Table of Contents
Kudos and Cat Calls
Salovaara and Tina Portman
the Midnight Sun
Hitch Contributor Wins Maxwell Award
Purity in Nunavik ISDs
Games People Play:
Saving the Sled
Dog or Saving the Show Dog
Comments Prompts ISDI Rebuttal
Notebook: Building a Team
IMHO: The Sernix,
Edition: Imaged and distributed
by the IPL students of the Ulluriaq School,
Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog International,
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Inuit Sled Dog International
Sled Dog International (ISDI)
is a consortium of enthusiasts whose goal is the
preservation of this
arctic breed in its purest form as a working dog.
The ISDI's efforts
concentrated on restoring the pure Inuit Dog to
its native habitat. The
ISDI's coordinators welcome to your comments and
Coppinger Documentary and
Comments Provoke ISDI to Respond
by Sue Hamilton
The Nova TV special, Dogs and More Dogs (see Media
Review in this issue of The Fan Hitch), prominently featured
biologist, author, lecturer and former sled dog racer, Raymond Coppinger.
A post documentary online chat with Dr. Coppinger has drawn a concerned
response from the Inuit Sled Dog International.
The one-hour internet "discussion" which took place the day after Dogs
and More Dogs aired was sponsored by The Washington Post. Questions
were submitted in advance (or during the hour allotted to this event) to
Coppinger, from which he could pick the ones he wanted to answer and those
he chose to ignore. Our inquiries regarding his thoughts on the existence
of pure breeds, were ignored. Below is one question he chose to answer.
Los Angeles, Calif.: First off, I also thank you both
for your contributions. I have learned so much by reading your work and
am always hungry for more!
You’re a sled dog man. I recently read an article in Smithsonian
about the Inuit people in Greenland and their dogs. The article claims
this Inuit dog is the only remaining pure aboriginal canine in North America.
It says these dogs are not as fast as Siberians but are more powerful.
Now the fear is with the lifting of the snowmobile ban the numbers of dogs
will plummet. Unfortunately, it seems that the same forces that reduced
the populations in Canada and the U.S. will most likely change this population
of dogs too. I assume this would be an interesting opportunity for study.
Have you heard of anyone planning on looking at the situation?
Ray Coppinger: I know lots of people who study Inuit dogs --
Ken McGroy, I think, in Ireland did a nice thesis on Inuit dogs that is
now at Cambridge. It was at the Perry Arctic Institute. There's a lot of
material around on Inuit dogs. Saying they're a breed is a little misleading.
The Siberian Husky as we know it was first registered with the AKC in 1935.
They took a foundation stock they got from Leonard Sepula (sic) and breeded
(sic) them with Canadian Sled Dogs. So there's probably more Canadian than
Siberian blood in those dogs. So the whole idea that there's something
that came from Siberia years ago is ridiculous. That whole area in Greenland
was covered with dogs during World War II. The idea that there's purity
in any dog is ridiculous.
Those of us who breed dogs will have chainlink fences are making breeding
mistakes all the time. This whole idea of dog breeds is romance of the
last fifty years.
Alarmed about Coppinger's inaccurate conclusions so publically broadcast,
ISDI offers the following critique of the Nova program in general and Coppinger's
assessment of the Inuit Sled Dog in particular.
March 10, 2004
Dear Sue Hamilton,
Thank you for alerting me to the NOVA program on dogs featuring Ray
Coppinger, a long time colleague. The bottom line is that he presented
his own views very well, and while these are deserving of serious consideration,
they are his parochial views.
One never knows how much his script was edited and in what ways, but
I found it disturbing that he did not give credit to persons on whose work
his presentation was based. For example, Erich Klinghammer was the
founder and major research figure, as well as the financial backer of Wolf
Park, that was prominently featured on the program with respect to dog/wolf
comparisons. It was Klinghammer's idea. He started Wolf Park from
scratch and brought it to fruition, and many of the findings are his, but
you would never know it from the program or be guided to look up his work.
Similarly, the research on critical periods for puppy socialization that
has become the standard recipe for dog rearing, was primarily the work
of J.P. Scott.
Coppinger's ideas about dog breeds needed to be more clearly articulated.
By whatever name you call them, breeds exist. Breeds represent variations
within the dog gene pool that are sufficiently distinct in their phenotypic
expression to constitute identifiable populations despite their common
origin. Pugs do not look or behave like collies. Coppinger picked particular
breeds (Anatolian sheep dogs, Maremmas and Shars) to place on farms as
guard dogs for sheep because of their physical and behavioral characteristics.
Unlike their wild relatives dogs are genetically honest -- with modest
degrees of inbreeding the genes they carry segregate and come to phenotypic
expression, whereas those of their wild relatives are buffered, so that
even in relatively small populations the species norms are maintained.
Domestication has removed the buffering mechanisms and permitted us to
reshuffle the genetic cards to create the many variations that characterize
the different "breeds". Go to any dog show or behavioral trials and see.
Because of these replicable phenotypic clusters, dogs are of great interest
for genetic research. On the one hand Coppinger seems to disparage the
concept of breeds, while on the other he has used it in his own work.
So is the Inuit Dog an ancient breed that has its own identity in association
with the Inuit people, or just a mix of various sled dogs in that region
as Coppinger maintains? We do not have the techniques to answer the
question genetically at present. So the judgment call must be made on the
basis of phenotypic criteria, as well as the ascertainable history based
on their association with the Inuit way of life. I am informed that
as late as 1960 many Inuit were still living as nomads, relying on their
dogs for protection and hunting as well as transportation. The dogs thereby
continued to be maintained as a distinct population in those regions. Based
on population sampling, the Inuit Dogs of today continue to differ
in their social behaviors from Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes and
remain similar as a population based on skeletal studies. The question,
therefore, is not whether such a breed existed and is still extant, but
where they continue to be maintained in the Canadian Arctic and elsewhere,
including by clubs and other private breeders, and what are the criteria
by which they may be characterized.
Benson Ginsburg, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus Biobehavioral Sciences and Psychology
University of Connecticut
Storrs, Connecticut, U.S.A.