Siberian Huskies are a subclass of Canis familiaris that most people are probably at least loosely familiar with. Their wolf-like appearance and history of hard work in the unforgiving Arctic makes them a unique and interesting breed. Today's Huskies (also affectionately termed Sibes) are usually kept for family pets, show, or casual racing, but their history and personality continues to shine through, no matter the environ.
Life is like a dogsled team. If you ain't the lead dog, the scenery never changes.
One of the oldest domestic dog breeds, the Siberian Husky was first domesticated among the wilds of, well, Siberia. The Chukchis tribe used the dogs as guards and pack animals, and these traits led to the dog's import to Alaska in 1909. Here, they were used to run sleds during the gold rushes. Because they integrate well in to a pack, can withstand harsh environmental conditions, and are suited to long, hard work, Huskies seemed the perfect choice for this back-breaking labor. Perhaps because gold mining is a touchy business with quick pay-offs, the use of sled-dogs for hauling was often turned toward entertainment instead. Cross-country races such as the All-Alaska Sweepstakes utilized Huskies in their teams, as well. An early proponent of the breed, Leonhard Seppala, immortalized them (through inclusion) in his race to deliver medicine to the diphtheria-stricken city of Nome in 1925. This trip, and the dogs that enabled it, is commemorated yearly with the Iditarod race. Today, however, the Siberian Husky has fallen from the ranks of sled dog glory. They have been replaced with faster hybrid dogs bred specifically for racing. The Husky is now mostly a family dog, though they can be used for pleasure mushing and are often successful show dogs.
Siberian Huskies, though having many standard breed features, are an interesting amalgam of different sizes, colors, and patterns. This diversity is not seen in many other dog breeds, and it is an aspect of the dog that has been taken in to account for breeding and show purposes. Nearly every type of Husky is acceptable for the show ring, though there are some disqualifying and/or faultable traits.
Size: The Husky is a study in Arctic ingenuity. Bred for long hours of hard work, they are a strong and lithe dog. They are built for stamina rather than quick bursts of speed, evident in their lean (rather than stocky) physique. Males should measure somewhere between 21-23.5 inches (53.5-60 cm) tall at the withers, with a proportional weight. This is usually given as somewhere between 45-60 pounds (20.5-28 kg), respectively. Females are 20-22 inches (50.5-56 cm) in height at the withers and a more petite 30-50 pounds (15.5-23 kg) by height. Size is actually the only disqualifying feature of Huskies in the show ring. Other traits may be used to fault the dog and take a few points, but dogs above 23.5” and bitches above 22” can expect to have their Westminster hopes dashed.
Coat: The appearance of bulk, then, is due to the size of their rather impressive pelt. Shaped by harsh climate, the coat is thick and warm-- doubly so. The Husky features a double coat, consisting of a soft, downy undercoat covered by a thicker, more wiry upper coat. If you have ever petted a Husky, you will know that the topcoat is coarse and rather stiff. It is not like, say, that of a Pomeranian, who doesn't need to shed snow and water to avoid freezing to death. There are fluffier, puffier Husky strains, referred to as “wooly coats”. However, this is considered a fault in the show ring, as it obscures the aesthetics of the natural wilderness-bred dog.
The coat of a Husky can be one of any of a large range of colors, from pure white to nearly pure black. In general, the underside, legs, mask, and tail tip of the dog are white. All colorations on the back and face are then left to the discretion of genetics. Colors include, but are not limited to:
Noses: Huskies have a wolfish snout with the typical dog nose. The color of this nose may vary, and is often associated with coat color. Dogs with light coats may often be found to have light-colored noses, or even dappling of the nose. Husky schnozzes also may undergo a phenomenon known as “snow nose”, or hypopigmentation of the nose during the winter months. That is to say, the nosicle of the dog gets lighter in wintertime. Ostensibly, this is due to a lack of sunlight, which I can only assume means a lack of melanin production due to low UV exposure. The science on this is not clear. However, the condition is not at all harmful to the dog, and generally reverses itself when spring rolls around. It is possible that as the dog ages, the condition will become permanent. However, like most things, this does not in any way affect the dog's show quality or work ability, and so it is negligible.
