In This Issue....
A Nunavik Adventure
In the News
Tip for the Trail: Keep it Clean
Behavior Notebook: Displacement, Discipline, Diversion, Disarming
Index: Volume 8, The Fan Hitch
Displacement, Discipline, Diversion, Disarming
by Mark & Sue Hamilton
Last month held a special anniversary for us. It's been ten years this past August since we returned from the north Baffin community of Pond Inlet with three Inuit Dogs, a male and two pregnant sisters. Eighteen days after our return, our Inuit Dog population had swelled from three to nineteen with both litters born. Talk about total immersion learning! But here it is, a decade later, and despite all the experiences - our own with these dogs, those shared with the new owners, now friends, of the pups we placed, and our exposure to Inuit Dogs during our many visits to the Arctic - we're still learning. We've found the challenges presented by this breed to be more trying now, not easier as our ISD population has evolved from puppyhood to juvenile to young adult, to mature adult, to senior dog, with new dogs that were introduced and integrated into our group. The social relationships we're currently witnessing seem far more kinetic and volatile, as dogs of different ages mature. Going up to the kennel to turn dogs out for exercise or to feed or even when we're in the driveway preparing the truck and gathering our gear to take a team out on the trail, all are "ignition points" which can and have led to fights.
It certainly isn't that the dogs, who live in big pens in groups of three, don't like one another. In fact, when there is a need to separate them, they all mope around until their pack is reconstituted. And, yes, on occasion they annoy the snot out of each other. At least none are vying for existing leadership roles. Even Sunny, who is now just past three-years-old, has no desire to be boss. Qiniliq, the five-year-old male and boss dog and Aqsaq, the ten-year-old spayed female and self-proclaimed boss bitch, have a lock on their positions and Sunny knows it. Nevertheless, Sunny, at times is an annoying "fly", often acts impulsively without thinking, doing something to piss off Qiniliq who periodically just runs out of patience. More often, however, Sunny, rising to a level of high excitement over any number of things, just hauls off and jumps Qiniliq, initiating a two-dog hairball. Aqsaq, the Opportunist, is always willing to jump in and gleefully help assault the losing dog, if we let her. However, she's been such a bitch her entire life, we've had to work nearly all her ten years just to obtain some measure of control over her. At least now a soft, growling comment like, "AQSAQ, BACK OFF OR I'LL RIP YOUR LUNGS OUT!" seems to do the trick.
There appears to be a fine line, or elusive balance point between developing meaningful and useful human-dog relationships and the mistake of going overboard with attention. (We do believe that the dogs should be spending more time with each other interacting and working out relationships.) Too little contact and the dogs are less responsive to us. Too much contact and they feel that they "own" us, expect us to always watch their backs in a confrontation, or can do whatever they damn well please. When the dogs aren't working, we do enjoy the hands-on pleasures of stroking, grooming, holding and playing fetch with a favorite toy. But we also try to gain a semblance of control, especially during time of high tension, by making most or all our contact with the dogs a reward for some good behavior they are asked to perform.
Our behavior with the dogs is measured, careful and considered. We've found that demonstrating our leadership and insisting on some task such as sitting "quietly" waiting to either be fed in turn or being released on command to pass through a gateway eliminates or reduces inter-dog tension over the event and helps the dogs focus on our wishes. This has gone a long way to diffuse the frenzies which have lead to displacement aggression and dust-ups. This has taken patience and perseverance, direct eye contact and sometimes a slightly threatening posture or tone of voice. But this redirection of their attention to us has been hugely successful in lowering the needle on the hysteria-o-meter, taking the edge off the boss dog as well. We know how he feels.
