Greenland Dog history:An Ancient Sledge Dog Breed

Greenland Dog


Greenland dog history is part of Inuit history.The Greenland Dog is a dog used by Eskimos (Inuit) for pulling sleds and hunting polar bear and seals . It is large and thought to be a direct descendant of the first dogs the Inuit brought to Greenland. Although the number of this dog is diminishing there are people interested in preserving the breed, primarily in the Scandinavian countries. The dog sledge in Greenland was used with this dog.

The breed is similar to other dogs which have been used for sled dog teams, but it may be older than most of them if not the oldest. Some believe they are the closest dogs to wolves.

These are Spitz-type dogs that have existed throughout the Arctic since antiquity. Its ancestors can be traced to dogs that were with people from Siberia over 12,000 years ago. These people who were the ancestors of today’s Inuit may have used wolves for breeding.

Greenland Dog



The Greenland dog is powerful and heavy built with a broad, wedge shaped head. Its small eyes are slightly tilted and it has small, triangular ears, which are covered with thick fur to prevent frostbite. Its legs are strong and muscular with short hair. Usually the tail is curved over its back but can hang down in a wolf -like manner. Like many dogs of this type the tail will curl up to cover the dogs nose when sleeping.. The coat is medium length with two layers, an inner layer of short wool like fur and an outer layer of longer and coarser fur that is water repellent. They can withstand temperatures that might be as cold as 50 to 75 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

According to on the Greenland Dog it is very similar to the Canadian Eskimo sleddog but not as heavy and is slightly taller.

Most Greenland Dogs have a triangular area on the shoulders.

The male is much larger than the female. In Greenland the breed seems not to have changed since it was first introduced there. It is primarily a working dog of speed, strength and a malleable temperament.

The Greenland Dog is referred to as a “husky” type dog. They are of different colors but most commonly are gray, spotted white and black haired. Often they have a round light spot over each eye. There are a lot of them that are all white which according to and article by Fridijol Nansen in 1897 it is hard to tell from the Arctic white wolf , which is found mostly on the islands north of the American continent. He had little doubt that the Greenland Dog was identical to the wolf by which he implies that the Greenland Dog is directly descended from the wolf although it is of smaller size.

Nansen thinks that one reason the dog, even after a long period of being domesticated, still resembles its ancestor the wolf is that the Eskimo owners fed the dog the same diet that they would have in the wild, consisting of raw meat, blood, blubber, walrus skin and entrails of any animals the master kills. They only get water in the summer and get from streams. In winter and on sled journeys they have to go without water and get what moisture they can from snow. They dogs, he observes, do not seem to suffer much from it. He thinks that the dogs are able to eat enough in one meal to last them several days.

As I have noted about other dogs of this type, Nansen says the dog howls rather than barks. He states”…where we often had about one hundred dogs at a time, we had the plainest proof that their howls in the night were caused by joy…they took the place of song…They especially excelled as chorus singers.”

In the “primitive” conditions that Nansen observed the dogs in 1897 that mostly the natives of the area used the dogs. He describes how the dogs indulge in theft. Theft of anything edible that they can get loose and steal, including clothes, harnesses and anything made of leather, He observes that there is even competition between the dogs as to which can get loose the first and steal the most.

The native owners are surprisingly tolerant of the dog’s behavior. He said that he suggested to an owner that he punish the dogs for stealing when a dog had stolen the last piece of blubber that the master and his wife had. The master replied that he himself was at fault for not having food for the dogs.

Nansen relates that there was an epidemic disease, at the time he was writing in 1897, every year threatened extinction of the dogs. A large number of dogs were stricken every year.




The Greenland dog is aloof and very independent and can be loving with an owner he or she bonds with. Principally a working dog they have Nordic, good, loyal temperament. However in teams they may not have the opportunity to bond with humans.

Independent, self-willed boisterous and rowdy in playing, these dogs are not meant to be coach potatoes. They are working dogs and need vigorous activity and they have become somewhat popular in Norway and Sweden as hiking companions.

