The Fan Hitch Volume 6, Number 1, December 2003

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: What's in a Name?
Fan Mail
Breaking Away: The Liberation of Ove Nygaard
What is the ISDI and the ISD?
A Holiday Miracle
Of Sheep and Sled Dogs
News Briefs
Qamutiit and How They're Loaded
The Truth Behind the Madrid Protocol
Media Review: Globe Trekker - Iceland and Greenland
Product Review: Ryobi TrimmerPlus®
Tip for the Trail: Bitches in Season
IMHO: Super Cars and Inuit Dogs

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

Talk to The Fan Hitch

The Fan Hitch home page

ISDI home page

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.

Contents of The Fan Hitch Website and its publications  are protected by international copyright laws. No photo, drawing or text may be reproduced in any form without written consent. Webmasters please note: written consent is necessary before linking this site to yours! Please forward requests to Sue Hamilton, 55 Town Line Rd., Harwinton, Connecticut  06791, USA or

What is the Inuit Sled Dog International? 
What is the Inuit Sled Dog?

a review by Sue Hamilton 

This article has been prompted by correspondence from JF, the second of the two letters appearing in the "Fan Mail" section of The Fan Hitch.  In further email exchanges with JF, it was revealed that the rescuee had been placed by a breeder into a family who was said to have mismanaged the dog. According to JF, the dog "was so far over the edge from inappropriate training, abuse and malnutrition that she was quite neurotic, and dare I say psychotic" when returned to the breeder. She  (the breeder)  "was simply not equipped to deal with a dog of this caliber." So the breeder turned the dog over to JF, someone based on years of experience with lost causes, although none of it with this breed, whose philosophy is that as damaged as this dog had become (aggression to small dogs and to people), someone had to take the responsibility to fix then outplace it "into normal society" instead of euthanizing it. 

What I found even more remarkable is that even after JF had "gone through the ISDI website" and admitting to being aware of "the struggle between Inuit Sled Dog International and Canadian Eskimo Dog Association", JF still wondered what the ISD was and if it was the same as a CED. Well, perhaps JF didn't review all The Fan Hitch editions on the ISDI site. Since JF is not the only one who has recently asked similar questions, perhaps, as editor-in-chief of The Fan Hitch I haven't recently enough revisited this issue for those readers who only lately stumbled across our journal and who haven't, for whatever reason, read all the back issues. In either case, here is a review what the ISDI is and what is the difference between an ISD and a CED.

Who and what  is The Inuit Sled Dog International?
The Inuit Sled Dog International (ISDI) was "conceived" by Geneviève Montcombroux of Canada and Sue Hamilton of the United States in late 1996 and "born" in 1997. At the first ISDI Gathering in July 2001, it was agreed that Geneviève and Sue would remain as "coordinators". Shortly thereafter, Ove Nygaard in Norway was made the coordinator for Europe, and that anyone who believed in the ISDI's goals was welcomed and encouraged to participate in any ISDI activities. Geneviève and I also decided early on that no dues would be collected. We prefer to refer to supporters as "enthusiasts" rather than members.

The goal of the Inuit Sled Dog International (ISDI) is the preservation of this ancient arctic breed in its purest form as a working dog.  It is a loosely structured consortium of volunteers dedicated to pursuing the above goal by 1) serving as a resource of honest, reliable information about the Inuit Sled Dog and its characteristics, 2) offering mentoring to owners and potential owners who are or will be committed to the goals of the ISDI in maintaining Inuit Sled Dogs, and 3) encouraging those who would breed these dogs to do so with the highest standards of purity, health, temperament and performance. 

The ISDI condemns crossbreeding and the hybridization (with wild canids) of Inuit Sleds Dog for any purpose.

The ISDI maintains a breed database. This registry is not associated with any national or international single or all breed club. Its function is 1) to keep track of as many pure Inuit Sled Dogs as possible, 2) identify suitable specimens for those breeders to maintain a diverse gene pool, and 3) serve as a repository for any information on health and other relevant issues. All ISD owners are encouraged to submit information on their dogs, past and present, including health information and behavioral observations. 

The ISDI has become involved in critical matters involving the breed by writing position letters to the powers-that-be in any locale in support of issues that are of key importance to the best interest of the Inuit Sled Dog. 

