The Fan Hitch Volume 5, Number 3, June 2003

Newsletter of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: …of Philosophy, Dogs and History
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Ken MacRury, Part 1
Remembering Niya
Page from the Behaviour Notebook: Bishop and Tunaq
Antarctic Vignettes
On Managing ISD Aggression
The Qitdlarssuaq Chronicles, Part 3
News Briefs:
Inuit Dog Thesis Back in Print
Nunavut Quest 2003 Report
Article in Mushing Magazine
Possible Smithsonian Magazine Story
Product Review: Dismutase
Tip for the Trail: Insect Repellents
Book Review: The New Guide to Breeding 
Old Fashioned Working Dogs
Video Review: Stonington Island, Antarctica 1957-58
IMHO: The Slippery Slope

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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 Behavior Notebook...

Bishop postures over a submissive Tunaq  Hamilton photo

Bishop and Tunaq

by Sue Hamilton

For the most part the battling and the bloodshed have stopped, although we don't fully trust the players in this relationship. It has been a long road "back" to this point, and I am not sure if we are coming full circle or the pack has just mutated to a different social arrangement.

Siblings Bishop and his two sisters, the more visceral Siku and the more cerebral Qimmiq (both spayed), were a little over three years old when Tunaq, a 14-week-old male was brought home in December, 1999. After a couple of weeks of controlled introduction, the newcomer was initiated into his new pack. Bishop took charge of most of the physical interactions and spent much time with Tunaq's throat in his mouth, playfully choking him down. Of course, this was play with a purpose, "I'm in charge here you little snot. And don't you ever forget it!"  At first even Tunaq thought this was just a game and his only vocalizations were the involuntary cough of being strangled. Thankfully, Bishop knew just how far and how long to squeeze without permanently dispatching his new organic toy. 

And so for the next couple of years this foursome lived and played and worked in harness in harmony. As Tunaq grew in size, he found voice enough to verbalize his submissiveness with the typical high pitched cry of a dog "on the verge of being murdered" - an expression of self preservation actually - when Bishop pinned him. Tunaq remained at the bottom of not only his pack, but also within the entire kennel, even if there were no physical contact with the other dogs. It was clear that none of them thought much of him. But that seemed to be okay with him, too.

In May of 2001, the three siblings were approaching four years of age and Tunaq was about twenty  months old. I will interject here our experience after a couple dozen years of observation. We often see behavioral changes beginning around eighteen months of age and sometime lasting to around thirty-six months. We refer to this as the protective-aggressive phase, named after one of the stages as defined by ethologist William E. Campbell in his book Behavior Problems in Dogs (p.20, American Veterinary Publications, 1975). Campbell identifies a period much earlier than our experience, however. In any event, in some dogs we have raised and in even more dogs we bred then placed (we're talking malamutes here), we have been aware of attitudinal changes from minor to significant. This may have been the case with Tunaq… or a combination of that and the arrival of the nine-year-old retired boss dog from Iqaluit.

Even during his brief settling in period, Goofy never considered himself the social low life, even if he was the new kid on the block. Combining him with three adult spayed females only served to reaffirm his role as a leader in his new pack and a force to be reckoned with in the overall kennel populace. Clearly, Tunaq had other ideas and made it his business to convey his versions of superiority by facing Goofy, standing tall and four square, with a fixed stare into the new dog's eyes. However Goofy interpreted Tunaq's posturing, it elicited from the old veteran guttural sounds of disapproval. Instead of backing down, Tunaq seemed to enjoy the fact that he could get any sort of rise out of any other dog. He had power; he could effect a reaction in another dog without cost to him. Somebody really hated him. He finally had status within the kennel! He got a reinforcing boost to his self-assigned superiority complex with the early September, 2001 arrival of an eight-week-old male ISD who was quickly integrated into a different pack and shortly thereafter began purposeful leg lifting on the pens of the other packs. A rather astonishing display for a pup of his tender age.

By October, Bishop was directing displacement frustration (over what was going on elsewhere in the kennel) reactions toward Tunaq. And Tunaq, ceased to respond with his life-saving scream of submission. He began not to scream but apparently conveyed to Bishop the desire to defend himself. This escalated Bishop's physical display from merely pinning Tunaq by the throat, to grabbing it and savagely shaking his head. Their relationship was a downhill one after that. Tunaq became nervous in Bishop's presence and spent much time hiding in a dog house. Bishop, The Intimidator, would lie right outside the entrance. If Tunaq took refuge inside the multi-dog house (often with Qimmiq), Bishop would slowly enter the house with an evil gaze and then position himself in the doorway. We suspected that Tunaq was not being allowed unfettered access to water and, when Tunaq started his nervous vomiting part way into eating his meals, we reluctantly decided to separate them. The arrangement was to alternate each of the males between bachelor living and time with the two bitches.

