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The definitive history of the Tamaskan Dog breed

The Tamaskan Dog of today has a relatively long and convoluted history for such a new breed.

During the early 1980s, various mixbreed dogs were imported from North America (USA and Canada) to England. Although their exact origins are uncertain, these mixbreed dogs were primarily arctic breed crosses of Alaskan Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Canadian Eskimo Dog, German Shepherd, Labrador Husky, and Siberian Husky. These imported mixbreed dogs were then bred with various local wolfy-looking mixbreed dogs in the UK, including crosses of Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky and German Shepherd, whose exact origins are also unknown. Thanks to modern technology (DNA analysis) we now know that some of these Nordic mixbreed dogs contained Greenland Dog and Samoyed in the recent ancestry. The resulting offspring were a diverse and eclectic combination of breeds, which formed the humble beginnings of a project to create a new breed of dog: one that resembled a wolf in appearance but with the good temperament desired of an ideal family pet.

By crossing the various bloodlines over the years and introducing other outcross dogs along the way, Edwina “Eddie” Harrison, along with a small group of dedicated breeders, continued to develop this wolf-lookalike “breed”. Initially the progeny were called "Harrison Wolfdogs" or simply "wolf-lookalikes" but, unfortunately, very few records exist as those original breeding programs were poorly documented and no proper records were kept, perhaps intentionally. Thanks to modern genetics testing and backtracing the origins to piece together the bloodlines, it is now known that some wolfdog mixes were included in this early breeding program. However, due to the laws regarding wolf-dog crosses in the UK at that time, it was necessary to be discreet and many breeders, even to this day, deny any wolf content. These dogs formed the foundation of what would eventually become the Northern Inuit breed. In 1988, the breeders coined the name “Northern Inuit” and the Northern Inuit Society was formed, under the guise that these dogs did not contain any significant wolf content and in order to prevent the offspring from being labeled as “wolfdogs” (this would become a reoccurring theme). Lynn Sharkey/Hardey (Blustag), one of the four original founders of the Tamaskan breed, joined the committee of the Northern Inuit Society and purchased her first two breeding dogs at this time.

During the 1990s, it was relatively common for one breeder’s bloodline to be quite distinct from another breeder’s bloodline, but there was also a degree of cooperation between the different kennels through the sharing of popular stud dogs and the trading of related puppies. After several generations of selective and cooperative breeding, some of the resulting offspring began to look increasingly wolf-like, although there was still a long way to go and a lot of work that yet needed to be done. At that time, the different bloodlines were not overly homogenous and there was still a great deal of variation between litters, sometimes even within a single litter. Due to a number of factors – including the genetic diversity of the foundation bloodlines, the lack of genetics testing available at that time, the lack of education and ignorance regarding how certain genetic traits are inherited, along with some extremely close linebreeding (inbreeding) over several generations – specific recessive genes were revealed when particular linebred dogs were crossed together, as was to be expected. As a result, some undesirable traits started occurring fairly frequently, producing offspring that did not look very wolf-like at all. Some puppies had floppy ears while others had curly tails; some puppies had blue eyes, or one blue eye and one brown eye; some puppies had long fluffy coats while others had very short fur; some puppies were incorrectly colored (solid white/cream) while others were extreme white piebald (white with dark patches).