In July 2001 the ISDI convened its first Gathering in Ely, Minnesota, hosted by Paul Schurke at his Wintergreen Dogsledding Lodge, where enthusiasts from North America met, got to know each other and heard (and gave) presentations on issues important to the Inuit Sled Dog. The Gathering offered the opportunity for ISD owners to network and learn that there are many of "our own kind" who may otherwise feel isolated and outnumbered in a world of AKC-CKC-FCI show dog and or pet owners and a general public who just don't understand what it takes to own a primitive working breed. ISDI hopes to repeat this successful event at some point in the future. 

The ISDI disseminates information about the Inuit Sled Dog via a quarterly electronic journal, The Fan Hitch. A printed (in color) subscription is available for the cost of supplies and mailing. 

The ISDI supports its activities by monetary donations, the profits of the sale of Ken MacRury's thesis "The Inuit Dog: Its Provenance, Environment and History" (essentially a very generous donation by Ken), paying for things out of pocket, by the contributions of stories and articles to the journal and the unforgettable contributions of time and labor of so many kind people who made the 2001 Gathering a success.

The ISDI welcomes all who share its goals in both theory and (for those who own ISDs) in practice. We especially want those who are newly interested in the breed to understand that their initial contact with us will be one of cautious optimism. The status of the Inuit Sled Dog, especially but not limited to arctic Canada, is threatened, and we have to be certain that valuable genetic material is going only to highly responsible owners who must not only maintain these dogs so they do not suffer the fate similar to the one described in JF's email, but who will use the highest standards of selection should they decide to breed them. There is far too much at stake for ISDI enthusiast-mentors to act otherwise.

The difference between Inuit Sled Dogs and Canadian Eskimo Dogs
The Inuit Sled Dog International uses the name Inuit Sled Dog because using the word "Inuit" is the official wish of The People (definition of the word "Inuit"). At the Circumpolar Conference held in Barrow, Alaska in 1977, the term "Inuit" was officially adopted. Inuit have long resented the word ‘Eskimo’, which roughly translate as 'eaters of raw flesh' - as in cannibalism. As the story goes, the first Europeans to land in Labrador asked the native Indians (now known as First Nations) the name of the people living farther north. Since they were rather disparaging toward their northern neighbors, they referred to them as 'huskies' (meaning cannibals) or huskemaw in the Labrador dialect, and the Europeans adopted the name they heard as Esquimaux or Eskimo in the anglicised form.  Using the name "Inuit" is a matter of respect and honors the wishes of The People, and not just used as a matter of political correctness as some skeptics whine.

ISDI believes that the Inuit Sled Dog is the same breed in Canada and Greenland, and possibly Russia, if any pure dogs still exist there. (Note that this belief is hotly disputed by the Canadian Eskimo Dog Association  - CEDA.) So the use of the term "Inuit Sled Dog" is all encompassing of this circumpolar species. The Canadian Eskimo Dog (CED) is the official name of the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) registered breed.  The source of this stock came as a result of the Eskimo Dog Recovery Project, conceived in the early 1970s in Yellowknife, NWT, Canada by Bill Carpenter and John McGrath, who observed during the course of their travels throughout arctic Canada that there appeared to be very few pure specimens left. And while we often roll our eyeballs when someone tells us that they want to have a breeding pair of ISDs so they can "save the breed", thirty years ago these two men collected scores, if not hundreds of specimens and did indeed snatch the breed from near extinction. It took an enormous effort on their part seeking and obtaining quality dogs, securing financial support and dog food and just caring for so many animals. But the project succeeded.  And it was natural that the dogs be registered in some way and doing so through the Canadian Kennel Club seemed the logical route. But I don't think Carpenter and McGrath ever suspected, nor would they have desired an outcome resulting in just another working breed (like the Border Collie, Jack Russell Terrier, English Setter and so many others) losing its work ethic by being bred, sold and promoted for show and pets - as is inevitable once ingested into an system such as the CKC - instead of this primitive dog being selected strictly on the basis of performance as a freighting dog and hunting partner. 

Although Geneviève petitioned CKC to change the name to reflect the wish of the Aboriginal people of the Arctic (this was done before the existence of ISDI), the CKC refused to do so.  And despite early disappointment in their recalcitrance, it turns out that given what ISDI believes to be the resulting loss of vigor and original purpose over the past thirty years of the CKC "version", it is just as well there is this general distinction. In this case, we do not see the CED being the same as the ISD. This is not to say that CKC registerable stock can't be excellent working dogs. There are folks in the western Canadian provinces who use and breed only for working. Their genetic material originates from the Recovery Project and can be CKC registered although we have heard that their owners don't bother to. So, what are these dogs called? As far as ISDI is concerned, they're Canadian Inuit Dogs or CIDs or Inuit Sled Dogs or ISDs; in this case, if their owners insist on calling them Canadian Eskimo dogs because they are CKC registerable, we would say that the CED is the same as an ISD although we still don't approve of the use of the term "Eskimo" even if the dogs are fed raw meat (although not the flesh of their own species). 

