The Fan Hitch Volume 4, Number 3, May 2002

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Chuck Weiss
Research Paper 1: Survey of Diseases and Accidents
When to Start Working Dogs
A Day in the Woods
Future or Death
Reality Check: Reproduction or the Real Deal
Behaviour: Qiniliq Learns His Place
High Arctic Mushing: Part III
Book Review: Igloo Dwellers Were My Church
Janice Howls: All Along the Watch Tower
IMHO: Friends and Allies

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Janice Howls: 

A Canadian ISD                      Hamilton photo

All Along The Watchtower

by Janice Dougherty

The question of the "purebred" status of the Inuit Sled Dog appears to require continuous clarification, so I'll put in my 2 cents worth here. There is no question that subspecies, landraces and breeds of animals and plants all acquired their collective names and identities by being adapted to a certain environment and isolated from, to a greater or lesser degree, other populations. This resulted in an overall limitation on the gene pool that would be mixed and remixed in the same environment, under the same selective pressures, thus producing the characteristics, both physical and physiological, that are part of their identity. My first clear concept (my serious dog interests began in the late 1960s) of the ISD as an entity came from an obsolete, obviously dated copy of an AKC Complete Dog Book (The Complete Dog Book: Pure Breed Dogs: the Recognized Breeds and Standards, Compiled by Charles T. Inglee, an official publication of the American Kennel Club, Halcyon House, Garden City, New York, 1943. Reprinted here with the kind permission of the American Kennel Club.), where they were listed as "Eskimo Dog" - and separate from the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, etc. Although the excerpted text below is listed as "by courtesy of the Eskimo Dog Club of America", it was said that this information was largely compiled by the explorer Peary.

"The Eskimo dog, claimed by his admirers as the best-footed, toughest, and strongest for his size of all breeds, is a native of the Arctic. Originating, in all probability in Eastern Siberia, he has since been taken by his Eskimo owners to Alaska, Northern Canada, Baffin Island, Labrador, and Greenland. In all these sections he is still fairly plentiful, though at present there is considerable danger of his type being lost by indiscriminate cross breeding. As a member of the so-called "spitz group" he is closely related to Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies, Samoyeds, and Chows...

A product of the "survival of the fittest" over a period of at least two thousand years in rigorous localities, he is unsurpassed in his field. Not only does he provide a feasible means of transportation in winter, but he is an excellent pack animal in summer, when he is frequently employed to pull boats along the shore. He is indispensable as a hunting assistant, since his nose is keen and his courage of high order.

His coat, which consists of long guard hair and a woolly undercoat, is so dense that he can sleep comfortably out in the open at sixty to seventy degrees below zero and is impregnable to the heaviest rains. Eskimo dogs are found in two coats - the regular and the long-haired - and nearly every known dog coloration. Two colors, however, seem peculiar to the breed. These are white bodies with coal-black heads and all-whites with double spinal markings of silver gray. Both are beautiful, particularly when seen in perfectly matched teams.

The feet - probably the most important point in any working breed - have reached a state of perfection that would preclude improvement. They are large, long, and "flattish", though never "splayed", with strong nails, thick pads, and an abundance of hair to cushion between the toes. In the long-haired variety, the foot feathering is profuse.

Ken MacRury's Canadian Inuit Dogs                              Nora Sanders photo

He can pull heavier loads greater distances and on less food than many another animal. The weight of the load, mileage traveled, and speed depend upon physical condition, size, weather, and above all, snow and ice surfaces. On good trails, for very fast going, when averages of ten miles an hour or better are wanted, the load should not exceed half the total weight of the dogs in the team.  For fairly swift going, with averages of six to eight miles an hour, not more than the total weight of the team should be carried, while for heavy freight work, with averages of two to four miles an hour, a good team will draw from one and a half to double its body weight. On long trips, twenty to thirty miles is a good daily average, though in emergencies far greater distances may be covered. Upon one occasion, for instance, Commander Donald B. MacMillan, the famed explorer, drove his team of Eskimo dogs 100 miles in eighteen hours. The regular pace is usually a fast, steady trot, though at times the dogs will break into a gallop exceeding twenty miles an hour."

