The Fan Hitch Volume 3, Number 3, June 2001

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

From the Editor
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Brian and Linda Fredericksen
Lake Nipigon - Solo
Inuit Dogs in New Hampshire, Part II
The Inuit Dogs of Svalbard
Update: Uummannaq Children's Expedition
Update: Iqaluit Dog Team By-Law is Official
Poem: Instinct
The Homecoming: Epilogue
Product Review: Sock Sense
Tip for the Trail: Wet Equals Cold
Janice Howls: More Than Meets the Eye
Page from a Behaviour Notebook: Hunting

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Editor's/Publisher's Statement
              Editor: Sue Hamilton
              Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
The Fan Hitch Website and Publications of the Inuit Sled Dog– the quarterly Journal (retired in 2018) and PostScript – are dedicated to the aboriginal landrace traditional Inuit Sled Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. 

PostScript is published intermittently as material becomes available. Online access is free at:  PostScript welcomes your letters, stories, comments and The editorial staff reserves the right to edit submissions used for publication.

Contents of The Fan Hitch Website and its publications  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

Goofy                                                 Hamilton photo

Janice Howls:
More Than Meets the Eye

by Janice Dougherty

Most, if not all, readers of the Fan Hitch know well enough that the dog's chief sensory organ is the nose. Whether it be tracking a polar bear on sea ice, or knowing precisely when that flirty bitch is in prime breeding season, or vacuuming our clothing and shoes for the narrative of where we've been, scent is a major perceptual information gatherer and decision maker for canines. In contrast, our human sense of smell is so poor that the comparison has been made to Michaelangel's sense of color versus a mole's sense of light and dark. Yes, we're the mole! That comparison is particularly apt because we humans are primarily visually oriented.  When trying to "visualize" how a dog perceives scent, various devices have been used, such as smudge pots with colored smoke, drifting on the breeze or clinging to a clump of vegetation. Well, it's a start! (As an aside, I recently saw a fresh demonstration of canine scenting powers when a police bloodhound was called in to successfully track an escaped prisoner who was being fingerprinted by ATF agents at the place where I work. He had run out the back door and into the complex of an inner city housing project in Fort Greene - a piece of cake once the dog had the scent.)

When a novice dog owner decides to get serious about becoming more proficient or knowledgeable in evaluating dogs, whether for bench show competition or performance in some athletic endeavor, the bio-mechanical correctness and aptitude is often defined visually by a set of angles and proportions based on traditions largely influenced by old time horsemen. In fact, the Hittites, a steppe people who descended from the original domesticators of the horse, used visual terms when they wrote about how to pick a winner in horse races over 4000 years ago. To this day, AKC dog show judges claim to judge dogs who "look" like they could do the job their ancestors were bred for. But, just as savvy horsemen base the bulk of their breeding and buying decisions not on halter class wins (posed "looks") but on performance record, savvy dog people learn to "look" beyond the visual. The performance of dogs and horses and people is much more complicated than "looks". Not that the visual aspects are meaningless, but they often present a flawed and incomplete idea of the potential athletic capabilities.

The April 2001 issue of Equus had both an editorial and a feature article on the new awareness of these elements. Veterinarian Matthew Mackay-Smith mentions muscle composition, chemistry, heart capacity and circulation as attributes that have been measured by sports medicine, but states that they are only part of the story. He then goes on to say that a heretofore unappreciated aspect is the nervous system, in the conscious and reflex recruitment of just the right muscles in just the right sequence for just the right duration. Combined with a working temperament or attitude, the qualities of movement that are produced by nervous integration of the muscles in exquisite coordination produce the power and the cadence on which we base our enjoyment and appreciation. He, too, acknowledges our visual approach, writing that "linear and angular measurements are appealing because they are visible, scalable, repeatable and explainable, but significant differences in performance are often seen between horses who have the same physique." (Equus #282: Perspective column by Matthew Mackay-Smith, DVM pp.10 - 12.)

Musher Kate Persons wrote about the Hope 1991 race from Alaska, across the Bering Strait into eastern Asia in the Nov/Dec 1991 issue of Mushing Magazine. "Throughout the trip, we marveled at and envied the ease with which the Chukchi mushers and their dogs traveled in extreme wind and weather. Their teams were beautifully disciplined and conditioned, as would be expected, since these men are reindeer herders and hunters and use their dogs daily to earn their livelihood. The dogs had not been bred or trained with racing in mind, of course. They were tough and powerful work dogs of every shape and size, mostly longhaired and perfectly suited to endure the harsh Chukotkan weather. In spite of their relatively short legs and heavy builds, they trotted with surprising speed and fluid movement."

Well known horse writer, Elwyn Hartley Edwards once wrote that "The modern Thoroughbred is, indeed, a remarkable achievement; it is far larger, infinitely more  elegant and incomparably faster than the early product. However it is neither as sound nor enduring as the 'prototype' racehorse, which was more closely related to the Arab. No present-day horse could compete in stamina with a horse of the caliber of The Great Eclipse (1764-1789) who often ran three four-mile heats in a day, under weights that would now be unthinkable, and was never beaten." (The Larousse Guide to Horses and Ponies of the World, copyright The Hamlyn Publishing Group Ltd. 1979, Elwyn Hartley Edwards, page 7.)

Another factor that we don't see with our eyes is oxygen consumption and the ability to metabolize energy into sustained athletic performance. While most mammals can increase output to about 10 times their resting rate, humans and horses, with genetic talent and proper training can achieve about 20 times their resting rate. Tests performed in 1981 on four species of canids indicated that they were 2 to 3 times higher than mammals in general - a 30 fold increase. This has to do with mitochondria. For those whose biology is a little rusty, mitochondria are small cellular particles, or organelles, which are located in the cytoplasm, between the nucleus and the outer membrane of cells. Their main function is aerobic energy production, and they also contain a small amount of their own DNA.  Mitochondrial DNA is also what is used to trace back the genetic history of populations of living things, including Inuit Dogs. 

We know that the Inuit Sled Dog is something special. However, as a visual species, we humans must take care not to get so "focused" on the visual and cosmetic minutiae, so trapped in the minor details that we lose sight of what it is that makes them so special. Although they are "visually" similar to other dogs in many ways, the essence of what makes them a priceless resource of Pleistocene genetics and behaviors is not always easy to describe to someone who questions why we hope to preserve them, and who demands to be "shown" what makes them worth preserving. Perhaps somewhere in their near future we will be able to compare them biologically and genetically to other dogs to put them in true perspective, but for now we can start by telling our questioners that Inuit Sled Dogs are definitely more than meets the eye.

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