Moreover, it seems that there was a great deal of discrepancy in breeding ethics and health testing: some breeders regularly mated underage and/or non-health-tested dogs; some mated closely-related dogs over several generations (such as parent X offspring, sibling X sibling, etc) and then created false pedigrees to hide the inbreeding; some knowingly bred from dogs with genetic disorders (such as epilepsy or Addison’s Disease or cryptorchidism); some mass-produced puppies as often as possible without allowing enough recovery time between litters or had secret back-to-back litters (to maximize profits); some simply bred with whatever they could get their hands on simply because it was locally convenient (without regard to appearance, temperament or health); some added outcross dogs with documented wolfdog ancestry but then denied any wolf content and sold puppies to places where wolfdogs are forbidden; some produced fake documentation and forged health certificates. In short, it was chaos. There were a lot of shady practices, on all sides, with many simultaneously flaunting a hypocritical “holier than thou” attitude: openly pointing out the flaws in others yet refusing to acknowledge their own failings (this would become a reoccurring theme). It seems few were concerned with the long-term health or welfare of the breed-in-progress, or the careful management that would be required to ensure the survival of the developing breed for future generations. Instead, it seems that most simply considered how they could profit from and exploit this trendy new “wolf-lookalike” craze. This inevitably led to conflicts of interest as well as personality clashes. Instead of working together professionally to achieve a common goal, most breeders were only concerned for themselves while some were simply incapable of working together as a team. Ultimately, several breeders started to form various cliques, which predictably resulted in different ‘break away’ factions going off to do their own thing (this too would become a reoccurring theme).

Over time, differences in opinion regarding the development of the Northern Inuit breed and disagreements about breeding practices led to a split into two separate groups: the Northern Inuit Society and the Northern Inuit Society of Great Britain. In 2002, one of these groups then decided to change the name of the breed by renaming their dogs as “Utonagan” to distinguish themselves from the Northern Inuit. They felt that the name “Northern Inuit” was not appropriate since the dogs were neither from the North nor had any association with the Inuit people. So, although the Northern Inuit and the Utonagan both originally stem from the exact same foundation lines, they are now generally considered as two separate breeds. The newly-formed Utonagan breed also went through a period of growing pains during its early development phase. Different ways of thinking, along with further conflicts regarding health testing and breeding practices, led to the formation of several successive splinter groups: The Utonagan Club, The Utonagan Association, The British and International Utonagan Society (BIUS), The Utonagan Society and, laterally, The British Utonagan Association. Meanwhile, due to unscrupulous breeding practices during the 1990s, including heavy inbreeding over several generations, some serious health issues began to appear in the Northern Inuit and Utonagan bloodlines. Unfortunately, many of the pedigrees had been deliberately falsified to hide mating combinations between close relatives and many breeders unknowingly continued mating close relatives together, thinking that the falsified pedigrees were correct. During the early 2000s, this led to the search for other wolfy-looking dogs to introduce as new outcrosses in an attempt to broaden the genepool and salvage the breed from escalating health issues due to rampant inbreeding.

In 2004, Blustag visited Finland and, while there, she discovered potentially suitable outcross dogs at Levi Huskypark in Lapland. The owner, Reijo Jääskeläinen (Polar Speed) had been working on the development of his own wolf-lookalike breeding program for animal acting / filmwork by crossing his wolfdogs (Czechoslovakian Vlcak and American Wolfdog) with his FCI Finnish/Siberian racing huskies. Although his resulting mixbreed dogs (husky x wolfdog) were not officially registered, as they were not purebred, DNA profiling has subsequently verified their parentage. After some negotiations with Polar Speed – including plans to breed a purebred female Siberian Husky (Blondy av Vargevass) with a high content male American Wolfdog (Boogie aka Ivan) – Blustag also decided to reserve several of Polar Speed’s mixbreed dogs (Czechoslovakian Vlcak X Finnish/Siberian husky) with the plan to add them as new outcross dogs. She also personally met many of the relatives of each dog to ensure that each had an exemplary temperament and the desired appearance. Polar Speed’s working line of sled-dogs were originally bred for speed and endurance (sled-pulling in extreme temperatures) and their close ancestors were some of the top sled-racing dogs in the world. It was hoped that these mixbreed outcross dogs would enhance the breed’s working ability as well as wolf-like appearance.

