Posts Tagged ‘Qimmiq’

yukon sled dogs

Photo courtesy of Nara U.

Newfoundlands, arctic spitzes, and at least one St. Bernard.

I particularly like that Newfoundland in the front.

He’s obviously the leader.

He looks very sharp.

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This is pretty hardcore.  They use an archery set on the bear!


You can’t take polar bear trophies into the United States today. This animal was taken at Norwegian Bay, which is in Nunavut in the far north of Canada.

This animal was taken before the US listed this species as threatened under the ESA, which led to the banning of the importation of polar bear trophies, but its hide may still be in Canada. 

I found the hunt itself quite fascinating.

The dogs are very useful in baying up the bear so the hunter can get clean shot.

Some may take issue with me posting this video.

But using dogs to hunt polar bears is one of the oldest traditions in the arctic.

It’s very unlikely that the dogs we call sled dogs today were used primarily in hauling sleds.

Vilhjalmur Stefansson suggest that widespread use of dogs as draft animals in the arctic couldn’t happen until the native peoples procured firearms. Rifles allowed them to kill enough game to feed large numbers of dogs for hauling purposes. Before that, Stefansson believed that the dogs were primarily used for hunting, and most families kept only a pair of dogs for hunting.

I’m probably going to catch some criticism for posting this video.

I don’t hate polar bears. I certainly don’t want them to go extinct.

But I just found the hunt so impressive that I will show you it to you.

You can make up your own mind what you think about it.

But I was glad to have found it.

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Vilhjalmur Steffansson was interesting man. Born to Icelandic immigrants in Manitoba and raised on the prairies of North Dakota, Stefansson was always looking at things and reading intensively. He developed a strong social conscience that was nurtured in his parents’ progressive Lutheranism, which often conflicted with more the Wisconsin Synod Lutheranism (Michele Bachmann Lutheranism) that was prevalent in the region. He was expelled from the University of Dakota because of his excessive absences and his rebellious streak. He later graduated from the university of Iowa, but by then he’d become a Unitarian. The Unitarians helped him get into Harvard Divinity School, but he soon discovered that he was into ethnography. As a student, he made several trips to the Canadian arctic as a student and as an explorer for the Canadian government. On one expedition, he raised the Union Jack upon Wrangel Island, which was known Russian Territory– causing a small international incident. On another, he discovered a group of Inuit in Canada’s Canada Northwest Territories who used copper tools. These people are called the Copper Inuit or the “Copper Eskimos.”

Stefansson actively promoted arctic exploration and settlement, and he used his discoveries in the region to promote the arctic as a place Western man could settle. We North Americans were very slow to develop any of our arctic resources, but the Soviet Union definitely was– mainly because it had no other option. Stefansson would come to admire some aspects of Soviet society at the time and would align himself with members of the Communist Party of the United States– but never joined the organization. However, he was active in establishing a committee in the United States with the goal of setting up a homeland for the Jews in the Russian Far East— what would have been Stalin’s version of Israel but based upon the Yiddish language rather than Hebrew. There is a small Jewish community in Birobidzhan, most of them are descendants of Russian and Yiddish-speaking Jews who moved there during the 1930’s. Birobidzhan of what the Russians call the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, but only a tiny percentage of the population is actually Jewish.

Despite his connections to the Soviet Union, Stefansson did his best to promote the arctic to North American audiences. His best known book arguing for arctic settlement is The Friendly Arctic, in which he describes his five years of living in the Canadian arctic from 1913 to 1918. From 1913 to 1916, he was leading the Canadian Arctic Expedition, but after 1916, he was leading his own expedition.

It is his account of how the Copper Inuit used their dogs that is of interest to us.  Contrary to what might be assumed about the dogs of the Inuit, they are not necessarily used solely as sled dogs. With the Copper Inuit, they were used primarily to assist in hunting ice seals, which make breathing holes in the sea ice during the winter. These holes are often hard for humans to find, but a dog can scent them fairly easily. The Copper Inuit also used these dogs to hunt bears. Stefansson doesn’t mention which species of bear the dogs were pursuing, but this is a bit too far north for them to be hunting brown bears. It is likely they were hunting polar bears. The dogs were also used to hunt caribou, and although they may not have been used in the active killing of seals. They certainly were used in this fashion to kill the more terrestrial big game species:

