Table of Contents
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Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Tim Socha
Nunavut Quest 2001
Inuit Dogs in New Hampshire, Part I
Uummannaq: A Special Dog Sledge Expedition
Remembrances of a Spent Life: "Chimo"
Dog News from Iqaluit
The Homecoming, Part III
Fan Hitch Wins Writing Contest Recognition
Product Review: Seeing the Light
Media Review: The Last Husky
Tip for the Trail: A Do-it Yourself Alcohol Heater
IMHO: Looking Forward
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Tim Socha
by Tim Socha (of Winterhalden, Switzerland)
I walked out of the classroom with six month old female Taima and Ubita, her male litter-mate, on leashes. We were met with a chorus of delighted calls and yells from third and forth graders when they saw the pups. I had been talking about the pups to a school class, because two of my young singers in the Children's Chorus were doing a report on sled dogs and had asked me to come. The kids loved the pups. Afterwards, we piled into the elevator, and then jogged out of the building with a crowd of children running along with us down to the parking lot. After we got into the car, I had to ask myself again, what is it about these dogs that causes such extreme reactions in people? Generally speaking, humans, other dogs and other animals have reacted strongly to the pups. Usually people like them at first sight, even children who are normally afraid of dogs seem to like the pups. I wondered if it's just the timber wolf like appearance, but I believe it's something that goes much deeper.
Last summer, Geneviève Montcombroux agreed to send me two puppies. In October, they arrived at the Zurich airport. When I first saw them in the customs hall, they were being driven up to the gate on a trailer. They spotted me and started the typical Inuit Dog vocalizations. My first thought was, how in the world do they "recognize" me? This was the very first evidence of their "differences" from other canines. When we got to our place, they jumped out of their travel box, and it was as if they had always lived here in Winterhalden! I have attributed this to a very high level of adaptability. There was never any hesitation or shyness in the pups. They just took up exploring their new environment, propelling themselves along on their big paws, and stocky legs. Their antics earned them the name "Wrecking Crew". They were and are "larger than life".
The most important remark from Geneviève was that training should be fun. I tried to make it so. I have tried to mix training with letting them enjoy their freedom as puppies. Very important in this environment, in the interest of their own safety is that they come when called. Here in Switzerland, dogs can be shot on sight by "Jaeger" [hunters - ed.] if they are seen running after deer, so it's really important for them to obey and to stick close. We've managed this with praise and rewards. Taima learned to come, walk on the same side of fence posts as me, and not to tangle her lead very fast. Ubita was initially a big baby, and a complete dufus about the lead. Taima also pulls on her lead much more constantly than Ubita, which also causes her to get less tangled. At first we had to put the pups on leashes all the time. Then I had a brainstorm. They are so attached to each other, that I could let one run free! So I started letting one run free on the walks with the other on the lead, and then changing around. At the moment I let the pups run free on walks, only putting them on the line when there are objective dangers. I had heard that they develop a different gait when they can run free, and it is important to me that they develop their potential. When we are in the mountains, I have them in harness, but they have the freedom to sniff around or to pull a little.
We introduced them to other people and other dogs as soon as possible in order for them to be socialized. They met children on their first day here and they were delighted. It was then that I noticed that they were actually "considerate". They are very gentle with children. They are also gentle with my wife and other people. With me, they are much rougher. Just a few days ago, I was sitting on the floor with a buddy of mine, planning a short trip to Spitzbergen, a map and camping gear spread out around us. The pups kept coming over, pushing against me, standing on the map, pawing at my hands, trying to take the compass and GPS, and generally making a nuisance of themselves when they piled on Urs. That was the only time that I've seen them be rough with anyone but me. Urs is a tough guy however and wasn't intimidated by them. I just think that they know who they can be rough with and who they should be gentle with!
The first time they saw an old couple walking along the road they stopped and looked at them intently. I wondered what they sensed. Was it a different emanation coming from older people? They perceived these senior citizens as different from children and from adults. When I said that other creatures react to them, I recall their first meetings with cows, horses and llamas. These animals acted with unusual aggression towards the pups. The normally placid Swiss cows took on threatening postures and came charging towards them from behind electric fences. Taima was quite frightened but Ubita was mostly curious. Calves acted quite differently. One of the funniest things I remember was a calf sticking its head under the fence and trying to lick Ubita on the nose. Animals obviously see these pups as being something different from normal dogs. Other adult dogs are generally cautious around them. I was surprised to see big German shepherds steering clear of them. Other puppies though are a different matter altogether. They want to play.