  

While back in the UK, Blustag and her daughter, Blufawn, presented these new Finnish outcross dogs to the Utonagan Society, who decided that they did not wish to include these bloodlines in their breeding program, primarily due to their wolf content (they wished to keep the breed “wolf free”). After much debate, Blustag and Blufawn decided to depart from the Utonagan group. Along with a couple of other members from the Utonagan Society, they then decided to form a new separate breed. Of course, a new breed required a new name to indicate a fresh start. Thus, the Tamaskan Dog breed was first established; the name comes from the Native American word “Tamaska” which means “Mighty Wolf”. In total, there were four original Breed Founders: Lynn Sharkey/Hardey (Blustag) and her daughter Jennie Peacock/Saxby (Blufawn), along with Liz Wilson (Alba) and Zee Turner (Moonstone). Blustag and Blufawn then decided to move to Finland and they took with them several of their most wolfy-looking dogs from their UK breeding program (Northern Inuit/Utonagan bloodlines). Once there, they then collected their new outcross dogs from Polar Speed, which they had previously reserved, and shipped two of them (Magnus and Zev) back to the other UK breeders: Alba in Scotland and Moonstone in England. Thus, the original foundation stock for the Tamaskan breed consisted of several Northern Inuit/Utonagan dogs that were owned/bred by Blustag, combined with several Finnish outcross dogs from Polar Speed.

Unfortunately, although they were well aware of the wolf content in the recent ancestry of these outcross dogs (despite claims to the contrary) the original breed founders decided to coin the Tamaskan breed with the motto “the wolfdog without the wolf” in an attempt to deliberately hide the fact that wolfdogs (low content Czechoslovakian Vlcak mixes and higher content American Wolfdog mixes) had been used in the foundation of the Tamaskan breed. As the Tamaskan breed was primarily developed while Blustag and Blufawn were living in Finland, and thanks to the strong contribution made by Polar Speed (combined with the original UK Northern Inuit/Utonagan bloodlines), the Tamaskan Dog is generally considered to be a Finnish breed, although the breed is not yet officially recognized in Finland. In February 2006, the Tamaskan Dog Register (TDR) was founded. It was created to be, and still is today, the official breed registry for all authentic Tamaskan Dogs worldwide. It established a comprehensive list of rules and regulations for registered breeders as well as a code of ethics. Furthermore, all Tamaskan breeding dogs were required to be DNA profiled prior to breeding. The DNA profile acts as a unique identifying “genetic fingerprint” which is used to verify parentage to ensure the pedigrees are correct and can be traced, via DNA, generation after generation right back to the original Foundation Dogs. The international Tamaskan DNA database contains the DNA profiles of every Foundation Dog used in the development of the Tamaskan breed, as well as every new TDR outcross dog that has since been added to the genepool, in addition to all the adult breeding dogs worldwide. The international Tamaskan DNA database is maintained by Neogen GeneSeek; the company was formerly called Scidera and, prior to that, MMI Genomics. In addition, a mandatory health testing scheme was implemented, including hip scoring of all adult breeding dogs.

By combining the original English (Northern Inuit/Utonagan) bloodlines with the new Finnish outcross bloodlines, the first generation of registered Tamaskan Dogs was born in May 2006 at Alba in Scotland. Later in 2006, the international Tamaskan Rescue organization was formed, to foster and rehabilitate any Tamaskan Dogs (or lookalikes) in need of rehoming. On a couple of occasions, the UK branch of the Tamaskan Rescue organization (run by Blustag and Blufawn) also temporarily cared for Tamaskan Dogs while their owners were in hospital; unfortunately, the TDR later discovered that, under these pretenses, Blustag and Blufawn were secretly using these dogs for breeding / stud services, without their owners’ knowledge or consent (Cougar and Rann being two notable examples) later verified via DNA parentage analysis. Shockingly, Cougar – who appears in the ancestry of many Tamaskan pedigrees – had not even been hip scored at that time; it was later discovered that he is also a carrier of epilepsy and Addison’s Disease. In August 2009, a small group of TDR breeders decided to split off to form a new group – the Tamaskan Breeders Association (TBA) and their own sub-breed (the “Aatu Tamaskan”) – when they started to uncover the truth about the wolf content that went into the creation of the Tamaskan breed, along with the unscrupulous behavior and deceptive practices by Blustag and Blufawn. Unfortunately, the breed founders were very convincing and their supporters were led to believe that the TBA was nothing more than “disgruntled troublemakers” and that their claims were simply lies that were being spread out of jealousy and spite. It was only later that the true depth and breadth of “the BLUs” deception came to light.