Eyes: The eyes are almond shaped, and, like the coat, come in a huge variety of colors. Some of these include:
One of the most interesting and distinguishing characteristics of the Husky is the blue eye color
, which is not as common among other breeds. Along with this is the ability to exhibit multiple eye colors
on one dog, and occasionally on one eye. The phenomenon of having one brown and one blue (or any other combination) is often thought of as a distinctly Husky characteristic, and is referred to as being bi-eyed
. I knew a girl in high school who sported this look-- it is something out of the ordinary, and she was often referred to as such: “You know, Sharon, with the Husky eyes”. Sometimes, the trend is taken a little further with the introduction of the parti-eyed dog
. These dogs have iris
es that are two different colors. This may be a half-and-half sort of phenotype, with part of the iris being blue
and the other brown, or they may take on the appearance of hazel
eyes, with an inner and outer color ring. While parti-eyed dogs are not especially unusual, it IS somewhat unusual for a dog's eyes to change color as they age. This is something that must be monitored and possibly reported to a vet
, who can tell you if this is just the parti-eye developing, or a hint of some more serious ocular event. Though not prone to many breed-specific problems
, Huskies do get their share of congenital
eye disease. This includes corneal dystrophy
, and cataracts
, so monitoring is a must to ensure proper health for the dog.
Ears: Triangular ears don the crown of this puppy. The ears are medium-sized, and appear proportionate to the size of the dog's head. This is less readily evident in puppies, who can sometimes have a large face compared to their fuzzy little pinna. The ears are very well furred, but this does not impinge on the hearing capabilities of the dog. Ears stand erect on the top of the head, and are slightly rounded on the tips. Show dogs cannot have giant goofy ears, or ears that droop, or they will be penalized.
Other characteristics: The tail is sickle-shaped and thick, featuring the same long, thick fur that the rest of the dog is swathed in. This can give the appearance of a bottle-brush. The tail is long and undocked, as a Husky is not a Shipperke and really doesn't wish to be. The paws of the dog are fairly large, with hairs between the toes that give more traction to the pads as they slip and slide across permafrost.
Old age means realizing you will never own all the dogs you wanted to.
The Husky is, relatively speaking, a rather high maintenance dog. Bred to be active, they cannot be kept for long periods of time with nothing to do. They are energetic and playful, and will find a way to amuse themselves if left alone or with excess energy. Often, this results in a wanton destruction of anything that they can reach. This is only compounded by the fact that they are very curious, and will get in to anything they can. I hope you didn't really like your shoes, or couch, or door frame, because it will be a matter of memory if left to the dog's discretion. Because of their stamina, they are well-suited to outdoor activities that both human and dog can participate in, such as long walks, runs, and general back yard romping. However, the thick coat so suited to work in the Arctic will cause dogs to overheat in more temperate climates. They must be given access to water, shade, and preferably air conditioning to avoid hyperthermia. The coat also poses a problem when the bi-annual shedding season comes around-- that's a lot of hair to lose. Alternately, you can always shave the dog, but this is heavily penalized in the show ring, and is highly ignominious at the dog park.
Because of this high level of activity, Huskies are not really suitable for a low-energy family, or low-energy environment. It is possible to overcome the limitations of small spaces, such as apartments, with extensive exercise, but this can be somewhat difficult.
Huskies are a very intelligent breed. Though they are loyal and friendly, they are unlikely to fall all over their paws just to please their masters. It has been said that the dog will often not perform a task or command unless it can garner some sense of reward or worthiness of said task. Don't flatter yourself; your approval and puppytalk are not enough for a dog with wits. This intelligence can often be detrimental, especially combined with boredom, as stated above. When left to their own devices, Huskies can often figure out that the fence is a path to freedom, and that the only thing between them and sweet wild expanses is a well-manicured sod patch. To prevent digging out of the yard, you may have to reinforce your fence with underground wire. When out, Huskies are prone to hunting behaviors native to their rough and tough wiring. They are very prone to going after small outdoor animals, but can be trained to live well with small children and other pets. Huskies have been known to attack people, but they are not thought to be an overly aggressive breed if properly trained. In fact, they do not make very good guard dogs for this reason. They are more prone to curiousity and friendly investigation than obtrusive vocalization and territoriality. They can be prone to howling, yodeling, and other forms of vocalization, which may or may not be horrifically trying to you and your neighbors.
karma debt says their Husky is "yowley", and doesn't like being argued with about what time of day is appropriate for waking up. Also, said Husky is very good with children, including the little ones.
Overall, the Husky is a storied breed of impressive diversity. Though not ideally suited to a first-time owner, the intelligence and quirks of the breed give it the personality and attractiveness that has earned it a place in so many homes and show rings.
If you know anything else about the breed, or want to share some facts or stories, just let me know.