Greenlandic Sled dogs relaxing at the end of the day.

    “Give me winter and dogs – then you can keep the rest.”
    Knud Rasmussen in his diary from The Literary Expedition.

    Knud Rasmussen is one of Greenland's greatest polar heroes. He was born right here in Ilulissat to a Danish father and an Inuit-Danish mother. He spent his childhood growing up with Kalaallit, or Greenlandic Inuit, friends and learned to speak Kalaallisut, hunt, drive dog sleds and live in harsh Arctic conditions. It is reported that by the age of 7, Knud Rasmussen had his own team of dogs. He used teams of sled dogs on all polar expeditions in Greenland. He led The Thule Expeditions which were a series of polar exploration and research expeditions, that went on in the early 20th century. Some focused on geographical issues, while others were dedicated to the ethnographic and archaeological study of Greenlandic Inuit culture. A very important part of the culture are the sled dogs which can be seen all over Ilulissat.

    Sled dogs are built for polar conditions with thick fur that protects bodies and ears from frostbite.

    Dogs curl up with tails that protect eyes and faces as they sleep.

    Dog sleds can be seen in many yards around town.

    Do You Hear That?

    As most of you know, I like to run in the mornings. It is pretty common to hear the sound of dogs waking up and howling. At first it startled me and stopped me dead in my tracks as things like that do when navigating places I am not familiar with. Although the dogs are close to the trail and some of them will run along side of me, it is not advised to reach out to pet them or engage them. Owners prefer people to leave them alone as it is important for training purposes that they do not have too much contact with numerous people. They are working dogs, providing the muscle for transportation and racing which is huge here.

    My new sled dog running partner joined me for a jog down a long road.

    Older sled dogs have to be chained according to law here.

    A young pup hanging out by the side of the road late at night.

    The Greenlandic Sled Dog was brought to Greenland over 5,000 years ago. They enabled Greenlandic Inuit peoples to explore and survive the harsh conditions of the polar environment. Traditionally, dog sledding was used for hunting and to transport fish from the day's catch. Even today dog sledding is one of the modes of transportation during the winter taking people from town to town across frozen land and ice. The need for sled dogs has markedly decreased however over the years due to warming temperatures and disappearing ice. There are less sled dogs and use of sledging (another term for sledding) to reach hunting grounds and transportation routes.

    Boats have replaced many dog sled teams. People use them as a primary means of traveling coastal routes that were once covered by ice.

    A day's catch used to consist of as many fish as a dog sled could carry. Today, catches being transported by boat are considerably more. Drying fish on the back of a boat in port at Ilulissat.

    Greenlandic sled dogs can only be found North of the Arctic Circle and on the East Coast. It is prohibited to bring another breed of dog into these areas and if a Greenlandic sled dog leaves this restricted zone, it is not allowed to return. This is to protect the purity of Greenland's dogs in terms of breeding.

    Student Corner

    How has transportation changed over time on the ancestral and contemporary land of the Abenaki and Wabanaki people here in Maine and what environmental factors were responsible for it?

    Weather Summary
    Chilly, windy, and too cloudy for helicopters.
    Wind Speed


    Carole Wise

    Many thanks, Erin, for your curiosity & strength; exploring for all of us… and sharing your discoveries

    Lori Clark

    Never would have thought there would be one breed of dog in a country. I understand, however, being a dog lover I'd want to raise them as pets not work animals. Great information. Has your experience shown more of a work/survival environment vs a work/play environment there?

    Erin Towns

    The dogs are used for everything, work, play (in form of racing), and hunting.

    Jenny C.

    Do you think the dogs are sad about their being very little ice left? I mean they were trained to run distance while pulling a sled and now they have boats to cover the routes? What do the dogs do now, do they just stay around the house?

    Erin Towns

    Dogs in Greenland are suited for the Arctic environment and are built to run. There are not as many sled dogs in this part of Greenland as there used to be. So the ones that are here are used for different things.

    Leah B.

    you said it was illegal to pet the dogs have you seen anyone get in trouble? are the dogs still used for hunting

    Erin Towns

    It is not illegal to pet the dogs, however, it is strongly recommended that people do not pet or feed the dogs without owner permission. It is illegal for them to be off of a chain after they turn 6 months old.

    Melanie S

    are they known to be agresstive?

    Erin Towns

    There is a pack mentality as there are with all dogs and they will challenge each other for top positions within the group ie, who eats first, etc. Owners may look like they are being heavy handed with the animals according to American perspectives and views, however, there is a lot of love between owner and dogs here.

    Tiana A

    Are the dogs strays or do they have owners.

    Shawn H

    I feel like this breed of dog could also work well in Alaska, where dog sledding is commonplace as well.

    Erin Towns

    Samoyed, Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, and Chinook are types of sled dogs that used for huge dog races in Alaska.

    Ansley W

    Do they name the dogs? Are they seen more as work tools or pets?

    Erin Towns

    Yes dogs are named. They are used for hunting, travel, and racing, and are loved by their owners.

    Lila D

    How many dogs does it take to pull a sled?

    Kasey S.

    Do the dogs there try to interact with people a lot? Or do they know you won't respond back probably and ignore you?