The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Siberian Husky as a breed in 1930 and placed the breed in its Working Group. The Working Group is a diversified bunch of dogs that also includes Akitas, Great Danes, Newfoundlands, and Rottweilers. The Siberian Husky is a Spitz-type dog, a word that recalls its northern breeding (Spitzbergen is a group of islands in the Arctic Ocean north of Norway). Akitas, Samoyeds, Malamutes, and even the little Pomeranian are all Spitz-type dogs.
The first AKC registered Siberian Husky was a bitch (the term used to refer to female dogs) named Fairbanks Princess Chena, who was born September 16, 1927. Her father was named Bingo. The first Siberian Huskies to become AKC Champions were Pola in 1931 and Northern Lights Kobuk, from the Northern Lights Kennel in Fairbanks, Alaska, the following year.The Siberian Husky breed standard was first published in 1932; it has changed little since that time. The Husky is a dog built for both speed and endurance. He is one of the smallest of the Working Dogs but also one of the quickest. The Husky is, pound for pound, the strongest of all the sled or draft dogs.
The Siberian’s smooth combination of grace and strength makes him a star wherever he goes. In 2019, he ranked 14th in popularity among all 195 AKC breeds, which is a good position. (Too high on the popularity scale invites dangerous overbreeding, whereas too low can indicate a too-small gene pool.)
The keys to a good Siberian are balance, proportion, coat, and temperament. The Siberian Husky standard represents the ideal show dog, the goal toward which breeders strive. No Siberian except yours is perfect, but seeing how close a dog can come to the standard is always interesting and sometimes amusing.
Don’t worry if your own Siberian doesn’t match the standard; many of the best obedience, racing, and companion dogs would bomb out in a show ring.Check out the following figure for an illustration of the external features of a Siberian Husky and refer back to it as you read about the Husky’s different body parts in the following sections.
SizeMales, referred to as dogs in the dog world, should stand between 21 and 23-1⁄2 inches at the shoulder and weigh 45 to 60 pounds. Bitches average slightly smaller — 20 to 22 inches at the shoulder and between 35 and 50 pounds. Weight should be proportionate to height.
Animals taller than the standard would be excused from the show ring as being oversized; however, the extra inches don’t affect a pet’s quality at all. Within the standard, judges don’t give any preference to dogs at either end of the spectrum; a larger dog is as likely to win as a smaller one, and vice versa.
BodyA good Siberian should present a rectangular rather than a square body profile, meaning that the length of the dog from the point of the shoulder to the base of the tail is longer than the height to the shoulders. The ribs should be neither absolutely flat nor oversprung. Olaf Swenson, arctic explorer and Siberian Husky aficionado, believed that a good flank provided energy for long pulls. That idea is retained in the present-day standard. Swenson also said that dogs with great stamina have vertebrae that are higher than those of the average dog, with deep depressions between the knobs. This advice is great to keep in mind.
The topline (or back and rump) of a Husky is level from withers (shoulders) to croup (rump). The Siberian’s body is also a bit longer than his tail. The croup slopes away from the spine at an angle.
The chest should be deep, because it contains the heart and lungs, but not too broad. The shoulder is set at a 45-degree angle to the ground; a straight or loose shoulder is a fault.
Front viewThe Siberian Husky’s legs should be straight and parallel, moderately spaced, with the elbows close to the body.
Back viewThe Husky’s hind legs should be parallel and moderately spaced, with well-muscled upper thighs. Rear dew claws should be removed, because they’re of no use and can easily get caught in something during the dog’s normal movement, hurting the dog.
NeckThe neck is of medium length and should be well-arched. A good neck is very important in the Husky world, because many muscles controlling the front pass through it.
SkullThe head should be medium-sized, slightly rounded at the top, and gradually tapered from the widest point to the eyes. The muzzle should be straight; the point of the muzzle should be neither pointed nor square. The dog should have a pronounced stop (the place where the muzzle meets the forehead), and the head should present a clean-cut appearance. A heavy, clumsy head is a fault; so is a too-thin muzzle.
TeethSiberian Huskies are expected to have a scissors bite, which means that the top teeth fit closely over the lower teeth. A scissors bite is most efficient for catching and devouring prey. A level bite, where the teeth meet evenly, top and bottom, is considered a fault in this breed.
