Canadian Eskimo Dog

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Canadian Eskimo Dog
Exhaustfumes / Wikipedia.org

Often cited as the oldest indigenous dog breed of North America, the Canadian Eskimo Dog is well adapted to the life it has led for many centuries in the Arctic Circle, labouring as a beast of burden and a hunter. It is a breed that is not just rare, but endangered, although it appears that a recent drive to preserve and promote it may be making some inroads. Gentle and loyal, it is more malleable and submissive than most other Spitz breeds, including the closely related Greenland Dog, and it is considered highly trainable. However, it is very rarely kept as a pet, as most owners in a domestic setting cannot hope to provide the amount of exercise that this athletic dog not only wants, but needs.

As a pack animal, it is highly sociable with other dogs, but working Canadian Eskimo Dogs would frequently go unfed by their Inuit masters, and so the breed has a high prey drive. This means it is not suited to homes with other small pets, and must be contained within a securely fenced garden. In fact, many of these hardy dogs will prefer to spend much of their time outdoors, a reflection of their adaptation to cold conditions, and their dislike of our over-heated modern homes. Most Eskimo Dogs are very healthy, although owners need to ensure their diet is high in protein and contains other nutrients present at high levels in their natural diet in order to prevent metabolic disorders. The breed has an average life expectancy of 12 to 14 years.

About & History

Charles Darwin, along with many of the early Old World explorers of North America, believed the Canadian Eskimo dog to be closely related to the wolf, given the similarities in appearance between the two. But, in fact, this breed is very far removed from the wild, with DNA studies proving that it was first domesticated several thousand years ago. Similar evidence points to the Eskimo Dog and Greenland Dog being the same breed, something reflected in the Eskimo Dog’s removal from the American Kennel Club’s breed register. Though it is a rare breed today, the Canadian Inuits could not have survived their Arctic environment without many of these dogs, which first travelled to the region from Asia with the migratory Thule people around 1000 years ago. Viewed by the Inuit as tools provided for their survival, rather than members of the animal kingdom, these dogs were vital for transport over the frozen landscape, and were also enthusiastic hunters of seals and polar bears. In a crisis, the dogs themselves could also be used as a food source.

The Eskimo Dog’s greatest asset in sledding is its combination of power and stamina – it is not a fast dog. For this reason, it found itself falling from favour over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute being used as faster alternatives. It suffered further blows in the 1950s and 1960s, with the advent of the snowmobile coinciding with a bizarre campaign by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in which they destroyed thousands of dogs under the pretext of preventing the spread of infectious disease. The breed therefore teetered on the brink of extinction by the early 1970s, when the Eskimo Dog Research Foundation was established. Headed by a controversial figure whom has made headlines on several occasions for illegally feeding polar bears in order to dissuade them from eating his dogs, the EDRF still owns around one-third of all the Canadian Eskimo Dogs alive today.

Appearance

Canadian Eskimo Dog Large Photo

The Eskimo Dog has been bred in isolation for centuries, yet retains the features typical of other members of the Spitz family. In order to fulfil its traditional role, it has a strong neck to which a harness can be attached, and a very broad chest that can facilitate the hours-long lung-busting effort that goes into pulling two to three times the dog’s own weight over snow and ice. As mentioned above, it has been mistaken for a tame wolf in the past, and this is largely down to the appearance of its large, wedge-shaped head with its broad muzzle, strong jaws, widely spaced brown or yellow eyes, and its thick triangular ears that are invariably erect and forward-facing.

The width of the chest is exaggerated by the heavy musculature around the shoulders, which is mirrored in the upper hindlimbs. The back and loin are also strong and broad, and the lower limbs are reasonably well boned. The curled, densely haired Spitz tail is set high and is most often carried over the back, although female Canadian Eskimo Dogs are unusual in that they sometimes carry their tails down.