Recently came a new variable. Pakaq, now nine months old, is clearly the mentally toughest and most persistent Inuit Dog we've ever owned. He arrived at fourteen weeks old, well socialized. Yet, he's still not living with his intended pack of Qiniliq, Aqsaq and Sunny and we've pretty much resigned ourselves to acknowledging that he never will. At first it was because Pakaq was at risk from Aqsaq, even though Qiniliq quickly took charge of defending the pup. Unfortunately Qiniliq is not an omnipotent boss, totally feared by his kennel mates. He could not single-handedly assure the pup's safety. Pakaq soon learned to be politically correct with the other dogs, with whom he was and still is regularly turned out. He genuflected to Qiniliq his protector and groveled appropriately to Sunny and avoided Aqsaq as best he could. Unfortunately there was very little transition from this stage until Pakaq began lifting his leg at five months and by the time he reached nine-months when he was positive he could take on the world. Certainly hormones and the natural progression of social development played a role, but we think we were also to blame as well. We didn't see this coming. It was so amusing to see Pakaq and Qiniliq blasting out the front of the kennel's central corridor together. And we had hoped this was an indication of a strengthening alliance between the two in order to assert better control over Sunny and even Aqsaq. Pakaq did get bolder and bolder and began treating Sunny with less respect (and even dared to shoulder slam Aqsaq). Pakaq's play, particularly with Sunny, became rougher. Qiniliq did not approve. For better or worse, he has been a control freak with respect to whatever Sunny is doing even if Sunny was not the one responsible for initiating the roughhousing with Pakaq. Recently, Pakaq has begun to toss a couple of steely-eyed glances and even a few low rumbles at Qiniliq. Perhaps this would not be happening if Qiniliq were a better boss dog. He has always been too tolerant, first with Sunny and now with Pakaq. It is great that, when Qiniliq has in the past meted out discipline, it has been done bloodlessly. Unfortunately, he hasn't done it often enough to impress his rowdy underlings and, with Sunny, and as it appears now with Pakaq, Qiniliq is paying the price for his self-control. As Pakaq approaches the next phase of social development, at around eighteen months, we anticipate relationships to become very dicey indeed, even with the same sort of controls we are working hard to attain with him. So now, more for Qiniliq's safety than Pakaq's, the younger dog will live alone, but right next to his buddies. In anticipation of bringing up the food bowls, he's taken to sparring through the fence with Qiniliq. The best decision we made thirty years ago was to pay extra for the one-inch (2.54 cm) chain link mesh fabric panels as opposed to the standard 2.25 inch (5.7 cm) size.
Of course, working the dogs hard will go a long way to diverting some of their "nervous energy" into acceptable activity. Doing so as often and for as long as they need to be in harness is one of the greatest challenges of owning Inuit Dogs at our latitude. Right now, we must deal with, as best we can, the results of Mother Nature's teasing of us and the dogs with the ever so temporary "dips" in temperature, until we can safely put the dogs to work without risking heat related injuries or illness. In the meantime, we have taken what some might consider drastic action. The last time Sunny and Qiniliq tangled, the boss, who is the one always sustaining the worst and sometimes the only damage, was severely bitten in the left armpit as well as suffering puncture wounds to the area around his knee and ankle. Sunny must have nicked an axillary vein because Mark (who was alone at the time) had to apply direct pressure to stop the ballooning hematoma in Qiniliq's armpit and to stop the dark blood from cascading down the length of his leg. This was not the first, second or even third time Sunny has managed to perforate Qiniliq's left leg. Much to our relief, by the end of the next day, Qiniliq was back to normal on four legs. But Sunny was destined to be forever changed. Borrowing a traditional practice in Greenland, we decided without hesitation or remorse, to have Sunny disarmed. At least we took the modern route of sending him off to the vet to have all four of his canines buzzed off a few millimeters from the gum line under general anesthesia and using a high speed drill. But in the emotional heat of the immediate aftermath of seeing Qiniliq on three legs and bleeding profusely, it was awfully tempting to use a wire cutters to perform Sunny's dentistry.
Since the procedure, Sunny, his mouth still sensitive, has yet to resume playing with his favorite hard rubber chew toys. He has, however, been foolish to mindlessly attacking Qiniliq. This was the first time that a fight had been initiated in the back yard with all four dogs (Pakaq included) together and was what we feared most as a battle royale that would be exceedingly destructive and difficult to undo. But we were able to easily remove the now grip-less Sunny from Qiniliq, who then redirected his anger onto Pakaq, while Aqsaq inexplicably was a good girl all on her own and went off to sniff some bush. We let this long overdue beating go on until Qiniliq was done displacing his aggression for Sunny onto the formerly cocky pup. When the boss was done punishing and Pakaq, slimy but physically unscathed, was done shrieking and Sunny and his sore mouth forgot why he had attacked Qiniliq in the first place, all four dogs romped, cheerfully shoulder-slamming each other on the way back up to the kennel, Sunny a little more restrained, Qiniliq not limping, Aqsaq pretending to adjust her imaginary halo like a woman adjusting her hat, and Pakaq sporting a good dose of humility.
The other evening we got a call from Ken MacRury. We explained that the dogs were sensing the change of season from summer to fall, the decreasing daylight and even a "chill" in the air, and were restless and sometimes beating the snot out of each other "for no other apparent reason". He laughed and said that sure sounded familiar. While it's small comfort to know we're not the only ones having experienced this exasperation, it is a comfort nonetheless and one we we'll take!