ExpressionSiberians are well known for their keen, mischievous expression, which exudes intelligence and a love of life. They wear a perpetual smile. The black markings around the eyes, nose, and ears are a distinctive characteristic of the breed.
EyesThe Siberian’s eyes may be of any color — brown, blue, or part blue and part brown all in one eye, referred to as parti-colored (or speckled, pinto, or split). The eyes may also be green or amber. The Siberian breed standard accepts dogs with bi-eyes (one of each color). The standard doesn’t prefer one eye color over another, and most breeders don’t either, although many owners have a penchant for those otherworldly ice-blue eyes.
Whatever the color, the eyes should be almond-shaped, and set at a slightly oblique angle; eyes set too close together are a fault. Most experts agree that brown eyes are dominant over blue or green. This means that blue- or green-eyed parents will produce puppies with like-colored eyes.
Puppies who are born with dark blue eyes usually have brown eyes as adults. Those born with light blue eyes, however, will probably retain that color through adulthood.
Except for white and copper Huskies, the rims of the eyes should be black. (The eye rims of white and copper Huskies may match their coats.)
People used to believe dogs are colorblind. Not true, although their daytime eyesight can’t match a human’s. They see green, yellow, and orange as yellowish, and blue and violet as blue. Blue-green looks gray to them. Their night vision, however, is superior to a human’s.
EarsThe Husky’s strongly erect, medium-sized ears are triangular with slightly rounded tips, set high and not too far apart. They should be well-covered with fur, both inside and out. Furry ears are not only cute, but of paramount importance in an arctic dog. (The upright open ears of the Siberian help keep them dry and clean, a definite plus for the Siberian owner.) By the way, erect ears are also better for hearing than floppy ones. Huskies can hear frequencies both higher and lower than humans can; they can hear a frequency range of 40 to 60,000 Hz. A human’s range is much narrower: between 20 and 20,000 Hz.
FeetGood feet are absolutely critical in a dog bred for sled pulling. Siberian feet should be well-supplied with fur between the pads and toes for obvious reasons. The pads themselves should be thick and well-cushioned, an absolute necessity in a sled dog. The feet are oval-shaped and neither too small nor too large, nor should they turn in or out.
TailThe Husky has a fox tail, which means it’s full and bushy all the way around. The hair should be of medium length. While in repose, walking, and pulling a sled, the Siberian usually carries his tail low, but in times of high excitement, the tail often curls over the Husky’s back. The technical term for this carriage is sickle tail. The sickle tail shouldn’t bend either to the left or right but remain curled (not too tightly) over the center of the dog’s back.
Both the curl and furriness of the tail is typical of arctic dogs in general. Both serve a practical purpose, allowing the animal to sleep in a curled position with his sensitive nose buried in the thick warm tail fur, protected from the bitter arctic night. This is the famous Siberian swirl.
Coat textureHuskies have what is called a double coat, which is a soft dense undercoat, with an outercoat of guard hair. The under- and outercoats have contrasting textures. The guard hairs should lie straight and fairly smooth. A silky or harsh outercoat is considered a fault. The hairs are medium in length, and should not obscure the Husky’s profile. (All other northern breeds have long hair.) Conformation (show) dogs sometimes have longer hair than working dogs, but a shaggy coat is never correct.
ColorHuskies may be of any color — or any combination of colors — from pure white to pure black. No preference is given to any particular color. One difference between the AKC standard and the British one is that merle (mottled patches of color) is a disallowed color for Siberians in the U.K. Siberian Huskies often have coat patterns, often spectacular, not seen in other breeds.
Color is a complicated topic. For one thing, no single gene is responsible for causing a dog to be any particular color. Scientists have identified at least ten genes for dog hair color patterns, as well as color type, distribution, and intensity; genes are also responsible for the characteristic Siberian mask. In Siberians, the undercoat and top coat of guard hairs may be of two different colors or shades. In addition, colors appearing on young dogs may change over time. Masks appear and disappear. Coats may change from dark to light, or vice versa. Some even change from dark to red. I have a friend whose Husky changes shade with every shed!Most dog breeds have particular colors or patterns associated with them that are included in their respective breed standards. Samoyeds, for example, are always white, and Labradors are yellow, black, or chocolate. Not so for the Siberian.
