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Breed Spotlight: The Siberian Husky

Updated: Apr 22

History

Chukotka Sled Dogs

From the 1890s to the 1930s, Chukotka sled dogs were imported into Alaska, to transport gold miners to the Yukon - first as part of the Klondike Gold Rush, then later the "All-Alaska Sweepstakes", a 408-mile-distance sled race starting and ending in Nome, Alaska. At the time, "Eskimo" was a common pejorative term for native Arctic inhabitants known under various names of Uskee, Uskimay and Huskemaw. Therefore, dogs used by these Arctic natives were "the dogs of the Huskies," and eventually simply, "the husky dogs." Canadian and American settlers, not well versed on Russian geography, would distinguish the Chukotka imports by referring to them as Siberian huskies since Chukotka is part of Siberia.



Smaller, faster and more enduring than the 100-120-pound freighting dogs that were generally used at the time, they immediately dominated the Sweepstakes races.


Balto Statue, Central Park, NYC

On February 3, 1925, Gunnar Kaasen was the final musher 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 the longest (264 miles) and most dangerous segment of the run covered by a sled team led by a dog named Togo. The event is depicted in the 2019 film Togo. A measure of this is also depicted in the 1995 animated film Balto; the name of Gunnar Kaasen's lead dog in his sled team. Unlike the real Balto, the character was portrayed as a wolf-dog. In honor of this lead dog, a bronze statue was erected at Central Park in New York City.


By 1930, exportation of the dogs from Siberia was halted. The same year saw recognition of the Siberian Husky by the American Kennel Club. Nine years later, the breed was first registered in Canada. The United Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1938 as the "Arctic Husky", changing the name to Siberian Husky in 1991.



Siberian Huskies served in the United States Army's Arctic Search and Rescue Unit of the Air Transport Command during World War II. Their popularity was sustained into the 21st century. They were ranked 16th among American Kennel Club registrants in 2012, rising to 14th place in 2013, and maintaining relatively stable popularity ever since.


The Breed Today

Siberian Huskies are, first and foremost, working dogs. Purpose-built for stamina and strength, they still thrive under proper training, especially when given a job such as sled or cart pulling. A staggering number of current-day Huskies, however, are purchased by unwitting novices from dubious breeders. Huskies are one of the most common breeds today to have behavioral issues, but this is mostly due to the aforementioned breeders and owners. When a Husky cannot fulfill its purpose, you may be asking for problems.


As a result of puppies going to families who really are not equipped or willing to properly care for them, Huskies are common entries for shelters. This was made notably worse when they began to be featured on a wildly popular TV show, Game of Thrones. When they go to a proper home, however, they can be well-tempered, clownish dogs with shockingly high intelligence and problem solving abilities, and they tend to make wonderful companions.


This Husky may seem small to some, but he is of appropriate size for the breed

Something to note about the modern Siberian Husky is the size. While well-bred Siberian Huskies retain their moderate size from centuries ago, most that come from unethical backyard breeders are quite large. These large Huskies are so commonplace that most people who have a passing familiarity with the breed think they are supposed to be a large breed dog. While many Huskies weigh between 80-100 pounds today, they are still supposed to be 35-50lbs for bitches and 40-60lbs for males. They are a medium breed.


Permitting a line of Siberian Huskies to increase in size beyond this standard leads to a variety of health complications in the long run, which isn't fair to the resulting dogs nor is it fair to their future owners. For this, and for many other reasons, please do not acquire a Husky from an unethical breeder! Remember; an ethical breeder health tests (outlined below), will share the OFA-documented health test results with you, will welcome questions about their pedigrees and have the ability to answer them, will breed within the official breed standard (especially for size and coat-type - more on coat type in a moment), and will also ask you tons of questions to make sure your home would be a good fit for one of their puppies. If any of that is missing from the scenario, you're dealing with an unethical breeder. Another potential option is to adopt a rescue!


Coat

My 36 lbs. female Siberian Husky, Yana

One of the most incredible coats in the canine world, the thick double coat of the Siberian Husky is a breed trademark! While many people claim this is a high maintenance coat, nothing could be further from the truth. Healthy Huskies shed very heavily twice a year, typically as the seasons change from hot to cold and back again. This is known as "blowing coat." Everyone has their own methods for addressing shedding during this time, but my preferred method is to use a high velocity blow dryer. I simply take my Siberian Husky outside on a lead, along with my dryer, and I blow dry her hair on high with cool air. The shedding hair flies off of her in tufts, landing in the bushes behind my home (the birds make short work of this in the spring and use it for nests, and the squirrels do the same in the fall). I do this a few times a weeks for a couple of weeks, then it's over. Its actually quite fun, and my Husky loves it!



Bathing should be kept to a minimum. Huskies clean themselves like a cat, usually ridding themselves of anything that needs to come out of their fur all on their own. I only bathe my Husky if she smells, which is very uncommon and usually only happens if she gets into something gross (like when she rolled her body all over a dead possum in my backyard...eww). If you do need to bathe your husky, I recommend using a gentle shampoo and conditioner, and since whatever is on them is likely only on their surface fur you can usually just get away with washing that. Washing to the skin is often almost impossible, unless you do so regularly, as is sometimes the case with dogs who are actively showing. Another possible solution to mild doggy smell, should your Husky exhibit this, is sprinkling fresh baking soda onto the coat, allowing it to neutralize any surface odors and possibly saving you from giving them a bath!


Siberian Husky vs Malamute

Likely due in part to the oversized Huskies that are so common today, many people confuse them with Malamutes. At first glance, it's easy to see why! They both have similar-looking coats, commonly share a similar color pattern, and are both northern breeds built for working in the cold. Their similarities stop there.


Upon further investigation, it should be quite easy to spot the difference between the two; the two most glaring being their size and their coat types. Malamutes are much larger, and they're supposed to be. Their coats are also much more substantial!


Husky Mixes

Husky mixes are incredibly common, and often find their ways into shelters. Breed mixes tend to spike in prevalence when unethical breeders overproduce a particular breed, then sell the puppies off to irresponsible or otherwise uneducated owners. That's when an overwhelming majority of breeding mishaps occur. The other breed that goes into the mix will likely be a determining factor, but Husky mixes often make fabulous pets and are usually very easy to find in shelters and rescues all across North America. Never forget that the cute little husky-mix you're looking at in the shelter is, at least in some percent, one of the smartest breeds in existence; training and exercise are imperative!


Warm Weather

A common opinion is that Siberian Huskies should not be kept by families who live in warmer climates. As a Husky owner in South Carolina - where it can approach 100°F at the hottest part of the year - I can say without a doubt that it depends on how you keep your Husky. Mine lives in my home, with central cooling, and has access to my fenced backyard when she needs it. When its warm, she likes to go take naps on the ceramic tile in the kitchen, and has even taken naps in a dry enameled-cast-iron bathtub (she has done this even in the coldest part of the winter, though). She rarely even pants, because she rarely feels heat. However, if you live in a warm climate and want a dog to keep outside, a Siberian Husky is not for you.


A note for responsible Husky owners in warm areas: do not shave your Husky! That double coat changes slightly during hot weather and will actually help keep them cooler than they would be if they are shaved!








Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club:



Further Resources:

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