Although this piece represents an approach from several decades past, there is much of value to tease out from this old reference. The Inuit Dog was already acknowledged as having readily identifiable characteristics that suggested that it qualified as a recognizable "breed" - by the practiced eye of arctic explorers, not just kennel club types. Also that the most typical, correct forms were found in Northern Canada, most specifically the Eastern half, and including Baffin Island, Labrador, and in Greenland. Please note that the native dogs from these areas were seen to be of one continuous population, separate from other sled dogs. By omission, therefore, this may be an unstated acknowledgment of the long term influence of other breeds in the sled dogs of Western Canada and Alaska, stemming from at least the Gold Rush of the 1890s if not the importation of various breeds of dog by the Hudson's Bay Company, (RCMP breeding program aside). I believe that most of the "natural" breeds, or breeds that represent documented, ancient, basic, types were all recognizable to some degree well before someone sought to formalize their breeding. And that fine-tuning came after the fact.

There are some basic concepts and questions of being "purebred" that must be addressed. Authenticity - does the individual represent the traits that were recognizable as the breed or landrace from which it is purported to descend? Is there any form of documentation or history that can verify that this animal is legitimately a descendant of ancestors who were truly members of the ancestral population? Human integrity plays a critical factor here, and there may be a future for genetic tests. Further, does the animal reproduce these qualities, or are there suggestions of either non-arctic or other, predictable arctic breeds in the qualities of the offspring?  Normal variation - does the individual animal, authentic or not, fall within the parameters of normal population variation, or, more plainly, would it not be a "keeper" if born and raised in its ancestor's original environment? Not every purebred specimen is correct, even if it is purebred or authentic. How much of breed variation or "correctness" is based on personal preference rather than reflecting what was truly representative of the founding gene pool? How much variation is a true reflection of pollution with outside breed genetics versus normal variance from one limited bloodline?  Or how much variation is a result of breeding away from the original format, with non-typical, incorrect individuals in order to achieve competitiveness in areas that are dominated by other breeds or types? This practice is not unknown in horse breeds, and certainly not in dogs. The big picture will tell that anything that strays from arctic survival traits is incorrect, whether it is "purebred" or not. Those with a good eye for an animal do not need or rely on "papers" to see that a dog is typical of its kind, so a population of animals may well represent quite pure stock whether they are kennel club papered or not. Here is one of the differences between "registered" and "unregistered" individuals stemming from the same foundation stock.

In this same vein, I found this scrap of paper torn from Equus Magazine. The piece is recognizable as written by Dr. Deb Bennett, a Ph.D. paleontologist-horse-person-author who has an intense, intimate, (literally "to the bone")  sense of horse breeds and their varying conformation. I believe that this statement gives ISDI a useful perspective regarding Arctic Breed and indigenous dogs: "In this brief review, I have named more than fifty major breeds of horse, all of which a conformation judge ought to be able to distinguish. Structural differences set each breed apart, yet because each breed varies somewhat, similarities to other, historically and geographically related breeds will also be apparent. All individuals within a breed do not (and should not) look exactly alike. Variation is an important reflection of the reservoir of genetic diversity from which a breed's strength and ultimate survival derives. Thus, a conformation judge should not fixate upon a single model of the "ideal" representative of any breed, but must instead learn what the acceptable range of variation looks like, and what it produces in terms of carriage, gait and physiology. "Breed type" exists, but never resides in one or a few characteristics." (Equus 175, p.31) 

There are people who believe that any dog will do for any task if it is properly trained, fed and conditioned, as if they all had the same genetic "hand" dealt to them, no matter the breeding.  I prefer the old saying that "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear". In the February 12, 2002 Science section of the New York Times, there was an article on human fitness that has obvious applications to the canine athlete, and breed specific physiology. Here are some excerpts: "fitness [...] has genetic underpinnings, making it inherently much easier for some to get fit than it is for others. And the facets of fitness are independent, so those who inherit an ability to gain muscle strength may not be able to grow large muscles, and those who can easily increase their ability to do aerobic exercise may be thwarted in the weight room. [There were] large differences in respiration, in maximum oxygen uptake, in the results of muscle and adipose tissue biopsiesm [and] in the sizes of different types of muscle fibers. Some did not gain fitness. There are huge differences, but within families, you have aggregation [in the] heritability of responsiveness to exercise training." Reading this reminded me of some of my previous comments about there being more to the Inuit Sled Dog than meets the eye. In trying to maintain a viable gene pool of authentic, correct ISDs, we must balance our perspective against historically accurate details, being neither too conservative nor too liberal. If this gene "pool" is to be a "well" where those who desire the critical survival traits that are part of the ISD can quench their thirst, we are all responsible to keep these arctic "waters" pure.

"But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate, so let us not talk falsely now, the hour's getting late!" - with apologies to Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.

A Greenland ISD                                                  Hamilton photo

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