Archive for August 2017

Siberian Huskies – what should they look like?

August 24, 2017

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a great step to knowledge – Benjamin Disraeli

There has been a fascinating thread on the Facebook page of the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain. And I am delighted to say it been almost entirely polite and positive. It began when an owner posted a question which intrigued me. She said: ‘Hello. I am new to all of this and I’ve recently been told that both my dogs are more working type than show type. Does anybody on here have workers as well as show dogs? Ever since I was young I have always watched Crufts and wanted to show dogs. I go to ring craft with both dogs and we are doing well but I went to our first show last weekend and noticed the other dogs were different body types and it has upset me to the point where I keep thinking I do not have as much chance as they are not the right dogs for showing.’ (I have edited the post slightly). I think this is where Facebook shows itself at its best and the thread has been very supportive of of the exhibitor with many offers to meet at shows and help her – precisely what I would hope all breed clubs and exhibitors would do.

We too quickly forget what the breed was originally established to do

I was intrigued because the thread throws up once again the differences which develop over time within a breed: differences which gradually divide it as breeders follow through on their own ideas about what the breed should look like – unfortunately often forgetting what the breed was established to do. We see it in German Shepherd Dogs, Border Collies and many Gundogs (and other breeds too), often causing rifts between all-breed judges and between specialists who all too often take one side or another, interpreting the breed standard in a way that fits their personal perception of their breed. Because most specialists will have a commitment to one or the other ‘types’ their placings over time will inevitably tend to increase divergence. In theory, all-breed judges should be looking for something mid-way between the extremes although unfortunately, as many lack confidence, there is a tendency for them to go for the showy, more glamorous and usually larger, heavier type (or even just those being shown by people they know, of course). Where all-breed judges really understand the breed this might help redress the balance but given the above it merely adds to the confusion.
The reasons for the divergences will be different in most breeds although as far as gundogs are concerned there is a consistent tendency for breeders of show dogs to concentrate more on expression, substance or coat rather than the structure or musculature required for the field. In other instances, GSDs being an excellent example, an obsession develops with what is required in the country of origin (often based on a misunderstanding and distortion of soundness and structure (see my previous articles on this subject at http://www.davidcavill.wordpress.com) so the changes are embedded in other countries too. I have judged GSDs in India and the experience was disappointing.
I suggested these were the reasons why there is a distinct divergence in Siberian Huskies. My explanation was oversimplified, as was quickly (and rightly) pointed out by specialists on the thread, but nevertheless I believe there is a great deal to be said for this theory.

I wrote, ‘I am sure many people appreciate your dilemma, Sophie, and the problem you have come across is endemic in a number of breeds. As far as Siberians are concerned there is at least a relatively simple explanation and it is all to do with the work which they do – although not everyone will agree with me. Huskies were originally bred to guard and help move ‘stuff’ about for their owners who lived largely in lands where snow and ice comprise most of the environment. They needed to be strong, hardy and have stamina but over the years the needs of their owners divided them into two generalised types: those similar to the heavier Eskimo Dog, Greenland Dog and Alaskan Malamute which were used to pull heavy loads (the Alaskan Malamute has been described as the ‘carthorse of the Arctic’) and those more suited to carrying lighter loads over long distances. Competitions such as the Iditarod popularised a lighter dog but it still had to have excellent musculature and immense stamina. So far so good. However, when the breed was introduced into a more ‘normal’ environment there was still an understandable and admirable ambition among owners to work their dogs but the snow and ice opportunities were few and far between. To solve the problem, wheeled carts were introduced which provided such opportunities but the demands of the modern world and the number of people who wanted to be involved meant that races needed to be relatively short if the various categories were to be accommodated. To win, speed was more important than stamina and so breeders, again understandably, began to select and breed dogs which were ‘racers’ which could cover the ground faster. The consequence was a lighter, finer type. They are still Siberian Huskies and there are many judges who prefer them: it just takes time for you to become familiar with what each judge believes to be correct.

My own view, as one who has been judging the breed since it was first recognised by the Kennel Club, and as many Siberian owners will tell you, is for what I consider to be the type which would best work in their original environment. That does not make me ‘right’ it is, after all, just my opinion and others will select different examples of the breed. Good luck: becoming successful in the world of dogs takes time but I promise you that it is worth it. You will make many friends, some enemies but it will always be interesting and exciting.’

As you can imagine the response has been very varied, some supportive, some clearly stating that I did not understand the breed while others have sent private messages of support saying that they would be uncomfortable doing so publicly for they feared being bullied. I think this last is a great shame because the conversation/s on the thread which took place over three days was, although spirited, always civilised.

Understanding the unique character and structure of the Spitz breeds

Some have suggested that as I am not a breed specialist I have no right to become so deeply involved in this discussion. I do not agree: in my view breeds benefit from receiving a considered outside perspective, especially when they find themselves grappling with these particular dilemmas. In any case I do have some knowledge other than just judging the breed and attending seminars. I was lucky because when the breed first came into the UK, I was show manager of the Nordic Show, helping to run the ‘Spitz Spectacular’ at Ascot and writing my first book, All About the Spitz Breeds (still available for a few pence on the Internet even though it is very much out of date) so I was already doing research with the help of such committed Spitz breeds breeders as Jenetta Parkyns (Alaskan Malamutes and Eskimo Dogs), Jean Sharp (Bale) and Mike Stockman, (Keeshonds), Len Hammond (Schipperkes), Averil Cawthera senior (Pomeranians), Betty Moody (Samoyeds), the mother and daughter duo, Liz and Sally Leitch with their partner Ali Coops) among many others, all of whom had wonderful archives and helped me to begin to understand the unique character and structure of this most attractive group. Consequently, although not a specialist I believe I have enough experience and knowledge to comment constructively.

Unfortunately, words are very often not as descriptive as they might be and several contributors, because of my initial remarks, made the assumption that I was in favour of the rather heavy, often showy types which often do well under all-breed judges in the UK. This is not the case (as my judging record clearly demonstrates) and I referred those involved in the conversation to Sally Leich’s brilliant article (originally circulated to all those on the Siberian Husky Judges List as a ‘briefing note’) which was reprinted in both Our Dogs and Dog World back in 2014. You can read it by clicking on the ‘Download’ button at http://www.huskyrides.co.uk/#/articles-links/4586787382.
I suggest for further reading The Siberian Husky, A Guide to Soundness and Type (1975 and updated in 1990) and the 25th Anniversary Yearbook published in 2002/3, all published by the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain.

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