BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SIBERIAN HUSKY
One - Siberian Origins
Mick Brent - Dreamcatcher Siberian Huskies/The Siberian Husky Welfare
- Siberian Sled dogs photographed circa 1901 by Vladimir Jochelson/Dina
Brodskava during the Jessup North Pacific Expedition)
dogs we now know as Siberian Huskies are an amazing example of selective
breeding over time to produce a form which perfectly fits the function for which
they were developed. Imagine the complex specifications if we tried to produce
such a breed today:
want a breed which will:
Siberian Husky, which is directly descended from the sled dogs developed over a
period of several thousands of years by the Chukchi people of North-East
Siberia, fulfils all these "functions" within its beautiful and
Chukchi People, whose
name was derived either from the Chukchi word "chukcha" meaning
"rich in reindeer", or the Russian "chavchu"
meaning "reindeer people," were primarily a reindeer-herding people
living inland on the tundra with their reindeer herds. Like the Saami of
Lapland, the nomadic herders used their reindeer products to make tools,
clothing, dwellings and, of course, provide the basis of their diet and their
smaller section of the Chukchi people - the "maritime: Chukchi - lived in
summer coastal villages and hunted seal, walrus and whales for their food and
used dog sleds for transportation. The landscape of Chutotka (the Chukchi land)
is dominated by tundra interspersed with low mountains, with some areas of taiga
in the south and west. The wildlife found in Chukotka includes Caribou (this is
in addition to the domestic reindeer that are maintained in herds, wolves, bears
(grizzly and polar), arctic fox, walrus, seal, whale, cranes and a variety of
arctic birds. Summer temperatures can be very warm while the winters are
(literally) arctic. Chukotka has the widest seasonal temperature variation of
anywhere in the world.
maritime Chukchi lived in summer villages of between 10 and 20 tents - twice the
size of the reindeer herding Chukchi villages. These was considerable contact and
trade between the two groupsand indeed, in some areas, both groups lived
together and cultivated a lifestyle which included both reindeer herding and
sled dogs were crucial to both the survival of the maritime Chukchi and the
viability of their communities. Many of the characteristics still seen in
today's Siberian Husky have their origin in the Chukchi dogs going back several
millennia. Their temperament, for example, had to be equable enough for them to
coexist peacefully with both humans and other dogs. They could work amicably as
part of teams of 20 or more dogs and their temperament was a crucial survival
factor - out on the ice in freezing arctic temperatures, a major dog fight could
mean tragedy if injured dogs meant that the team and the family froze to death.
The Chukchi dogs were also sweet tempered enough to sleep with the children as
"doggy duvets." Night time temperatures were measured by the number of
dogs necessary to keep the kids warm - eg three dog night, four dog night etc.
economic and social importance of the Chukchi's dogs was also reflected in their
place in the Chukchi religion and mythology. A Chukchi legend held that two sled
dogs guarded the gates of heaven where they had the power to reject anyone who
had been cruel to dogs during their time on earth. Another legend claimed that
during a time of famine, both human and dog populations were at risk of being
wiped out by hunger. Only two baby puppies still remained alive, but with their
mother dead, they had little chance of survival. A Chukchi woman suckled the
pups at her breast so ensuring the survival of the breed and the co-dependent
nature of the human-dog relationship. Ironically, this situation was to be
replicated in reality during the 1860's when the breed's survival was again
threatened by famine. This time the Chukchi's sled dogs survived by judicious
outcrossing to other local breeds (see below).
conventional wisdom concerning the origins of the breed, claims that the Chukchi
dogs were direct descendants in an unbroken line of pure breeding dating back
some 1000, 2000 or 3000 years (depending upon which book/article/website you
choose to believe). The reality is somewhat more complex and interesting. Many
of the indigenous Siberian peoples have used sled dogs as transportation and
have done so for thousands of years. Indeed, the 3000 year benchmark so often
used in discussion of Siberian husky history may itself be a serious
underestimate. The distinguished Russian archeological researcher N.N.Dikov,
found evidence of Laika-type dogs in burials in the Kamchatka peninsular dating
back 10,000 years.
Sledding Way of Life in Kamchatka - B.I. Shiroky - P.A.D.S. Newsletter #5)
fact, the Siberian Husky and the Alaskan Malamute (along with 12 other breeds)
have been identified as amongst 14 "ancient breeds" of domesticated
dog whose genetic\lines have been distinct from the wolf for many thousands of
years. Interestingly this research shows that the recurrent myth about northern
peoples' interbreeding of dogs and wolves is just that - a myth with no
historical or genetic truth to it at all.
Structure of the Purebred Domestic Dog" - Science,
Vol 304, May 21st 2004)
may be that the Koryaks, the Iukagirs, the Chukchi, the Kamchadals and the many
other paleo-Siberian peoples, at some time in their history were so
geographically, culturally and economically isolated from each other tha
long interchange between the peoples of Siberia and the natives of Alaska did
exist from ancient into modern times."
Douglas Tanner Jr. - Alaskan trails, Siberian Dogs pp15)
It is very likely that some interbreeding of their dogs may well have been the occasional result of such interaction. Indeeed, an archeological excavation of ancient Ipuitak sites at Point Hope in Alaska in the 1940's recovered dog remains some 2000 years old, which were positively identified by scientists as those of Siberian dogs,\not local Alaskan breeds.
