by Doris Donnerman
(last updated April 6, 2009)
The Siberian Husky belongs to the family of Arctic sled dogs which also includes the Eskimo, Alaskan Malamute, and Samoyed. Next to the Samoyed, he is the most popular among Americans. He is smaller and more refined in build and appearance than either the Alaskan Malamute or the Eskimo, and it is probable that, pound for pound, he is the toughest draft dog that lives.
The origin of the Siberian Husky is obscure, as with the other Arctic dogs. It is tied in with the origin of the Arctic peoples themselves, and this, too, is a mystery. One theory is that the Eskimo migrated from Siberia to Alaska and from thence across the Arctic Circle to Greenland, at least 2,000 years ago. They took with them their dogs, the ancestors of the Malamute and the Eskimo.
Filling in behind the migrating Eskimos were the Chuchis, an Eskimo-like people who settled around the basin of the Kolyma River, and along the foothills of the Cherski Mountains. These people developed the dog which we call the Siberian Husky, but which might more properly be called the Siberian Chuchi.
It is impossible to distinguish this breed from other Arctic dogs in the accounts of early explorers. Baron Wrangell, and others, mentions sled dogs as coming from Kamchatka, the Bering Peninsula, and all the way to Baffin Land and Greenland, but the accounts are not sufficiently explicit to give a researcher in breeds any real clues. Yet even the early explorers were specific about the work the dogs did. They praised them as sled dogs, marveled at their endurance and their extraordinary ability to find a trail.
One account tells of relay stations in Siberia where it was possible to exchange sled dogs for the continuation of a journey. This would indicate that Arctic Siberia had an intricate transportation system, via dogs, many decades ago.
Among other distinctive features, it was reported that the dogs have no body odor; that they howl rather than bark; and that, while killers of other dogs and other animals, they are gentle with humans. In this latter respect, the Siberian Husky appears to have a better reputation than either the Malamute or the Eskimo. This could be from a difference in living habits. The Chuchis and the Samoyeds, that is, the Asiatic Arctic peoples, keep their dogs with them in their dwellings. The North American Eskimos quite generally do not. The dogs live out in the snow and get only a very minimum of human companionship. This tends to make them wilder and more intractable than their Siberian Cousins.
The origin of the name "Husky" is rather unusual. It is said to have been a term given the Eskimos by the early North American explorers. In recent years, it has come to mean any northern dog which is used for sled work, whether or not he is pure-bred. The Siberian Husky is the only breed in which the term has become part of the proper name.
Shortly, after 1900 Americans in Alaska began to hear fabulous accounts of a superior race of sled dogs lying about a thousand miles beyond Alaska, in Siberia. Several teams of these dogs, Siberian Huskies, made their appearance in Alaskan sled races in 1909 and 1910. Thereafter, great numbers of the dogs were imported. They have won a large proportion of sled races since, where mere speed under mild weather and trail conditions were not the only factors.
Tales about the dogs and their prowess and gentleness began to reach the United States. By 1930, fair numbers of them were being brought into the country for breeding purposes. Because of this, and because of the remoteness of the original breeding stock, the breed has not suffered from mongrel crosses to the extent the Malamute and Eskimo have.
The breed's gentleness has helped him to increasing popularity, too, although it must be admitted he has suffered from suspicion engendered by the actions of other Arctic dogs. His smaller size and great beauty also have combined to make him more popular than other Arctic breeds, save only the Samoyed.
The Siberian Husky is an alert, gracefully built, medium-sized dog, quick and light on his feet, and free and graceful in action. He has a strong, moderately compact body; a deep, strong chest; well-muscled shoulders and hind quarters; and straight, strong legs with medium bone. His coat is dense and very soft, and his brush tail is carried curved over his back when at attention, and trailing when in repose. His head presents a finely chiseled and often fox like appearance, and his eyes have a keen and friendly expression.
His characteristic gait is free, tireless and almost effortless when free or on loose leash, but showing great strength when pulling. The trot is brisk and smooth and quite fast. Females are smaller than the males, averaging up to two inches shorter and ten pounds less in weight. Siberian Huskies range in build from moderately compact to moderately rangy, in all builds the bone must be medium, the back powerful and the shoulder height never exceeding 23-1/2 inches. The males usually weigh somewhere between 45 to sixty pounds.
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