Like other dogs of similar background, they have very little protective instinct and, therefore, are not good as watchdogs. They are primarily hunters and pull sleds.

It takes patient leadership to train these dogs. They are not easy to train. They retain a lot of wolf instinct and character and the alpha pack instinct is very strong, according to An owner must be very dominant and show the dog the he is alpha. The dog must accept the owner as leader.

Definitely not an apartment dog, the Greenland dog needs room to run and it is best if he hasa job to do. They can withstand much cold weather but do not like heat. They should be taken for brisk walks and  made to heel beside or behind the person holding the lead. The human must establish himself as leader because the dog’s instincts associate being in front as being the leader.

They are not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the are recognized as “Working dogs by the Canadian Kennel club (CKC), and The Kennel Club [U.K.], (KC) and among Northern Breeds by the United Kennel Club (UKC)


Upernavik, Greenland

In this town, the number of sled dogs is regulated by shooting them. A dog shooter is hired; the dog is killed on-site by a rifle shot to the head in open terrain. The dead dog is picked up as garbage. Sled dog stock in Upernavik is decreasing these years. In the last few winters rising temperatures and changed currents in the sea around the island have made it impossible to use sled dogs for hunting and transportation. (See picture.) Picture and information supplied by Kim Hansen on Wikimedia creative commons.

Like similar northern breeds they are being replaced by snowmobiles. Fanciers are trying to keep the breed alive but numbers are diminishing. Scandinavian breeders are trying to keep the dog from extinction.

I would hope that those who want to save this breed could get together with this village and rescue these dogs.


show route and directions
A markerGreenland -
[get directions]

B markerUpernavik, Greenland -
Upernavik, Greenland
[get directions]

© 2011 Don A. Hoglund

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Comments 35 comments

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Love the look of these dogs. Amazing markings. Great Hub!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

The black and white is something. Thanks for commenting.

samsons1 profile image

samsons1 5 years ago from Tennessee

up and beautiful! Well written, thanks for making me aware of this breed...

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for the compliment. I am glad you liked it.

suziecat7 profile image

suziecat7 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

Beautiful dog - thanks for the interesting Hub.

ahorseback profile image

ahorseback 5 years ago

Dahoglund , Great article , Humanity treats its domesticated animals no better that it treats it's own.Unfortunate but true. Be well.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author


Thanks for the comment. I am glad you found it interesting.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author


I think in most cases these dogs are treated well and have a good relationship with humans. Thanks for commenting.

mindyjgirl profile image

mindyjgirl 5 years ago from Cottage Grove, Oregon

interesting article, well put together! I will take notes. Thank you, I have a miniature Rat Terrier, and hes like family to us. I like the the band three dog night, and up there in Alaska, I am sure those guys had them.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thank you and I'm glad you liked it.I think we all enjoy dogs as pets. By and large these dogs were not pets but working animals.

WillStarr profile image

WillStarr 5 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona


I really like these Hubs dedicated to dogs. Well done!

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thank you for the compliment.I am glad you like them.

Wealthmadehealthy profile image

Wealthmadehealthy 5 years ago from Somewhere in the Lone Star State

This was a really great read except when I came to the portion where they were shooting the dogs as a form of dog control. The truly sad thing is this breed needs to be preserved. What are these people thinking as the price of gas rises to an extreme level or becomes unattainable.

The way of life these dogs help to provide should not be downtrodden by the modern methods of today. That is such a shame. They are beautiful animals and were put here to serve ironic that man would negate such a wonderful helper as this. (you know I am a total dog lover, don't you? lol) Wonderful read as always dahoglund. Have a great evening and may you and your family be blessed today and always.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Since it is only one town that I know of that has a problem with controlling the dog population it might have to do with local circumstances. Thanks for your gracious comments. profile image 5 years ago from upstate, NY

Its amazing that anything can live outside at 50-70 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. I've heard that if you spit at 50 degree below zero, it freezes before it hits the ground. It shows the great intelligence of God, the way He designed the bodies of these dogs to withstand such a harsh environment. You have to believe the Inuit to be a resourceful people to adapt themselves to a life in the arctic.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I think it gets bad enough in Wisconsin.Dogs of this type are usually very physically active. One reason that people who own this type of animal have to worry about losing them is that if they do get loose than can run or walk for many miles and I'm talking 20 or 40 miles.

