Greenland Dog history:An Ancient Sledge Dog Breed
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.
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 dogbreedinfor.com 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 dogbreedinfo.com. 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)
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.
links to Greenland dog
- Greenland Dog Information and Pictures, Greenland Dogs
All about the Greenland Dog, info, pictures, breeders, rescues, care, temperament, health, puppies and much more Greenland Dog
- The North Greenland Dog - Everything Husky!
The complete text of Fridtjof Nansen's chapter on dogs from his 1897 book.
- gooleusercontent.com - google user content Resources and Information. This website is for sale!
© 2011 Don A. Hoglund
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