The Fan Hitch Volume 4, Number 1, December 2001

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Featured Inuit Dog Owners: Jill and Daniel Pinkwater
Never Let Go: A Pedestrian Experience
Points of View:  John Senter; Kathy Schmidt
When a Fight Isn't a Fight
Arctic Brucellosis Update
High Arctic Mushing: Part 1
Book Review: Uncle Boris in the Yukon
Page from a Behaviour Notebook: Do Dogs Have Emotions?
IMHO: Dog Sled Racing vs. Sled Dog Racing

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              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. 

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Page from the behaviour notebook...

Cousteau                   Montcombroux photo

Do Dogs Have Emotions?

by  Geneviève Montcombroux

The debate over whether dogs have emotional feelings still rages. Positioned on one side are the behavioral scientists who tell us that dogs do not think, therefore can have no feelings of an emotional nature. On the other side we have the dog owners, each one with a million anecdotes to prove that their dogs, whether pets or working dogs, do think and do have feelings.

On a recent sunny afternoon, I took a bag of deer bones from the freezer and made my way through the kennel to the joyful yaps and welcoming whoops of dogs eager to receive their prize and run off with it into the bushes. When I had finished the distribution, I glanced at the nearest pen and held my breath. Cousteau, my four-year-old boss dog, was in the act of laying his bone at the paws of cute young Upingak. Then he sat back and watched with obvious delight as she gnawed on his bone.

A few minutes later he got up, walked calmly toward a young male and took his bone. "All right," I said aloud, "now for the fight." But no, Pidgujuk only followed Cousteau. To my amazement, Cousteau deposited the stolen bone in front of Upingak, who graciously abandoned his previous gift to chew on the new one. Again, Cousteau sat watching her eat. Then in a re-run of the previous scene, he got up, walked to the other young male, took his bone without as much as a growl. Norsuak followed his treat with a forlorn look, only to see the boss deposit the new present in front of Upingak. The recipient of all this bounty behaved like the spoiled princess she is.

Still, Cousteau was not satisfied. He sought out the youngest female, quietly enjoying her bone in a corner of the pen, and delicately removed it. I watched a repeat of the previous scenes. Lulik did growl, but like her male companions, sat watching Upingak and her cluster of bones. A boss' authority is not to be disputed.

There was one bone left and the alpha female was chewing on it. Cousteau considered her for a while before approaching. Vercors is a laid-back female, if ever there was one, but she doesn't put up with much nonsense. What she must have said to Cousteau is impossible to translate, but he promptly gave up his scheme to steal yet another bone and went to sit again in front of Upingak. He remained there until I came with another round of bones for the victims of his chivalrous act of generosity, including a bone for him, which he chewed sitting contented next to his favorite little female.

As the performance came to an end, I regretted not having recorded it on video or photographs. Words can hardly do justice to the poignant picture of dogs being robbed of their treat to satisfy the love urges of one big male. Do the dogs think? Do they express emotions? My belief is yes, absolutely. They did on that occasion, just as they do every day of the year in a myriad of subtle ways. I am glad I am not a scientist forced to explain why the complex interaction I had observed was simply dumb instinct at work.

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