Northern Inuit Dog

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Northern Inuit Dog

A recently developed breed, the Northern Inuit Dog may be familiar to fans of the HBO series Game of Thrones, where they play the 'Direwolves'. Bearing close resemblance to wolves, their breeders have worked hard to ensure that they have the potential to be well-adjusted and loving pets, despite their intimidating appearance.

Athletically built, this breed has moderate exercise requirements, and will happily relax indoors with the family once they’ve blown off their quota of steam for the day. Highly intelligent, they can be trained in a variety of disciplines, though need a firm hand and a lot of patience. Dedicated owners will reap the benefits of time spent with this endearing breed.

About & History

Despite the fact that the Northern Inuit Dog has only existed for a few decades, their exact origin is a subject of fierce debate. While impossible to confirm exactly when and where they came about, there are two prevailing stories which appear the most likely. One suggestion is that the breed was consciously developed by a man called Eddie Harrison. In the 1980s, they claim he bred together rescue dogs of varying pedigree, including Siberian Huskies, German Shepherds and Alaskan Malamutes.

However, another plausible theory is that the breed originated a decade earlier, in the 1970s. It is postulated that Canadian Eskimo Dogs and Labrador Huskies were bred together in the USA after being imported from the UK.

While this breed is evidently a wolf look-alike, it is important to emphasise that they do not possess any wolf DNA. Whatever the true foundation of the Northern Inuit Dog, it is evident that they were purposely bred to closely resemble wolves, while being domesticated enough to fulfil the role of a family pet. Despite having a cult following thanks to their recent appearance on the Game of Thrones TV series, as well as being part of The Northern Inuit Society, this newly developed breed is not recognised by any international governing bodies yet.

The Northern Inuit Society have ensured that the Northern Inuit Dogs have not been bred to other dog breeds, ensuring their pedigree is maintained. While traditionally bred in the UK and Ireland, there has recently been a surge in the exportation of this breed and dogs have now made it as far afield as South Africa and Switzerland.

Appearance

Northern Inuit Dog Large Photo
Malfuros / Wikipedia.org

The Northern Inuit Dog should be of an athletic build and are a medium to large sized dog. Female dogs will typically reach heights of 59-71cms, while male dogs stand noticeably taller at around 64-81cms. They should be slightly taller than they are long. Weights of between 25-38kgs for females and 36-48kgs for males have been reported. Their coat is plush and thick. It should be a weather-proof double coat that measures about 4cms in length. Their coat colour varies and may be pure white, sable, grey, apricot, black or varying shades in between. Coloured ‘masks’ on the facial fur are permitted, though not if the dog is white-furred.

Their head should be well proportioned, with their muzzle the same length as their skull. Their ears should stand erect rather than flopping forwards and should not be overly big. Their endearing eyes are oval in shape and may be of any colour. Their tail has a dense covering of fur and may exhibit a crescent shape when the dog is in movement. The tail itself should not be curly or overly long.

Character & Temperament

Breeders and fanciers of this breed have worked hard to ensure that they are a friendly and confident dog. In fact, they are such good-tempered animals, that they have been used successfully as therapy dogs. Leaving this breed of dog on their own for long periods of time is not recommended, as they thoroughly enjoy being in the company of humans and can be prone to developing separation anxiety. Dedicated to their families, they form strong bonds early on in the relationship, and tend to have great respect for the ‘alpha’ or more dominant owner.

It is widely reported that Northern Inuit Dogs make substandard guard dogs as they are generally overly-trusting of people they don’t know. While these dogs have a reputation for being good with children, due to their sheer size and strength, interactions should always be supervised. Howling is instinctive within this breed, and anyone with neighbours nearby should strongly consider this before acquiring a Northern Inuit Dog.

Trainability

Northern Inuit Dogs require an experienced owner who is willing to put in the time to bring them to their full potential. Their sheer strength, coupled with their intelligence and propensity to bore easily, makes for a difficult pet when in the wrong hands. They are strong-willed dogs who tend to have a mind of their own. However, they can be overly sensitive, and need to work with someone who is patient and understanding.

Trainers must work hard to ensure training sessions remain fresh and fun, as these dogs can easily become distracted and are not likely to follow instructions when not interested. It is vital to begin their training as early as possible to ensure their compliance. Caution is advised if training off-lead as they have retained their hunting instinct when it comes to small, speedy prey, such as squirrels.

Health

The Northern Inuit Society have made hip scoring and elbow scoring, as well as eye testing, a mandatory part of their breeding programme – an example that many societies should follow. Anecdotally, they are a healthy breed with owners claiming impressive life spans of 12 to 15 years. Medical conditions reported within the population include:

  • Orthopaedic Conditions – Many medium to large sized dogs are prone to developing elbow and hip dysplasia with the Northern Inuit Dog being no exception. When joints form improperly, they lead to localised pain and inflammation over time. Affected animals will show lameness that worsens as they age.
  • Achondroplasia – There have been several reported cases of this form of dwarfism in the breed. Animals that are affected should not be bred from.
  • Cryptorchidism – The failure of testicles to descend into the scrotum is not an unusual occurrence and is seen commonly within clinical practice. One or both testicles may fail to descend, and the failure may be complete or partial. A testicle that does not descend completely is at higher risk of cancer due to the increased temperature within the body and should be surgically removed once the dog has reached maturity. While a dog who only has one undescended testicle will technically be fertile, breeding is ill-advised as this is a genetic condition.
  • Degenerative Myelopathy – According to the Northern Inuit Society’s website, there have been a number of breed members that have been reported as carriers of this debilitating disease. An affected animal will have a worsening lameness of the hind limbs that is not associated with any pain or discomfort.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Surprisingly, despite their ancestry, Northern Inuit Dogs do not require excessive amounts of exercise, rather enjoying several long walks a day. It is also advisable to provide them with a large, secure outdoor space where they can roam, and it would not be sensible to keep such an active breed within a small home. Failure to exercise this breed adequately will likely result in nuisance behaviours, which could have been avoided with proper exercise and mental stimulation.

Grooming

Frequent grooming (several times a week) is recommended to keep their coat in the best condition possible. Ears should be checked weekly to ensure they do not have a build-up of wax, or any signs of an ear infection. While they are not a breed that are particularly prone to dental disease, regular tooth brushing can and should be introduced from a young age. Over-bathing is not recommended, and Northern Inuit Dogs should only be bathed when necessary. Anecdotally, this breed will shed more than the average dog.

Famous Northern Inuit Dogs

The Northern Inuit Dog breed has a very impressive claim to fame indeed. Members of the breed were selected by the Northern Inuit Society to play both the puppy and adult Direwolves in the much-loved TV series Game of Thrones. Since the show has aired, their popularity has hugely increased as members of the public seek out their own personal Direwolves. Owing to this, there are large waiting lists for purebred Northern Inuit puppies at this moment in time.

Cross-Breeds

There are no popular crossbreeds of the Northern Inuit Dog.

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