Siberian Huskies – and life in a “breed”.

We have had a nice spring. After the race season, we completed several trips in the mountains, camping, sledding, being with other sled dog friends, some who have alaska huskies that work well, and some have siberians that work well. We all appreciate the best skills of a sled dog, the ability to pull a sled in snow, in various terrains, with heavy loads or less heavy loads, in all sorts of weather, and for a long time. I have mushed in South Norway, Sweden, North Norway, Alaska and on Svalbard.



(Baby siberians from sled dog parents, Longyearbyen)
We added two “home grown” puppies to the pack last year, NOW two strong teenagers who  are good members of the team and have adjusted to sledding without any problems at all. Yakona and Chacko have everything I want in siberians: they are strong, well built, have good feet, good appetite,are friendly, move well, and are extremely social, but need to grow into adulthood. All our dogs like children, people, visitors, guests…….food, running – and especially me.



Little Nikolai, our latest addition – above

After new years we also brought in Nikolai, whose parents have run the Iditarod, and whose mother is Bardus’ littermate, Sisu, from Siberian Sleddogs. He – too – is a big strong friendly siberian, with an unusual color. He has started in the team and does it with no hesitation at all.

My dogs are often somewhat bigger than the script, called the “standard” of a husky. Not because that’s what I want, but because that is what I get when I search the marked for good, proven working abilities in dogs capable of  longer distances. They also tend to outgrow their parents; good nutrition and plenty of exercise trigger growth. Well, that’s fine with me, as long as they do what siberians are expected to do: pull sleds with other dogs. Most of mine are in the upper range of the standard but not really too big, and have won sled dog awards that give them (“Trekkhundchampionat”)  working champion titles. They act like and look like siberian sled dogs.


Dry land training with ATV

I get a bit frustrated when breeders of show quality dogs either disregard the ability to work all together, talk of mediocre pulling ability as being “good”,  or simply do not pay attention to that part of breeding siberians. This is so sad for the development of a super working breed. And unfair to the history of this important breed. I have written about the historic import of SH to Norway in the most recent issue of Mushing. Of course the little group of people who have worked hard to keep this breed alive as a working dog get upset and somewhat alert when people who came into the breed recently  have so loud voices and advocate so visibly for their views, and are so sure their interpretation of the standard is the only correct one; that our part of siberians, the dogs with stamina, well built bodies and tons of experience do NOT get appreciated, but are traded away for furry looking, teddy bear shaped, beautiful little toys that never get to work properly. I mean properly. Not that all people should do competitive sledding or excel in shows. But if your intention is to BREED this fabulous dog, you have an obligation to go into every corner of the description of the dog. .


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Helge Ingstad, myself and a friend, several puppies over the years.

Sled dog siberians run in teams. They also have good metabolism, an ability to rest and regenerate, tolerate extreme weather, find the way in harsh weather and strong winds, obey the musher, work nicely inside their team and tolerate other teams, compete at almost equal level with well trained non-purebred sled dogs. These abilities may get lost if they are not cared for well in breeding.
If siberians are developed into city pets, some of those abilities become a hazzle rather than an asset – city siberians that are not run as sled dogs or have enough active physical challenges, often become escape artists, stray dogs, rescue dogs, accident prone, hard to keep, because their genetic traits to become sled dogs are still there, dormant, but not developed. Not bred for, but not bred away either. Or, even worse – breeders try to get rid of the temperamental traits that make a siberian a good working dog. I have heard from breeders of siberians that ar neither run nor shown, just bred for “looks” (“Disney siberians” with blue eyes, colored coats, face masks are those that sell to the first time buyer): they say “Don’t buy from sled dog breeders, their dogs are just too agile”.


Serious competition – Finnmarksløpet.

Of course most siberians – show siberians and sled siberians and just family siberians – are nice, sweet, lovely, beautiful and wonderful. That is not the issue at all. The issue is about allowing some people to develop a breed deviation where being pretty is the most important criterium, and the work ability is being ignored. No, you cannot say anything about working ability unless the dogs are tested against GOOD working teams. And that is where I get most upset. Because I also started with dogs that pulled a little from day one. But they were not good. They always lost against other teams. I gradually improved the genetic stock of mine. It worked. An NOW I know what a good sled dog siberian breeder should aim for. And that is not pulling a bicycle around the block for fifteen minutes. That is winning the gold, silver or bronze medal in Finnmarksløpet, run the Iditarod, run stage races in Europe,  run Polar Distans or Hallingen, or even club races. Or at least some tests of willingness to work that are similar to these; long expeditions, trips in mountains, endurance challenges.

I still do not breed. I get good dogs from competent and experienced dog mushers. But I know what I look for. I don’t think everyone who has a siberian should have these aims, most are fine in what they are doing. But I think that what breeders should look for – or answer to – is more serious. There are just to many not good enough dogs around. Because people do not have a clue of what it takes to get REALLY good dogs. And end up with frustrations, or resort to running in circles only. Show circles or just circles. Well, I have stopped showing, because I think shows have become for vanity and not for breed preservation. But I like nice looking dogs. I like well built, well tempered, healthy, hard working and friendly sled dog siberians.

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Great sled dog puppies, now grown lead dogs

I have “stolen” – copied – this from someone else’s blog: I think it summarized what I think:

Good breeders know the value of peer review, and they seek out ways to prove their dogs and to “take their temperature” as breeders. However, saying that the only definition of good breeding is breeding for the conformation ring ignores a vast and extremely valuable network of performance and working breeders.

Good conformation is important to ALL dogs. No matter what they do. But it’s nothing but hubris to say that the conformation ring is the only place good breeders evaluate their dogs. Remember that the original point of the conformation ring was to judge working dogs against each other. The working came first.

If your breed is one with a working history, the ability to do its historic job should ALWAYS be the boundaries that shape your breeding efforts. If the conformation ring is the best and most demanding place to test whether you’ve done a good job as a breeder, then you should go there. If it’s not – if the best and most demanding test for how well you’re doing as a breeder is the sheep pen or the field trial or the performance ring – or the sled dog trail – then that’s where you should be. 


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