Defining the Inuit Dog
Canis familiaris borealis
by Sue Hamilton
© December 2011, The Fan Hitch, all rights reserved
revised: December 2020
A. The Inuit Dog’s place in the natural world
B. The Inuit Dog is not a wolf!
C. Dangerous confusion
A. The Name Controversy
B. Defining 'Purity'
C. Mistaken Identity: Promoting a breed vs. avoiding
D. The Belyaev Experiment
A. Ancient history
B. Recent history: The Inuit Dog in service to nations
C. Population decline
A. In the North
B. Below the tree line
A. Inherited diseases
B. Disease prevention and access to veterinary services
A. AppearanceVII. The Inuit Dog in Scientific Research, Films and
D. The big picture
Appendix 1: Partial list of scientific publications about
the Inuit Dog
Appendix 2: Selected (alphabetical) list of other resources
with a focus on Inuit Dogs
Appendix 3: A small sampling of other resources of
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The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog, is published four times a year. It is available at no cost online at: https://thefanhitch.org.
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This site is dedicated to the Inuit Dog as well as related Inuit culture and traditions. It is also home to The Fan Hitch, Journal of the Inuit Sled Dog.
Inuit Dogs from the Thule District of Northwest Greenland
Photo: Tsgt. Dan Rea, USAF
IV. The Inuit Dog in the 21st Century
A. In the North
Despite all that has taken place in the past couple of hundred or so years, and the current socio-economic challenges that continue to keep the future of the traditional Inuit Dog uncertain, this aboriginal dog endures in regions of arctic Canada and northern and eastern districts of Greenland. (While it is largely gone from Alaska and the western Canadian Arctic in the aboriginal use sense, the Inuit Dog exists there to some degree for recreational sledding and tourism). There is some evidence that there may exist (or did exist) Russian "precursors” to Inuit Dogs.
A Russian hunting with his dog, 1960.
From Dogs, published by Barbara Woodhouse
Photograph by Bavaria Verlag.
In May 2000 the year-old government of Nunavut honored the Inuit Dog – not the seal, caribou, musk ox or even the polar bear - as its official territorial animal. The choice recognizes the Inuit Dog as being uniquely responsible for the survival of the ancestors of today’s Inuit.
Ken MacRury's dog Ruff (r) was the Inuit Dog model
for Nunavut's official mammal.
Yet despite this recognition, and despite Inuit organizations investing time, effort and money in truth and reconciliation commissions, seeking solace for Elders who remember being left with no means to return to their hunting lifestyle after their dogs were shot; and despite recognizing the role dog teams have in tourism and sport hunting income,there appears to have been a general disconnect between interest in the Inuit Dog’s past and lack of vision to secure its future, with no centralized effort or expressed will to assure the future of this cultural icon. It may not be the role of northern governments to assume all the responsibility for preventing the extinction of such a significant part of their heritage. This belongs to individual northerners and concerned others who care deeply. however, there surely is a role for leadership to play, and not just one where communities hammer out laws further restricting the keeping of traditional dogs.
Driving dogs west central Greenland.
This caribou will feed humans and dogs.
From Iqaluit up the east coast of Baffin Island
to Pond Inlet, Nunavut, 2009.
photo: Lynn Peplinski
Unlike cultured breeds of "working" dogs (sled dogs, hunting dogs, herding dogs) that have been incorporated into an all-breed kennel club registry program and bred to a written show dog breed standard, the Inuit Dog can be found outside of the arctic in both North America and Europe maintained and selected for reproduction based on its toughness and the ability to prove its working heritage. These dogs are used on recreational teams as well as multiple teams maintained by tourism outfitters and polar adventurers.
Ludovic Pirani's team takes a break on a trail
in Ontario, Canada. photo: Pirani
Femundsmarka National Park, Norway, April 2020. Eight dogs,
four in my team, two each in my daughters’ teams. Sleds
all loaded with enough food and gear for a week of
back-country sledding. Photo: Gisle Uren
Experts in canine landraces of Africa, Johan and Edith Gallant stated, "A landrace becomes a breed the moment it is taken out of his natural environment or niche and is then selectively bred towards a certain breed standard and/or purpose which differs from its ancestral background. A breed could eventually stay a landrace, if the breeders would go back regularly and get some dogs from where they originated."1
1 "Breed, Landrace and Purity: What do they mean?" by Johan and Edith Gallant, The Fan Hitch, V13 N1; December 2010
2 Personal communication and comment in the September 2003 issue of The Fan Hitch, V5 N4 in his Featured Inuit Dog Owner, Part 2 interview