The Fan Hitch Volume 6, Number 4, September 2004

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents 

Editorial: Looking for Inuit Dogs Past and Present
F.I.D.O.: Jan Erik and Barbro  Engebretsen
First Camping Adventure with Greenland Dogs
The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs, Part II
A Cut Above the Rest
In the News
Book Reviews:
Hunting Laika Breeds of Russia
Primitive Breeds - Perfect Dogs
 IMHO: Waiting for Godot?
Index to Volume 6

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Our thanks to Beau Riffenburgh, Editor, for granting  permission to reprint the following article (in two parts) which was first published in The Polar Record, Vol. 8, No. 56 (1957).

The Breeding and Maintenance of Sledge Dogs: Part II


The breeding policy at Hope Bay in 1955 was based on three factors: the conception of an "ideal Husky", an attempt to cross the four strains of dog at the station, and the necessity to limit the numbers of pups. More bitches were put down at birth than dogs. Some of our premises were a nine-dog team, a loaded sledge of half a ton, l lb. a day of "Bovril dog pemmican", most journeys shorter than 50 days, temperatures usually between -1.1C. (30 F.) and -289 C. (-20 F.) and never below -45.5 C. (-50 F.). There are arguments both for large and for small dogs. The relative reduction in heat loss with increasing size is offset by a decrease in speed and also in reliability; for the loss of a single dog would be more serious from a team of eight than from one of ten smaller dogs.

We considered that the physical qualifications  to fit the premises were: medium weight, long legs, narrow hips (which seem to be associated with speed) and a short, thick and even coat. Ideal measurements were thought to be:
Nose-to-tail length
Shoulder height
Shoulder width
Hip width
90 lb.
60 in.
23 in.
10.5 in.
  8 in.

Most of our dogs did not fit these measurements, many were too large. Eight dogs were chosen as potential sires and care was taken to avoid close relationships in selecting the sire for each bitch.

From a study of the records of Stonington Island9 and of those at Hope Bay, the following conclusions  emerged. Oestrus was roughly every 6 months but sometimes was highly irregular. One bitch, Ginny,  was served in the third week of April, the second week of August and the first week of December, but she only became pregnant after the first and third periods. Oestrus was more marked in summer than in winter, but the actual occurrence was not seasonal, i.e. as many bitches came on heat in one season as in the other three. The presence of bitches on heat seemed to stimulate the onset of heat in other bitches approaching their time, but not yet due.15 The time of acceptance was usually longer in summer than in winter and varied from 2 to 10 days. Some dogs appeared uninterested in serving bitches, but this characteristic had no apparent relation to size and strength, two qualities often considered masculine.

There are records of pregnancy from 57 to 74 days, but around 64 from the first acceptance was normal. The average litter-size, from 42 litters, was 6.05; extremes were 1 and 9, with one record of 14. The details from Stonington Island were collected 5 years before those from Hope Bay; but there is no significant difference in the average litter-size between the two sets of records, i.e. no evidence of a decrease in fertility due to the closed breeding was obtained. Many litters were not sexed, but 16 litters contained 57 dogs and 43 bitches: a sex ratio at birth of 132 to 100. Both sexes were proved fertile at 9 months. However, bitches gave a strong impression of oestrus when 5 months old and dogs copulated at that age. No full sisters were ever recorded coming on heat at the same time.

To obtain a standard for growth, thirty-five pups from eleven litters were weighed. The most regular figures, however, came from one litter of four dogs (Fig. 1 and Table 1). These animals are still alive and remarkably alike.

Fig. 1. Weight changes of two of the four pups in the standard litter. A. once daily
feedings started; B, pups put on span; C, hot summer and shortage of seal; D, pups
started work; E to F, the journey of 800 miles.
Table 1. The weights of four brothers whose growth was adopted as a standard

(Date of birth, 28 April 1954. Weight of parents, 75 and 70 lb. Final weight of the brothers was about 95 lb. each.)
24 hours
Weight -lb.oz

Although they are a little large, they developed into satisfactory draught animals. They reached half their final weight when approximately 15 weeks old, and 90 per cent at the end of one year. Their progress was adopted as a standard in assessing the growth of other pups. 

