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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When a Fight Isn't a Fight

by Sue Hamilton

A funny thing happened one summer. A good friend was in town to do a doggie presentation at a community "hoe down" (a country fair in this case).  Christine's Uncle Andrew was one of the organizers and that, although she lives in New Hampshire, is how she got the assignment.  While we were welcomed to participate, we were only too happy to decline as it was a miserably hot day - much too warm for Inuit Dogs, but tolerable and relatively safe for Christine's Alaskan huskies, some of whom didn't even have double coats! 

But because of the heat and the fireworks that were planned for that evening, we invited Christine to park her crew in our exercise pen where they could relax and have some privacy once the event ended at 5:00 PM. 

After picketing out, watering and feeding her crew, she turned her attention to our dogs, as it had been a couple of years since she last saw them.  We keep our dogs housed in groups in chain link pens.  The Inuit Dogs in particular were already jacked up by the visitor dogs getting fed while they were not.  They became even more wild with the presence of a different human standing in front of their runs.  They crowded each other, vying for attention.  Partly due to being "in each other's face" and partly as an act of displacement (frustrated at not having immediate access to the new human), one group turned on each other. What ensued was what we refer to as a "four-dog hairball" - a full contact brawl accompanied by ferocious snarling and you're-cutting-my-heart-out-with-a-dull-knife shrieking.  I stood silent but observant in front of the pen. Suddenly, Christine, standing to my left, screamed out, "KNOCK IT OFF" to which the three four-year-old siblings (two bitches and a dog) and their nine-month old male underling instantly complied. Christine looked at me with a totally embarrassed apologetic countenance for having yelled at/disciplined someone else's dogs.  Her reflexes kicked in when she saw the dogs "fighting". I was doing my best not to double over with hysterical laughter.

Christine and I live in two very different sled dog worlds.  Her "thing" is sprint racing with Alaskan huskies and mine is recreational sledding with freighting dogs, formerly Alaskan Malamutes and now Inuit Dogs.  Even so, there was a time when I would have waded in (with more than just my voice) as quickly as Christine did with hers to break up a malamute fight and later the ISDs before we knew better. 

No one wants to see their dogs killed or seriously injured in a fight. Different breeds and for sure different dogs of one breed respond variably to conflict within their own species.  And there is a wide range of dog-to-dog relationships, some perhaps too subtle for us humans to perceive.   However humans "inflicting" too much domestication (too much of our point of view) on our dogs has possibly cost them the skills to sort out their social order in a less than lethal or crippling manner. Having spent decades to hundreds of years genetically bending dogs to our will, humans can't just suddenly decide to let the dogs to settle their differences, like the less genetically manipulated ISDs, without risking an episode of hair, teeth and eyes all over the place. This is not to say that a fight amongst Inuit Dogs never results in a nasty conclusion.  But it is up to us to fine tune our skills, learn to be exquisitely observant, pick up on more social behavior nuances so we know when to step in or butt out. And more than this, in the keeping of Inuit Dogs in particular and perhaps for others who maintain populations of dogs that must be able to work together, we ought consider ways to maintain and allow the reinforcement of a stable social structure within the canine pack by the pack itself, with some judicious human oversight. 

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