ISDI understands that identifying pure ISDs is not always an easy task.  This is why ISDI wishes to identify, "pedigree" whenever possible and track pure specimens. This is not to say, as a CEDA supporter proclaimed to an email discussion list about a year ago, that ISDs are mixed breeds. While we do have to wade through the likes of "polar huskies" and other look-alike crossbreeds, there are indeed pure ISDs and these need to be cherished, worked and bred to the highest of standards for they represent the future of the breed.

Of course, there's no absolute guaranty of purity of dogs with official club (CKC, AKC, FCI) registration papers either, as you will read, for example, in the story "How I Came to be Liberated from Traditional Dog Club Organizations" by Ove Nygaard, found elsewhere in this journal.

A few paragraphs on temperament
The survival of any breed (including defining "survival" as the retention of original purpose) depends on the ability to propagate good examples and then to find appropriate and responsible homes. This becomes an issue for all breeds of dogs whose origins were based on functional activity. Like any other working animal, this arctic breed comes with its own behavior portfolio, which must be taken into account when reproducing, placing and owning them. Dogs bred for tractability in a non-working environment (the show ring and pet home) drift away from their origins, yet retain enough of their original "attitude" such that, when placed with families who expect them to act like family pets, they often are behaviorally problematic. 

The Inuit Sled Dog bred to a working performance standard is anything but "mild mannered". According to Bill Carpenter, "the breed exhibits an exaggerated response to all stimuli." These dogs are not pets. They are working dogs. While it is true that a properly raised and well-socialized ISD is extremely people oriented, this must not be misconstrued as a pet quality, family dog trait. That is why potential owners, even those with northern dog experience, must be carefully evaluated, educated and selected.

Choosing breeding stock based on a mild temperament would result in disastrous changes in the Inuit Dog. For example, it may be that the "mild manner" is an expression of the often-dull attitude of dogs with abnormally low thyroid levels.  Also, there is an interesting study of captive fur foxes in the former Soviet Union where researcher Dmitri Belyaev selected these wild (but captive) foxes for "mild" temperament that could make them into pets. The results were startling - the normally agouti coats developed splotches of white, the ears flopped. (You can read more about his research in papers in the Journal of Heredity, 70:301-8; Applied Animal Behavior Science, 13:359-70 and In the Wild Canids, 1975, edited by M.W. Fox; or you can read an overview of Belyaev's work in Ray Coppinger's Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior and Evolution.)

In summary
Canis familiaris borealis, the Inuit Sled Dog, is the primitive working dog of the Arctic. While utterly capable of surviving under that region's often-inhospitable climate, in some circumpolar locations the breed is struggling to survive under government attempts at inhospitable regulations. The breed is also at risk in parts of the Arctic due to the presence of non-indigenous dogs involved in cross breeding as well as a lack of understanding by some younger Inuit dog drivers of what pure Inuit Dogs should look like. These are just a few of the threats the breed faces.

Although best suited for the Arctic, the breed can and does thrive below the tree line in experienced working homes widely scattered throughout the northern hemisphere. In some of these locations, however, the art of maintaining Inuit Dogs (their needs, behavior and training) may not be understood or accepted by today's pet owning observers. 

Through its website and journal, the ISDI gives form and structure and lends voice to issues of importance to the breed and to people passionate about it.  The ISDI remains proactive by engaging in dialog and projects of all sizes and kinds that promote and support the best interest and survival of the breed both in the circumpolar north and elsewhere.

Amassing an ever-growing body of knowledge and offering the ability of ISD owner-enthusiasts a place to network, the ISDI acts as hub. It serves owners and non-owners alike and the breed itself by making available and disseminating information on but not limited to health, behavior, history, population numbers and responsible owning, breeding and placement of dogs.

By keeping the ISD in the minds and the spirits of owner-enthusiasts of all cultures, the Inuit Sled Dog International hopes that the dogs of the past will remain the dogs of the future.

                                                                     Nunavut Tourism photo

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