Table of Contents
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Ken MacRury, Part 1
Page from the Behaviour Notebook: Bishop and Tunaq
On Managing ISD Aggression
The Qitdlarssuaq Chronicles, Part 3
Inuit Dog Thesis Back in Print
Nunavut Quest 2003 Report
Article in Mushing Magazine
Possible Smithsonian Magazine Story
Product Review: Dismutase
Tip for the Trail: Insect Repellents
Book Review: The New Guide to Breeding
Old Fashioned Working Dogs
Video Review: Stonington Island, Antarctica 1957-58
IMHO: The Slippery Slope
| Featured Inuit Dog Owner...
Ken MacRury, Part 1
TFH: What brought you to the Arctic? When did you first arrive? Back
then did you ever imagine you'd have stayed for as long as you did?
TFH: How did your interest in Inuit Dogs develop?
TFH: What role did you play in the Eskimo Dog Recovery Project?
TFH: What made you decide to choose the Inuit Dog as the subject
of your master's thesis? Did you ever imagine that your research would
have such a lasting effect on such a wide audience?
TFH: Since the Inuit Dog became the Official Animal of Nunavut, has
the Nunavut Government made any effort to encourage the pure breeding of
stock and to encourage owners to protect against needless deaths by vaccinating
against preventable diseases?
TFH: What was your feeding regimen at different times of the year?
TFH: How did you train your dogs?
As the driver it was very important to me to have a team where two positions were absolutely clear: the leader and the boss. I decided who was the leader and I did what was required to ensure the leader felt secure and happy being leader. I believe there are three requirements to be a good leader: a desire to be out front, a desire to please the driver and intelligence. Without all three the leader will never be very good. A good boss dog is critical to a well-ordered team, for without one the team will verge on anarchy all the time. When you have a good boss dog there will be a calm order in the team as the boss will not allow others to fight and will not start fights himself. I had actually gone for years without serious fighting, all due to having an undisputed boss who ran the team with quiet authority. One of the keys to having a well-established boss is to allow the dogs to have extensive opportunity to interact with each other without human interference. If we are forever rushing in to break up every squabble, it does not allow the natural boss to emerge or the team social structure to develop. (Just throwing all the dogs in a cage is a recipe for some serious injuries.) We have to be confident enough in the process and accept the fact that some dogs may get hurt in the process. But in the end it will be a far better team. Each summer my team would spend three-and-a-half months on an island in Frobisher Bay, visited once or twice a week, and would have lots of time and opportunity to sort out the boss question. When that process is in play the losers must have the opportunity to put some space between themselves and the others. If I had not placed nine-year-old Goofy, an aging co-boss dog, when I did, it was very unlikely that he would have survived another year. His brother (and co-boss) had died and he was becoming too slow to keep up with the younger dogs. When a boss dog is deposed he doesn't go to the number two slot, he tumbles all the way to the bottom. It is a sad sight to see an old boss being picked on by young dogs hardly more than pups. It would not have surprised me at all if Goofy had simply disappeared from the summer island, either killed by the other males or forced off the island and drowned.
One caution about boss dogs: there are the rare bullies that do not exert quiet authority but take every opportunity to fight the lower dogs and often do damage to them. Most often these are young aggressive dogs that have not had a good role model or older bosses that are losing their grip on power. In either case they can be dangerous and are best disposed of.
TFH: Please describe for us some details of a good harness fit. The
traditional harness is quite “economical” in design, perhaps born out of
necessity since they were originally made out of bearded seal. Modern so-called
freighting harnesses can be described as more “elaborate”, but do you think
they are any better for the dog? Do you think that it is better for dogs
run in tandem?
The traditional harness is made of one piece of bearded sealskin about four inches wide and three feet long. It is split almost in two lengthways and then the loose ends are sewn back to the sides, a short piece (about six to eight inches) is sewn across the back of the neck and two thin and short adjustable pieces are tied in slits in the main harness across the chest. The whole harness has four pieces. Also there is a tail piece of sealskin rope about 12-16 inches long with a moon shaped toggle of caribou antler or muskox horn attached to it. About fit, it is absolutely essential that a harness fit well if one wishes to get the most out of the dog. The traditional harness was fitted to each dog individually; no such thing as small, medium and large. And it was fitted at the first of each year and on a regular basis during the year as the dog's size changed. The better drivers had a stock of harnesses and I often saw them change a harness when they noticed a poor fit. The sealskin harnesses would mold themselves to fit the dog like a well fitting glove. Adjustments were made to the chest pieces if that was the problem but otherwise the entire harness was changed if the length was not right or the neck strap was too short or long or if the leg hole was not right. Fit is very important and great care is taken to get it right. In my view, the modern harnesses are made for loping or running dogs pulling light loads over good trails. The Inuit dogs pull more with their shoulders and push into their harness. Therefore, they will be more comfortable with a harness that is wider across the neck and is hinged at the chest to allow individual front leg/shoulder movement. The Inuit harness is also best when used with individual traces which allow a greater distance between the pull point and the dog. The harness can then be placed higher on the back as the angle of pull is not as extreme. This allows for more force to be exerted on the load.
I always ran my dogs in a fan hitch and have no experience with tandem. I do think that using the fan hitch allows a lot more interaction between the dogs. I often noticed that when we would be stopped, certain dogs would lie beside their friends although when running they might be separated by quite a distance. I think my dogs were happier in a fan than they would have been in tandem. But then, I never ran where there were trees.
In part 2 of this F.I.D.O. Ken describes the kind of dog that successfully made it onto his team. He talks about purity, the role of genetic diversity, the future of the breed in the Canadian Arctic, and what breeders in the south need to do in order to "substitute" for the lack of culling by the nature of the North.
Editor's note: In the summer of 2002, Ken and Sheila MacRury said good-bye to Iqaluit, retiring to a small community in Atlantic Canada. Although he sold his team to a musher in Iqaluit, Ken took Mabel his lead dog with him.