Featured Inuit Dog
Jim Ryder lives year ‘round in the village of LaPointe on
Madeline Island, located off the north coast of Wisconsin,
about 90 miles east of Superior/Duluth. A part of the
Apostle Islands National Lake Shore Park, Madeline Island
is the only one inhabited by people.
How long have you owned sled dogs and have they
always been freighting types?
"This winter 1999-2000 will be my 5th year running dogs
here on Madeline Island and on Lake Superior. Yes, I have
always had the expedition type dogs. Slow, strong and they
can pull all day long."
How have you found the ISD’s temperament interfaces
with your public exposure and needs?
"Because I run a touring business with my dogs, they get
lots of contact with the public and that help socialize
them. If there are any problems with a dog and people that
dog is eliminated from the team. I have had to do that
with one dog in five years. Because these dogs are slow
they work well for my tour business."
Did you build your career around your dogs or were
they an extension of what you do for a living?
"Both, my lodging and real estate business are very
seasonal, so the dog sled business is a natural in the
winter. My guest's can stay here at the Island Inn and
leave by dog team from the front door. If they really like
the Island I can sell them property here on the
Like all of us you have a need to make a living,
how do you manage the competing needs for time vis a
vis your dogs?
"My situation works well, in the summer time I am busy 7
days a week for about 100 days, the last big day after
labor day is Apple Fest, (the first week-end in October)
That is the time of year when the dogs are laying around
taking life easy. I do take them for walks occasionally. I
can let fifteen of them loose and walk in the woods behind
my house with them. The total number of dogs I own is
eighteen. Three dogs came to me as adults so I do not let
them loose. The winter time is slow for selling real
estate so I have time to run the dogs."
What do you find the most satisfying in your
“doggie” experience and what would you most like to
"The most satisfying experience for me is leaving
from my dog yard with my dogs hooked up to the sled and
being out on Lake Superior in less than a mile. The ice
freezes differently every year so it is always an
adventure out on the big lake. The part I like the best is
the winter storms. I went out in most of our major storms
this passed winter. We have christmas trees placed in a
straight line from the main land to the island,(3 miles)
last winter I was out more than once when all I could see
was 3 or 4 trees because of the blowing smow. If you have
never been in a white out with a team of dogs it is an
adventure you will remember. What I would like to change
most is the length of the winter season, (add five
Tell us a little about your husbandry
practices. How do you house you dogs and what do
you feed them? How does their working diet differ from
their off season diet?
"My dogs are fed once a day at night. I have dog houses
(the blue plastic barrels) The dogs are all different in
that, some of them never go into their houses others go in
after they eat each night. I have my dogs on chains, with
a large pail of fresh water near each dog at all times. I
feed a dry commercial dog food, the higher grade in the
winter and a maintenance grade in the summer. In the
winter I also fed beef and fat during the 20 degrees below
zero times and when I am on a long trip."
What do you do with your dogs in the off season?
"Feed them, water them and occansionally I take them for
walks. The walks consist of turning fifteen of them loose
and walking in the woods from my house out back on the
trails they run in the winter. Our walks last a couple of
hours. I have taken them in the dog truck to a place on
the island where they can run the shore line and wade in
Your gang line is not the usual tandem hitch.
Could you please describe it?
"The advantage of running on Lake Superior is the wide
open spaces. The fan hitch is practical when you have vast
areas of open space like the arctic or Lake Superior. My
hitch is a modified fan hitch. Four dogs across the back
in wheel position, two just in front of them in team
position, two more in front of the team dogs in point, and
one or two dogs in lead."
Have you found any other “unique and personal”
solutions in your dog driving?
"This is a related issue. One school of thought is to
start dogs as soon as possible the other side says do not
even put a dog in harness until it is two years old. What
I do is start the dogs early, from the day they are born,
breathing on them, imprinting and bonding from the start.
At four weeks old I take them on the sled in a kennel,
they hear the sounds, feel the sled and smell there
surroundings out on the ice or in the forest. At eight or
nine weeks they are running behind the sled, because the
big dogs are slow the little ones can keep up easily. By
the time they are put into harness they have many trail
miles on theire paws!"
Please give us an overview of your training
"The training that the dogs receive from the time they are
born until they are in harness helps them deal with
situations that may come up when they are on the trail
working. I take the dogs out for 4 plus hours each time
they go in harness, usually 6 or 8 hours each time we are
out. I am able to get out with my guests on the week ends
and then I try to get out by myself a few days during the
What are some of the interesting trips you have taken with
Two trips come to mind: One trip was a four night five day
trip from my house, here on Madelined Island, to York
Island the first night, then Devils Island the second
night, onto Outer Island the third night, the last night
out I camped on Michigan Island, arriving back home the
fifth day. This was an 85 mile solo trip that included
temps to 26 degrees below zero, rough shove ice that took
two hours to travel a quarter mile, running the dogs along
the open water forty miles out on Lake Superior heading
toward Outer Island from Devils Island. That trip
convinced me to start my dog sled tour business and show
people what beauty there is out here in the winter
"The second trip was my Hudson Bay trip, the end of
March/April 1999, from Churchill to Gillam 300+ miles by
dog team. This trip included cold, warm, wind, sunny days,
snowy days, polar bear sighting, open runs on Hudson Bay
and trail running back to Gillam, 75 miles from the Hudson
What are your feelings on the future of the Inuit
"I feel the Inuit Dog will have a bright future. The
answer to the problem is education/awareness. Joe
Reddington started the Iditarod to preserve the sled dog
after snow mobiles came into their own. Many of the
villages that had teams for everyday use forgot about the
sled dog when the snow mobiles came to their villages. The
success that Joe's dream had accomplished was not even
imaginable when he started. Now comes the Inuit Dog! With
the dedication that is being put forth from the people
that want to see this breed thrive as a working dog, I am
very optimistic that the Inuit dog has a bright future.
With the information age here, the
education/awareness part of the solution can be
"Thank you for asking me to be interviewed! If anyone has
comments or questions please call or e-mail me."