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
Annual Index for Volume 7

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Editor-in-Chief: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
Print Edition: Imaged and distributed by the IPL students of the Ulluriaq School, Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik
The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog International, is published four times a year. It is available at no cost online at:

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The Inuit Sled Dog International

The Inuit Sled Dog International (ISDI) is a consortium of enthusiasts whose goal is the preservation of this ancient arctic breed in its purest form as a working dog. The ISDI's efforts are concentrated on restoring the pure Inuit Dog to its native habitat. The ISDI's coordinators welcome to your comments and questions.

ISDI Coordinator Canada:
Geneviève Montcombroux, Box 206, Inwood, MB R0C 1P0;
ISDI Coordinator USA:
Sue Hamilton, 55 Town Line Road, Harwinton, CT 06791,

                                                                Photos: (L)Andersen, (R) Han

Greenland Dog / Inuit Dog…. it makes no difference

by Hanne Friis Andersen, D.V.M., Frederiksberg, Denmark

Greenland was first inhabited by Inuit from the Independence culture 2500 years before Christ. Various Inuit cultures followed. Anthropologically, the Inuit cultures are divided into Paleo and Neo Inuit, the last are recognized by their extensive use of dogs to pull sleds and by use of kayaks. There is evidence that the Paleo Inuit culture had domesticated dogs, but the Greenland Dog of today originates from the dogs brought to the country by the Thule Culture in 1100 A.D. The Thule Inuit came to Greenland from across the Bering Strait, migrating across Canada and spreading across the entire west and east coasts of Greenland. The dogs they brought with them were the Inuit Dogs and in Greenland the dog has been isolated since this time. The selection process has been extremely harsh over a thousand years, allowing only the heartiest and healthiest dogs to survive. This has created the dog type that we Inuit Dog enthusiasts love - the hard working, healthy and strong dog that keeps going no matter what.

Today it is prohibited to import any dogs to the dog sled district of Greenland, and if dogs are taken out of the country, they are not allowed back in again. Why this policy?  To keep the breed pure. As the Greenland Dog has been officially isolated for a millennium but shares ancestry with the Inuit Dog, it springs to mind: Is it the same breed? If you ask a Greenlander they will say, "Perhaps" or even, "No, the Greenland Dog is a unique breed." It is a fact, however, that Inuit in Greenland's Thule district used to go polar bear hunting in the same areas as Inuit from the Canadian side, and exchange of dogs has taken place. When I was in Thule last year to obtain dog DNA samples I heard many stories of Greenland and Canadian Inuit visiting one another and exchanging dogs.

My veterinary Masters Thesis research project is entitled: "Population genetic analysis of the Greenland Dog and Canadian Inuit Dog - is it the same breed?" The thesis was finished in June, 2005 and came to the conclusion that there is no genetic evidence of significant difference between Canadian Inuit Dogs and Greenland Dogs. This agrees with the studies done by Ken MacRury in his 1991 Masters Thesis, "The Inuit Dog: Its Provenance, Environment and History".

For my research, four different dog populations were blood sampled. Three populations in Greenland: Ilulissat (the Disko Bay area on the west coast), Thule District in the north and East Greenland. These three populations were compared with genetic distances between the populations. It turned out that the largest genetic distance found was between Ilulissat and the East Coast and the smallest distance was between Thule and the East Coast. The Greenlandic populations were then compared with the fourth population I sampled: the Canadian Inuit Dog. The distance between Thule dogs and the Canadian dogs was smaller than distances between dogs within Greenland. Hence, the genetic variation within Greenland is of the same size or larger than between dogs from Greenland and Canada. Based on my research there is no reason to think of the breeds as separated. Rather, they are populations of the same dog breed.

The genetic variation within the populations was also estimated. This is relevant as high genetic variance in a population is necessary to avoid inbreeding and the possible negative effects of this. The variation within the populations in Greenland was good, whereas it was reasonably low for the Canadian Inuit Dog. Not critically low, but in the same degree as other pure bred dogs such as the German Shepherd in Denmark. This came as no surprise as the population of purebred Inuit Dogs in the USA and Canada is around 180 dogs which is a small population from a geneticists point of view. Having established that the Canadian Inuit Dog and Greenland Dog are the same breed, the Greenland Dog can be used to a much greater extent if desired. In all cases, it is important to be aware of not using the same male to breed too often.

It would be of greatest relevance to study the populations of dogs today living in Canada's Nunavut Territory and perhaps consider to use some of these dogs for breeding. 

I now work in a small animal practice in Northern Norway. It is an area that has reasonably many mushers, but they all use Siberian Huskies or Alaskan Huskies. Nothing bad can be said about these dogs other than they are not the same as Inuit Dogs. For me there is just no comparison.

Editor’s note: Dr. Friis Andersen has been very kind to provide her conclusions at this time in a format for readers of The Fan Hitch. She plans to formally write up and submit her research for publication in a scientific journal.

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