Tahltan Bear Dog
Northern Breed Dogs
The Whitehorse Star, Thursday, December 2, 1971
By Winnie Acheson
I was most interested in the article in the Whitehorse Star of November 22, titled "The Disappearing Breed". Unless Mrs. Poirier is speaking of a breed of Bear Dog other than the one known throughout the North as Tahltan Bear Dog - then I simply must disagree with some of her remarks.
I was bom here at Atlin and for many years we had a close association with Telegraph Creek and other places in that area. From almost everything that I have read - and have been told - over the years it is apparent that these little dogs were found in that region along the Stikine, the Tahitan and Iskut.
At present I have one, which is considered by local native people and others to be a near perfect specimen.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Tahltan Bear Dog is that it has rather large (for its size) pointed ears - rather than the description by Mrs. Poirier "usually floppy ears".
The dog does not have a broad muzzle but a pointed one.
A number of years ago - I would think about 35 - the late Corporal Robin McCleery and Mrs. McCleery, then of Teslin, Yukon, owned a very lovely Tahitan.
Some one from the National Geographic Magazine had seen this dog and some time later wrote and asked that if and when the doggie died, they would like the bones shipped to them. By this time the dog was dead but was exhumed and shipped as requested.
In due time the McCleerys received a letter from the society and their remarks in part said that the bone structure, and bones, resembled those of a fox, more than a dog.
I have at hand an article by a Lorna Jackson who apparently has done a considerable amount of research into the origin of these little dogs.
It is fairly lengthy but will quote parts from same.
She writes: - People who first hear of the bear dog expect a large, well muscled beast, with lots of power and agility, so are very surprised when the monster appears in the form of an alert, active little bundle of fury.
And later her article continues: - In 1915 James Teit - engaged in research among the Tahitan Indians of Canada and who lived along the Stikine River, reported a breed of small native dogs that were known as bear dogs.
They were used for hunting the common black bear especially in the spring. The little dogs' high pitched, staccato yelping helped to confuse the bear and to direct the hunter.
These little dogs were also common in the Cassiar around 1931. They were generally black and white in colour and sometimes a bluish-grey. They ranged from 10 to 15 pounds in weight, The smaller ones with predominantly black colouring were regarded as being more typical of the breed.
The most distinctive feature of these dogs is their short, straight bushy tail - the long hair and shape make one think of a man's shaving brush.
They have the prick ears and sharp muzzle common to so many other small native breeds. Lorna Jackson has more to say about these little dogs but her final summation reads as follows:
Body rather like a cross between a black and white fox terrier, head like a fox or basenji, rather long prick ears, full brush tail. Coat like a small fox in winter, fairly heavy but not too long. The head is a little longer that a Spitz.
The one I have now - Iskut by name - is the fifth one of these that] have owned. I am enclosing a picture of him and two others that I owned many years ago.
One of these was black and white - the other white and black. Here in Atlin the Tom Connollys have four of these little dogs. At Carcross the Jack Nelsons have four or five and the father of my Iskut, 'Bingo,' makes his home with the Emil Dahlgrens of Whitehorse.
These are the ones which I have seen and no doubt there are a few others throughout the North. In closing I will remark that these little dogs are extremely intelligent and make the most delightful and interesting pets.