When thinking of dogs that look like wolves, one would be remiss not to mention the powerful Greenland dog. Although not a wolf-dog like the Czechoslovakian Vclak, these sled dogs are so ancient and unchanged through millennia that to see one is to glimpse a part of ancient human history.
To this day, most Greenland Dogs are kept the way they have always been. Greenland Dog puppies run wild until they are old enough to run in the sled. Once adults, they will face freezing temperatures, hunt seals and polar bears, and haul sleds across grueling terrain.
Although the Greenland Dog is thought of as a breed, in reality, it is a landrace.
That means it is a type of dog that developed naturally alongside humans and was isolated from other species. It is one of five major types of sled dogs, including the Alaskan Malamute, the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Husky, and the Samoyed.
However, it is amongst the purest of breeds. It is illegal to breed them with imported dogs in Greenland, and efforts have been made to protect the dog and the culture it represents.
History of the Greenland Dog: Where Do They Come From?
The Greenland dog is known by the Innuit people only as Qimmit or Qimmiq. This simply means “dog,” as they were the only dogs the early Innuit people initially knew about. In Greenland, they are called the Grønlandshund.
The first people to settle in the Arctic with their dogs were the Paleo-Eskimo people around 4500 years ago. The remains of their dogs indicate that they were only kept sporadically and often eaten.
It is only with the Thule people’s migration into the Arctic about 1000 years ago that the Greenland Dog truly arrived. The Thule people are the ancestors of the modern Inuit.
With their arrival, they and their dogs rapidly spread across the Canadian Arctic and eventually to Labrador and Greenland.
The first westerners to become aware of the Greenland Dog and likely learn sled dogging from the Innuit people were the Vikings. The latter settled there between the 980s CE and 15th century CE. They probably bartered with Inuit people.
The Thule dogs remain genetically pure to this day, and they were integral to the Thule survival. Early sleds were fashioned out of driftwood and whalebone.
The dogs moved with family groups and soon learned to help this hunter-gatherer society find seal breathing holes or keep away dangers like polar bears.
Even more remarkably, a genetic study done in 2020 reveals that the Arctic sled dogs had developed mutations such as how they use oxygen to deal with the cold. Also, their genetic heritage is even older than previously thought.
The study revealed that the Greenland Dog is genetically closer to the 9500-year-old remains of a sled dog found in Zhokhov than any other breed. This suggests a continuous genetic line for at least 10 000 years.
They also found some admixture signs between these sled dogs and early Pleistocene wolves, making them literal relics of early human and canine evolution.
Today, Greenland takes strict measures to microchip and record these dogs to preserve them. Any outcrossing is strictly prohibited.
Nevertheless, their numbers are falling as snow vehicles replace the need for draught dogs. The cold climates the dogs are evolved to handle are also sadly dwindling.
What Are the Physical Features of the Greenland Dog?
|Physical Features of the Greenland Dog|
|Height||Bitches 20- 24 inches (51 – 61 cm)
Dogs are 23- 27 inches (58 -68 cm)
|Weight||Males weigh between 30 and 32 kg. Females may be smaller: around 25 kg|
|Lifespan||12 – 15 years|
|Color||All colors or a mix of colors|
|Nose||Nose corresponds with coat color.|
|Eyes||Dark brown or light brown with dark rims.|
A large breed, this dog is about the same size as the Siberian Husky. However, they are arguably more powerfully built, with a wedge-shaped head and pricked, triangular ears.
Nevertheless, they are considerably smaller than the giant dogs that Malamutes often are.
Their most distinguishing characteristic is their big-boned and muscular structure. They have thick necks, shoulders, and strong legs, capable of pulling heavy loads at high speeds in unforgiving snow.
In fact, they are almost disproportionately strong for their size.
There are regional variations in the Greenland Dog’s appearance, as their native homeland stretches across great swathes of the Arctic region. Studies show they are genetically identical to the Canadian Eskimo Dog and should not technically be considered a different breed.
The nose depends on coat color. It is liver in red or brown dogs, and it is black in sable dogs.
They have a heavy-duty double coat, with a warm undercoat and weatherproof guard hairs.
Their tail typically curves across their backs and covers their nose when they are sleeping in the snow. This helps them to comfortably withstand freezing temperatures in the outdoors.
General Care of the Greenland Dog
|Greenland Dog’s General Care|
|Shedding||Heavy shedding during warm weather|
|Exercise||Minimum of two hours daily hard work. Preferably sledding or hauling|
|Housing||Needs space. Can survive in freezing temperatures. Not suited for warm climates.|
|Temperament||High prey drive. Affectionate. Physically rambunctious and incredibly energetic.|
|Trainability||Difficult to train. Needs firm handling.|
The Greenland Dog is amongst the most high-energy dogs available. Left to their own devices, they will quickly become destructive.
The Greenland Dog evolved to live in below-freezing temperatures and so can be kept outside. If given enough work, they are frequently kept as pets indoors to owners who can properly dog-proof their house. And, owners who don’t mind losing the odd item to the occasional bout of chewing or digging.
Food & Diet Requirements
Champion Sledder, Alanna Blaney of Fenrir Skin Show and Working dogs, explains that the Greenland dog often eats less than the recommended guidelines on pet food packaging because of their remarkable metabolism.
The dogs can do well on a quality high-protein kibble diet, but their ancient origins mean they also thrive on a raw food diet.
Make sure to speak to your vet about feeding according to your dog’s age, size, and specific medical requirements.
The Greenland Dog will need a”blow out” of its thick undercoat twice a year during heavy shedding periods.
During these times, it will need daily brushing as well, “if you don’t want them looking like a sofa coming unstuffed,” Alanna Blaney adds.
For the rest of the time, they are okay being brushed once a week with a good comb, slicker, or pin brush to remove dead fur and to evenly distribute their natural coat oils.
Alanna discourages the use of any bladed shedding devices as these could damage the dog’s coat. There is also no need for trimming.
Dogs who work on hard ground will wear their nails down naturally, but they may need regular nail trimming with a good nail clipper or grinder if they are running on soft earth.
Although owners report that they sometimes chew their own nails down themselves.
It is also good practice to routinely clean ears and teeth to prevent infections and plaque build-up.
The Greenland Dog is in desperate need of having its way of life preserved. Therefore, before acquiring one, it is best to join a local sledding society such as the United Kingdom Sled Dog Sports Federation or one of the many sled dog organizations in the USA.
If any kind of sledding sport is part of your way of life, this might be the ideal dog for you. These dogs are passionate and relentless haulers and are surprisingly strong for their size.
They need at least an hour or two of rigorous daily exercise. They are also perfect for anyone living in cold climates who need a functional dog that can drag goods over long distances.
|Greenland Dog’s Concerns|
|Severe Health Problems||Hip and elbow dysplasia
|Mild to Moderate Health problems||None particular to this breed
|Rare Health Problems||Cataracts or other eye problems
As Alanna Blaney explains, this is a preserved rather than a designed breed and, as such, has remarkably few health problems.
The Greenland Dog’s functional role in harsh conditions has ensured that natural selection has kept health problems at bay. Weak puppies could hardly stay alive in the frigid Arctic.
Reputable breeders do screen for hip and elbow dysplasia, as with any large dog. They are also checked for eye problems such as cataracts, but this seems to be a rarer issue than with their Malamute cousins.
Occasionally, there are problems with cancer. Also, mealtimes should be monitored so that they don’t gulp down too much food and water too quickly and develop gastric torsion (bloat).
They also need all the regular vaccinations and deworming treatments of other dogs to avoid parasite-borne diseases.
What is the Greenland Dog’s Life Expectancy?
The Greenland Dog is an ordinarily healthy breed and usually lives between 12 and 15 years.
The Trainability of a Greenland Dog: Temperament and Intelligence
As with all breeds, it’s essential to differentiate between intelligence and trainability. The Greenland Dog is not stupid, but neither is it very trainable.
To understand this dog’s psychology, one needs to understand how it was developed as a landrace alongside a hunter-gatherer society.
They were not kept as pets and were mostly functional. So they are not known for developing intense bonds with a single person.