In some litters only one pup was kept, in others any number up to six. On the whole the individuals in the large litters grew as fast and were as heavy as those from smaller litters, suggesting that the size of the litter need have no effect on growth or on the adult weight.

At certain stages, changes in the surroundings of growing pups are inevitable; the dam has to be removed, feeding reduced from three times to once daily, the pups sleep outside for the first time and also have to be spanned. It was found that almost any change in the surroundings produced a retardation of growth; a new person feeding the pups produced considerable effect as did putting them on the spans for the first time (Figs. 1 and 2). One litter of average weight at birth was 2 weeks behind "standard" 6 weeks later. After a further 11 weeks the deficit had been cleared and thereafter growth was normal. It seems that the effect of these retardations can be overcome by adequate care and management.

Fig. 2. Changes in body weight of one pup. D3066/54, showing that each change in
environment produced a temporary retardation of growth.
The dogs at Hope Bay were a variety of colours, ranging from white to black and including grey, red and piebald dogs; only one was dun-coloured. Certain basic hereditary types were recognizable and these could be fitted into a series suggesting increasing dominance of black pigments whose centres were fixed15 (Fig. 3). This series starts with a pure white dog. The second stage has black on each ear with a white dividing line on the forehead and the remainder of the body white. In the third the black spreads on the head and to the hips and thighs. The white on the forehead may remain as a dividing line around a dark face, and sometimes white spots remain above or below the eyes. In the fourth the black covers the majority of the body, but the shoulders, chest and fore limbs usually have more white than the rear limbs and the hips. Finally the major part is black, and white tends to remain only on the muzzle, the chest and belly, on the pads and on the tip of the tail. This series indicates seven centres of pigmentation, one on each ear, flank and thigh and one centrally on the rump.

Fig. 3. The centres of pigmentation in a Husky.

The simple scheme was distorted in three ways. First, sometimes the pattern was asymmetrical; secondly, the whites and the blacks often were not pure colours but greys tinged with reds and yellows;  and thirdly, some dogs were red.  These red animals  had at least one black parent, and black appeared to be dominant to both red and white. One litter from a nearly black bitch and a white dog  contained four pups: one pup was white, one black, one pure red and the fourth piebald with approximately equal areas of black and white.

The conclusion  was that at least two sets of genes must be involved in the inheritance of colour patterns.

It has been suggested that the F.I.D.S. system of maintaining the dogs may result in a deterioration of mental stamina due to boredom on the spans and to continual control by man. The importance of such a belief was demonstrated during the journey of 890 miles where most of the travel was over the flat and monotonous Larsen Ice Shelf. During the two months on the concentrated diet, the dogs suffered badly from malnutrition due to insufficient rations and the poor balance of the diet.16 The useful work output of the team gradually dropped from around 800 calories an hour to less than half this figure.17 But at certain periods the poor performance was relieved by spurts when their work output approached the theoretical maximum. These spurts were occasioned by some stimulus recognizable by the drivers of the dogs, such as a visual  objective, the smell of seals or birds, wind after calm, calm after wind and certain variations in snow surface; in fact most changes in the environment produced an increase in output. On Day 49 we traveled 25 miles and during the last 5 timed runs of the day the dogs worked at rates equivalent to 62, 51, 75, 86 and 94 per cent of their maximum. The particular stimuli for this increase in performance were a rock objective, a change from flat, smooth snow to irregularities and uphill,  and a rise in human morale shown by the singing of Christmas carols. On Day 76, in the hour immediately before their first feed of seal, the dogs pulling the author's sledge were producing 88 per cent of their theoretical maximum. It was concluded that the decrease in work output that could be attributed to the biochemical deteriorations at no time exceeded 15 per cent, and that greater losses must be due to some mental change, such as boredom. It would seem therefore that during this particular journey psychology played a bigger part than physiology in determining the variations in the performance of the dogs. 

