What is a husky meant to look like?

Recently I've had a series of interactions with Joe Public that suggest many people are very confused about Siberian huskies.

* During a recent SHCV club pet walk, a man stuck his head over his back fence and asked if we were the "Kelpie Club". Huh? 

* Walking near a mum and little boy, the mum says, "oh I think they might be puppies, they don't look full grown" of nearly ten-year-old Frankie & Ishka.

* At the Knox club, Czar and I were standing talking to J, Sausage Man and Bree. A lady approached who wanted to meet Czar and when I suggested she meet Bree too, exclaimed "oh, is that a husky too?" Um, yup, she's a pedigreed pure breed and he's a rescued, assumed Sibe with no history.

Teyah and Bree both look like huskies to me!!

Teyah and Bree both look like huskies to me!!

Meanwhile, within the Siberian-owning community, debate continues about different lines within the breed, specifically show lines and racing lines. Officially, they are all one breed. But anyone with eyes can see that some breeders are producing dogs that look lean, light on for coat volume (especially in warm climates like Australia) with long legs, while others are producing full coated, round bodied, shorter legs dogs that are beautiful-looking but don't necessarily have the capacity to run well in harness.

The problem is that many racing enthusiasts feel concerned that the confusion in Joe Public's mind contributes towards novice breeders and judges favouring the show lines, leading to dogs who will struggle with overheating, with wonky gaits that lead to back injuries, and many other issues when they're asked to work in harness. 

Apologies - I can't remember who put this image together - but it shows some of the variation found in show ring Siberians. 

Apologies - I can't remember who put this image together - but it shows some of the variation found in show ring Siberians. 

One contributing factor is the openness of the breed standard for the Siberian husky. Unlike other breeds which have strict rules about things like coat colour and markings, Sibes are described as

"The Siberian Husky is a medium-sized working dog, quick and light on his feet and free and graceful in action. His moderately compact and well-furred body, erect ears and brush tail suggest his Northern heritage. His characteristic gait is smooth and seemingly effortless. He performs his original function in harness most capably, carrying a light load at a moderate speed over great distances. His body proportions and form reflect this basic balance of power, speed and endurance. The males of the Siberian Husky breed are masculine but never coarse; the bitches are feminine but without weakness of structure. In proper condition, with muscle firm and well developed, the Siberian Husky does not carry excess weight." Source.

The most important criteria here is the function of the dog

"He performs his original function in harness most capably, carrying a light load at a moderate speed over great distances."

but this is the most difficult thing to assess. Joe Public doesn't see Sibes working in harness. Show judges don't see Sibes working in harness. In Australia, most of the racing community only sees Sibes operating in sprint race conditions - light loads of one passenger only, over short distances (about 2km per dog on the team).  So we are left with a plethora of different interpretations of the breed standards, which differ from country to country anyway.

Some breeders try to address the problem by aiming for "dual function" dogs - who as comfortable in harness as they are successful in the ring. But they are hampered by that preconceived notion in the minds of judges and fans of show lines that a husky should be full coated and beautiful, before it is functional.

*Professional handlers urge owners to put a "little more" weight on a dog. Judges suggest young dogs need more muscle, rather than judging them as appropriate for their age category.

*"Flashy" trots are considered more appropriate than efficient loping.

*Piebald coats are rarely seen in the ring, where "classic" markings are favoured.

*Coat volume is maximised in the ring, with dogs who suddenly blow or drop their coat withdrawn from the show, even though the breed standard acknowledges that 

"It should be noted that the absence of the undercoat during the shedding season is normal."

 

Meanwhile, Joe Public looks at most huskies as being "not yet full grown" because they confuse Alaskan Malamutes & Siberian huskies. Bree and Czar have very similar colouring and markings, but differ a lot in height. Bree stands (I think) smack on the average height for females, while Czar is over the maximum height for males by nearly an inch. But the lady in the park saw Czar as a husky, and felt Bree was probably not. 
Czar - too tall, but still my baby!

Czar - too tall, but still my baby!

As for the man who thought we were walking kelpies... I have no idea!