Table of Contents
Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Ken MacRury, Part 2
Page from the Behaviour Notebook: Death and Transfiguration
The Qitdlarssuaq Chronicles, Part 4
ISDI letter to the Editor of Mushing Magazine
Inuit Dog Thesis International Sales
Update: Traveling Dog Exhibit
Product Review: The Original Zipper Rescue Kit®
Janice Howls: PETAphiles
IMHO: Means, Motive and Opportunity
Index in The Fan Hitch, Volume 5
|Featured Inuit Dog Owner....
Ken MacRury, Part 2
TFH: What kind of
dog would you
reject from your team?
When the pups are born I looked for the active ones that do not shy away from human contact. When they start to walk I looked for the ones that come when called by the clicking/sucking sound. When they start to eat I looked for the ones that learn quickly to sit and wait to be hand fed, that do not grab their food and that wait their turn.
By the time they are 8-10 weeks, I have selected the pups I will keep. After that I would be reinforcing their attachment to the team by exposing them to all the adults. By the time they are 4-5 months they would be running loose with the team, sometimes ahead, sometimes in the middle of the team and sometimes following. At that age, I am looking for the will to be part of the team, to never quit trying to keep up. If after several hours they get tired and fall far behind they will get a ride. The important thing is that they keep trying even when tired.
By 6-8 months, it varies with the individual pup, they should be able to run in harness with the team for 3-5 hours. Females and smaller males mature faster and can keep the pace when larger siblings cannot and may need another two months to reach the same point of development. Starting pups in mid-winter or spring is more difficult as the team has been running all winter and the traveling conditions are faster. The best time to start pups is in the fall when the team is slower, the snow is soft and going is generally slower and runs are shorter.
If a pup makes the first few months in harness, their career in the team then depends mostly on behavioural traits as they have proven they are willing workers able to go the distance. They must above all be part of the team, fitting in at the bottom of the heap, deferential to the older adults, no fighting, and they must learn quickly to respond to the driver's commands, when to go, when to stop, lay down, stay in tight with the team, etc. If they don't get it they are off the team.
With older dogs, it sometimes happen that they lose their position in the hierarchy and everybody will then pick on them. Better they should go. Sometimes an old boss dog sees the end coming and becomes very aggressive, starting fights all the time. Better he should go. Sometimes an older dog just gets too slow and cannot keep the pace of the younger dogs. Better it should go. And then some dogs I got rid of for no particular reason other than a "personality conflict".
TFH: On purity:
How do you define
it? If you don't know for sure what the "pedigree"
of a dog is, what criteria
of purity are considered when breeding?
TFH: Just how
critical is genetic
diversity in this breed, given the process of
natural selection provided
by the arctic environment? How did you maintain
genetic diversity over
the past thirty years?
TFH: You devoted
an entire chapter
in your thesis to addressing the wolf-dog
controversy, presenting a lot
of physical evidence to support your claim. Yet the
opinion persists that
the Inuit Sled Dog is more closely related to the
wolf, or at least more
“wolfy" than other breeds of dogs. Why do some
people seem to hold on to
I believe that people have two primary reasons for wanting to relate the Inuit dog to the wolf. The first is too much reading and believing of Jack London and similar authors who have a very limited knowledge of the north, sled dogs and wolves and yet have written with great authority about all three. The second is a need to relate to a wildness that exists only in remote places but which some people try to hold close to themselves by having wolf-dogs, sled dogs or other pets that they want badly to believe are a piece of the wildness that they need.
In my thirty-one years in the Arctic I did hear stories about dog/wolf breedings taking place but when I really tried to track down the event to specifics I could never verify the event or locate any offspring. It was always, "It happened somewhere else." or "It happened in my grandfather's time." or some such explanation. I have seen the photos of the wolf in North-east Greenland, traveling with the dogs of the Sirius Patrol. But one must remember that wolves in that area are extremely rare (I have seen estimates of 5-10 wolves for the entire NE Greenland area). As wolves are social animals, perhaps the wolf just wanted some company and had not seen its own kind in many months. I am also aware that in Baffin, where wolves are much more plentiful, dogs and wolves are most often mortal enemies who will kill each other when the chance arises. In the 1980s, at a camp near Steensby Inlet on the north side of Foxe Basin, a wolf or wolves took to raiding the camp and killing and eating the sled dogs, until one night the dogs ganged up on one large adult male wolf and killed it. After that the wolves departed the area. The camp people believed that the wolf killed had been leading his pack into the camp but one night tried to do a raid on his own and was no match for the eleven dogs that he met. There are other similar stories from the eastern arctic.
As I point out in my thesis, dog-wolf crosses would make terrible sled dogs, being unfit for the role both physically and temperamentally, should they survive to an age when they would be put to harness, and that would be unlikely since they would be the first to be culled from a team as they are not built to be pullers but are sprinters built for the quick chase.
Inuit dogs in a team situation do exhibit some of the behavioral characteristics of a wolf pack as they are living in a similar social context. I have also read research reports on packs of feral dogs that revert to a social order similar to that of a wolf pack when left to their own survival. That does not mean that feral dogs or Inuit Dogs are closely related to wolves, only that they exhibit similar behavior.
TFH: Is the
biological clock ticking
down for the Inuit Dog? What is the future of the
breed in the Canadian
TFH: How would you
explain to a
total novice why the Inuit Dog can be so incredibly
social with humans,
yet still be such a tough dog to manage?
TFH: For those
folks living below
the treeline who breed Inuit Dogs, what extra
diligence, what must they
take into consideration to "make up for" the culling
mother nature in the
Arctic is not there to provide?
In situations, north or south, where dogs are not subjected to the life of a working dog - and I do not think a short run on the weekend makes a working team - that if we are to make a serious effort to preserve a healthy breed we then have to eliminate any known defect from breeding. Breeding should be by alpha dogs from established teams. All dogs should be outside at all seasons. Pups should be born and raised outside with minimal shelter. An all meat diet should be fed to the dogs through their life. The dogs should be worked hard whenever possible. These suggestions may be impossible to implement for most owners, but if we want to be in a position to provide good basic breeding stock back to the Arctic, we must be diligent in our efforts to preserve the breed in as natural a state as possible.
I will tell you a story about survival and circumstances. Tatigat, an Inuit hunter, was out polar bear hunting with his team and, in the process of attacking a bear, his best bear dog was slashed before Tatigat could kill the bear. The dog was almost scalped, one ear was totally torn off at the base and a large flap of skin covering most of the top of his head was torn loose. The dog was bleeding badly and Tatigat almost shot the dog to put him out of his pain. But he did not and they camped at the spot for the night. In the morning the dog was still alive and the bleeding was lessened. That day they started for home and the dog was left behind to come home or die on its own. They did not see the dog all day but after another night camping the dog was there in the morning. At that point, Tatigat thought he might live so from then on the dog rode on the sled until they got home. When I saw the dog, about a month after the event, although a very ugly dog, he was just about fully recovered and hair was even starting to grow on the new skin covering the head. The lost ear had not reappeared. There are a lot of circumstances that could have turned the story another way.