The Fan Hitch Volume 11, Number 4, September 2009

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog
In This Issue....

From the Editor 

Fan Mail

Sled Dogs in His Majesty's Service:
Clark's Eskimo Dogs in World War II

Evolutionary Changes in Domesticated Dogs:
The Broken Covenant of the Wild, Part 3

British Antarctic Survey Sledge Dog
Monument Final Report

Tusaalanga: Learning Inuktitut Online!

In the News 

Book Review: The Inuit Thought of It

Tip: Removing Mats

IMHO: The Learning Curve

Index: Volume 11, The Fan Hitch

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

Talk to The Fan Hitch

The Fan Hitch home page

ISDI home page

Editor's/Publisher's Statement
Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog, is published four times a year. It is available at no cost online at:

The Fan Hitch
welcomes your letters, stories, comments and suggestions. The editorial staff reserves the right to edit submissions used for publication.

Contents of The Fan Hitch are protected by international copyright laws. No photo, drawing or text may be reproduced in any form without written consent. Webmasters please note: written consent is necessary before linking this site to yours! Please forward requests to Sue Hamilton, 55 Town Line Rd., Harwinton, Connecticut  06791, USA or

This site is dedicated to the Inuit Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. It is also home to
The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog.

Crystal Nowdlak, Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Canada gives
Qiniliq some "people time" socialization.     D. Mearns

The Learning Curve

by Mark Hamilton

In the past, children in the Arctic grew up around Inuit Dogs. It was the dog their fathers had and which they would later have themselves. Working with Inuit Dogs was something they learned from an early age. Dog teams were their reality; they were part of everyday life. Children grew up among mushers who used Inuit Dogs exclusively. Learning about working with the dogs was one of the life lessons taught to them. There were no "starter" breeds of dogs with which children gained some experience. This was a total immersion process. But it was done in a world where parents, family and elders all served as mentors.

By contrast, Sue and I have made a slow progression to Inuit Dogs over many years. It has been a substantial difference between what I described in the first paragraph and our own path to Inuit Dogs. All I'll say about that just now is, "At least we got here." And that I believe the total immersion process is by far superior to our own path.

The first dog Sue and I had was a pet shop German Shepherd. It's a good thing he wasn't any more demanding than he was, as we were totally unprepared for him. Up until that time Sue had only wanted to have a dog some day, and I'd had a "sort-of-a-Sheltie" as a child.

After a few years of getting acquainted to the whole idea of raising a dog, we got our second dog, an Alaskan Malamute from a well established breeder. If we were unprepared for the German Shepherd, I don't know how to describe our lack of skills to deal with that Malamute.

We put a lot of effort into raising him "the right way" which, now in retrospect, we understand was unfortunate as we still had little idea as to what we were doing. Our experiences with that first Malamute left a lasting impression on us as well a few scars, none of which are covered by our clothing.

With time, and more Malamutes, we found we appreciated some things more than others. We found the experience of spending a day working with our teams meant more to us than an "important" show win. Having dogs that could play in large groups was more important to us than having dogs with no facial scars. And having dogs that could work credibly together in harness was more important than owning a dog that "came alive" in the show ring. We left the dog show "circus" and concentrated on having working Alaskan Malamutes.

We also became increasingly curious about our dogs' origin and what the Arctic was like. As a consequence we began taking trips north. First was a 1982 visit to Churchill, Manitoba on the western shore of Hudson Bay. Over the next twenty-five years we found ourselves visiting a significant part of arctic Canada and traveling by dog team in both arctic Canada and Greenland.

Somewhere along the way, during one of those dog team trips, we came to the realization that the "credible" performance we were getting from our Alaskan Malamutes back home did not favorably compare to the performance we were experiencing with the teams of Inuit Dogs in the Arctic. The die was cast, the light bulb finally lit, and we began our transition to having a kennel filled with Inuit Dogs.

We expected that all our years of raising and training working Alaskan Malamutes had prepared us for this experience, but once again we were "behind the curve" and struggling to catch up. Sixteen Inuit Dog puppies (both females we brought down from Pond Inlet were pregnant when we got them) running around your property tend to identify inadequacies. The hoard found a previously undiscovered breach in our backyard fencing and escaped into the dark of the night. Then, to our utter amazement they all came back as soon as we called them, by way of the same breech in the fencing through which they had escaped. Pups less than two months-old massed one day and then took down an adult female Malamute, breaking her tail in the process. They ripped 2000 new grass plugs out of the lawn and ran about the backyard with them dangling from their mouths. And they demonstrated for us just how seriously and intensely six-week-old puppies could vie for social status among themselves.

At the same time, by way of comparison, the three adult dogs we brought down from Pond Inlet thirteen years ago gave us daily demonstrations on just how good Inuit Dogs, raised by someone who knew what they were doing, could be. Even with these daily demonstrations it would be a while longer before we were up to the task at hand.

And that's the path Sue and I took to Inuit Dogs. It was long and meandering by comparison but reality is what you live, it comes with no guarantee that it will be easy, simple, direct or even pretty. Looking back, I can't help but think of the advantage that having been born into that immersion process would have represented for us. But we weren't born in the right place at the right time, so there is nothing for us but to acknowledge that it would have been a tremendous advantage.

As you know, there is resurgent interest in the Arctic aimed at preserving Inuit culture, language and way of life. It pleases me to sit here and think that there will be children born into that immersion process, and that there will be Inuit Dogs for them to run in their teams.
Return to top of page