The Fan Hitch Volume 6, Number 3, June 2004

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Who Are You and What Do Want?
Fan Mail
F.I.D.O.: Ludovic Pirani
Geronimo's Travels
The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs: Part I
How We Met Tom
Dog Yard Tips
Setting a New Standard
In the News
Behavior Notebook: Qiniliq and Sunny
IMHO: Unnecessary Roughness

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Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

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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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                                  Nunavut Tourism photo

Setting a New Standard:
Putting Four Thousand Years of Nature-Made Dog into Words

by Sue Hamilton

Changes in a breed standard should raise the bar to reaffirm a breed's  original purpose, not lower it. For example, in the 1994 change to the Alaskan Malamute standard, a new color not previously included (and in an obtuse way was disallowed because "lips black" was specifically described)  was added - red.  Perhaps this may not seem a big deal to those familiar with ISDs, as red  is a common color in our breed and one might go so far as to say that the Alaskan Malamute is nothing more than a watered down (drowned?) descendant of an ISD. On the other hand, this was a very big deal to malamute purists who felt that the campaign by some members of the Alaskan Malamute Club of America to have reds officially included was nothing more than an attempt to legitimize a bastard - to rewrite the breed's history leading to AKC registration. Dog show judges who chose to ignore the words "lips black" as written in the previous standard (a part of the original), were already awarding points to reds and even making champions of a few instead of dismissing them because red dogs can't have black lips (or noses). When the "red brigade" finally managed to ram in enough votes to pass the change, they somehow felt their red dogs were validated. And it all had not one iota to do with the improvement of the Alaskan Malamute as a working sled dog. It was all about the show dog. Plain and simple… and pathetic.

Long time readers of The Fan Hitch (some of whom may breed, own and show red malamutes) have probably heard a variation of this theme from me before. But it is time that this analogy to what is happening in the world of Inuit Sled Dogs is dragged up once again. Why?

Enthusiasts have been howling for years over the decline in numbers of pure Inuit Sled Dogs in arctic Canada, and are seeking various ways to promote its resurgence there. We have heard it said more than once that the younger generation of Inuit don't know what a pure ISD looks like. After all, contamination of the breed began way more than a generation ago, one reason why pure dogs are few and far between. So how can there be a resurgence of pure ISDs in the Arctic if the folks who need to know what a pure ISD actually looks like don't know what a pure ISD actually looks like? Despite  the Nunavut Quest's regulation that competing dogs be "the dogs of our ancestors", many dogs running the Quest are obviously anything but pure. And it is our understanding that this situation is only getting worse. In Nunavik, the situation sounds more hopeful. But we have been informed that the breed description in the Ivakkak Sled Dog Race rules comes from a mid-twentieth century European explorer. His portrayal was somewhat modified by the race participants, based on what they believed the pure dogs were like. With all due respect to them, I am wondering if this might be a conflict of interest. If it isn't so (I offer my apologies), then how could the participants not old enough to have experienced pure dogs know what they were really like? And it was said Nunavik elders were not consulted for their agreement of the breed as it was described in words.

The current official Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) breed description for the Canadian Eskimo Dog (CED) is worthless in defining an Inuit Sled Dog, the pure dog of the CED's ancestors. That breed standard is now a contrivance for those seeking a way to quantify a specimen for purposes of being judged at a dog show - so many points for the head, the tail and body parts in between. To ask Inuit to identify pure ISDs and to reproduce and use them for their original purpose based on the CKC standard is a joke, and a bad one at that. The Inuit Sled Dog was created prior to written language without "benefit" of measuring sticks, protractors, freight scales… and best of breed trophies! 

And so if we wish to continue to see the Inuit Sled Dog alive and well in the land of its origin, and because the number of elders who have the experience to help define the pure ISD are dwindling, a functional standard needs to be created with their oversight, and soon. Elders' descriptions of their dogs need to be put to paper and along with that, their approval of phenotype based on archival early twentieth century photographs showing good typical working pure stock prior to their contamination by dogs brought north from elsewhere.

Who is willing to take up this cause?

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