The Fan Hitch Volume 4, Number 4, September 2002

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

We Are Not Alone
Research Paper II: Occupational Osteoarthritis
Who is an ISDI "Member"
Northern Inuits (sic), Again!
High Arctic Mushing: Part IV
The Inuit Dog: Its Provenance, Environment and History
Preserving "Bear" Dogs
Janice Howls: Extinction
IMHO: Little Minds, Little Worlds
Index of The Fan Hitch, Volume IV

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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.

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Illustration by Ekootak, reprinted with permission from I,Nuligak, by Nuligak, edited and 
translated by Maurice Metayer. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1966. 


by Janice Dougherty

The New York Times Science section for Tuesday, August 20, 2002 contained several articles under the overall topic of "Managing Planet Earth". Included were pieces about the many groups of people, worldwide, who are trying to preserve what they value as important, and view as threatened remnants of our planet's biology. One phrase that caught my notice was this: "…who decides what is special? If left to the majority, weaned on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic, the wild world of the future may end up looking cuddly and cute… but may not have much biological integrity deep down." However, the Discovery Channel is not all sugar and spice. Recently, there was a program on what killed the mega-beasts, the very large mammals that developed after the age of the dinosaurs, and subsequently, quite abruptly, became extinct. The extinction has been theoretically attributed to, and correlated with, chill of climate, kill by human hunters and ill by some disease that jumped species easily. The dramatization of the human hunter influence included some footage of people representing early human hunters accompanied by their dogs. The dogs they chose were northern breed looking dogs. I believe this choice was valid.

ISDI is a collection of people who have a strong interest in seeing the Inuit Sled Dog maintain its biological integrity as a working sled dog native to and produced by the arctic environment in connection with all the traditional needs and uses by the Inuit population. Biological integrity is something that modern agricultural people have drifted away from (at their eventual peril) and that modern urban people are largely removed from, both physically and emotionally.  In the case of breeds of dogs, the keepers, breeders and users of these dogs decide what is special ? and most dogs are bred and sold because they look cuddly and cute to their owners, and as we know, no longer have much biological integrity deep down. 

While a recent article in Mushing magazine (Sept/Oct 2002) on the origin of sled dogs paints the Alaskan Husky as the direct descendant of early dogs, I think much was compressed or edited out of the research for this piece. This article states that "there is palaeontological evidence that indicates that ancestral wolves shared common territories with ancestral human beings between 200,000 and 500,000 years ago. Also, studies on the DNA of domesticated dogs and wolves indicate that the two may have started to separate up to 135,000 years ago." Even I can do the math! This provides more than ample time for early humans to have repeatedly observed and competed with wild canines, hunting the same species as we did, for many centuries before the 10,000 to 15,000 years ago when domestication actually changed the skeletal remains of dogs. These domesticated appearing remains also correlate with the time of more pastoral to agricultural pursuits of many human population groups.  Obviously, the temperaments and behaviors of those early dogs changed well before the physiques did. The author also quotes the Coppingers' recent book (Fan Hitch Book Review, Vol. 3, No. 4, August 2001) that "wolves and dogs parted ways at the dump". I believe that these dumps were the butchering sites and the encampments of people still living the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, not yet into pastoralism or agriculture. I further believe that early dogs that frequented these dumps also followed human hunters on their hunting forays, as even today there is some interaction between ravens and wolves. Once dogs were more socialized to humans, handled by them at an early age, or acknowledged as sometimes useful pests and thrown a scrap of food now and then, it doesn't take much of a leap to think that the original "draft" usage of the northern dogs began by hauling chunks of butchered meat back from the kill site.  And that led to also being used for seasonal migrations by the human community, hauling tent poles, back packs, etc. Native Americans were well known for using dogs to drag a travois before the arrival of the horse. 

So what major behaviors were characteristic of the early, pre-agricultural dogs? Beyond a certain measure of manageability, boldness in hunting large game and physical strength in hauling valuable supplies. The courage, boldness, tenacity and predatory drive that it takes to keep a wooly mammoth/bear/moose/large game, at bay is not linked to a temperament that is easily cowed; that is "cute and cuddly."  This is a package deal, folks. Interestingly enough, in that same issue of Mushing, as if to cement the point, Miki Collins wrote of an incident with her team where "every dog fell on the ground and turned its head away from the beast, gazing unseeing off into space as long as the bear was staring at them." The Alaskan Husky, while of most respectable athletic performance, has been purposefully bred away from the original northern arctic collection of dog behaviors that descend from large game/bear dogs in the circumpolar regions of the earth. The modern day dog hobbyist who selects one of these tough, northern, "bear" dogs (Karelians, Akitas, Siberian Hunting Laika, ISD, etc.) must honor this heritage and accept it as correct, no matter how inconvenient or less than marketable to the world of cute and cuddly, or "show".  If a family can only manage a dog of softer temperament, then they cannot expect this good pet dog to defend them against the growing boldness of the bear population in North America. It is the breeder who decides what is special, what gets to be preserved and what goes extinct; it is the integrity of every breeding and placement that matters in the end. 

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