The Greenland dog is a spitz-type of dog originally only found on the island of Greenland. As foreign dogs or semen may no longer be imported in the dog sledge district of Greenland the breed has kept relatively pure. It is one of the world's oldest breeds and has since ancient times been used for transportation and hunting purposes by the Inuits. Recently, it has been selectively bred for qualities such as strength, hardiness and endurance.
Definition and Taxonomy

It is one of the three Inuit Sled Dogs, together with the Canadian Inuit Dog and Russian Inuit Dog. Some sources consider the Greenland dog and the Canadian Eskimo dog to be one and the same breed. Because of its isolation and restrictions, Greenland has become a sanctuary for North America's only remaining pure aboriginal canine, the Inuit dog (Canis familiaris borealis).

Two Greenland sledge dogs
Photo by Jacques Croizer
Origin and Development

The Greenland Dog was brought into the country with the Inuits moving from Canada to Greenland after 1200 A.D. The Dorset, the old arctic culture that preceded that of Thule and modern Inuit, did not use dogs or dog sleds. Thanks to the dogs and sleds the Thule had far better range. The dogs that arrived with the Thule were the original Inuit Dogs and Greenland is believed to be the only place on earth were these dogs remained genetically isolated.

The Greenland dog is therefore considered one of the most isolated and pure dog breeds in the world, especially as no interbreeding with other breeds of dogs is allowed. It is a very strong polar spitz, built for endurance and strenuous work as a sledge dog under arctic conditions.  Some variation in size is allowed, assuming working ability and harmony are not affected. Actually, different types of Greenland dogs exist according to the region. Even though forming a heterogeneous group, the occasional back-breeding to wolves described above may explain why the gene pool kept so close to the parent stock.

Morphologically the breed has kept close to the original dog. At regular intervals Greenland dogs were bred back to Arctic wolves. When the Greenland female dogs were in heat they were tethered far outside the Inuit camp so that they could be mated by dog wolves.

Many sources mention that Greenland dogs were used for seal hunting, but that does not imply that they were used as hunting dogs in the common sense of the word. The were used for transport to the hunting sites and to assist the hunter in locating seal breathing holes in the ice and transporting the hunting gear. After the hunt they would haul the meat back to the camp. Note that traditional seal hunting techniques do not necessarily rely on the use of dogs; kayak hunting in the open water season, hunting with nets fastened to icebergs and hunting from the ice with the use of a white screen (where a single hunter crawls towards the seal, lying on the ice hidden behind the screen), are all common seal hunting techniques in which the dog's action is not inherently required and could even give away the presence of the hunter. What is true is that hunting was facilitated by the use of dogs in the sense that they allowed the use of highly developed sleds for mobile seal hunting on the ice, but they were not used as 'hunting dogs' in the sense we usually intend it. In polar bear hunting, Greenland dogs are sometimes used to bring the bear to bay.

The Greenland dog's body is strong and rather compact, just slightly longer than height at the withers. The coat consists of a soft, dense undercoat and an outer coat of dense, straight and coarse hair, without curl or wave.  On the head and legs the hair is rather short, while long on the underside of the tail, giving it a bushy appearance. Any color - solid or particolored - is permitted, except albinos.

The nose is big and dark, corresponding to the coat color, often liver in dogs with red-golden coat. The nose may turn pink during winter (« winter-nose »). Dark eyes are preferred, but any color in accordance with to coat is accepted.  Blue eyes are considered a fault. The expression should be frank and bold, never shy.  The eye-rims are closely fitting.

When seen from the front when walking, a Greenland Dog does not single track, but as the speed increases, the legs will gradually converge inwards until the feet follow the center line.


Greenland dogs show a mentally strong and bold character and tireless endurance. However, they are not suited as guard dogs. They are very friendly in nature, even to strangers and not really attached to one person in particular. The are especially suited for people enjoying out-door activities.  

Greenland Dog
(Greenlander, Grønlandshund)
Catherine Marien-de Luca for Dog Breeds of the World 2004-2010 © All rights reserved by and

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Greenland dog
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Further reading:
Hanne Friis Andersen:  Population genetic analysis of the Greenland Dog and Canadian Inuit Dog - is it the same breed.

Stuart J. Fiedel, Prehistory of the Americas, Cambridge University Press, 1992
Northern Breeds
(Complete Pet Owner's Manual.)
by Margaret H. Bonham
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