In the economy of these Eskimos the dog is used primarily for hunting and only secondarily as a draft animal. The seal holes, which are only an inch or so in diameter and through most of the winter covered with snow, cannot be found by the Eskimos without the help of the sharp-scented dogs. Usually each seal hunter has his own dog which he takes with him in leash but sometimes two or three hunters will use the same dog. They will then leave the house together in the morning, walking back and forth over the ice until the dog has discovered the first seal hole. One of the hunters remains at this hole while the others take the dog farther afield. When he has found the second hole the third man takes him, and so on. When the sealing is not more than a mile or two from the village a seal that is caught early in the day is left lying on the ice while the dog discovers for the hunter a second seal hole. The hunter marks this hole temporarily, then he goes back to where the dead seal lies, hitches the dog to it and sends him home to camp. The dog does this errand with the greatest good will for he knows that he is going to get a feed at the end of it. I have asked Eskimos whether the dog was not likely to stop on the way to eat the seal, but it seems that this rarely or never happens. Before the dog starts he may try to lick the blood off the seal but he will not stop even for this when once on his way. However, if the seal is caught by a snag of ice and the dog gets stuck, he may turn on the seal and eat it. When a dog once learns to eat a seal on the way home it is difficult or impossible to break him of the habit and thereafter such a dog is never entrusted with a seal.

Next to the finding of seal holes the greatest use of the dog is in bear hunting. Commonly two or three Eskimos hunt bears together, although any Eskimo would be ashamed of not tackling a bear alone if no hunting companion happened to be available. It is considered that two or three dogs should be used although some exceptionally good bear dogs are able to hold a bear singly. The bow and arrow are occasionally used, especially if there are several hunters, but more often the bear is killed with the hunting knife converted into a spear, for these Eskimos have no regular spears. An Eskimo always uses a walking stick a little stouter than a broom handle and about four feet long, and when a bear is to be attacked he lashes his hunting knife to this stick, thus converting it into a spear. The knife is double-edged and whether it is of steel or of copper the blade is usually from ten to fourteen inches long….

The largest number of dogs I have ever seen among Eskimos who did not have guns is three to a family. Two is the commonest number and one dog to a family is not rare. Perhaps the main reason why the introduction of firearms brings about such destruction of caribou is that the rifle makes it so easy to provide dogs with food, and the mobility of the caribou herds makes it so desirable to have large teams to follow the herds about, that the situation takes the form of an endless chain. A man has more dogs so he can kill more caribou to feed more dogs to help him to kill more caribou. The Eskimos around the Mackenzie River or Cape Bathurst who used to content themselves with two or three dogs to a family before the introduction of firearms, had fifteen or twenty dogs after rifles came and while the caribou were still plentiful. Later, of course, when the caribou had been nearly exterminated in the vicinity the dog teams had to be cut down (pg. 420-421).

So the Inuit did use their dogs to hunt ice seals.

And it is interesting that the number of dogs increased exponentially when firearms were introduced.  They were able to maintain larger packs of dogs that were fed solely through their hunting expeditions. Stefansson seems to be implying that only when other Inuit had guns could they afford to have large packs of hauling dogs. One cannot have much of a dog team with just three or four dogs.

These were people who actually relied upon their dogs to feed them.  This is a service that virtually no dog in the West today provides, but it wasn’t always this way. Davy Crockett and other “mountain men” lived almost exclusively on what they could kill, and they relied upon really good hunting dogs for their sustenance.

It is easy for modern Westerners to postulate that hunting and gathering people never used their dogs to hunt all that much. It’s easy– because most Westerners are so far removed from that situation that they simply don’t know. But I remember what my grandpa told me about his elkhounds and other squirrel dogs. He told me that by the time winter came, the squirrels would be too wary to make themselves exposed to a hunter’s gun.  And with the leaves off, the squirrels would be particularly wary.

One could go into the woods with a shotgun all day at that time of the year and not shoot any squirrels, but if one went with a well-trained squirrel dog, they dogs would find them almost instantly.

I don’t need studies showing me that the San or Bushmen of the Kalahari have discovered that they can more easily pursue antelope and other game with the assistance of dogs. They didn’t use dogs at all until very recently, but now it is almost impossible to find a Bushmen camp without any hunting dogs.

Dogs are very useful for hunters, but hunting dogs of all types have to be trained. And people have to learn how to use the dogs properly.

