The Eskimo Dog

Speaking of the Eskimo dog Captain Lyon says:-”Having myself possessed during our hard winter a team of eleven fine dogs, I was enabled to become better acquainted with their good qualities than could possibly have been the case by the casual visits of the Eskimo Dog to the ships. The form of the Eskimo dog is very similar to that of our shepherd’s dog in England, but it is more muscular and broad-chested, owing to the constant and severe work to which he is brought up. His ears are pointed, and the aspect of the head is somewhat savage. In size a fine dog about the height of the Newfoundland breed, but broad like a mastiff in every part except the nose. The hair of the coat is in summer, as well as in winter, very long, but during the cold season a soft, downy under-covering is found, which does not appear in warm weather. Young dogs are put into harness as soon as they can walk, and being tied up, soon acquire a habit of pulling, in their attempts to recover their liberty, or to roam in quest of their mother. When about two months old, they are put into the sledge with the grown dogs, and sometimes eight or ten little ones are under the charge of some steady old animal, where, with frequent and sometimes severe beatings, they soon receive a competent education. Every dog is distinguished by a particular name, and the angry repetition of it has an effect as instantaneous as an application of the whip, which instrument is of an immense length, having a lash from eighteen to twenty-four feet, while the handle is one foot only; with this, by throwing it on one side or the other of the leader, and repeating certain words, the animals are guided or stopped. When the sledge is stopped they are all taught to lie down, by throwing the whip gently over their backs, and they will remain in this position even for hours, until their master returns to them. A walrus is frequently drawn along by three or four of these dogs, and seals are sometimes carried home in the same manner, though I have in some instances seen a dog bring home the greater part of a seal in panniers placed across his back. Cold has very little effect on them; for although the dogs at the huts slept within the snow passages, mine at the ships had no shelter, but lay alongside, with the thermometer at 42° and 44°, and with as little concern as if the weather had been mild. I found, by several experiments, that three of my dogs could draw me on a sledge, weighing one hundred pounds, at the rate of one mile in six minutes; and as a proof of the strength of a well-grown dog, my leader drew one hundred and ninety-six pounds singly, and to the same distance, in eight minutes. At another time seven of my dogs ran a mile in four minutes, drawing a heavy sledge full of men. Afterwards, in carrying stores to the Fury, one mile distant, nine dogs drew one thousand six hundred and eleven pounds in the space of nine minutes.

When the dogs slackened their pace, the sight of a seal or bird was sufficient to put them instantly to their full speed; and even though none of these might be seen on the ice, the cry of `a seal!’-’a bear!’-or `a bird!’, was enough to give play to the legs and voices of the whole pack. The voice and long whip answer all the purposes of reins, and the dogs can be made to turn a corner as dexterously as horses, though not in such an orderly manner, since they are constantly fighting; and I do not recollect to have seen one receive a flogging without instantly wreaking his passion on the ears of his neighbours. The cries of the men are not more melodious than those of the animals; and their wild looks and gestures when animated, give them an appearance of devils driving wolves before them. Our dogs had eaten nothing for forty-eight hours, and could not have gone over less than seventy miles of ground; yet they returned, to all appearance, as fresh and active as when they first set out.”

The unhappy condition of the Eskimo dogs under native treatment is pathetically referred to in “Cassell’s Natural History,” edited by Professor Duncan. The writer says “the horrible savagery of those poor wretches can hardly be wondered at; they live in a country where there is hardly a chance for them in any independent foraging expedition; they are half-starved by their masters, being fed chiefly on frozen walrus hides in the winter, and allowed to shift for themselves in the summer when their services are not required, and are in so perennial and acute a state of hunger that they are ready at any time to eat their own harness if allowed to do so. It is generally stated that they are perfectly insensible to kindness, and only to be kept in order by a liberal application of the lash, or even of a more formidable weapon; for the Eskimo, if their dogs are refractory, do not scruple to beat them about the head with a hammer, or anything else of sufficient hardness which happens to be at hand. They will even beat the poor brutes in this horrible manner until they are actually stunned. Notwithstanding the absolute dependence of the Eskimo on their dogs, little or no care is taken of them; they receive nothing in any degree approaching petting, and spend all their time in the open air. The chief use of the Eskimo dog is to draw the sledges, which are the only possible conveyances in that frozen land. In all the Arctic expeditions which have been sent out at various times, a good supply of sledge dogs has been one of the greatest essentials, as without them it would be absolutely impossible to proceed far. No other animal would answer the purpose, both horses and cattle being quite useless in journeys over ice and snow, amongst which the pack of light, active dogs make their way with wonderful ease and safety.” The Siberian dogs render equally valuable services to their masters with about an equal measure of appreciation.