The Fan Hitch Volume 9, Number 1, December 2006

Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog

In This Issue....

From the Editor: Looking back, looking ahead

Featured Inuit Dog Owner: Sandy Hagan

Defining the Inuit Sled Dog

The Great Arctic Hunter Game

In the News

Fan Mail

A Time to Remember the Dogs

Book Review: The Doggy Men

Inuit Dog Thesis 15th Anniversary Edition

Tip:  Seeing and Not Hearing

Product Review: Delivering the Goods

IMHO: A Few Thoughts about the Final Report on the Dog Slaughters

Navigating This Site

Index of articles by subject

Index of back issues by volume number

Search The Fan Hitch

Articles to download and print

Ordering Ken MacRury's Thesis

Our comprehensive list of resources

Talk to The Fan Hitch

The Fan Hitch home page

ISDI home page

Editor's/Publisher's Statement
Editor: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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Sandy Hagan with his first ISD, the irrepressible
red bitch Qidtlak (image as submitted by owner)
                 Photo: Nancy Russell

Sandy Hagan
Stacy, Minnesota, U.S.A.

TFH: How long have you owned sled dogs?
S.H.: I have been owned by one or more sled dogs for over thirty years. Presently, I am owned by a total of nineteen sled dogs. Three Alaskan huskies, two Alaskan-ISD crosses (hand-me-downs as older dogs), three Alaskan Malamute-ISD crosses (an accidental breeding), five Alaskan Malamutes and six ISDs.

TFH: What breed(s) did you start with?
S.H.: My daughter chose the Malamutes on a breed finding trip to the library.

TFH: What were you thinking when you considered getting ISDs? Why did you want to try them?
S.H.: I wasn't thinking, obviously. Seriously, I had reached a learning point after many years where I could get my Malamutes to almost work as a team, and I was very intrigued by ISDs. I was very curious about a dog that had been taken from a working environment and not a show environment. It was a breed I knew precious little about but enough that I thought they should be good working dogs and compliment my Mal team. Again, it was my daughter many years after the breed finding trip to the library that sent me the information on the available Inuit Dogs. 

TFH: So, you are one of several mushers who started out with Alaskan Malamutes and then decided to take on Inuit Dogs. What were your expectations about raising, keeping and working ISDs after owning Malamutes for so long? 
S.H.: My expectations weren't as much a factor, save one, as my appreciation of the northern breeds and what they were capable of. Although I do have three Alaskan huskies and am very impressed with what they can do, I consider Mals and Inuit Dogs to be real dogs. Before I got my first ISD I did have one strange question that I haven't told anyone about nor can I really explain why I had it. Here it is: I wondered if, considering the background and how these dogs might've been kept, they would show any affection for humans. Yup, I'll admit I'm not too bright. 

Is Qidtlak merely resting her head or is she also reminding 
Balto who's in charge?                          Photo: Hagan

TFH: What are your impressions of the two breeds' differences? Do you find the ISDs more or less challenging? If so in what way?
S.H.: My thoughts on the two breeds are that they are very similar. One similarity is that both breeds like to fight. It has been my observation that the Mals will fight longer with more of a kill mindset but the ISDs are smarter and will fight primarily to assert dominance, and it's usually over fairly quickly. Obviously, this is not always true. The ISDs are more vocal. Or, I should say, were more vocal. It seems they have convinced the entire kennel to be extremely vocal and to scream whenever someone or something moves. Bless those ISDs. Both breeds can be excellent pullers. My feeling is that Mals have been in the show ring too long and some of the work ethic has gone by the wayside. That's not to say that there aren't good working Mals around. I know of many and I have had and still have some exceptional working Mals. Some breeders do very well at keeping the work ethic in their Mals. Both breeds seem to enjoy eating and, as you know, that's an understatement. 

I find both breeds very challenging. Both breeds are very smart and are oriented toward self-preservation. It has taken them a long time to teach me (and I still sometimes forget) that I get better results from the team as a whole by keeping myself in a good mood and not letting their squabbles reduce me to being angry and making their fights even worse. Both breeds are truly amazing animals. They have an immense amount of stamina and can endure extreme circumstances. They can have a fight, be bloodied, get right back into position beside the dog they just fought with and continue pulling as if nothing happened. Man, I wish I could get over things that quickly.

