The Fan Hitch Volume 6, Number 2, March 2004

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Kudos and Cat Calls
F.I.D.O.: Barry Salovaara and Tina Portman
Barry of the Midnight Sun
The Fan Hitch Contributor Wins Maxwell Award
Ivakkak: Encouraging Purity in Nunavik ISDs
Games People Play:
Saving the Sled Dog or Saving the Show Dog
Coppinger Comments Prompts ISDI Rebuttal
News Briefs
Media Watch
Behaviour Notebook: Building a Team
IMHO: The Sernix, a Fable

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.

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Coppinger Documentary and
Comments Provoke ISDI to Respond

by Sue Hamilton

The Nova TV special, Dogs and More Dogs (see Media Review in this issue of The Fan Hitch), prominently featured biologist, author, lecturer and former sled dog racer, Raymond Coppinger. A post documentary online chat with Dr. Coppinger has drawn a concerned response from the Inuit Sled Dog International.

The one-hour internet "discussion" which took place the day after Dogs and More Dogs aired was sponsored by The Washington Post. Questions were submitted in advance (or during the hour allotted to this event) to Coppinger, from which he could pick the ones he wanted to answer and those he chose to ignore. Our inquiries regarding his thoughts on the existence of pure breeds, were ignored. Below is one question he chose to answer.

Los Angeles, Calif.: First off, I also thank you both for your contributions. I have learned so much by reading your work and am always hungry for more!

You’re a sled dog man. I recently read an article in Smithsonian about the Inuit people in Greenland and their dogs. The article claims this Inuit dog is the only remaining pure aboriginal canine in North America. It says these dogs are not as fast as Siberians but are more powerful. Now the fear is with the lifting of the snowmobile ban the numbers of dogs will plummet. Unfortunately, it seems that the same forces that reduced the populations in Canada and the U.S. will most likely change this population of dogs too. I assume this would be an interesting opportunity for study. Have you heard of anyone planning on looking at the situation?

Ray Coppinger: I know lots of people who study Inuit dogs -- Ken McGroy, I think, in Ireland did a nice thesis on Inuit dogs that is now at Cambridge. It was at the Perry Arctic Institute. There's a lot of material around on Inuit dogs. Saying they're a breed is a little misleading. The Siberian Husky as we know it was first registered with the AKC in 1935. They took a foundation stock they got from Leonard Sepula (sic) and breeded (sic) them with Canadian Sled Dogs. So there's probably more Canadian than Siberian blood in those dogs. So the whole idea that there's something that came from Siberia years ago is ridiculous. That whole area in Greenland was covered with dogs during World War II. The idea that there's purity in any dog is ridiculous.

Those of us who breed dogs will have chainlink fences are making breeding mistakes all the time. This whole idea of dog breeds is romance of the last fifty years.

                                                      Hamilton photo

Alarmed about Coppinger's inaccurate conclusions so publically broadcast, ISDI offers the following critique of the Nova program in general and Coppinger's assessment of the Inuit Sled Dog in particular.

March 10, 2004

Dear Sue Hamilton,

Thank you for alerting me to the NOVA program on dogs featuring Ray Coppinger, a long time colleague. The bottom line is that he presented his own views very well, and while these are deserving of serious consideration, they are his parochial views.

One never knows how much his script was edited and in what ways, but I found it disturbing that he did not give credit to persons on whose work his presentation was based.  For example, Erich Klinghammer was the founder and major research figure, as well as the financial backer of Wolf Park, that was prominently featured on the program with respect to dog/wolf comparisons.  It was Klinghammer's idea. He started Wolf Park from scratch and brought it to fruition, and many of the findings are his, but you would never know it from the program or be guided to look up his work.  Similarly, the research on critical periods for puppy socialization that has become the standard recipe for dog rearing, was primarily the work of J.P. Scott.

Coppinger's ideas about dog breeds needed to be more clearly articulated. By whatever name you call them, breeds exist. Breeds represent variations within the dog gene pool that are sufficiently distinct in their phenotypic expression to constitute identifiable populations despite their common origin. Pugs do not look or behave like collies. Coppinger picked particular breeds (Anatolian sheep dogs, Maremmas and Shars) to place on farms as guard dogs for sheep because of their physical and behavioral characteristics. Unlike their wild relatives dogs are genetically honest -- with modest degrees of inbreeding the genes they carry segregate and come to phenotypic expression, whereas those of their wild relatives are buffered, so that even in relatively small populations the species norms are maintained.  Domestication has removed the buffering mechanisms and permitted us to reshuffle the genetic cards to create the many variations that characterize the different "breeds". Go to any dog show or behavioral trials and see.  Because of these replicable phenotypic clusters, dogs are of great interest for genetic research. On the one hand Coppinger seems to disparage the concept of breeds, while on the other he has used it in his own work.

So is the Inuit Dog an ancient breed that has its own identity in association with the Inuit people, or just a mix of various sled dogs in that region as Coppinger maintains?  We do not have the techniques to answer the question genetically at present. So the judgment call must be made on the basis of phenotypic criteria, as well as the ascertainable history based on their association with the Inuit way of life.  I am informed that as late as 1960 many Inuit were still living as nomads, relying on their dogs for protection and hunting as well as transportation. The dogs thereby continued to be maintained as a distinct population in those regions. Based on population sampling,  the Inuit Dogs of today continue to differ in their social behaviors from Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes and remain similar as a population based on skeletal studies. The question, therefore, is not whether such a breed existed and is still extant, but where they continue to be maintained in the Canadian Arctic and elsewhere, including by clubs and other private breeders, and what are the criteria by which they may be characterized.

Benson Ginsburg, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus Biobehavioral Sciences and Psychology
University of Connecticut 
Storrs, Connecticut, U.S.A.

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