While getting to know them, I made sure that I spent enough time with the pups, at least three times a day: a short walk early in the morning after feeding time, and again at noon, then a longer time in the evening, with either a walk after feeding, or playtime in the house. Initially Taima bonded with us much faster. It took her a few weeks to actually look into my eyes instead of my hands. She was also very affectionate and didn't mind being separated from Ubita. With Ubita it was totally different, no eye contact, just the constant investigation for food. Suddenly at about five months Ubita looked me in the eyes and something clicked. At six months old, he has improved so much that he relates to us and obeys much better than his sister. Ubita isn't afraid of anything, but Taima is very cautious still. She is the master at running skirmishes, catching ubita by his bushy tail and hanging on. She is faster and uses this to her advantage. Ubita is the champion at close-in wrestling in the kennel. Sometimes it's hard to see which is the dominant one! They play a lot, but haven't had any serious fights yet. Ubita lunges for food first and pushes to the front to get attention, but this doesn't seem to bother Taima. Sometimes, she'll let him take a bone, and other times she'll defend it with a snarl, which seems to work! Ubita ranges farther from us in our walks, and is more adventurous about negotiating rough ground. If we meet a new situation, he is obviously the braver of the two. The differences between the two pups reflect the basic differences between male and female: women are from Venus, men are from Mars. It has been enlightening to observe their development. The pups are incredibly smart. They figure out what's what really fast and act on it. If I'm working in the garden, they'll look to see what I'm doing, look at each other, and suddenly take off to the neighbors, for example. It's as if they say, "Look he's busy, let's sneak off while he's not looking!" They can disappear really fast. They are extremely observant and don't miss a thing. When a helicopter flew overhead, I was surprised to see them look up and track it. I had never seen a dog do that before. They are always in a good mood! How do they do it? I wish I also had that ability!
We have taken much care in their feeding, grooming, exercising and health. They get the best food I can afford. I go to the local butcher and get a mixture of meat, heart, liver and fat, and mix this with rice, egg, oil, cod liver oil, calcium and zinc according to Geneviève's recipe. Every once in while they get some mackerel, herring or salmon heads, occasionally bones, tripe or rawhide. They sleep outside. I also make sure they get as much "snow time" as possible. We often go to the mountains on the weekends and school breaks, so they get to sleep out in relatively low temperatures, which means that they have great thick coats.
I plan to do recreational sledding or skijoring with the pups, and take them with me on ski tours in the Alps. They are not only what I expected, but much more, too. I didn't expect them to be the companions and friends that they have become. They have enriched our lives in many ways. I've learned so much through having them. I hope that I don't offend anyone, but other dogs just seem to be shadows, without substance, compared to Ubita and Taima. If I ever have another dog, it will surely be an Inuit Dog!
Ubita and Taima are just pups, still learning about their world. They do however have an ancient look of "knowing" and quiet observation. I believe that you can see in their eyes the qualities that allowed them to survive for thousands of years in the harsh environment of the Arctic. I believe that it is this that makes them so special.
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Tim Socha was born in California, USA in 1947, but grew up in Ohio. He went to the University of Denver Colorado on scholarship to study music. His interests were, however, always divided into four groups: the sciences (natural science and cosmology), the arts, esoteric studies and outdoor activities. He is the director of a School of Music in Switzerland. He is an active conductor, composer and performer. He does a lot of work with young people. His wife Sheena is a pianist, linguist and shares similar interests. Together they have directed many musical theater productions.
Tim is an active skier, climber and snow boarder. He has been to the wilderness in Alaska and Spitzbergen many times, often trekking completely alone. His first experience with Inuit Dogs was in Spitzbergen, where he has done two trips into the wilderness once by dog team and another by snowmobile. Last February, he took a much needed sabbatical and worked for Paul Schurke for two months in Minnesota in order to learn more about the Inuit Dog.
Tim loves nature, but is especially drawn to the Arctic, both summer and winter, and has the wish to capture the mystical qualities of that environment in music.