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Eskimo Dogs

( Originally Published 1851 )



The dogs of the Eskimo offer to us a striking example of the great services which the race of dogs has rendered to mankind in the progress of civilisation. The inhabitants of the shores of Baffin's Bay, and of those still more inclement regions to which discovery ships have penetrated, are perhaps never destined to advance much farther than their present condition in the scale of humanity. Their climate forbids them attempting the gratification of any desires beyond the commonest animal wants. In the short summers, they hunt the rein-deer for a stock of food and clothing; during the long win-ter, when the stern demands of hunger drive them from their snow huts to search for provisions, they still find a supply in the rein-deer, in the seals which lie in holes under the ice of the lakes, and in the bears which prowl about on the frozen shores of the sea. Without the exquisite scent and the undaunted courage of their dogs, the several objects of their chase could never be obtained in sufficient quantities during the winter, to supply the wants of the inhabitants; nor could the men be conveyed from place to place over the snow, with that celerity which greatly contributes to their success in hunting. In drawing the sledges, if the dogs scent a single rein-deer, even a quarter of a mile distant, they gallop off furiously in the direction of the scent; and the animal is soon within reach of the unerring arrow of the hunter. They will discover a seal-hole entirely by the smell, at a very great distance. Their desire to attack the ferocious bear is so great, that the word nennook, which signifies that animal, is often used to encourage them, when running in a sledge; two or three dogs, led forward by a man, will fasten upon the largest bear without hesitation. They are eager to chase every animal but the wolf; and of him they appear to have an instinctive terror which manifests itself on his approach, in a loud and long continued howl. Certainly there is no animal which combines so many properties useful to his master, as the dog of the Eskimo.

The dogs of the Eskimo lead always a fatiguing, and often a very painful life. In the summer they are fat and vigorous; for they have abundance of kaow, or the skin and part of the blubber of the walrus. But their feeding in winter is very precarious. Their masters have but little to spare ; and the dogs become miserably thin, at a time when the severest labor is imposed upon them. It is not, therefore, surprising that the shouts and blows of their drivers have no effect in preventing them from rushing out of their road to pick up whatever they can descry; or that they are constantly creeping into the huts, to pilfer any thing within their reach: their chances of success are but small; for the people within the huts are equally keen in the protection of their stores, and they spend half their time in shouting out the names of the intruders (for the dogs have all names,) and in driving them forth by the most unmerciful blows.

The hunger which the Eskimo dogs feel so severely in winter, is somewhat increased by the temperature they live in. In cold climates, and in temperate ones in cold weather, animal food is required in larger quantities than in warm weather, and in temperate regions. The only mode which the dogs have of assuaging or deceiving the calls of hunger, is by the distention of the stomach with any filth which they can find to swallow. The painful sense of hunger is generally regarded as the effect of the contraction of the stomach, which effect is constantly increased by a draught of cold liquid. Captain Parry mentions that in winter the Eskimaux dogs will not drink water, unless it hap-pen to be oily. They know, by experience, that their cravings would be increased by this indulgence, and they lick some clean snow as a substitute, which produces a less contraction of the stomach than water. Dogs, in general, can bear hunger for a very long time, without any serious injury, having a supply of some substance for the distension of their stomachs.

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