Meanwhile, the TDR Committee, at that time still under the control of Blustag and Blufawn, expanded to include new members from around the world. In 2010, the TDR Committee decided to include the new DNA test for Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) as a required health test for all adult breeding Tamaskans after a few individual dogs tested positive as carriers. In 2012, thanks to DNA parentage analysis, some serious falsifications by Blustag and Blufawn were discovered, including: faked pedigrees, lies about parentage, etc (Flower litter, Sugalba litter, Rose litter, X-men litter, etc). Rather than admit the truth, they blamed the DNA company for “making mistakes” – they were furious that the DNA company had breached confidentially by providing the other members of the TDR Committee with access to their “confidential” DNA profiles, which led to further internal investigations by the other members of the TDR Committee when the DNA profiles simply did not match up and it became obvious that the pedigrees for multiple litters had been deliberately falsified. These blatant cover-ups and subsequent denials undermined everything their supporters had been led to believe and resulted in deeper investigations into other past allegations against them, which shockingly also turned out to be true. As a result of gross misconduct, Blustag and Blufawn were then expelled from the TDR, which subsequently underwent extensive changes in management. The TDR was officially registered as a non-profit company in Scotland and the registry was restructured with an international “roundtable” Committee comprised of representatives from each National Club around the world. Shortly thereafter, the members of the TBA who had previously left decided to rejoin the TDR along with many other individual breeders who had parted ways over the years due to the corrupt actions of “the BLUs”. As a result of a number of complaints and welfare concerns expressed by people worldwide who had purchased Tamaskan puppies from the pair, the local authorities and RSPCA raided their premises in January 2013. Several dogs (Malamute puppies) were removed / voluntarily surrendered as a result of being in poor condition and living in filthy/cramped living conditions. In January 2014, Jennifer Saxby (Blufawn) and her mother Lynn Hardey (Blustag) were subsequently found guilty of illegally breeding dogs without a license.

Under new management, the TDR made great progress and, in November 2013, the Tamaskan Dog was officially recognized by the American Rare Breed Association (ARBA) and the Kennel Club of the United States of America (KCUSA). This means that all TDR registered Tamaskan Dogs are eligible for ARBA/KCUSA registration and may participate in ARBA/KCUSA shows in the USA. Soon thereafter, the Tamaskan breed was also recognized by International Canine Events (ICE), International All Breed Canine Association (IABCA) and the International Canine Kennel Club (ICKC). To date, there are many Tamaskan owners who regularly participate in official shows all over North America and several Tamaskan Dogs have since been awarded top prizes and showing titles at these events. Unfortunately, at the end of 2013, the National Clubs of Germany and the Netherlands then decided to break away from the TDR as they found the organization of the international committee to be “too bulky” and “too slow” (lots of debate and discussion but, according to them, not fast enough action). Rather than continue to cooperate with the TDR, these national organizations (the Tamaskan Germany Club and the Nederlandse Tamaskan Club) decided to operate separately and independently to the TDR, each with its own registry of pedigrees and puppy contracts. Sadly, as is all too common in the breed’s history, the National Club of Germany subsequently fractioned multiple times and is now all but defunct. Multiple small German social clubs / groups now exist today, each vying for authority but without any real cohesion on a national level: Tamaskan Germany; Interessengemeinschaft Tamaskan e.V.; Tamaskan und seine Ursprungsrassen; Pro Tamaskan e.V.; Leben mit Tamaskan; etc. As a result, many individual breeders residing in Germany have since decided to rejoin the TDR as registered breeders.

