No mistaking the realities of life for Canadian northern dogs

A made-for-the-north breed making -30 look balmy! It was absolutely freezing. c. IFAW/J. HannahI check the weather up north every day to see what the temperatures are like.  How cold is it during day, what is it like at night. Yes, it’s been cold down here near Toronto, and yes, we had a power outage over the holidays that highlighted our dependency on electricity!

North of the city however, into the upper reaches of northern Canada, the temperatures have been consistently in the very cold part of the thermometer. Probably not any more so than in years past if you speak to those who live there but when I’m thinking about the dogs outside, I’m picturing cold.

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As I’ve said before, dogs who were made for the north are fine during the dead of winter. If you believe the experts, they say animals actually do better dealing with cold than they do dealing with heat.

The northern breeds who were bred to live and work in the north, have thick fur with a deep undercoat and short ears, and while we are inside huddled over the fire, they can be found curled up contentedly in the snow. It’s not so much these ones who I think about…

It’s the fad breed, the dog who was purchased in the south and moved to the north to endure harsh conditions that they are not prepared for…probably won’t ever be prepared for. Short coated breeds like Dobermans and hounds and boxers just aren’t made for it and if taken north at the beginning of winter with no time to at least try to grow some coat, it’s a death sentence.

At this time of year energy requirements are high and dogs will grind through whatever calories they are given to keep themselves warm, particularly those meant for southern climes. Water too can be a problem for dogs who depend on ponds, puddles or lakes as their spring/summer/fall water source only to find themselves faced with nothing but snow to keep them from dehydrating. 

While weather and the need for increased food and available water is challenging during winter months, there are other issues that northern dogs face that most of us likely spend very little time thinking about.

One such issue is conflicts with wildlife.

Not the kind where a dog chases a squirrel up a tree but the kind where dogs are bumping up against predators such as bears and wolves because of their shared habitat. Not surprisingly, these wild animals are also trying to survive the harsh winter. 

This week we learned that a wolf had stuck his head into a fenced enclosure that houses numerous dogs and grabbed the leg of a young Rottweiler living there. The roti was able to fight him off but another dog, Volt, ran out of the enclosure to chase the wolf away. Unfortunately, Volt was no match for the wolf.

Humans and dogs, urban and rural - we all live with wildlife of some sort, but the scale and intensity of our interactions can be very different. Volt was an energetic, people loving dog, who was doing what came naturally to him -- chasing and probably protecting.

The wolf was also doing what came naturally to him -- trying to make a living. Each has his own story, and although safeguards can be put in place to try and keep the two stories from intertwining, there’s no mistaking the realities of life in the north and the northern dog’s experience in it.


For more information about the IFAW Northern Dogs project in Canada, visit our project page.

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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
Senior Advisor, Policy Development
Jan Hannah, Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Campaign Manager, Northern Dogs Project
Kate Nattrass Atema, Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Program Director, Community Animal Welfare
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters