Economy of Hauling Dogs?

edited October 2012 in Hauling Laika
There is an interesting excerpt from The Friendly Arctic (1921) by Vilhjalmur Steffansson:
In the economy of these Eskimos the dog is used primarily for hunting and only secondarily as a draft animal. The seal holes, which are only an inch or so in diameter and through most of the winter covered with snow, cannot be found by the Eskimos without the help of the sharp-scented dogs. Usually each seal hunter has his own dog which he takes with him in leash but sometimes two or three hunters will use the same dog. They will then leave the house together in the morning, walking back and forth over the ice until the dog has discovered the first seal hole. One of the hunters remains at this hole while the others take the dog farther afield. When he has found the second hole the third man takes him, and so on. When the sealing is not more than a mile or two from the village a seal that is caught early in the day is left lying on the ice while the dog discovers for the hunter a second seal hole. The hunter marks this hole temporarily, then he goes back to where the dead seal lies, hitches the dog to it and sends him home to camp. The dog does this errand with the greatest good will for he knows that he is going to get a feed at the end of it. I have asked Eskimos whether the dog was not likely to stop on the way to eat the seal, but it seems that this rarely or never happens. Before the dog starts he may try to lick the blood off the seal but he will not stop even for this when once on his way. However, if the seal is caught by a snag of ice and the dog gets stuck, he may turn on the seal and eat it. When a dog once learns to eat a seal on the way home it is difficult or impossible to break him of the habit and thereafter such a dog is never entrusted with a seal.

Next to the finding of seal holes the greatest use of the dog is in bear hunting. Commonly two or three Eskimos hunt bears together, although any Eskimo would be ashamed of not tackling a bear alone if no hunting companion happened to be available. It is considered that two or three dogs should be used although some exceptionally good bear dogs are able to hold a bear singly. The bow and arrow are occasionally used, especially if there are several hunters, but more often the bear is killed with the hunting knife converted into a spear, for these Eskimos have no regular spears. An Eskimo always uses a walking stick a little stouter than a broom handle and about four feet long, and when a bear is to be attacked he lashes his hunting knife to this stick, thus converting it into a spear. The knife is double-edged and whether it is of steel or of copper the blade is usually from ten to fourteen inches long….

The largest number of dogs I have ever seen among Eskimos who did not have guns is three to a family. Two is the commonest number and one dog to a family is not rare. Perhaps the main reason why the introduction of firearms brings about such destruction of caribou is that the rifle makes it so easy to provide dogs with food, and the mobility of the caribou herds makes it so desirable to have large teams to follow the herds about, that the situation takes the form of an endless chain. A man has more dogs so he can kill more caribou to feed more dogs to help him to kill more caribou. The Eskimos around the Mackenzie River or Cape Bathurst who used to content themselves with two or three dogs to a family before the introduction of firearms, had fifteen or twenty dogs after rifles came and while the caribou were still plentiful. Later, of course, when the caribou had been nearly exterminated in the vicinity the dog teams had to be cut down (pg. 420-421).


  • That was interesting. The "caribou loop" sounds a bit familiar with my preservation efforts. lol
  • edited October 2012
    When I read this excerpt, the thought of Russians splitting East Siberian Laikas into different breeds and creating a distinction between "pure-bred" hauling and hunting dogs came into mind. I remember Vladimir Beregovoy once commented to Facebook that "Yakutian Hauling Laika" makes good hunting dogs. :)

    I have no idea about the effects of firearms on Russian aboriginals; however the Inuits in North America share the same culture as those found around the Bering Sea and in Greenland, and Vladimir mentioned that the Qimmiq in Canada and Greenland [dubbed as Greenland Dogs] are virtually the same dogs found on the Russian side of the Bering Sea.
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