The notion that dogs aren’t predatory mammals is one of the silliest ideas that gets promoted these days. People who really should know better tell us that dogs just aren’t hunting animals– they are actually scavengers. It is very similar to what people used to say about spotted hyenas or currently say about the Tyrannosaurus rex. It’s an interesting idea, but it’s simply not born out by reality. Anyone who has ever seen a dog kill a prey species in the wild will very quickly come to the realization– and it’s a profound realization– that this animal isn’t just the cute animal that we think of as a family member. It’s a predatory mammal. The millennia of domestication haven’t destroyed all the wolf in this creature after all.





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Garry was registered with the Kennel Club as an “Esquimaux dog” and was exhibited at the Alexandra Palace Exhibition and the “Birmingham dog show” (Crufts?) in 1876.  He was said to be an “Eskimaux [dog] bred in the far north of Lombardy.”

This depiction of him comes from Hugh Dalziel’s British Dogs (c. 1880).  Dalziel was of the opinion that he was not a wolf or wolf hybrid. However, I have a certain amount of skepticism about Dalziel’s reasons for assuming that Garry was a pure dog, which I shall get to in good order.

Dalziel reports the description of Garry from his own C.E. Fryer:

Mr. C. E. Fryer, whose notice of Garry we reproduce from The Country, entitled him a “North American wolf dog,” and we find the idea that these dogs, or at least special varieties of them, are produced by a cross with the wolf rather commonly entertained, but there is no better reason for it than his general wolfish appearance. Garry is decidedly typical of the Esquimaux family of dogs, and on the subject of his breeding we have little to add to our sub-note to Mr. Fryer’s letter at the time it first appeared.

Mr. Fryer says: “The accompanying engraving represents one of these curious dogs, which are so much prized by the natives and inhabitants of North America, and so difficult to obtain in this country. The cut is taken from a photograph of a dog lately owned by a member of Oxford University, who gave me the following account of it: Garry, the dog in question, is about eighteen months old, and has been in this country seven months. He was brought from the Saskatchewan Mountains, Manitoba, in the far north-west of Canada.

Fryer’s geography is a bit off. Manitoba is in the middle of Canada, and I have never heard of any “Saskatchewan Mountains” in Saskatchewan or Manitoba.

Dalziel describes Garry’s origin:

The Indians take great pride in rearing a pure white wolf dog, and when they manage to secure one they have a feast in his honour, called the ‘ Feast of the White Dog.’ I refrain from attempting the native names, lest I should display my own ignorance and do some damage to my readers’ jaws. Garry is said to be the produce of an Esquimaux bitch, crossed nine times by a prairie wolf. The Indians chain up the Esquimaux mothers in the neighbourhood of the wolves, to whose kind attentions they leave them. The dog Garry has travelled many thousand miles over the snow, drawing a sleigh, and is quite tame, following his master closely through the streets without chain or muzzle. Sometimes he is treated to this latter sign of ‘civilisation,’ under which he is very patient, though he continually endeavours to free himself from it. His food is plain dog biscuit, which he eats without complaint, though at first he ate raw meat ravenously. His master, however, finding his blood was getting too hot, gradually reduced him to one meal per day of dog biscuits. He is very tractable and docile, and but for his enormous size would not give any idea of ferocity.

This would have made Garry a very high content wolfdog, and judging from this depiction of him, I would have no reason to doubt that he was either a high content wolfdog or even a possible pure wolf.

His behavior appeared to have been quite wolf-like:

His owner tells me he does not bark, but utters a low growl when enraged, and at night howls piteously.

And his teeth sound as if they were those of a wolf, not a domestic dog:

His mouth would easily take in a man’s leg, and his teeth are a caution to dentists. Whether he feels flattered by being told that we are possessors of developed ‘ canine ‘ teeth I can’t say.

Wolves and coyotes have much more robust teeth than domestic dogs do. The big game hunting specialist wolves have particularly large teeth, and if Garry were a wolf or a wolf hybrid, he would have been of this type.

Of course, Hugh Dalziel didn’t think that Garry was any kind of wolf or wolf hybrid:

The mystic story of Garry’s birth and parentage is very charming, but I fear the talismanic number nine would alone be fatal to it, as it is decidedly suspicious; and in these days of Kennel Stud Books we get awfully sceptical of unauthenticated pedigrees, and in such matters positively refuse as evidence the traditions of the Red Man, however pretty and romantic. I saw Garry in the flesh at Birmingham – where, by the way, he took a £5 prize – and I must pronounce him the very finest specimen of an Esquimaux dog I have seen, but I must differ from our esteemed correspondent when he says there is unmistakeable evidence of wolf blood in the dog. Dogs appear to approach nearer to the wolf type the farther they are removed from the higher civilised life of man, and that, I think, is the case with Garry, and, besides that, hybrids do not breed.