A Husky who has individual hairs all of one color is called a monochrome dog. This is true even if some of these individual hairs are white and some are yellow. In a monochrome dog, the individual hairs aren’t banded (covered with white or yellow), even though one dog may have hairs of several different colors. Monochrome dogs may be white, copper, or black. Other colors, like gray, sable, and agouti, are never monochromes. The opposite of a monochrome is a banded coat.
The Board of Directors of the Siberian Husky Club of America approves the following color descriptions: black and white, gray and white, red and white, sable and white, agouti and white, and solid white. In ordinary parlance, the word white is left off when referring to a dog’s color, unless, of course, the animal is solid white.
- Black and white: Black and white Siberians come in the following shades:
- Jet black: The guard coat is solid black, and the undercoat is black, charcoal, or dark gray. This is known as a monochrome coat. These hairs aren’t banded, although occasionally a single white hair or two pops up. Most jet black dogs also have black pigment on their pads and the roofs of their mouths.
- Black: The black guard hairs may be banded and some white may appear near the roots. The undercoat is a lighter color than that of the jet black dog; in fact, some buff-colored hairs may appear.
- Dilute black: The guard hairs have a whitish banding, but the tips are black. The undercoat has a whitish cast and the longer hairs on the back and head are black. The shorter white hairs of the undercoat give the flanks a silvery cast.
- Gray and white: Gray and white Siberians come in the following shades:
- Silver gray: The guard hairs are banded with various tones of white. The undercoat is whitish, giving the dog a silvery aspect, with a little darkening along the spine. This silvery tone is called the chinchilla.
- Gray: The guard hairs are banded with cream or buff tones with black tips. The undercoat has a beige or yellow tone, giving the dog a yellow/gray cast.
- Wolf gray: The guard hairs are banded with buff near the roots and are tipped with black. The undercoat is cream, giving the dog a warm brown/gray cast.
- Red and white: Red and white dogs are sometimes called copper. In copper dogs, no black hairs are evident. The guard hairs are banded with various shades of solid colors other than black. Red and white Huskies always have liver-colored points (eye rims, ears, noses, and lips). If two copper Siberians are mated, the puppies are almost certainly copper. Copper Siberians may have eyes of amber or blue, but never brown.
- Sable and white: Guard hairs are banded with red near the roots but are tipped with black. Sable and white Siberians always have black points and black tipping on the fur. The entire dog has a reddish cast. This color is rare.
- Agouti and white: The guard hairs are banded with black at the roots and tips with bands of yellow or beige in the middle of the hairs. The undercoat is charcoal. The saddle area of the dog often has a grizzled look to it. Agouti is defined as the wild color. The Siberian Husky Club goes on to note that this is the color “most frequently seen in wild rodents,” but I don’t know that they actually needed to say that. (Technically, they’re correct, though. An agouti is a tropical South American rodent, about the size of a rabbit. It has barred hairs, resulting in distinctive alternating light and dark bands.) For some reason, the agouti color is seen more often in racing lines than in other Siberians. Agoutis usually have very black whiskers and black toenails.
- Solid white: The guard hairs are either pure white or banded with very pale cream at the roots, although an occasional black hair may be present. The undercoat is solid white or silver, and the points may be either black or liver-colored. Most Siberian Husky lovers prefer that white dogs have black points, although there is no rule about this. White is a recessive color in Siberians; if two white Siberians are bred, all the puppies are white as well. Many breeders think, however, that the best color (solid white with black points) comes from breeding a dark parent (which carries a white gene) to a solid white. In this case, 50 percent of the puppies are solid white.
NoseThe Siberian’s nose should be black for gray, tan, or black dogs; liver for copper or red dogs; and flesh-colored for white dogs. A pink-streaked snow nose is also allowable. The snow nose may be seasonal, disappearing in the summertime. (Actually, the whole nose doesn’t disappear, just the pinkish color.) The appropriately named snow nose is quite common among Siberian Huskies.
Smell is the most important sense for dogs and is far keener than a human’s. Dogs and wolves can not only smell things humans can never detect, but they also can tell how old a smell is because the characteristics of any scent alter subtly over time, which is an incredibly useful ability. For example, the recent scent of a prey animal will stir optimism in the hungry canine breast, but if the scent is hours old, it may as well be disregarded. That rabbit is long gone.
Although you can’t tell just by looking, the noseprint of every dog is unique, just like human fingerprints. In fact, noseprints have been used to identify one dog from another. Unlike microchipping, you can’t change or remove the nose pattern.