The Fan Hitch Volume 7, Number 4, September 2005

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

In This Issue...

Editorial: Building Bridges
F.I.D.O.: Marit Holm
Nunavik Dog Slaughters, Part III
Greenland Dog / Inuit Dog, The Same Dog
Differences in Mushing: Greenland and Arctic Canada, Part I
Fan Mail
Behavior Notebook: The Human Role
Book Review: Frozen Horizons
Product Review: Wheel Dog Harness
Tip for the Trail: Pack a Pruning Saw
 IMHO: The System
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Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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Behavior Notebook...

Dogs in Greenland. Note the dominant dog has a shortened tail. This may not have 
been the result of a fight.                                                     Photo: Hamilton

The Human Role

by Mark Hamilton

The path Qiniliq has taken to his position as boss dog has been fascinating to observe. So has the ongoing development of an adult canine relationship between Qiniliq and Sunny. As a result of the sudden death of his boss, Puggiq, Qiniliq was thrust into "on the job training" for the position of boss dog while he was still young and before he had exhibited any aspirations for leadership.

When Qiniliq's interactions with Sunny indicated to us that he saw the need to mold the younger dog into something that fit into an adult canine society, we began teaching Sunny about his adult relationship with humans. This was a matter of (a) withdrawing his "puppy privileges" and then (b) establishing in his mind that he needed to pay attention and respond to all our commands. The first was accomplished with enforcing the "No" command while teaching Sunny to "Sit!" and "Wait!" and earn human attention. The second was primarily accomplished with brief, on-leash training sessions. Once Sunny learned to focus on his human handler, the on-leash training sessions were conducted in the same open area where the rest of his group was running around and playing off-leash.

One of the more interesting things observed during these training sessions was behavior by Qiniliq directed at Sunny. Early in Sunny's training, when more corrections were being given, we observed Qiniliq taking on a "harder", less tolerant position with Sunny as well. We also observed that this "hard", less tolerant attitude quickly came to characterize all interactions between Qiniliq and Sunny, not just during the training sessions. Later, as Sunny learned his new tasks, and required far fewer corrections, Qiniliq too found less offense in the junior dog's behavior. Again, this change characterized all interactions between Qiniliq and Sunny, not just during Sunny's training sessions.

Qiniliq had recognized that one his responsibilities as boss dog was that he was now required to back us up in our interactions with other dogs. That was good. In the Arctic the boss dog traditionally "has your back" around the other dogs. Even more important was that Qiniliq was taking his cues from our actions in determining what he should do. He acted autonomously, but in concert with our actions. Those two realizations by Qiniliq represented major growth on his part into his new social role: actively building the "partners" relationship a boss dog enjoys with his owners and handlers.

It is critical for Sue and me to continually acknowledge that we are part of the social environment within which Qiniliq and Sunny live. We have influence within that environment, and we must either use that influence wisely, or we will likely make a total mess of things. We underscore Qiniliq's position as boss dog in our relationship with him. Qiniliq enjoys privileges: first to be fed, first attention from us, easy access to our faces, more interactive play behavior which Sunny is either denied or receives only in strictly limited circumstances. This is to say, Qiniliq's special social position as leader of  his pack and his relationship with us is reinforced by our display in front of the other dogs.

At the same time, we have to be aware that our new boss dog is monitoring our actions with the other dogs in his pack. Our corrections to other dogs have to be measured and proportional so as not to elicit additional disproportionate corrections from Qiniliq to the same dog. We have to make corrections and then return to either an emotionally neutral or a positive demeanor, or Qiniliq will take his cues from our negative attitude and act accordingly.  In that respect, it's just one more reason to be happy around our dogs, and a very good reason at that. And why would being unhappy around one's dogs ever be a good idea?

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