the same food as their parents, the pups were allowed during feeding time a first pick until they reached the age of three-and-a-half to four months old. From then on the dominant dog took back his dominant position of first pick at feeding time. Another difference between Inuit Dogs and German Shepherds was that from his first moment allowed with his pups, the Inuit Dog sire interacted very naturally with them, whereas the German Shepherd sire was shy and reluctant to interact with his. As the pups matured, the Inuit Dogs were clearly much harder on the pups while educating the young ones, whereas the German Shepherds were clearly more tolerant towards their puppies.
Ripping of a piece of meat with the front legs on it
to hold it. photo: ter Berg
Evert Jan reported that the health of his Inuit Dogs was very good during the seventeen years of keeping them. He never encountered any health problems in his Inuit Dogs.
One of the pups comes out of the hole dug by the bitch
to give birth to the litter. photo: ter Berg
All pictures are from the private collection of Evert Jan ter Burg and taken during his period of behavior observation. I would like to thank Evert Jan very much for sharing his experiences with all of us. I hope we can publish more of his behavior studies and pictures in future issues of The Fan Hitch.
The young bitch Takla out of the first litter
(Parka and Dobra) photo: ter Berg