The Fan Hitch Volume 11, Number 1, December 2008

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

In This Issue....

From the Editor: Expeditions

My First Winter Trip in Antarctica

Canadian Animal Assistance Team in Pond Inlet

Sledge Dog Memorial Fund Update

In the News

Book Review:  Dog Days on Ice

Behavior Notebook: Transitions

Product Review: The Tick Key

Tip: Flammable Food

IMHO: The Next Great Thing

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Editor: Sue Hamilton
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Behavior Notebook….

l-r: Pakaq, Sunny, Qiniliq and Aqsaq     photo: Hamilton


by Mark Hamilton

Last year I kept some notes on the behavior of our dogs in the days following Aqsaq's death. It just seemed appropriate to observe and record these events, as Aqsaq had been a major force in the social structure of the whole kennel, not just within her group. You see, Aqsaq had been the loudest and most vocal of all the females in our kennel, and that is usually a good tip-off as to dominance in female canines. In the next paragraphs I'm working from those notes.

Aqsaq died during the overnight of Friday into the Saturday, June 23, 2007. In the morning we found her lying in a comfortable, curled up sleeping position; eyes open, ears erect, and with her head resting on her forepaws. Qiniliq and Sunny were in the run with her and they came over and sniffed her numerous times while we were there in the run. We put the boys out into our large exercise pen before we dealt with Aqsaq's body.

Littermates Bishop, Siku and Qimmiq were in the run directly across the corridor from that run. They watched intently the whole time we were in there.

Saturday and Sunday Qiniliq and Bishop showed signs of depression. They were quiet, not playful, and isolated themselves from us during exercise periods. Sunny appeared confused and was quieter then usual, but otherwise seemed unaffected.

Monday Qiniliq's behavior brightened. He showed signs of playfulness. He began directing more of his attention during exercise times toward us than was previously common for him when Aqsaq was alive. Sunny also became more playful. Aggressive posturing between the two boys was much less frequent than had been normal.

By Tuesday Bishop's personality had also brightened. Quite interestingly, females Qimmiq and Siku, who shared a hatred for Aqsaq, and she them, began to take more notice of Qiniliq and Sunny through the kennel fencing when the girls were out in the back yard with us. Over time this solicitous behavior was extended to include a couple of "ancient" malamute females, Jassie and Kamiq, also in our kennel. To this day all four of those girls continue to show far greater interest in Qiniliq and Sunny than was exhibited while Aqsaq was alive.
By Thursday, Sunny had returned to displaying his usual provocative behavior directed toward Qiniliq. At feeding times he'd run circles around the dog house on which Qiniliq was standing waiting for his food. While running those circles Sunny would bark sharply at Qiniliq, as well as Pakaq and Piqatik in the next run. This was typical of his behavior prior to Aqsaq's death.

We began last year's running season determined to alternate using Pakaq, Piqatik and Sunny at double lead. Aqsaq had been a very reliable, responsive command leader and Sunny had run double lead with her for a season. He had even shown aptitude at the position, so we were hopeful for success with him. Initially we used either Sunny or Pakaq running double lead alongside Qimmiq, our other command leader, a female both boys knew and liked. Pakaq did very well at lead, but Sunny showed many signs of missing being alongside Qiniliq at wheel. After a couple of weeks of alternating runs at the wheel and double lead position we decided to leave Sunny at wheel with Qiniliq where he was happiest, leave Pakaq at lead and begin alternating Qimmiq and Piqatik as his lead partner. We stayed with that plan for the balance of the running season.

Today, seventeen months after Aqsaq's death, Qiniliq and Sunny have built a significantly more stable relationship with each other. Fighting has been vastly reduced, although not entirely eliminated. The boys have developed enough trust in each other to ignore the inadvertent and the minor actions of the other that formerly would have provoked confrontation. When the mood strikes them they can even engage in some rather physical play. We attribute these changes primarily to Sunny no longer being a "blind" follower of Aqsaq. Her power over Sunny was based in the seductiveness of her dominant and aggressive behavior. Sunny now follows Qiniliq, but not blindly as with Aqsaq, due to Sunny finding Qiniliq's more laid back demeanor less seductive.

Living with Inuit Dogs seems to have brought some of the elements of their behavior into our lifestyle. As with them, we always seem to be moving or transitioning from somewhere or something to somewhere or something else. Life has become more of a journey for us, living more in the moment, and unsure of just where or when the journey ends.
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