Their primitive background also means they have a strong pack mentality.
These are dominant dogs who require strong leadership and firm handling. They need to respect and trust their handler, or else they will decide to depend on their own judgment.
These are not good guard dogs. While dogs like the Caucasian Shepherd were bred to guard livestock and homesteads, the Greenland Dog was developed beside family groups of Inuit who were nomadic.
As Alanna Blaney points out, there was simply no sense in having a dog that would fiercely guard one seasonal igloo from other members of the tribe.
Thus, they tend to be friendly and loving dogs, even to strangers.
However, there are reports of aggression in this breed, mainly if they are kept frustrated and inactive.
However, this cannot be fully verified. Most owners and breeders report only affectionate and friendly, if rowdy and rambunctious, dogs.
Nevertheless, since there are regional differences in this dog, and they need to be kept active, aggression in certain circumstances is possible.
According to Blaney, these dogs are “intelligent enough to be trainable… but independent enough to be happy to ignore everything they’ve learned if the opportunity for something more interesting arises!”
She goes on to add that working with them feels like negotiation, and you need a “firm, consistent approach to get the best out of them.” You also need to understand “what makes them tick.”
They’re popular sledding dogs because they are simply passionate about pulling as hard as they can for as long as they can.
For this reason, an excellent no-pull harness is best when walking to prevent damage to their throats.
Their high prey drives also means it’s best to keep them on-leash, as they can chase smaller animals given the opportunity.
When traveling with your dog, it’s also good to keep them restrained to prevent them from jumping out of the vehicle if they see something enticing.
Other behavior problems that might arise—apart from general rowdiness and destructive behavior if left inactive—are a tendency toward food aggression and dominance with other dogs.
Although Blaney points out that this is less of a problem than it often is in the bigger Malamute.
Sociability with Other Pets
Even before the Greenland Dog was a sled dog, it was a hunter. Seals, whales and polar bears were all fair game to them.
Therefore, its role as a hunter is more deeply ingrained than even our modern hunting breeds such as Labradors or Pointers.
While a Lab may be taught not to chase small animals, a Greenland Dog finds not chasing them unthinkable.
In fact, Greenland Dogs are reported to simply not understand modern dogs.
Most modern breeds have adapted to urban environments. They can navigate dog parks, traffic, or long hours alone in apartments, mostly without running amok.
All of this stands in strong opposition to the Greenland Dog’s genome. They are primed hunters and sledders who have an innate trust in pack hierarchy and view other animals as prey.
For this reason, while they may not be overly aggressive with other dogs, they might be simply too overwhelming. They also may be dominant and food aggressive, and so will need experienced handling and socialization from a young age.
Suitable Home: Are Greenland Dogs Good Pets?
The Greenland dog is not a good pet for the average home. They are boisterous and not wholly domesticated.
Nevertheless, they do make good pets to anybody who can keep them in their natural state. That is, a physically active and strong person who enjoys taking their dogs out sledding or skijoring for a few hours every day.
They do particularly well in sledding competitions because of their superior power and endurance.
They need plenty of space and, like most pack-orientated dogs, should not be left alone for long periods.
A suitable home should also not have small children.
While most Greenland Dogs are friendly and lovable, their tendency to jump onto, bump into, or run over anything in their path can lead them to hurt children accidentally.
How Much Does a Greenland Dog Cost?
It is hard to pinpoint an exact price on this dog, as breeders are rare and highly concerned about their animals’ welfare. In the UK, only a single litter was born in five years in 2020 to Fenrirkin.
In Scandinavia, prices range between £800 and £2000.
For potential owners from North America, it may be hard to find an authentic Greenland Dog. However, it is possible to obtain the rare Canadian Eskimo Dog, which is genetically identical. These dogs go for between $800 and $1200.
The Greenland Dog is undoubtedly a fascinating and remarkable breed.
Although this is not a dog for the average household or warm climates, it deserves recognition as an animal representing a significant part of human history.
As efforts grow to protect this breed, we hope that sledding sports will increase in popularity and allow the Greenland Dog’s natural way of life to continue.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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