Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 6, 2009)
To the world generally, the American Eskimo dog is any dog coming from the North American Arctic, specifically, the distinctive type of dog belonging to the race of people which live along the shores of the Arctic Ocean. We call them American Eskimos, and hence, their dogs are known as American Eskimo dogs.
In the United States, however, it is considered that there are at least two breeds of North American Arctic dogs. One, the Malamute, comes from the Pacific coast of Alaska, near Kotzebue Sound. The second is the American Eskimo, a dog found all along the Arctic Circle, in Greenland, Baffin Land, Victoria Island, and on to the mouth of the Mackenzie River.
The American Eskimo belongs to a family of dogs known as the Spitz, or wolf-Spitz group. This is the group of the sled dogs. They are dogs with plume tails carried over their backs. Their ears are usually small and triangular, and heavily furred. Their coats are designed to keep out cold in winter, and heat, flies and mosquitoes in the summer. Closely related to the American Eskimo are the Alaskan Malamute, the Siberian Huskie, the Samoyed, and to a lesser extent, the Keeshond, Pomeranian, Norwegian Elkhound, and Chow Chow.
Little is known about the origins of the Eskimo peoples themselves. There are no clues which would link them to any other race of humans. They live in the Arctic by choice; since it is evident they always have spurned the easier life of the Canadian forests to the south. When the first white explorers reached them, they were living in a Stone Age culture, and to some extent they still are.
In considering the American Eskimo dog, this point is important. According to a well known internationally-known archaeologist, man's earliest use for the dog was as a beast of burden. So it is possible that these American Eskimo dogs, living with people still in a Stone Age culture, may be the modern representatives of a pure breed, twenty-five,000 to fifty,000 years old.
On the other hand, it has been stated that the Arctic wolf is "the parent stock of the Esquimaux dog." Perhaps reflecting the possibility of this, It has also been said: "Experiments with wolves held in captivity have shown that in each litter there are two or three Whelps that show tameness early. The remainder are absolutely intractable and often die if one attempts to train them."
The females would stray from the ship and come back mated to wolves. The "Indians" would bring home wolf cubs with which to improve their sled dog stock. The female gray wolves would lure domesticated dogs from the camps and mate with them. It often happens that the Eskimo dogs and wolves interbreed; the female dog is especially liable to cohabit with a wolf; and the progeny are considered much superior beasts, but very hard to manage. The offspring are hardy, docile, and strong, easily fed, and capable of enduring great fatigue. Offspring of male dogs and female wolves appear to inherit all the wild characteristics of the mother, and seem to be more savage and difficult to control in captivity than pureblood wolves, although exceptions to this are possible.
A few wolves and many wolf-dog hybrids have been trained to draw sleds, but with varying success. The American Eskimo is not merely a sled dog. He is used also in seal hunting, and for hunting bear and musk ox. Many of them have excellent wind-scenting noses. These are used for locating the air holes through which seals breathe. Others are used for trailing.
In addition, the American Eskimo has a miraculous facility for finding the trail home. Once over a trail, the dogs never forget it. It is this facility which makes it possible for American Eskimos to make trips of hundreds of miles in length, through storms, over ice flows and glaciers, and all during the Arctic darkness.
In the Arctic, at least, the breed ranges from forty to 135 pounds in weight. Most explorers have preferred dogs weighing from seventy to 85 pounds. According to early writings, dogs weighing a hundred pounds or over were the first to give out on long trips.
Dogs of medium weight are able to pull very heavy loads. Sometimes teams were driven in a continuous run up to a a hundred miles in under eighteen hours. A dog team averages from seven to ten dogs, but sometimes as many as twenty are used at a time. The dogs can pull up to double their combined weight, but it is not usual to load them so. A load equal to their combined weight permits the best speed.
Each team has a "king" or lead dog. This dog is taught the six or seven basic commands-go, stop, right, left, faster, lie down, etc. Despite high tales of the king dog ruling the pack, this is not necessarily the case. He is king dog because of intelligence, speed, and endurance.
In summer, when sleds are not used, pack saddles are sometimes put on the dogs. In this way, the dogs can carry quite a bit of luggage. In the past war, our armies used American Eskimo dogs to carry ammunition, machine guns, etc., in mountain fighting. In many parts of the Arctic, the dogs are tethered out winter and summer by means of sealskin lines. To prevent them from cutting themselves loose, their cutting teeth are filed down when they are puppies, or are smashed later on.
This quite obviously makes feeding a problem. The food is cut, or chopped if frozen, into very small pieces which the dogs can swallow whole. Yet they "wolf" their food with astonishing rapidity. McClintock, in his Voyage of the Fox, tells of cutting 65 pounds of seal's flesh into small pieces. His twenty-nine dogs devoured this in 42 seconds. This was a two-day supply of food.
It has been stated that it is best to feed American Eskimo dogs, when they are working, only once every other day. The dogs are fed at night, after their second day on the trail. It is said they are not as fast on the day after feeding as on the second day. The dogs must eat snow for water.
In the summer, it is not unusual for the dogs to be fed only once a week. They are tethered out along a stream. They dig holes to escape the heat and mosquitoes, or enter the water.
The American Eskimo's coat is such that he is virtually impregnable to water. Thus, a team may fall into the sea, be rescued, drive for miles, and then sleep out in an Arctic blizzard without apparent discomfort. Only rarely are the dogs permitted to enter the igloos or huts, and in some parts of the Arctic this is unknown.
A dog so kept is quite likely to be a tough customer, if not with man, then with other dogs. This is true with the American Eskimo. Under normal conditions, they are friendly and gentle with humans. They cannot be kept together without the probability of dogfights developing. As is the case of some other breeds, such as, the Chesapeake, this undoubtedly has worked against breed popularity in the United States.
The American Eskimo dog is one of the best known breeds of work dogs in the world, and should not be confused with smaller breeds of dogs that have borrowed his name. The real American Eskimo dogs originating from Greenland, Labrador, and the northeastern part of the continent, is nature's product for sled dog work. Being a draft animal for centuries in the Arctic regions, he has developed a powerful body and heavy coat. Although large boned and of rugged build, many specimens are very beautiful, and as attractive as show types in any other breed. American Eskimo dogs are good-natured and very intelligent.
The shoulder height for males is twenty-two to twenty-five inches; females, twenty to twenty-three inches. The weight for males is 65 to 85 pounds; females, fifty to seventy pounds.
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