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Precolumbian Tribal Dogs In The Americas

By: Stephanie Little Wolf

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The Eskimo, or Inuit Dog of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland: The Qimmiq

Today, the Eskimo dog thankfully is alive and well. It originally occupied the coastal and archipelago areas of Greenland, Alaska, and Canada. Once upon a time, today's Malamute fell into the Eskimo dog category, the indigenous dog of the Mahlemuit Eskimos from the Kotzebue sound area in Alaska. The Eskimo Dog was a puller of sleds, used for hauling heaving loads of fish, whale, and seal or walrus from the hunt to the village or camp. In the summer, backpacking was the traditional use of the dog. The dogs are bigger and more heavily boned than Siberian Huskies, which are not native to North America. They could and can work in the most hostile of environments with little food or care. They are friendly for the most part but fight with each other to establish the ritual pecking order. They are primitive compared to most modern breeds, as they don't bark as much and howl often. They have heavy winter coats and range from as small as 45 lbs for females to as large as 85lbs for males, sexual dimorphism being related to more primitive qualities. An Eskimo dog's fur or pelage takes many colors, but the eyes should not be blue and there is some controversy here. These dogs are challenging to work with and are strong beyond belief with incredible stamina. They are known in modern times as The Canadian Inuit Dog, The Inuit sled dog, and the Greelander or Greenland dog. Clubs and organizations today are strong enthusiasts for the Eskimo dog, getting together and employing the old style fan hitch to go dog sledding or the modern tandem hitch for those of us who have narrow forest trails.

The West Coast Salish, Little woolly Dog or Clallam Indian Dog

These dogs were restricted to a fairly distinct area of northern British Columbia, where they were kept on islands to keep them from breeding with other types of dogs. The responsibility of woman, they were small, somewhat larger than todays Pomeranian. They had had a long thick mostly white pelage which was harvested by the Salish Indians to make clothing and blankets from. The dogs were numerous and highly utilized. Vancouver recorded that the dogs were shorn to the skin like sheep, and that the shorn wool of the dogs was so thick, that large mats of it could be lifted without being pulled apart. The wool of these dogs was dyed red or blue and striped blankets of cedar strips and dog wool were hardy and warm. The Artist Paul Kane gives us a wonderful and lengthy description of how the dog wool was made into blankets using cedar and white earth, apparently twisted together a beaten mixture of these, then rolling them down the leg as if twisting twine or yarn, then sewing the strips together.

There were many other dogs of North and South America. The Peruvian Pug-nosed dog, the Fuegian dog, the Inca dogs, the Xoloytzecuintli, or Mexican hairless dog, the Hare Indian dog of the north, the Short Nosed dogs of the southwest, to name just a few. It is sad that these dogs are gone, with the exception of the Xolo. The Archaeological record tells us that these dogs were often buried with their owners, and at other times, given their own intricate burials. They disappeared rapidly, and with good cause, unable as their owners were to withstand European dog diseases, and probably shot as a matter of course for their attention to European livestock. On the east coast among the original colonies of America, Indian dogs were outlawed and it was a crime for villages to possess them, as it was firearms. One needs only compare the demise of the pure Australian Dingo as a model for how fast naive dogs disappeared form the scene. In Australia, only small pockets of genetically pure Dingoes remain, and they are threatened. One can openly imagine how fast North American dogs became amalgamated from their pure form, then disappeared entirely from the lives of a people whose own lives became increasingly all they could do to manage in the face of rapid decimation. Unlike the Dingo, dogs of the Americas had no wild populations from which to replenish their numbers. In their absence, we must turn to scientific research and learn what we can about this fascinating subject.

Following, is a list of resources which reveals a wonderful topic of study. In addition to these sources, I encourage one to study the works of R.K. Wayne, Jenifer Leonard, Susan Crockford, I. Lehr Brisbin, Janice Koler -Matznik, and Bulu Imam. The study of the New Guinea Singing dog, the Australian Dingo, and the Santal Hunting dogs provide one with some kind of idea of the tribal dog and perhaps the relationship between tribal people and their dogs.


1) Dogs of the American Aborigines- Allen, Glover
Bulletin of the Museum pf Comparative Zoology, Harvard College
Vol. 43, #9
Cambridge, Mass, 1920

2) Dogs of the Northeastern Indians, Butler and Hancock
Mass. Archaeological Society Bulletin
vol. 10, #2
pages 17-35, 1949

3) From Dogs to Horses among the Western Indian Tribes, F. G. Roe,
Transactions, royal Society of Canada, third series, Volume xxx111

4) A History of Dogs of the Early Americas,
By M.schwartz Yale University Press

5) Lost History of the Canine Race
M.E. Thurston, chapter 7
"the other Americans"
(page 146)
Andrews and McMeel, 1996

6) First Nations, First Dogs
B.D. Cummins, Canadian Ethnocynolgy
Destilig Enterprises, Alberta Canada, 2002.

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