TFH: Unlike some mushers who started out with Alaskan Malamutes, you have not 'abandoned' that breed. Why?
S.H.: I stuck with Mals because I have had some exceptional working Mals. I have a ten-year-old now that can keep up, his tugline tight, with the team this year and this is the fastest team I've had. Time will tell if he can keep it up but he looks very good now.

TFH: How is your kennel set up? What do you feed? Do you alter your dogs' diet seasonally?
S.H.: My kennel consists of eleven runs and a fenced exercise area. The runs are 6 ft x 24 ft (1.6 m x 7.3 m) and the exercise area is 100 ft x 100 ft (30.5 m x 30.5 m). The dogs get rotated into the exercise yard. Each run has one house big enough to house two dogs. The idea being, if you want to stay warm and dry, you'll have to try to get along. I don't use stake-outs only because we're not in an area that I'd be comfortable with using them. I feed National Performance ( kibble year around and supplement with meat during training/sledding season. The dogs get a small amount of fat or meat as a reward at the end of a run.

Sandy driving a small team during a Minnesota Malamute Club
freight race                                                 Photo: Klang

TFH: Do you favor a particular kind of harness? If so, why?
S.H.: I'm not as particular about harnesses as I probably should be. I use several types. I do watch each dog closely to be sure that no harness restricts breathing and that the neck opening isn't so large that it will pull against what I call the dog's shoulders. I equate it to carrying a yoke with two pails of water on my shoulders. If the yoke is too big, my shoulders would get tired and hurt in a hurry. If the yoke went around my neck and pulled back, would it choke me? I do have some of the new, short shoulder harnesses that I am going to try this season.

TFH: Describe your training program for novice dogs and for your dogs in general at the beginning of the running season. Has owning Inuit Dogs changed your training methods?
S.H.: If the dog is a year old, it gets harnessed, hitched, and away we go. My youngest dog, an ISD appropriately named Hambone, was just thrown in and away he went. He likes to make his mark but he's learning that's not always a real good idea. He's a loose screw but he's a super dog. Lead dogs-in-training get put with an established leader usually without a neckline. I should add that they've run point for some time before moving to lead.

TFH: What kind of sledding to you do? 
S.H.: In the past, I have done mostly recreational sledding with occasional camping trips. I have recently retired and may do more camping. On rare occasions, we enter a race. When we do, we usually get a comment from the starting line handlers who restrain the dogs as we go to the start line that goes something like, "Man, these dogs must have had Cheerios for breakfast!" or, "Those are real dogs." I really just enjoy being out with the dogs whatever we do. They amaze me, make me laugh, frustrate me, teach me, and keep me busy in many ways.

TFH: Now that you own Inuit Dogs do you find yourself doing things that you previously didnÝt do and are there things that you don't do now that you used to do (and this applies to non-sledding activities as well)?
S.H.: I think that it's not just being owned by ISDs that has me doing things that I previously didn't, it's having the opportunity to work with critters that are naturally willing to work and enjoy it. I do much more sledding and training than I thought I'd ever do and I'm probably in better shape mentally and physically because of the dogs. Well, physically anyway. One thing we still do but not as much as we used to is downhill skiing. We don't travel as much as we used to but that may change at least in the summer.

I honestly think that having Inuit Dogs has made sledding easier. They seem to come by the pulling ethic naturally. However, they don't come by the listening and obeying quite as naturally. They want to please but they also sometimes seem to have their own agenda. I'm certainly glad I was fortunate enough to have ISDs as part of my life.

TFH: Has owning Inuit Dogs impacted you in ways you would not have predicted?
S.H.: Yes. It has helped me appreciate some of what I've read about life as it was and is in the Arctic, it's harshness and how humans and animals adapt to and cope with the arctic's extremes. To this day I am constantly amazed by the dogs and their ability to work and stay warm on very little. I have to feed my Alaskans more food per body mass to keep them in working condition. I am amazed by the ISDs insistence on sleeping on the snow or roofs of their houses when they have an insulated (not heated) floor they can sleep on in what we consider to be frigid weather here at -20║F to -30║F (-29║C to -34║C).

Who would have thought reading Jack London's "Call of the Wild" way back in junior high school would've nudged me in this direction?

Nimka (l) and Qidtlak (r) out on the Sacco cart      Photo: Hagan

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