We continued to turn out all four dogs for group exercise. It was always a tense situation, but one we felt we had to do. Bishop was always looking for the least little excuse to pound Tunaq. And while Tunaq was never ever going to confront Bishop with a threat, for some reason we still do not understand, he (Tunaq) could have done more to avoid confrontations.  A rather vocal dog, Tunaq often seemed to "bait" the older male with vocalizations we thought were not uttered in his own best interest. It appeared he had an approach-avoidance conflict. As much as he feared Bishop, he wanted to be relatively near him. What triggered the continued attacks seemed at times invisible cues, or so subtle that we failed to pick up whatever signal precipitated them. So we made another reluctant decision to have both males castrated. Cutting off body parts does not cut out behavior problems, especially when it is done beyond the onset of sexual maturity as was the case with these two dogs. But even in the absence of the stimulus of intact bitches (all of ours are spayed) we were hoping that the "edge" would be taken off the boys' respective attitudes. In particular we were hoping that the younger Tunaq might benefit most by the loss of his gonads. The surgeries were performed in February, 2002.

We began to see behavior changes in Bishop a couple of months later. He became mellower, less hypersensitive to the invisible-to-us actions by Tunaq that would result in an attack. This is not to say that they didn't fight, because they did continue to battle, with decreasing frequency over the next ten months. We saw little transformation in Tunaq's post-castration attitude. Towards the end of the summer of 2002, we began taking the boys for walks on unfamiliar trails. They wore their harnesses and generally maintained no daylight between their two bodies as they eagerly pulled out ahead of us - not the least sense of animus on either dog's part. Clearly, they were eager to get back to work after the disastrous 2001-2002 non-sledding season, due to uncooperative weather conditions. We felt comfortable that they could work in harness with absolutely no problem and we hoped that this activity would be a confidence/trust builder for both. 

The character of the fighting remained essentially the same. Bishop would jump Tunaq. Tunaq would usually be on his back. Bishop received the bulk of the wounds, usually on the legs, but once in the ear and then a dandy in his armpit which kept him out of harness for several weeks. Tunaq, with his huge thick coat, never received more than a slight scratch. We would have to physically separate the two. And, often, the two sisters would get so excited that they would begin fighting with each other. House rules dictated that the foursome would never be allowed together without both of us present to break up the melees.

Toward the end of 2002, with the frequency of the fights decreasing, we allowed the four to occupy the same run while we were home. As strange as it seemed, we got the impression that all of them did prefer to be housed together. They seemed happier.

Early January 2003, there appeared to be a significant shift in the social dynamics. Instead of fighting with each other when the boys got into it, the two sisters began backing up their brother! Tunaq must have sensed a new futility to attempting to fight back and returned to his blood curdling screaming for his life. The ferocity of Bishop's assaults decreased to the point where we were able to stop the fighting by voice alone. More surprising was seeing Siku, somewhat of an instigator and more short-tempered than her sister Qimmiq, initiating a fight with Tunaq who would submit to her, with Bishop sitting outside the action looking on!

During this past magnificent sledding season, the dogs had far more opportunities to work together. Siku, who was too busy pulling to follow voice commands, was moved back from sharing the lead dog position with Qimmiq and swapped out for Tunaq, who had been working alongside Bishop at wheel. Tunaq was clueless as to the commands, which was okay, as Qimmiq was in charge up front. She seemed to thoroughly enjoy Tunaq's unbridled enthusiasm. 

Bishop and Tunaq are not yet on speaking terms (at least non-swear words) - not in harness, in their pen or turned out in the fenced in exercise areas. However, in the back yard, for example, they have no problem in very close proximity to each other and there appears to be no electricity in the air when both are foraging for stuff in the same square foot of space - go figure!  Although their relationship is not fully mended - and it may never be - I don't think they've yet formed their ultimate rapport. I would love to see them actually enjoying each other's company. But for now I'm happy with their progress. I'm running out of suture material anyway.

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