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History Of The Siberian Husky

This website was put together in April/May 2020, during the Covid 19 lockdown.

 

Siberian Huskies are a natural and ancient breed of sled dog, developed by the Chukchi Indians over many centuries of co-dependence. These highly social, friendly and intelligent dogs earned their keep by pulling the Chukchis' sleds swiftly across vast tracts of inhospitable hunting grounds, where speed, stamina and hardiness were crucial for survival.

 

Siberian Huskies are behaviourally in many ways similar to pack-living wild canids like the wolf. In their native Siberia they were primarily working sled dogs for much of the year, at least while snow was on the ground, being used for hunting trips and passenger transport. The Chukchi Indians lived in small communities and the dogs became family members as well as invaluable working dogs. Some of them have a degree of reserve with strangers but generally their tendency is to see everyone as a friend and their almost complete lack of a guarding instinct can be seen as a reflection of the fact that they have little concept of people ever being a threat. You do get the odd shy Siberian occurring naturally in the breed, but these would be more inclined to run away from strangers than behave like a guard dog. During the short Siberian summer it is believed that the dogs would come and go as they pleased and would fend for themselves, sometimes hunting and cooperating as a pack, similar to the wolf.

 

It is just over a 100 years since the first Siberians officially came into Alaska, so one can understand why the hunting instincts are still so very strong in the breed. Although the first documented arrival of Siberians in Alaska was 1908, it is more than likely that there was trading and interchange of dogs much earlier than this, which was the time of the Alaskan Gold rush early in the twentieth century. At this time Nome became a popular destination for prospectors, and sled dogs became vital for survival to a much wider group of people. So when Siberians came across the Bering Straits into Alaska in l908, everyone there depended on their sled dog teams and good working dogs were highly valued. Most people had quite big dogs, some Alaskan Malamute types and some of mixed breed. Sled racing was just becoming established and the highly prestigious 408 mile race, the ‘All Alaskan Sweepstakes’, had been run for a couple of years. Not many people were impressed when the Russian fur trader William Goosak arrived in Nome with a team of dogs from Siberia. They were very different in type to the local dogs – much smaller and more lightly built, with a fox-like appearance. Many local mushers were scornful of these little dogs and they were nicknamed ‘Siberian rats’. But a young Scotsman called Fox Maule Ramsey (second son of the Earl of Dalhousie) soon took an interest in these fox like dogs with their athletic build, energy, stamina and obvious, wiry toughness and he became very impressed by their working ability. They clearly had phenomenal focus and drive while working and were very fast, covering a lot of distance without much apparent effort. They might have been smallish dogs in comparison to the heavier boned, freighting type dogs most people had in those early gold rush days, but he could see the advantages of this and they were clearly exceptional working sled dogs in every way and so, in the summer of 1909 he brought some 70 of them into Alaska. In 1910 he entered three teams of his Siberian Sled Dogs into the 'All Alaska Sweepstakes' and when they finished 1st, 2nd and 4th in that race, people started to look at these dogs in a VERY different light!!!! Ramsey himself was driving the team that came 2nd.

It was not long after this that the Norwegian-born Leonhard Seppala came onto the scene and he soon discovered the excellent working qualities of these Siberian dogs and became one of their biggest supporters and advocates. Teams of these dogs went on to win the Sweepstakes for four consecutive years before the race was discontinued. Seppala continued his close association with the breed, performing numerous feats of courage and endurance, the most notable being the serum run when his team covered some 340 miles, in often treacherous conditions, to deliver some much needed diphtheria vaccine to the desperate and disease-stricken Nome.

Eventually Seppala introduced Siberians to the lower 48, notably New England in the 1930s, where he did demonstrations and helped to get the sled dog sport over there started. The breed and sled dog racing have been gaining in popularity ever since and can now be found in numerous countries world-wide; sled dog racing is even popular in places like Australia.

 

Originally Siberians were used entirely for working and racing, but quite early in their history in America a couple of influential breeders started to breed for the show ring and to select for certain striking characteristics such as the “Irish”-marked black and white with blue eyes. Whether it was deliberate or not is open to debate; however, with this emphasis on colour and markings, working attributes tended to take a back seat and were sometimes completely forgotten in breeding selections and thus the show type of Siberian was started!!