The Siberian Husky: An Introduction (Written by Sandy Hudspeth)
History The Siberian Husky is an ancient breed, originating from the eastern coast of Siberia and bred for thousands of years by the Chukchi people who inhabited the region. The dogs were used for multiple purposes: the Chukchi people depended on them for their survival, transporting supplies and moving entire villages from place to place via dogsled. The Siberians could (and still can) survive on much less food than most other similar-sized dogs in the world, and could thrive in freezing temperatures (sometimes as cold as -70 degrees Fahrenheit!) while traveling through deep snow and ice thanks to their thick double coat.
The Chukchi people valued their dogs above all else. When the dogs weren't being used for sledding they were brought inside to stay with the women and children, providing companionship and life-saving warmth on the frigid nights. If a litter of pups were orphaned or the mother wasn't producing enough milk, nursing mothers in the tribe would even nurse the pups along with their children. It was also believed that some of these dogs guarded the gates to the afterlife, and if a man was cruel to his dogs while he was alive he would be denied entrance to paradise after he died.
Siberian Huskies were brought to Alaska in 1908 by William Goosak, a Russian fur trader. The people of Alaska didn't have much faith in the dogs, given how much smaller they were than the local Malamutes, but within a few years the "little Siberian rats" came to dominate the sled racing scene thanks to their immense stamina and greater speed.
The most well-known event in the breed's history, and the one that made them famous outside of Alaska, was the Serum Run in 1925. In January of that year, the town of Nome, Alaska was struck by a diphtheria epidemic, and doctors soon realized they had less antitoxin than they needed to save the lives of the citizens. Severe weather made it impossible to ship the antitoxin to Nome by train, ship, or plane, leaving a relay team of sled dogs as the town's only hope. The teams of dogs covered over 600 miles in just days, not stopping despite the howling blizzard and treacherous conditions. The antitoxin, delivered on a sled driven by Gunnar Kaasen and led by the famous Balto, saved the people of Nome, and not one life was lost to the diphtheria.
Despite Balto being the Siberian most people associate with the Serum Run, there was another dog, Togo, who led a team that ran a much longer distance and was driven by Leonard Seppala, the father of the modern breed. Every Siberian Husky in existence today can trace its lineage to Seppala's original dogs, including Togo (Balto was sadly neutered before the Serum Run, and so never contributed genetically to the breed).
Preservation breeders today know the history of their dogs by heart, and strive to continue to produce dogs with the same endurance, effortless movement, and tireless, fearless spirit that enabled those original dogs to defy the odds and save the people who loved them. Well-bred Siberians represent a piece of living history, one that will hopefully exist for hundreds or thousands of years to come.
Health Siberian Huskies are a long-lived, generally healthy breed, suffering very few of the issues common in larger breeds. Their average lifespan is 12-15 years, with many dogs remaining lively and energetic until they are well into old age. They are allowed in all colors from pure white to pure black and any combination in between, and can have two blue eyes, two brown eyes, or one of each. There are no faults based on coat or eye color, and Siberians have none of the color-associated health issues that some other breeds do.
The most common issue in Siberians is juvenile cataracts, which most often appear between 6-18 months and can range in severity from a pinprick-sized spot on the lens of the eye to a large enough patch of cloudiness that the dog has little or no clear vision. This is unfortunately the only issue for which there is not yet a genetic test, so the only way breeders can try to minimize its occurrence is to have dogs tested by a canine opthalmologist at 12 months and then once each year for life. No dog found to have cataracts should be used for breeding.
Other, less common issues include hip dysplasia, luxating patellas ("slipping kneecaps"), hypothyroidism, and zinc deficiency. Hip and knee issues are rarely seen in litters from responsible breeders, though, because the dogs are bred for correct, sturdy structure which includes healthy joints and have their hips X-rayed to rule out dysplasia before being bred.
