Defining the Inuit Dog
Canis familiaris borealis

by Sue Hamilton

© December 2011, The Fan Hitch, all rights reserved
revised: December 2020

I. Introduction
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
E. Summary

A.  Ancient history
B. Recent history: The Inuit Dog in service to nations          
1. Exploration
2. War
3. Sovereignty
C. Population decline
A. In the North
B. Below the tree line

A. Inherited diseases
B. Disease prevention and access to veterinary services

A. Appearance
B. Behavior
C. Performance
D. The big picture

VII. The Inuit Dog in Scientific Research, Films and
        in Print

VIII. Acknowledgements

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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Editor-in-Chief: Sue Hamilton
Webmaster: Mark Hamilton
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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.

Joshua Kango and his dog team in Iqaluit   photo: Nick Newbery

I. Introduction: What is an Inuit Dog?

    A. The Inuit Dog's Place in the Natural World

Although the Inuit Dog is often referred to as a "breed", its proper identification is that of a "landrace":
  • a class of domestic dogs that emerged as an ecotype within a specific ecological niche;
  • largely the result of environmental adaptation, mostly under conditions of natural selection; influenced by human preferences and interference;
  • fits the requirement of a specific human society living in a particular ecosystem.
                                                                                                          Johan and Edith Gallant 1

            The Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society further defines a landrace as2:

a naturally occurring type of dog ‘breed’ in which the dogs are similar in appearance and usually behaviour. They were created by natural selection for their local environments (example: double vs single coats depending on climate) and through only a small amount of direct artificial selection. These are not ‘pure’ breeds in the modern sense of having a narrow gene pool selected for some purpose, with no other breeds allowed to be crossed in…Other landraces maintain their general appearance and temperaments due to only small genetic contributions of foreign dogs being absorbed into the larger landrace, and also because the traits of the foreign dogs are not compatible and cannot be maintained under natural selection…

The Inuit Dog is an aboriginal dog.3,4 Profoundly different from "cultured" breeds, they are still domestic but:
  • have evolved by natural selection under conditions of free life and close interactions with people;
  • are a unique piece of nature, time bound and place bound, most similar to zoological subspecies;
  • are historically associated with ethnic groups and cultures;
  • are the oldest and the only natural…dogs in existence.
                                                                                                          Vladimir Beregovoy, PhD5

Aboriginal but not primitive. The Inuit Dog was at one time considered a “primitive aboriginal landrace”. However, according to the Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society6.

The only truly primitive dogs today are the Australian (and perhaps the Thai) Dingo and the New Guinea Singing Dog. These are the only dogs still living in a totally wild state. Although many have been tamed (as the first specimens brought to their native lands must have been) and so reproduced in and near aboriginal habitation, they have never been domesticated. They are the proto-domesticate ‘generalized’ dog and are, according to the available evidence, still close in morphology, and probably behaviour, to the dogs of about 15000 years ago.

Inuit Family, one dog only, 1926, Baker Lake, N.W.T.
                                                                Credit: L. T. Burwash
                Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Dev. collection
                                                     Library and Archives Canada

    B. The Inuit Dog is not a wolf!

Long-time arctic resident and Inuit Dog owner/breeder authority Ian Kenneth MacRury devoted a chapter to this subject in his masters thesis The Inuit Dog: Its Provenance, Environment and History. Many early explorers insisted that the Inuit Dog was part wolf and even to this day there are some who believe this to be true, going so far as perpetuate the myth that bitches in estrus were staked out by themselves to be bred by wolves. Inuit Dogs do share elements of the polar phenotype with arctic wolves. However, MacRury's research on skull and dentition measurements show no consistent hybridization. Furthermore, it is well known that wolves have a strong preference for killing dogs, loose or picketed. Also, biologists have explained that the differences in breeding and estrus cycles between wolves and dogs is not advantageous to the survival of hybrids in a polar environment. Personal communications with Inuit affirm that the willful practice of hybridization did not occur. Based on this body of information, it can be said that the Inuit Dog has no more wolf content than recognized breeds of Canis familiaris.

Inuit Dog, Iqaluit 2020
Photo: Jake Gearheard
Arctic Wolf   
Photo: Corel

     C. Dangerous confusion
Some people have gone to extremes in expressing their admiration for the wolf. In their distorted 'love' of Canis lupus, they have dumped a variety of northern spitz breeds as well as German Shepherds into a genetic cesspool along with wolves to create what they believe to be a "look-alike," thinking the results bring them in closer proximity to the wild icon of their fantasies. Breeder/owners may deny wolf content, but web searches have turned up some of their outright admissions that the animals are wolf hybrids. Over the years, due to infighting and other disagreements, these devotees' organizations have splintered and morphed, vanished and re-emerged. Groups such as the Northern Inuit Society and the Northern Inuit Dog Association have all chosen to misrepresent, mislead and obfuscate the public as to their creations' true identities at the expense of the aboriginal Inuit Sled Dog7

1 The term "breed", although often used in referring to aboriginal landraces because that is what most people understand, is not exactly accurate. According to Johan and Edith Gallant,  "Breeds are products of breed clubs, not of nature." Breed, Landrace and Purity: What do they mean?" by Johan and Edith Gallant, The Fan Hitch, V13 N1; December 2010

2 Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society website  definitions     

3 Aboriginal Breeds In The Modern World
L. S. Bogoslovskaya Institute of Heritage, Moscow, Russia
Primitive and Aboriginal Dog Society Newsletter #16

4 The Concept of an Aboriginal Dog Breed
Vladimir Beregovoy

5 Evolutionary Changes in Domesticated Dogs: The Broken Covenant of the Wild, Part 1.

6 Primative and Aboeriginal Dog Society website  definitions

7 Wolfdogs: Responsible or Irresponsible Breeding: Myths and Facts Explored; Sierra Milton, 2002

Northern Inuit: A Breed In The Making Or Designer-Dog Ripoff?; Silver Dragon, 2002

Wolf hybrids: The call of the semi-wild; Rick Sinnott; Alaska Dispatch, March 18, 2011

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