The Fan Hitch Volume 7, Number 2, March 2005

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

Table of Contents

Editorial: Sirius Patrol, Canadian Style
F.I.D.O.: Allen Gordon
Nunavik Dog Slaughters, Part I
Pregnancy, Whelping and Pup Development in the ISD, Part II
Fan Mail
Tip for the Trail: Building a Dog Ramp
In the News
Behavior Notebook
Janice Howls: Transition to Primitive
 IMHO: Change

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Behavior Notebook....

Sunny on a short leash, while Qiniliq postures 
dominantly and is rewarded    Photo: Hamilton

Playing Deputy

by Sue Hamilton

With a deep sigh of resignation, I have to admit it came as no surprise that, as Sunny approached the eighteen-month-old portal of the dreaded social period which befalls just about every dog, he evolved (perhaps the term "mutated" is more appropriate) from a sweet, compliant and totally pleasant happy-go-lucky puppy, into an only somewhat happy-go-lucky, almost completely out of self (and somewhat out of our) control, screechy-loud mouth, obnoxious juvenile! Oh yeah, you could say he's still very sweet, if he could sit still for more than a nanosecond to demonstrate it. He's still submissive, if you can get close enough to him when he's acting up, to threaten him with certain doom. In truth, physical correction - as administered by us anyway - had very little effect on this hardheaded teenager. When released from our grasp, he merely ran off with a big grin on his face and a survived-that-what's-next? attitude. 

What Qiniliq - Sunny's boss dog - dishes out is an entirely different matter. I'll get to that later.

As the unmistakable signs of those carefree puppy days slipped away, Mark began a different "training program" aimed at gaining more of Sunny's "cooperation" and attention. The up-and-coming young buck, learned to sit and stay and wait while his food dish beckoned to him from about three paces away. The dog still makes "spit bubbles" and nearly drowns in his own saliva while he awaits his release signal. That Sunny makes wonderful eye contact while on hold in this way would seem to be a hopeful sign of a willingness to cooperate under other circumstances, if it weren't for the fact he's an Inuit Dog between eighteen and thirty-six months of age. It's that "exaggerated response to all stimuli" thing combined with the living hell of this dreaded period of social development. 

When Sunny is way over the top, Mark has taken to slipping a catch leash over his thrashing head, frenetic with anticipation of getting fed. When it's play time, Mark first turns out Qiniliq and his second in command Aqsaq (aka "Slasher", and I'll come back to this in a while, too.) while Sunny runs laps around the big dog house, emitting his usual repertoire of sounds that make human eardrums flap in despair. Eventually Mark convinces him to "SIT AND WAIT!" This produces a curious and welcome side benefit - he shuts up! I guess it's sort of like binding the hands of people who can't help but gesticulate wildly while talking. If you were to put 'em in handcuffs, they'd become mute! What a shame we have not yet been able to get Sunny to sit on command from any distance and without a fence in between him and us. It's that Inuit Dog attitude again - defiant when they know they're out of striking range. Mark then applies the catch leash and takes Sunny out of the kennel and into the fenced in back yard for some controlled walking and sitting patterns. Sunny has become moderately obedient at this. He loves the praise and we love to praise him for doing something acceptable as opposed to having to confront him for being a hooligan. Sunny has even become skilled at responding to on-leash commands even with the distraction of Qiniliq dancing around teasing the lad.  And this actually is the point of this behavior tome - Qiniliq's self-appointed role in raising the "Sun Dog".

