Canada’s Indigenous Breeds

Canadian Eskimo Dog

While the Canadian Kennel Club refers to this breed as the “Canadian Eskimo Dog,” the Government of Nunavut calls it the Canadian Inuit Dog and made it the territory’s official animal. In Inuktitut the dog is called Qimmiq.

The breed proved popular with Arctic explorers and earned a reputation as a sled dog that could pull the heaviest loads over the greatest distances on the least amount of food. As snowmobiles gained favour, the number of Eskimo Dogs declined dramatically. In the 1970s, a project headed by William Carpenter and funded by The Canadian Kennel Club, the Canada Council and private individuals saved the breed from extinction.

Labrador Retriever

The Labrador descended from dogs taken to Newfoundland by explorers, fishermen and settlers and evolved by natural selection. The breed was known by several names, among them the black Water Dog, the Lesser Newfoundland and the St. John’s Dog. Excellent retrievers of fish and game, they often sailed with the fishermen and in the early 1800s, English sportsmen acquired a few of the hardy dogs off the fishing boats. The British further developed the breed by crossing it with other sporting dogs, notably the Flat-coated Retriever, the Curly-coated Retriever and the Tweed Water Spaniel. It wasn’t long before the Lab took over as Britain’s most popular gun dog. The breed was first recognized by The Kennel Club (England) in 1903, and 1908 by the Canadian Kennel Club.  In addition to its prowess as a gun dog, the Lab has distinguished itself as a police and war dog as well as a guide dog for the blind.

Newfoundland Dog

There are differing opinions on how the Newfoundland breed came about. Some believe the breed’s progenitor was the Tibetan Mastiff, which may have migrated to both Newfoundland and Scandinavia. There are those who theorize Leif Ericsson brought the Viking “bear dogs” with him when he arrived in Newfoundland in AD 1001 and they mated with the dogs of the Maritime Indians. There, the giant black dogs evolved in comparative isolation. During the 19th century, the breed became a European status symbol and at one time, Newfies were the most popular import to Great Britain. The breed was used to re-establish the Alpine rescue dogs at the Hospice of St. Bernard after their numbers were decimated by a distemper epidemic. In Britain, the black and white variety became known as the “Landseer” after the famous artist who featured the breed in his painting, A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society.became known as the “Landseer” after the famous artist who featured the breed in his painting, A Distinguished Member of the Humane Society.

Nova Scotia Duck Trolling Retriever

Yarmouth County, Nova Scotia, is the home of the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, for many years one of Canada’s best-kept secrets. Tolling is a technique used to entice game to approach within firing range by arousing their curiosity. It’s a trick used by the fox and when hunters saw how well the on-shore antics worked, they developed a dog to do the same thing. The Tollers were a mixture of retrievers, spaniels and setters with a possible farm collie cross thrown in. The breed was perfected in the latter half of the 19th century and was known as the Little River Duck Dog. After many generations of pure breeding, it was recognized by The Canadian Kennel Club in 1945 and christened the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.Photo: Alice Van Kempen (via

Tahltan Bear Dog

A canine version of Mighty Mouse, the Tahltan Bear Dog dog possesses tremendous power and bravery in a small package. Even the mighty Grizzly Bear could not intimidate this dynamo. Named for the Talhtan Indian tribes of northwestern Bristish Columbia, these small fox like hunting dogs were commonly seen around Indian campsites during the 19th century.  It was the job of the Talhtan Bear Dog to assist the Tahltan tribesmen in the hunting of numerous types of game including elk, beaver, porcupine, and especially large predators such as bear and big cats. Because of their small  stature of only  weighing between 12-15 lbs and only 12-15” high, it feasible for them to be carried in a back or chest pack, to conserve their energy for the hunt when needed.

Although the exact origin of this breed is not precise, oral history handed down from generation to generation by the Tahltan Indians makes reference to feral dogs that were utilized to assist bow and arrow hunters in hunting both large and small game.  It is believed that the Tahltan Bear dog, descended from the dogs of small isolated bands of Paleo-Indian hunter-gatherers that migrated from Asiatic regions into Alaska following large herds of herbivores around 13,500 B.C.

By the 1930s the Tahltan Bear Dog actually remained quite common.  In about 1939, the efforts of British Columbia Provincial Police Commissioner T.W.S. Parsons and Constable J.B. Gray were responsible for the CKC’s recognition of the breed.

It remains unclear as to what single factor led to the rapid decline of this  breed’s numbers. What it is known is that the Tahltan Bear Dog was prized and widely traded among Indian Tribes and at trade posts throughout the region. This may have lead to the crossbreeding of many of the purebreds with other dogs of the era and a subsequent decline of true Talhtan Bear Dogs. The effect of this casual trading in relation to the decline in the breeds numbers was further amplified by the Tahltan Bear Dogs natural breeding difficulties of females only whelping three to four puppies a year, with a propensity to kill them if she was disturbed. It can be assumed that many of the purebred specimens were traded away, and those that remained were not able to produce significant numbers of pups to sustain the breed.

In the 1970’s the last strongholds of purebred Tahltan Bear Dogs were to be found in the small villages of Atlin, British Columbia and Carcross, Yukon. Tom Connolly a big game hunter around Atlin and Ross River used Tahltan Bear dogs on his hunts in the area and following his death in 1970, his wife Shirley was officially the last person known to own purebred Tahltan Bear Dogs. With no new registrations and the breed nearing extinction, the CKC removed the dog from the Sporting Group.

By 1998 the Tahltan Bear Dog breed is generally considered to be extinct. This belief was decided by the Guinness Book of Records, which for several years tracked the last few remaining Tahltans and at their  death declared them extinct.  

But as you could have predicted there are still individuals looking to profit on this breeds “rarity” and  there are the occasional advertisements claiming purebred Tahltan Bear Dog puppies for sale.  However, it is highly unlikely that the animals being sold are the real thing.