To protect them from sub-zero temperatures and freezing gales, Eskimo Dogs have a dense double coat, with stiff outer hairs and an impenetrable layer of softer hairs lying as a solid mass over the skin. Males tend to have longer hair than females, especially where it forms a mane around the neck and shoulders. All colours and patterns are accepted by the breed standard. Male Canadian Eskimo Dogs measure 58–70 cm tall at the withers, and weigh 30–40 kg, while females are shorter, at 50–60 cm, and lighter, weighing 18–30 kg.

Character & Temperament

Unsurprisingly, Eskimo Dogs are incredibly tough, stoical characters. They are also, in some ways, “softer” than other Spitzes, especially the Arctic breeds, with many people describing them as being naturally submissive, readily deferring to human authority rather than being inclined to challenge it. These hard workers are intensely loyal, and are gregarious with their own kind; indeed, Canadian Eskimo Dogs should be kept in groups, rather than as individuals.

It is difficult to imagine that many homes can provide the right environment for this breed; it has colossal energy reserves, and is highly motivated by work. Owners involved in sledding or skijoring may be an exception, although they are likely to choose another more racy breed if they have any competitive inclinations.

Trainability

Photo of Canadian Eskimo Dog puppy
Winterwindmals / Wikipedia.org

Most Canadian Eskimo Dogs are compliant and live to please. They are also very intelligent, and therefore easy to train – most informed owners will work hard at training their Eskimo Dog to perform chores or to compete in canine sports in order to provide mental stimulation. However, good behaviour in a working breed is the result of not just training, but also adequate exercise (see below), and this is especially true for the Eskimo Dog.

Health

It is impossible to provide a definitive list of health concerns for such a rare breed, as the population is so small as to prevent the recognition of patterns of illness. However, the Eskimo Dog can suffer some problems seen in other Arctic breeds that can be ascribed to diets that are suitable for most “normal” dogs, but do not contain the balance of nutrients found in the fatty, heavily meat and fish-based diets of working sled dogs.

  • Cataract – One condition known to be associated with the breed is early cataract formation, likely due to genetic influences. Seen as a pale or crystal-like deposit in the pupil of the eye that usually progresses to produce noticeable sight loss.
  • Hip dysplasia – Though this malformation of the hip joints is most often inherited, its severity can be limited through proper nutritional management during the dog’s early life. Commercial dog foods encourage Eskimo Dogs to gain muscle mass more quickly than they would in their natural setting, and owners should attempt to keep their pup at a healthy, but lean, weight until they are skeletally mature at around 15 months of age.
  • Zinc-responsive dermatosis – A relative deficiency of the mineral zinc, which is important to skin health, leading to the formation of crusts and scales around the mouth, nose, and genitals.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Exercise is everything to the Canadian Eskimo Dog. It yearns, and needs, to be kept moving for large chunks of the day – and a walk in the park is just not going to cut it. Sledding or cart pulling are almost mandatory, as the instinct to haul is strong, and something that should be facilitated in pups as young as three months old, when the Inuit would have begun training their dogs.

Because of its trainability and intelligence, the Eskimo Dog can take to other high-intensity activities and sports, but these are outlets that need to be provided every day, and the reality is that very few people have the time or energy to provide the right environment for this breed.

Grooming

The dense coat does not demand a lot of attention, but should be brushed weekly to promote healthy hair growth and to remove loose hairs. During the autumn, it may shed much more heavily over the course of several weeks, when daily brushing might be required. Canadian Eskimo Dogs rarely have a strong odour, and should very seldom be washed.

Famous Canadian Eskimo Dogs

An unnamed Canadian Eskimo Dog became a viral celebrity in 2016, when it was filmed being “petted” by a polar bear that approached the chained dog. However, the incident was misinterpreted by the public as the bear striking up a friendship with the animal; in fact, the same polar bear went on to kill and eat another dog belonging to the pack later the same day.

Cross-Breeds

With all of the Canadian Eskimo Dog fraternity concentrating their efforts on the promotion and preservation of the breed, it is hardly surprising that it is not a dog used for cross-breeding.

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