Table of Contents
F.I.D.O.: Jan Erik and Barbro Engebretsen
First Camping Adventure with Greenland Dogs
The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs, Part II
A Cut Above the Rest
In the News
Hunting Laika Breeds of Russia
Primitive Breeds - Perfect Dogs
IMHO: Waiting for Godot?
Index to Volume 6
Navigating This Site
Our thanks to Beau Riffenburgh, Editor, for granting permission to reprint the following article (in two parts) which was first published in The Polar Record, Vol. 8, No. 56 (1957).
The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs: Part II
By R. J. F. TAYLOR
We considered that the physical qualifications to fit the premises
were: medium weight, long legs, narrow hips (which seem to be associated
with speed) and a short, thick and even coat. Ideal measurements were thought
Most of our dogs did not fit these measurements, many were too large. Eight dogs were chosen as potential sires and care was taken to avoid close relationships in selecting the sire for each bitch.
From a study of the records of Stonington Island9 and of those at Hope Bay, the following conclusions emerged. Oestrus was roughly every 6 months but sometimes was highly irregular. One bitch, Ginny, was served in the third week of April, the second week of August and the first week of December, but she only became pregnant after the first and third periods. Oestrus was more marked in summer than in winter, but the actual occurrence was not seasonal, i.e. as many bitches came on heat in one season as in the other three. The presence of bitches on heat seemed to stimulate the onset of heat in other bitches approaching their time, but not yet due.15 The time of acceptance was usually longer in summer than in winter and varied from 2 to 10 days. Some dogs appeared uninterested in serving bitches, but this characteristic had no apparent relation to size and strength, two qualities often considered masculine.
There are records of pregnancy from 57 to 74 days, but around 64 from the first acceptance was normal. The average litter-size, from 42 litters, was 6.05; extremes were 1 and 9, with one record of 14. The details from Stonington Island were collected 5 years before those from Hope Bay; but there is no significant difference in the average litter-size between the two sets of records, i.e. no evidence of a decrease in fertility due to the closed breeding was obtained. Many litters were not sexed, but 16 litters contained 57 dogs and 43 bitches: a sex ratio at birth of 132 to 100. Both sexes were proved fertile at 9 months. However, bitches gave a strong impression of oestrus when 5 months old and dogs copulated at that age. No full sisters were ever recorded coming on heat at the same time.
Table 1. The weights of four brothers whose growth was adopted as a standardFig. 1. Weight changes of two of the four pups in the standard litter. A. once daily
(Date of birth, 28 April 1954. Weight of parents, 75 and 70 lb. Final
weight of the brothers was about 95 lb. each.)
Although they are a little large, they developed into satisfactory draught animals. They reached half their final weight when approximately 15 weeks old, and 90 per cent at the end of one year. Their progress was adopted as a standard in assessing the growth of other pups.
In some litters only one pup was kept, in others any number up to six. On the whole the individuals in the large litters grew as fast and were as heavy as those from smaller litters, suggesting that the size of the litter need have no effect on growth or on the adult weight.
At certain stages, changes in the surroundings of growing pups are inevitable; the dam has to be removed, feeding reduced from three times to once daily, the pups sleep outside for the first time and also have to be spanned. It was found that almost any change in the surroundings produced a retardation of growth; a new person feeding the pups produced considerable effect as did putting them on the spans for the first time (Figs. 1 and 2). One litter of average weight at birth was 2 weeks behind "standard" 6 weeks later. After a further 11 weeks the deficit had been cleared and thereafter growth was normal. It seems that the effect of these retardations can be overcome by adequate care and management.
Colour1Fig. 2. Changes in body weight of one pup. D3066/54, showing that each change in
The dogs at Hope Bay were a variety of colours, ranging from white to black and including grey, red and piebald dogs; only one was dun-coloured. Certain basic hereditary types were recognizable and these could be fitted into a series suggesting increasing dominance of black pigments whose centres were fixed15 (Fig. 3). This series starts with a pure white dog. The second stage has black on each ear with a white dividing line on the forehead and the remainder of the body white. In the third the black spreads on the head and to the hips and thighs. The white on the forehead may remain as a dividing line around a dark face, and sometimes white spots remain above or below the eyes. In the fourth the black covers the majority of the body, but the shoulders, chest and fore limbs usually have more white than the rear limbs and the hips. Finally the major part is black, and white tends to remain only on the muzzle, the chest and belly, on the pads and on the tip of the tail. This series indicates seven centres of pigmentation, one on each ear, flank and thigh and one centrally on the rump.
The simple scheme was distorted in three ways. First, sometimes the pattern was asymmetrical; secondly, the whites and the blacks often were not pure colours but greys tinged with reds and yellows; and thirdly, some dogs were red. These red animals had at least one black parent, and black appeared to be dominant to both red and white. One litter from a nearly black bitch and a white dog contained four pups: one pup was white, one black, one pure red and the fourth piebald with approximately equal areas of black and white.
The conclusion was that at least two sets of genes must be involved in the inheritance of colour patterns.
This conclusion is obviously of first importance in any breeding policy. In the scheme adopted at Hope Bay in 1955 far more emphasis had been laid on physical than on mental qualities. Our experience showed the importance of psychology and therefore we argued that there should be three grades of sledge dog: dogs for pulling, dogs to go forward steadily as leaders over monotonous country, and leaders for difficult travel where sudden and accurate changes of direction are required. It may well be that intelligence is only required for leaders over sea ice or crevassed country, and that stupidity is a virtue in pulling-dogs and in leaders for dull and monotonous travel.
The actual relationships between dogs suggested parallels to human feelings: love, affection, jealousy, fear, respect, irritation, even humour appeared to be shown by the dogs. There are advantages in examining the simplest pattern of any organization and probably canine psychology is simpler and therefore more rewarding than that of humans.
The morale of men and dogs while sledging is closely related, and the psychological attitude of the dogs plays a large part in controlling the variations in their performance. Instinctive behaviour patterns are probably more clearly shown in Huskies than in domestic breeds of dog. In addition to many aspects of behaviour and psychology, topics particularly suited for research are the factors affecting colour, growth and form in mammals, exact feeding requirements, and the relation between nutrition and muscular performance.