A team of 15 dogs are picking their way over sheaves of ice. It was bitterly cold; temperature is minus 70 degrees Farenheit. The hunters are desperate to get to the hut before the storm broke. Their lives depended on the dogs pulling the sleds and navigating the ice expertly and independently. The dogs are tethered to the sled in a fan formation to allow them to pick up their way across dangerous terrain. The sled pullers are Greenland Dogs, considered as one of the oldest breeds of the dogs in the world. The Greenland Dogs are a hardy breed believed to have descended from the dogs of the Inuit, the first settlers in Greenland. This husky type dogs were primarily kept by the Eskimos as sled dogs. These are very important dogs for the Eskimos who subsist mainly on hunting. Greenland Dogs are used to hunt polar bear, seals and walruses. With the keen sense of smell, the dog would find a seal’s breathing hole in the ice. Dog and master would wait for the seal to come up for air and when it does the seal will be speared by the hunter.
Greenland Dog is an impressive looking breed. It’s powerfully built body is covered by a thick waterproof double coat. This dog has a very bushy tail. The dog curls to rest and uses its tail to cover and protect the nose from the howling winds of the north. A physical feature that makes this dog distinct from other Nordic dogs is the triangular shaped area on the dog’s shoulders. This mark is called an “úlo”, named after a common Greenland woman’s knife.
The Greenland Dog has been used for centuries in the Arctic regions as working dogs. This breed’s powerful body is protected by thick stand-off outer coat and dense wooly undercoat. The coat allows the dog to constantly stay outdoors where the temperature can reach below 75 degrees Farenheit. Greenland Dogs are draught animals. In summer the dog is well able to carry a 33 pound backpack of supplies. During the ancient times, dogs that are not working are tethered with thongs made from seal hide. Because most dogs chewed their ties, owners usually remove or break the incisors of the dogs. Meat ration of the dog has to be chopped in small pieces that can be swallowed whole. The Greenland Dogs have been used in many Arctic explorations. Sadly, the breed’s functionality was overpowered by the use of modern machinery. Snowmobiles as well as other breeds of Nordic dogs like the Samoyed, Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies have supplanted the Greenland dogs.
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The Greenland dog is an ancient beautiful breed. In Greenland, the dog’s country of origin, these dogs remain in pretty much the same condition as when the breed was brought by the first Greenland settlers. This breed has a broad and slightly arched skull, a definite stop and a wedge shaped muzzle that tapers towards a big nose whose color corresponds to the color of the coat. Red golden coated dogs often have a liver colored nose. A Greenland dog’s nose may turn to pink during the winter months. In such a case the dog is referred to as having a winter nose. This breed has powerful jaws. Tight lips lie close to strong teeth that meet in scissor bite. Slightly slanted eyes are neither deep set not protruding. Eyes that may have a dark color or may take after the color of the coat have a frank and bold expression. A Greenland Dog’s ears are rather small; triangular in shape with a rounded tip. The ears are erect and very mobile. Surprisingly, even though the ears are thinly covered with hair the dog seldom suffer from frost bite.
This dog has a fairly short but powerful neck. The level topline, the straight back, the deep and broad chest as well as the slightly tucked up belly give the dog an impressive strong stance. The thick bushy tail is set on high and is usually carried in a curve or curled over the dog’s back. The perfectly straight forelegs, the muscular and strong boned hind legs as well as the muscular thighs give the dog a flowing, harmonious and tireless gait that is most essential for a sledge dog. A Greenland dog is a double coated breed. The undercoat is dense and wooly soft while the thick standoffish outer coat is coarse and straight. Hair is shorter on the head and legs, quite long on the body and longer still on the underside of the tail forming a bush. A Greenland Dog’s coat can take any color; solid or parti-colored are allowed. Albinos though are not permitted by the breed standard.
The Greenland Dog is basically an energetic sled dog that exhibits a bold demeanor. This breed is a passionate and tireless worker. The Greenland dog has existed with the Eskimos for centuries, had shared the hardship of the Eskimo life and has developed into a hardy breed that is well able to adapt to the vagaries of life in the Arctic regions. Being a draught animal that are kept in packs, this dog does not have the opportunity to bond closely with its master as these dogs are expected to work independently. In fact these dogs may exhibit the aloof behavior of its wolf ancestors. Moreover, these dogs are kept for their strength and speed rather than for its malleable personality. But after the advent of the snowmobiles, most Greenland Dogs are retired from pulling sleds. The loyal and affectionate personality typical to a Nordic breed came to the fore. The dog has evolved into an ideal companion that forms a strong attachment to its master. The dog is boisterous at play and makes a good companion and playmate for the children. This breed may have well developed hunting skills but they make poor guard dogs as they are generally friendly even with strangers. Like any other strong willed breed, the Greenland Dog is not for everyone. This breed needs a dominant and firm owner who will show the dog that he is the leader. Training this breed can be a challenge because of its independent and stubborn nature. Obedience training and socialization is necessary given that this breed tends to be dominant with other dogs and smaller pets because of the strong alpha pack instinct.
This breed is not for apartment living. These dogs are used to living outdoors and they would need a large yard to roam, to run and to play. A Greenland Dog has high exercise requirements. Dogs that are kept mainly as pets would appreciate to be taken on long walks and to be given a task to do. These dogs easily get bored and when they do they resort to digging and incessant barking. These dogs are great escape artists that would not be deterred by a 6 foot fence.
The Greenland dog does not require extensive grooming. Brushing the waterproof double coat regularly would be enough to maintain its good condition. The coat allows the dog to live outdoors hence it should never be clipped or trimmed. The dog is used to the frigid temperature of the Arctic regions and does not tolerate heat well. Owners should provide adequate shelter for the dog to avoid possible heat stroke.
The Greenland Dog has originated from the Arctic regions of Northern Siberia, Canada, Alaska and Greenland. The ancestry of this breed can be traced back thousand of years ago. During those times, different varieties of the breed exist and this working dog comes under different names. The dog was then called Husky, Eskimo dog, Inuit Dog and Esquimaux. It was only in 1990 that the name Greenland Dog was finally given to this breed. Greenland Dog is considered to be one of the oldest breeds existing in the world today. Artifacts found in the New Siberian Island believed to be the remains of these dogs were carbon dated and found out to be about 9000 old. The breed though has reached Greenland with the Sarqaq people around 5000 years ago.
Sleds are the main transportation of the Eskimos. These dogs were utilized to pull sleds laden with humans and supplies. Greenland Dogs were also kept for hunting purposes and became a very valuable possession of an Eskimo as without these dogs, the hard life of these Arctic region people would be doubly harder. Utilization of the breed declined when motor vehicles were introduced. Moreover, people have shifted their interests to more eye-catching Nordic breeds. The Alaskan Malamute, the Samoyed and the Siberian Huskies gained recognition. However, the Greenland Dog has a loyal and dedicated following. The breed has continuously been used by Arctic and Antarctic explorers. It was believed that a pack of Greenland dogs have given Roald Amundsen an edge over Scott when the former explored and captured the South Pole at the turn of the 20th century.
The Greenland dog is still considered to be a rare breed these days in spite of the fact that it has spread in other countries. The breed is not on the brink of extinction but the numbers are still ominously low.