They also have instincts for keeping warm like curling up when they sleep to conserve heat.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

What beauties, what power. I like that triangle marking.

Thanks for the hub - I've learned something new on this early rainy morning. Horrible the shootings in Iceland - but the US admits to euthanizing 4 million dogs per year. We should be ashamed.

Well done and rated up. Yay!

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

Another great hub in this series. . I am bookmarking them and I have a nice selection now.

thank you for sharing and take care


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author


Since I only have the information on killing the dogs that comes from the photographer, I don't know the circumstances. If they were wild dogs I could see a reason for it. Just too bad they can't get the people who want the dogs to adopt them.Thanks for the comment.


Thank you for the compliment. And thanks for reading it.

Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Majestic creatures! I have read and enjoyed several books about the Iditarod. Young adult author Gary Paulsen has written a few from his own experiences. Very interesting.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks for commenting.I think all the northern breeds are guite impressive.

Sam9999 profile image

Sam9999 5 years ago

Interesting article. When I was above the arctic circle in Greenland it seemed that there were more dogs than people. I asked how they could sled through all the mountainous terrain and was told that they went on the ocean ice - up until about 5 years ago when the ocean stopped freezing. The time of working dogs seems to be coming to an end. I only met one young lady who had a Greenland dog as a pet. They are wonderful animals and I hope that the Greenland Dog can be preserved.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

There are a fair number of sled type dogs where I live in Wisconsin. As far as I know there are no Greenland dogs though. Hopefully there will be breeders interested.

Purple Perl profile image

Purple Perl 5 years ago from Bangalore,India

Beautiful, I liked these dogs simply because my pet dog Jerry looks like these. But now, I know more about them, thanks to your enlightening hub.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I'm glad you like the dogs and like the hub. Thanks for commenting.

tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 5 years ago from New York

I love all types of dogs but have always thought sled dogs showed a majesty beyond all others even tho I have a Min Pin. Good article.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Until I started researching it I didn't know there were so many such breeds. Thanks for commenting.

toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 5 years ago

As you told me, you really are fascinated with everything dog, and prove it with your excellent articles. I am really learning so much through your hubs. I also, had never heard of such a dog. But why shouldn't

Greenland have their own dog? Rated up and useful.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I appreciate the compliment about my articles. Thanks for commenting and voting.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

I did not know of this breed. I thought that the sled dogs were husky types. Very informative. Hopefully the greenland dogs will be preserved. Love this series! Up, useful and tweeted.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

I am finding that "Husky" covers several breeds. For example, a new breed the "Alaskan Husky" is being bred primarily for racing.The Siberian Husky, which is what we usually think of as "Husky" Was introduced in Alaska and used during the run for vaccines needed because of an epidemic. Because this has been memorialized in the Iditorod race the Siberian Husky won a place in history. Malamutes are also sled dogs but bigger and used more as draft animals.Prior to that almost any dogs were used as portrayed in "Call of the Wild."

Thanks for the comments and votes.

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 5 years ago from Houston, Texas

Ah...Call of the Wild. Loved that book by Jack London as well as others he authored.

dahoglund 5 years ago

When I first saw the old movie I wondered why the dogs were not huskies. When I researched my hub on Nome I realised that Siberian Huskies had not been introduced there yet.

Thanks for the comment.

Phyllis Doyle profile image

Phyllis Doyle 2 years ago from High desert of Nevada.

Such a beautiful breed. I enjoyed reading about the Greenland Dog. Well done, Don.

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 2 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids Author

Thanks Phyllis. I have a certain affection for the working breeds, the dogs that pull sleds, herd sheep, or do other chores for humans. The sled dogs are possibly the most romantic of them.

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