In 2015, the TDR Committee decided to implement additional health testing requirements for all registered Tamaskan breeders: elbow scoring and eye examinations. This means that, in order to qualify as a breeding dog of the TDR, every adult Tamaskan Dog must be: officially hip and elbow scored (x-rays evaluated); have a proper eye examination by a licensed veterinary ophthalmologist; be DNA tested for Degenerative Myelopathy (DM); and, finally, as always, be DNA profiled via Neogen GeneSeek to verify parentage and thereby maintain the integrity of the pedigrees. Many TDR breeders also opt to do additional testing, such as MyDogDNA and/or Embark DNA. In 2016, the TDR decided to close the Scottish branch of the company and subsequently registered as a 501(c)(4) charitable corporation in the United States, which is governed by a Board of Directors (BoD). The BoD is responsible for the organization and management of the TDR as a business (e.g., taxes, banking, management of the corporation, etc.) and oversees several sub-committees including a Fundraising Committee and the TDR’s Committee of Breeders (CoB). The CoB is comprised of experienced breeders from all over the world who have completed a high level of education in genetics, dog breeding and population management. The CoB is responsible for, among other things: Outcross Protocol & Approval, Breeder code of conduct/ethics for TDR Registered breeders, Registry Rules and Regulations, maintaining the official international Tamaskan Breed Standard, etc. In turn, the CoB oversees the Wolfdog Research Committee (WRC), which is responsible for researching and documenting as many different laws/regulations as possible as well as gathering legal definitions specifically pertaining to the ownership of legitimate wolfdogs vs. recognized dog breeds that contain recent wolf ancestry vs. wolf-lookalikes that contain no actual wolf content, but could pass as a wolfdog to the untrained eye. There is also a group for the TDR Representatives of National Clubs, which acts as a go-between for the CoB and the various National Clubs around the world, though the National Clubs themselves no longer serve any administrative or authoritative roles and are simply fun social organizations that occasionally host events/meetings/gatherings for local owners.

As the Tamaskan Dog is still considered to be a “work in progress” breed with a small genepool, the TDR has an official open-studbook policy whereby new CoB-approved outcrosses are occasionally added to the breeding program in order to introduce fresh bloodlines and increase genetic diversity within the breed. The Tamaskan of today has come a long way since its initial roots. Through careful selective breeding, to choose the offspring that look the most wolf-like and display the most desirable phenotypical traits, it is possible to retain wolf-like characteristics – small pointed ears, straight bushy tail, yellow almond-shaped eyes, dense bushy coat, wolf-like color (agouti-banded fur) etc – whilst also maintaining working ability, a wonderful temperament and, most importantly, good health. By breeding the best offspring from each litter to unrelated Tamaskan Dogs or offspring from outcross litters that display complimentary features, each successive generation goes one step further towards the desired goal of achieving the ideal specimen according to the TDR’s international Breed Standard. With the gentle and loving temperament of the British bloodlines combined with the wild appearance of the Finnish bloodlines, the Tamaskan breed was an instant success, which has only grown in popularity in recent years. They are trainable companion dogs that make excellent family pets, whilst still maintaining working ability without the excessive prey drive or hyperactivity that is common with most primitive arctic breeds. The popularity of the Tamaskan Dog has grown exponentially and there are now many TDR registered breeders worldwide. Tamaskan puppies have been exported all over the world and most of the Tamaskan puppies that were first exported out of Finland now have great-great-grandpuppies of their own! The Tamaskan is, arguably, the most wolfy-looking of all companion dog breeds and certainly has a much better temperament and is easier to handle/manage than true wolfdogs breeds, such as the Saarloos Wolfdog or Czechoslovakian Vlcak. Furthermore, the Tamaskan tends to be a better family pet, particularly for households with small children or other pets (cats, rabbits, etc).


MORE INFO:

The "No Wolf" Tamaskan History

Breed Time Line

Tamaskans Against Puppy Mills

International Tamaskan Forum

Tamaskan Dog Register (TDR)