Actually, there have been wolves that have been imprinted upon people are quite docile animals. There is the story of Wags, Adolph Murie’s pet wolf, who was so gentle that he trusted her to play with his children. And she was not the only one. There are many accounts of socialized wolves that were very gentle with people. Not all imprinted wolves are extremely emotionally reactive and predatory animals. It is true that most imprinted wolves exhibit these behaviors, which is why we are so strongly warned against keeping them. But there have always been very docile wolves.

Dalziel is merely showing his Victorian racial views. The “Red Man” of Canada couldn’t domesticate a wolf.  Only Westerners could ever do such a thing.

But he really shows his error in that last line when he says that hybrids between wolves and dogs cannot breed. Of course, wolf and dog hybrids can reproduce. The two animals are now considered to be the same species, and as such, calling them wolf hybrids is no longer valid. The word hybrid denotes the breeding of two distinct species, and that is no longer the case when one discusses the breedings between wolves and dogs. This blog calls wolves “wild Canis lupus” and dogs “domestic Canis lupus.”

Dalziel also though Garry’s proportions all wrong, simply because they are all wrong for a sled dog.

But let’s look at what Garry’s proportions actually say:

Height at shoulder, 2ft. 6in.; length from centre between shoulder blades to centre between ears, 1ft.; from latter point to end of nose, 11in.; length from shoulders to setting on of tail, 2ft. 7in.; length of tail, lft. 4in.; measurement round head just behind ears, 2ft.; just above eyes, lft. 8in.; at point of nose, 10in.; his girth measured fairly tight, not outside the hair, 3ft.; his weight is 8st. 8 lb. His hair is long, straight, and pure white, which is his chief beauty.

Garry stood 30 inches at the shoulder and weighed 120 pounds (that’s how you convert from stones to pounds!)

That would make him a large wolf, not unlike an arctic wolf or perhaps an unusually large “Buffalo wolf” of the Canadian prairies.

No Canadian Eskimo dog (qimmiq) has these proportions. According to the breed standard, they are not to exceed 88 pounds and 28 inches at the shoulder. Qimmiq do look like wolves superfically, but because they have been bred for hauling, they are built very differently– much more bone and much broader chests.

W.D. Drury depicts anther “Esquimaux dog” that was a contemporary of Garry in British Dogs, Their Points, Selection, And Show Preparation (1903). Myouk was derived from dogs brought over by Sir John Franklin, and it is very obvious that he was a genuine article qimmiq:

Drury also takes exception with the notion that Garry could not have been a wolf or wolf hybrid:

Garry…was of a different type from many other Esquimaux that have been exhibited. He was sometimes called a North American Wolfdog, and was said to be a cross between a wolf and an Esquimaux bitch. It is a perfectly well-known fact that the wolf and dog will breed freely together, and the late Mr. Bartlett, of the Zoological Gardens, told the writer that the offspring will continue to breed – a fact that has been doubted by some [like Hugh Dalziel].

In addition to his different proportions from the qimmiq, Garry also appears to have larger feet in proportion to his body size than one typically sees in a dog. Northern wolves have large feet, which they use as snowshoes. They distribute the weight of the wolf out over the snow more evenly, preventing them from breaking through the crust and becoming encumbered. Sled dogs have similar feet, but they are not nearly as well-developed as those of wolves, which also have no sweat glands to produce moisture that will collect snow as the animal traverses snowy ground.

There is also quite a bit of evidence of indigenous people keeping wolves as pets. As a young boy traveling to the Canadian arctic as an assistant to his renowned ornithologist uncle to the artic of Manitoba, Farley Mowat encountered a native trapper with a live wolf pup. He implored his uncle to buy it, but he refused. The trappers wanted the bounty value for the pup– only $5– but his uncle seemed to think that such an animal would only cause trouble. It is possible that Garry or his ancestors had been collected in the same fashion.

Everything about Garry suggests that he was a wolf or high content wolf hybrid that was exhibited as an “Esquimaux dog.”  Compare the depiction of Garry with these arctic wolves:

The resemblance is uncanny.

Almost unmistakable.

Garry was a show wolf or high content wolfdog.

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From FirstscienceTV

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