Zinc deficiency is more common in Northern breeds, and is believed to be due to the fact that their diet consisted of so much zinc-rich fish that their bodies eventually adapted to absorb less of it and avoid toxicity. In this day and age, however, some commercial diets that contain an acceptable amount of zinc for the average dog are insufficient for a Siberian, and can lead to deficiencies. Thankfully, this can largely be avoided by feeding a high-quality kibble (we have had great success with fish-based formulas) and, if the dog is found by a veterinarian to be deficient, supplementation with zinc.
Grooming Siberian Huskies are generally a very clean breed, which requires only weekly brushing for most of the year in order to keep their coats tidy and free of mats. At least twice a year, though, they "blow" their coats, shedding the entire dense undercoat before it is replaced by a shorter or longer coat for the summer or winter. This creates incredible amounts of fur, the likes of which most people who have never owned a Northern breed would not believe. A Siberian should NEVER be shaved, as contrary to popular belief, they are actually more likely to overheat without their insulating undercoat, and can also be more prone to sunburn and insect bites without the protective guard hairs (the darker, coarser hairs that form the top layer of the coat and give the dog most of their color). It goes without saying that if you value a fur-free house, we can guarantee this is not the breed for you.
Temperament Siberian Huskies have a very unique personality, which can be either a blessing or a curse depending on who you ask. They are not particularly loyal to one person but instead love to make "instant BFFs" with just about everyone, especially if treats or toys are involved. This makes them awful guard dogs, and they are more likely to help a burglar pull your flat-screen out to his car and then hop in with him than they are to chase him off. They tend to like children of all ages, but their play style tends to be hard and fast, so they are not recommended for homes with infants or toddlers who could be unintentionally knocked down.
Because they were bred to work in large teams, Siberian Huskies generally get along well with other dogs, especially other Siberians. They have a very unique style of play, usually involving a lot of noise, quick movements, and open-mouthed wrestling that makes them look ferocious, but anyone who has spent any time with them can quickly tell the difference between "Siberian play" and an actual disagreement. However, it is important to note that Siberians have a very high prey drive when it comes to small animals, and will often kill small rodents, poultry, and even cats. Caution should be taken if you plan to bring a Siberian into a house with these animals already living there; some can learn to leave them be if raised with them from puppyhood, but some will respect them as pups and still view them as pray once they mature.
Siberian Huskies have a well-deserved reputation for being more than a little stubborn. These dogs are very opinionated and while they can definitely be trained, they almost never respond well to typical "Because I said so!" training methods. Positive reinforcement and rewards are much more effective (we use clicker training with our own dogs to prepare them for the show ring) and as long as they understand what you want from them and why it is a good idea for them to obey, they are generally willing to try just about everything.
That said, this breed is extremely active and intelligent, which can cause a lot of frustration for owners who don't know how to channel it into appropriate activities. Siberian Huskies are often vocal, and a bored dog is often one that will howl, dig holes in the yard until it looks like the surface of the moon, chew the furniture, and try to escape over fences to go roaming in search of adventure. It is extremely important that they are given enough exercise (at least two 30-minute walks per day or similar exercise), and the more you can vary the activities from day to day the better. Many Siberians enjoy puzzle toys, chew bones, tug-of-war, and toys they can chase, and a lot of them enjoy splashing in a kiddie pool or digging in a sandbox.
If given the right physical and mental stimulation, and with an owner who can appreciate their opinionated, independent personalities, Siberians make a wonderful family pet. We love them with all our hearts, but we also know that they are not the breed for everyone. Do your research, and if you decide a Siberian is right for you, feel free to contact us and fill out our puppy application. We will be happy to help you learn even more about them and find the right dog for your family.
Videos Below are some good videos to get started if you are new to the breed. They come from multiple sources and provide some more information that expands on what we've covered here.
We also highly recommend "Gone To The Snow Dogs," a vlog channel run by a couple with 3 Siberian Huskies from Alpena, MI. We are not affiliated with them in any way, but they are experienced Siberian owners who are very knowledgeable about the breed, and they do many activities including agility and recreational sledding in the winter. Their channel is very educational, and answers a lot of common questions you may have about your new dog or puppy in their weekly "Fan Friday" videos (one linked below).