This conclusion is obviously of first importance in any breeding policy. In the scheme adopted at Hope Bay in 1955 far more emphasis had been laid on physical than on mental qualities. Our experience showed the importance of psychology and therefore we argued that there should be three grades of sledge dog: dogs for pulling, dogs to go forward steadily as leaders over monotonous country, and leaders for difficult travel where sudden and accurate changes of direction are required. It may well be that intelligence is only required for leaders over sea ice or crevassed country, and that stupidity is a virtue in pulling-dogs and in leaders for dull and monotonous travel. 

The actual relationships between dogs suggested parallels to human feelings: love, affection, jealousy, fear, respect, irritation, even humour appeared to be shown by the dogs. There are advantages in examining the simplest pattern of any organization and probably canine psychology is simpler and therefore more rewarding than that of humans.

The heyday of sledge dogs was at the beginning of this century when they took Peary to the North Pole and Amundsen to the South Pole. Today their utility is declining but they can still make a considerable contribution to polar expeditions, both as traction engines and also as laboratory animals.

The morale of men and dogs while sledging is closely related, and the psychological attitude of the dogs plays a large part in controlling the variations in their performance. Instinctive behaviour patterns are probably more clearly shown in Huskies than in domestic breeds of dog. In addition to many aspects of behaviour and psychology, topics particularly suited for research are the factors affecting colour, growth and form in mammals, exact feeding requirements, and the relation between nutrition and muscular performance.

I would like to thank two people who have given me much assistance: K. V. Blaiklock, who introduced me to Huskies, and N. A. G. Leppard, with whom I traveled a considerable distance.

1 The Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1955-58, and The International Geophysical Year, 1957-58. Polar Record, Vol. 8, No. 55, 1957, p. 356-61.
2 R. J. F. TAYLOR. The physiology of sledge dogs. Polar Record, Vol. 8, No. 55, 1957, p. 317-21.
3 S. P. YOUNG, and E. A. GOLDMAN. The wolves of North America. Washington, 1944.
4 J. M. WORDIE. The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1943-46. Polar Record, Vol. 4, No. 32, 1947, p. 372-84.
5 E. W. BINGHAM. The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1946-47. Polar Record,Vol. 5, No. 3, 1947, p. 27-39.
6 V. E. FUCHS. Exploration in British Antarctica. Geographical Journal, Vol. 117, No. 4, 1951, p. 399-421.
7 A. CROFT. West Greenland sledge dogs. Polar Record, Vol. 2, No. 13, 1937, p. 68-81.
8 C. L. B. HUBBARD. Working dogs of the world. London, 1947. p. 175.
9 R. J. ADIE. The 1949-51 dog report from Base E (Stonington Island) of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey. Unpublished. 
10 A. REECE. Sledge dogs of the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition,1949-52, Polar Record, Vol. 7, No. 47, 1954, p 32-37.
11 R. J. ADIE. Sledge dogs of the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1947-50. Polar Record, Vol. 6, No. 45, 1953, p. 631-41-.
12 E. W. BINGHAM. Sledging and sledge dogs. Polar Record, Vol. 3, No. 21, 1941, p. 367--85.
13 F. P. BOWDEN. Friction on snow and ice. Proceedings of the Royal Society A, Vol. 217, 1953, p. 462-78. 
14 H. HEDIGER. Wild animals in captivity. London, 1950, p. 158.
15 M. BURNS. The genetics of the dog. Commonwealth Agricultural Bureau, Slough, 1952, p. 12.
16 R. J. F. TAYLOR, A. N. WORDEN, and C. E. WATERHOUSE. The sledging rations of sledge dogs, British Journal of Nutrition (in the Press).
17 R. J. F. TAYLOR. The work output of sledge dogs. Journal of Physiology  (in the Press).
18 C. SWITHINBANK. Mechanical transport of the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition, 1949-52, Polar Record, Vol. 6, No. 46, 1953, p. 765-74.
19 The Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey, 1954-55, Polar Record, Vol. 8, No. 54, 1956, p. 260-64.

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