Puggiq was one of Jayko's team dogs, just a little fish in a big pond, when we purchased him as a four-year-old. In Connecticut, he became a big fish in the little pond that was his social pack, which eventually came to include ten-week-old Qiniliq.  So Puggiq had to learn to be a boss dog by on-the-job training. It may not, likely was not, in his genes to be a boss, but we thought he did a darn good job assuming the position, even though he wasn't the swashbuckling, brawling, thunderous type which could make underlings pee and defecate all over themselves with a mere "look" in their direction. No, Puggiq was a lot of noise and saliva and to our knowledge never drew so much as a drop of blood from Qiniliq. But he sure did impress the lad. Maybe it was prophetic that Qiniliq, like Puggiq, was thrust into his role as boss dog sooner than he might have otherwise and in other ways assumed the position upon Puggiq's sudden death. Perhaps, like Puggiq, Qiniliq never had the genes to be a boss dog and how he executes his duties is largely a function of what he learned from and by Puggiq, with some added creativity of his own style of management. In any event, we have observed that the way Qiniliq treated Sunny from the get-go has been pretty much the way Puggiq treated Qiniliq. The brawls which have occurred as Sunny has become more uppity have resulted in the younger dog's fur sometimes being saturated with Qiniliq's saliva and blood, due to Sunny's fear motivated and indiscriminate snapping and gnashing of teeth. The occasional rips or punctures in Sunny's hide have all been the result of Aqsaq the Slasher who sees no need to pull punches in her role as Qiniliq's sidekick. We consider ourselves lucky that the bitch, a shameless opportunist, continues to side with Qiniliq whom she barely acknowledges as her boss.  Her attitude is to help punish the loser no matter who that happens to be at the moment. And she never hesitates to use her armament (minus the three teeth she's lost in other encounters) to inflict damage.

Hmm, perhaps now's the time for a possible explanation by way of genealogy. Aqsaq's mother was Amaruq, the fiery red bitch who served as Jayko's trusted "bear dog". Her eyes glowered red whenever she was being fierce and her face had the scars to prove that ferocity. I think the reasons Jayko gave her to us were that 1) she was four years old - considered bordering on past working prime for an arctic dog, 2) he had other, younger bitches and he limited the number of bitches he kept, 3) he didn't like her color, 4) she had run back to him from the home where he had sent the pregnant bitch to give his friend needed dogs, and 5) he must have known that the six pups she was carrying were all females. Bummer! Aqsaq is one of those six. And Sunny is Amaruq's great grandson (going back to one of Aqsaq's sisters). So all those qualities we much admired in that magnificent red bitch might well be surfacing in Sunny, waiting to be nurtured and directed into acceptable and tolerable behavior. Time and our ability to be patient will tell.

In the meantime, we mere humans are getting some canid-to-canid help from Qiniliq in keeping a lid on Sunny. The two don't play as often as they used to when Sunny was younger, and now the games are more serious, more acting out, testing and reaffirming the dominant and subordinate roles. But they do enjoy each other's company as long as Sunny remembers his place and plays by Qiniliq's rules. Qiniliq is also an astute observer.  He watches us as we deal with both Sunny and Aqsaq, whom we verbally admonish from the central corridor of the kennel system as different groups of dogs are turned out of their runs into the exercise pen. They love to rush the fence screaming and trying to intimidate the others as they dash out to play. Whether it is Aqsaq or Sunny who is the object of our corrective efforts, Qiniliq intently observes our behavior and that of his underlings. There is no clear pattern we can identify as to how or why Qiniliq chooses to react to these situations sometimes rather than others. But one thing's for sure, when he decides to play deputy sheriff, he wastes no time in wading in when it appears to him our demands are not being met. Nor is it predictable to what level his punishment will rise. It likely depends on the response he gets from the insubordinate. Qiniliq's actions range from a paralyzing stare with a rumbling throat and teeth bared (he's usually successful in getting inside Sunny's head this way), to a lightening quick lunge and shoulder slam, to a pinning against fencing or ground. Sometimes, Sunny forgets to submit and that's when things get ugly. Remembering Jayko's mantra, "Help the one you want to win," we stand at the ready only if we think that Sunny, who is physically larger although mentally subordinate to Qiniliq, may be putting the four-year-old dog at a disadvantage, especially one requiring a trip to the vet. We understand that as boss dogs age we should expect them to be deposed by the up and coming younger dogs, but we don't believe these altercations are over those issues and we feel, we hope there are many years yet to go before a change of leadership occurs. And so we are prepared to intervene on Qiniliq's behalf, only if he needs our help, which he usually or mostly doesn't. 

Backing Qiniliq up is the least we can do for him to return the favor of his volunteering as deputy sheriff to back us up with discipline issues in his pack. Now that the running season is nearly over and we don't have that activity to help burn off some of Sunny's developmental-hormonal-social frustrations and energy (by-the-way, in this his first year in harness, he's proven to be a remarkable sled dog with trail manners so outstanding that you wouldn't guess he's the same dog as the lunatic in the kennel), we need all the help we can get as we pilot Sunny from the rough water of adolescence to the relatively smooth sea of adulthood, hopefully by the time he is three. We can hardly wait.

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