July 19, 2014

Animal Profile: Greenlandic Sled Dog

Greenlandic Sled Dogs running hard

Greenlandic Sled dogs running hard

Greenlandic Sled dogs are one of the strongest, most resilient breeds of dog on earth. Ideally suited the Arctic environment, they can pull heavy sleds over long distances in the freezing cold. In fact, it is said that Greenlandic sled dogs can survive in temperatures as cold as seventy degrees below zero! These dogs are very loyal, but it takes a lot of time and patience to train them, as their instincts are similar to that of a wolf.

In many villages in Greenland there are more sled dogs than people. This was true in Ilulissat, a picturesque town 155 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where there are about 4,500 people and 6,500 sled dogs. Sled dogs are still used for transportation in Greenland because there are no roads connecting one town to the next. So important are these dogs, no other breed is allowed in Greenland above the Arctic Circle. The reason for this law is to keep the Greenlandic Sled Dog breed pure and strong.

Driving a dog sled is not as simple as yelling “Mush!” In Greenland it is highly recommended that you take a driver’s test. If you pass the test, you get an official license to drive a dog sled.

Kamik, an alpha male, in Ilulissat, Greenland

Kamik, an alpha male, in Ilulissat, Greenland

Weight: 70+ pounds fully grown
Diet: Carnivore, eating mostly musk ox, caribou meat and fish
Life span: About 13 years
Habitat: Greenland, north of the Arctic Circle

During our research trip to Greenland, we had the good fortune of taking a sled dog trip over Disco Island. Our guide told us that three polar bears had been seen not long ago, so we were on high alert as we drove our sleds over the snow and ice deep into the Arctic environment. Soon, though, our fear faded, and we were swept up in the joy of this unique form of transportation. While on this journey, it was easy to understand what the Polar Explorer Knud Rasmussen meant when he said, “Give me snow, give me dogs, you can keep the rest.” Taking in the spectacular landscape as we traveled over the ice sheet, I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing.