Information about the Siberian Husky
The Siberian Husky is a medium-size, dense-coat working dog breed that originated in north-eastern Siberia. The breed belongs to the Spitz genetic family. It is recognisable by its thickly furred double coat, sickle tail, erect triangular ears, and distinctive markings.
Huskies are an active, energetic, and resilient breed whose ancestors came from the extremely cold and harsh environment of the Siberian Arctic. Siberian Huskies were bred by the Chukchi of Northeastern Asia to pull heavy loads long distances through difficult conditions. The dogs were imported into Alaska during the Nome Gold Rush and later spread into the United States and Canada. They were initially sent to Alaska and Canada as sled dogs but rapidly acquired the status of family pets and show dogs. Because of its efficiency as a working breed, most huskies are bred to be able to withstand long work days on little amounts of food.They can carry two people and travel 40 miles per day.
Recent DNA analysis confirms that this is one of the oldest breeds of dog. The term “husky” is a corruption of the nickname “Esky” once applied to the Eskimos and subsequently to their dogs.
Breeds descending from the Eskimo dog or Qimmiq were once found throughout the Northern Hemisphere from Siberia to Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Labrador, and Baffin Island.
With the help of Siberian Huskies, entire tribes of people were able not only to survive, but to push forth into terra incognita. Admiral Robert Peary of the United States Navy was aided by this breed during his expeditions in search of the North Pole.
Dogs from the Anadyr River and surrounding regions were imported into Alaska from 1908 (and for the next two decades) during the gold rush for use as sled dogs, especially in the “All-Alaska Sweepstakes,” a 408-mile (657-km) distance dog sled race from Nome, to Candle, and back. Smaller, faster and more enduring than the 100- to 120-pound (45- to 54-kg) freighting dogs then in general use, they immediately dominated the Nome Sweepstakes. Leonhard Seppala, the foremost breeder of Siberian Huskies of the time, participated in competitions from 1909 to the mid 1920s.
Gunnar Kaasen and Balto.
On February 3, 1925, Gunnar Kaasen was first in the 1925 serum run to Nome to deliver diphtheria serum from Nenana, over 600 miles to Nome. This was a group effort by several sled-dog teams and mushers, with most of the run covered by Leonhard Seppala. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race commemorates this famous delivery. The event is also loosely depicted in the 1995 animated film Balto, as the name of Gunnar Kaasen’s lead dog in his sled team was Balto, although unlike the real dog, Balto the character was portrayed as half wolf in the film. In honor of this lead dog, a bronze statue was erected at Central Park in New York City. The plaque upon it is inscribed:
Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925. Endurance – Fidelity – Intelligence
In 1930 the last Siberians were exported as the Soviet government closed the borders of Siberia to external trade. The same year saw recognition of the Siberian Husky by the American Kennel Club. Nine years later, the breed was first registered in Canada. Today’s Siberian Huskies registered in North America are largely the descendants of the 1930 Siberia imports and of Leonhard Seppala’s dogs. Seppala owned a kennel in Nenana before moving to New England, where he became partners with Elizabeth Ricker. The two co-owned the Poland Springs kennel and began to race and exhibit their dogs all over the Northeast.
As the breed was beginning to come to prominence, in 1933 Navy Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd brought about 50 Siberian Huskies with him on an expedition in which he hoped to journey around the 16,000-mile coast of Antarctica. Many of the dogs were trained at Chinook Kennels in New Hampshire. Called Operation Highjump, the historic trek proved the worth of the Siberian Husky due to its compact size and greater speeds. Siberian Huskies also served in the United States Army’s Arctic Search and Rescue Unit of the Air Transport Command during World War II.
Siberian Huskies share many outward similarities with the Alaskan Malamute as well as with many other spitz breeds such as the Samoyed, which has a comparable history to the Huskies. They come in a variety of colors and patterns, usually with white paws and legs, facial markings, and tail tip. The most common coats are black and white, then less common copper-red and white, gray and white, pure white, and the rare “Agouti” coat, though many individuals have blondish or piebald spotting. Striking masks, spectacles, and other facial markings occur in wide variety. They tend to have a wolf-like appearance.
Facial marking is common in the husky.
Eyes – A red/white colored Siberian Husky with heterochromia, a trait which is unusual in most dogs, but common among Siberian Huskies.
The American Kennel Club describes the Husky’s eyes as “an almond shape, moderately spaced and set slightly obliquely.” The eyes of a Siberian Husky are ice-blue, dark blue, amber, or brown. In some individual dogs, one eye may be brown and the other blue (complete heterochromia), or one or both eyes may be “parti-colored,” that is, half brown and half blue (partial heterochromia). All of these eye-color combinations are considered acceptable by the American Kennel Club.
Coat – The Siberian Husky’s coat is thicker than most other dog breeds, comprising two layers: a dense undercoat and a longer topcoat of short, straight guard hairs. It protects the dogs effectively against harsh Arctic winters, but the coat also reflects heat in the summer. It is able to withstand temperatures as low as -50 to -60 ºC (-58 to -76 ºF). The undercoat is often absent during shedding. Their thick coats require weekly grooming. Long guard hair is not desirable and is considered a fault.
Nose – Show-quality dogs are preferred to have neither pointed nor square noses. The nose is black in gray dogs, tan in black dogs, liver in copper-colored dogs, and may be flesh-colored in white dogs. In some instances, Siberian Huskies can exhibit what is called “snow nose” or “winter nose.” This condition is called hypopigmentation in animals. “Snow nose” is acceptable in the show ring.
During cold weather, huskies sometimes cover their noses with their tails when resting or sleeping.
Tail – Siberian husky tails are heavily furred; these dogs will often curl up with their tails over faces and noses in order to provide additional warmth. The tail should be expressive, held low when the dog is relaxed, and curved upward in a “sickle” shape when excited or interested in something. It should be symmetrical, and not curved or deviated to the side; nor should it ever curl so much as to touch the back.
Size – The breed standard indicates that the males of the breed are ideally between 21 and 23.5 inches (53 and 60 cm) tall at the withers and weighing between 45 and 60 pounds (20 and 27 kg). Females are smaller, growing to between 20 to 22 inches (51 to 56 cm) tall at the withers and weighing between 35 to 50 pounds (16 to 23 kg).
Siberian Husky playing in the snow and exhibiting a “curled” tail.
The Siberian Husky has been described as a behavioral representative of the domestic dog’s forebear, the wolf, exhibiting a wide range of its ancestors’ behavior. They are known to howl rather than bark. If the dog is well trained, it can make a great family pet. The frequency of kenneled Siberian Huskies, especially for racing purposes, is rather high, as attributed through the history of the breed in North America. They are affectionate with people, but independent. A fifteen-minute daily obedience training class will serve well for Siberian Huskies. Siberians need consistent training and do well with a positive reinforcement training program. They rank 45th in Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs, being of average working/obedience intelligence. They tend to run because they were at first bred to be sled dogs. Owners are advised to exercise caution when letting their Siberian Husky off the leash, as the dog could be miles away before looking around and realizing its owner is nowhere in sight. They are excellent “escape artists” as well, and have been known to climb chain-link fences and find other ways of escaping a confined area. They also get bored easily, so physical and mental stimulation on a daily basis is very important. Failure to give them the attention or proper exercise they need can result in unwanted behavior, such as excessive howling, marking, chewing on furniture, or crying. Siberian huskies should never be aggressive, nor do they make good guard dogs. They were historically bred to be working and companion animals by the Chukchi people, and should always be gentle in nature.
Siberian Huskies are highly intelligent, which allows them to excel in obedience trials, though many clubs would like to keep the Husky’s instinct by doing sled-racing. However, because of their intelligence, they can easily become bored and may stop listening to commands. Many dog trainers usually attempt to avoid this behavior by keeping them busy with new activities. Also due in part to their intelligence, Huskies tend to be very observant of the actions of people around them and have been known to mimic common household activities such as turning on lights with their paws and opening doors with their canines. Some undesirable behaviors they can exhibit include opening refrigerators (and eating the food inside), climbing fences or digging tunnels in the backyard to escape. These behaviors can be prevented if the dog is given enough activity to occupy it. Huskies require both mental and physical stimulation for optimum health.
Huskies, with proper care, have a typical lifespan ranging from twelve to fifteen years. Health issues in the breed are mainly genetic, such as seizures and defects of the eye (juvenile cataracts, corneal dystrophy, canine glaucoma and progressive retinal atrophy). Hip dysplasia is not often found in this breed; however, as with many medium or larger-sized canines, it can occur. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals currently has the Siberian Husky ranked 155th out of a possible 160 breeds at risk for hip dysplasia, with only two percent of tested Siberian Huskies showing dysplasia.
Siberian Huskies used for sled racing may also be prone to other ailments, such as gastric disease, bronchitis or bronchopulmonary ailments (“ski asthma”), and gastric erosions or ulcerations.
Siberian Huskies are still used as sled dogs in sled dog racing. Siberians are still popular in races restricted to purebreds and are faster than other pure sled-dog breeds such as the Samoyed and the slower but much stronger Alaskan Malamute. Today the breed tends to divide along lines of “racing” Siberians and “show” Siberians. Racing Siberians tend to have more leg to enable them more reach when running. Show Siberians tend to be a bit smaller.
Apart from sled racing, they are very popular for recreational mushing and are also used for skijoring (one to three dogs pulling a skier) and European ski-hi. A few owners use them for dog-packing and hiking.
Siberians gained in popularity with the story of the “Great Race of Mercy,” the 1925 serum run to Nome, which made dogs Balto and Togo famous. Though Balto is the more famous of the two, and was the dog to deliver the serum to Nome after running the final 53-mile leg, it was Togo who made the longest run of the relay, guiding his musher Leonhard Seppala on a 91-mile journey that included crossing the deadly Norton Sound to Golovin.
Several purebred Siberian Huskies portrayed Diefenbaker, the “half-wolf” companion to RCMP Constable Benton Fraser, in the CBS/Alliance Atlantis TV series Due South.
Mishka is a Siberian Husky on YouTube. She has been trained to say phrases such as “Hello”, “I love you”, and “No.” She has made appearances on TV Talk Shows, Radio Commercials, and TV Commercials.