In the barren expanses of the Canadian arctic, the Thule Inuit people have carved out an existence for millennia. A resourceful and hardy people, it is doubtful that the Inuit would have survived the harsh conditions without their beloved canine companions, known as “Qimmiq” (“dog") and to non-Inuktitut speakers as the Canadian Eskimo Dog (CED). Accompanying their people from Asia to North America, the Eskimo Dogs’ lives were inextricably bound to those of the Inuit. Serving primarily as a draught animal, they were expected to pull loads between 45 to 80 kg per dog, and cover distances ranging from 15 to 70 miles per day; what the camel was to desert dwellers, the Canadian Eskimo Dog was to the people of the Far North. They also assisted hunters by locating seal breathing holes, and holding musk oxen and polar bears at bay.
It is estimated that in the 1920s, approximately 20,000 Canadian Eskimo Dogs existed across Northern Canada, living and working with the Inuit people as they had since ancient times. However, by the 1960s, the introduction of the snowmobile combined with the systematic mass slaughter of Inuit dogs by RCMP forces under government instruction, lead to a dramatic crash in numbers. Further, the introduction of southern dog breeds and other sled dog breeds, chiefly Siberian Huskies, wiped out small populations susceptible to disease and crossbreeding. In fact, by 1963 there was only one Canadian Eskimo Dog in the Canadian Kennel Club stud book and the breed was declared extinct.
Unwilling to accept this shocking loss of an important piece of Inuit cultural heritage, a team supported by the Canadian government and the Canadian Kennel Club—William Carpenter, Bill Thompson, John McGrath, and Brian Ladoon—began scouring the most remote areas of the Canadian arctic searching for purebred Canadian Eskimo Dogs. Their efforts proved successful, as they were able to not only locate remnant populations in the inaccessible reaches of the North, but a serious breeding programme was launched and significant populations established.
Today, the breed’s struggle for survival has not ended, as the population of purebred, registered Canadian Eskimo Dogs remains at approximately 300 or less. It is hoped that with FCI recognition in 2018, the Canadian Eskimo Dog might attract international attention and appreciation, giving this primitive, aboriginal dog breed of Canada’s indigenous Inuit people a fighting chance at survival.
At first glance, everything about the structure and stature of the Canadian Eskimo Dog should hint at its function—strength, power, and endurance, combined to produce a tough, hard-working breed, capable of not only existing but thriving on meagre rations in an inhospitable climate. A moderately sized spitz breed with a thick neck and wide chest, and medium length legs, the CED evolved with little human interference, so some variation in size, coat, and colour is to be expected. This is a noticeably dimorphic breed, with pronounced differences between males and females. The coat is thick and dense, consisting of hard guard hair and wooly, insulating undercoat. Males may sport a mane over the neck and shoulder, whilst females generally have a shorter coat. Winter coats are much more abundant than summer coats in both sexes. Males range from 58-70 cm in height at the withers, while females range from 50-60 cm, and weights range from 30-40 kg and 18-30 kg, respectively. The spine and hip bones are usually noticeable during hands-on examination. Although colour is immaterial, it should be noted that brindle and merle patterns do not exist.
Grooming should be kept to an absolute minimum, and often dogs will not be bathed in the winter months. They should be shown in fit working condition; harness and collar marks, and marks received from pack members should never be penalized in the ring, distracting as they might be. When judging the CED, remember that this is a primitive working breed that cannot be thought of as a domestic pet. It is advisable to show them respect, but one need not be wary or overly cautious. Approach in a calm, confident manner, preferably from the front at an angle rather than from behind or head on. It is considered good practice to speak to the dog as you approach, and avoid strong direct eye contact or rushed movements, which might be interpreted as bad manners or a challenge. It is important to remember to give them ample space and time—more so than most other breeds—as over-crowding and rushing can easily stress them, leading to negative reactions. Keep hands-on examinations brief, again in the interest of minimizing stress. With a little understanding, the Canadian Eskimo Dog will show itself off to be the spirited, intelligent, strong-willed, independent dog that it is. The CED breed standard
provides more detail about this indigenous Canadian breed.