Douglas Tanner Jr. - Alaskan trails, Siberian Dogs pp15)
evidence of such possible interbreeding over the millennia can be seen from the
fact that the research into "ancient breeds" referred to above, also
found that genetically, the Alaskan Malamute and the Siberian Husky were very
addition, the Alaskan Malamute is shown to be very closely related to the
Siberian Husky, and its place of origin is far western Alaska, across the Bering
Strait from the homeland of the Siberian Husky's ancestors."
- "New breakthrough in dog genetics"
more recently (as mentioned above) a devastating series of famines suffered by
the Chukchi people during the 1860's, resulted in the death of the vast majority
of their dogs. Many died of starvation and some were killed and eaten by
desperate Chukchi to feed their families.
& Foley - The Siberian Husky)
After this devastation, the Chukchi gradually re-established their sled dog stock by breeding their few remaining dogs with other available breeds including\primarily the smaller, red, foxlike Tungus Spitz.
& Foley - The Siberian Husky)
the dogs above - the shaggier 'wolflike' one and the smaller, flatter coated 'foxlike'
one (photographed in 1904) are Chukchi dogs.
the middle of the 17th Century, increasing exposure to Russian influence -
culturally, politically and economically - began to change aspects of Chukchi
Russians first encountered the Chukchi in 1642, when the Cossack Ivan Yerastov
met them on the Alazeya river. In the 1640's, the Russians built two forts on
the Kamchatka, and commercial traders, fur trappers and hunters used these forts
as a base and established permanent contact with the Chukchi. This contact
brought many problems to the Chukchis. Diseases like influenza, mumps, smallpox
and so forth spread amongst the population, and alcoholism became a problem as
Russian traders often paid with vodka."
Centre for Russian Studies (NUPI) - http://www2.nupi.no/cgi-win//Russland/etnisk_b.exe?Chukchi
the second half of the 17th and most of the 18th Century, the peoples of Siberia
(and particularly the Chukchi - who were known as "the Apache of the
north!" because of their fierce resistance to invasion) came under
increased military, commercial and cultural pressure from Czarist Russia. The
crack Czarist Cossack troops pursued a policy of genocide against the Chukchi,
and in a series of skirmishes, the Chukchi with their dog sleds, managed to
outrun them and avoid a final showdown. In 1649, Anadyr was established as a
fortified outpost city for the Russian empirebut over the next 100 years or so
it became a huge drain on Russian resources.For the period between 1710 and
1764, the maintenance of the fort at Anadyrsk had cost some 1,380,000 roubles,
but the area had returned only 29,150 roubles in taxes. The Russians controlled
the land, but not the people and it was costing them dear. The Cossacks were
extraordinary warriors, but they did not understand either the terrain or the
arctic conditions and suffered terrible losses (due to the inhospitable
conditions - not the Chukchi). After a series of brutal military campaigns,
Russia decided to try a different tack and tried to control Chukotchka through
trade rather than violence. A treaty was made with the Chukchi giving them
for the Chukchi, what defeated them in the end was firstly the consequences of
opening Chukotchka to trade, and secondly the bureacratic"need" of the
new communist rulers of Russia (after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution) to control
and standardise everything in the name of "proletarian efficiency."
The new Soviet Union initially offered a free trade deal to the Chukchi. The
inadvertent side effect of increased trade was the importation of a smallpox
epidemic. The Chukchi people were decimated. Having inadvertently weakened the
Chukchi with disease, the Soviets removed the velvet glove and deliberately
executed all the Chukchi village leaders (who also happened to be the most
experienced and successful dog breeders). The Soviets then set up their own dog
breeding programmes designed to create the perfect Peoples Sled Dog.
As if this level of bureacratic control-freakery was not enough, in 1952 the Soviets issued a statement denying that the Chukchi dog had ever existed as a distinct breed and that the "siberian husky" was a US created breed whose origins had nothing to do with Siberia. Amazingly enough, although the Soviet Union is now itself history, many contemporary Russian dog historians still hold to this 'official' view. To confirm this, simply browse the website of the Russian "Primitive Aboriginal Dogs" (PADS) organisation - the Siberian Husky is not amongst the aboriginal dogs they recognise.
would be appropriate to mention that the Americans have developed and breed sled
dog named the Siberian Husky and the term Husky can be translated as 'Laika.'
However, this breed, in our understanding, does not have any relationship to
Siberian dogs as I understand them. The Siberian husky is a cultivated
specialised breed, which American cynologists obtained by selective breeding our
sled dogs imported from northeastern parts of Chukotka, The Kolyma River and
Northern Dogs - B.I.Shiroky - in PADS Newsletter #8
understandable in one sense - after all, the Siberian Husky may no longer be
regarded as a primitive aboriginal breed, it does seem strange to deny its
relationship to such dogs - after all, every single Siberian Husky in the world
has ancestry going back to the handful of entire dogs/bitches imported into the
US in the early part of the 20th Century.
entire Siberian Husky breed goes back to the same dozen dogs of the 1930's:
Kreevanka, Tosca, Tserko, Duke, Tanta of Alyeska, Sigrid III of Foxstand, Smokey
of Seppala, Sepp III, Smoky, Dushka, Kabloona, Rollinsford Nina of Marilym.
There are two or three others none of which would constitute more than one half
of one percent of a dog's pedigree today."
Bragg - http://seppalasleddogs.com/seppala-breeding-5.htm
as a result of Russian invasion, famine, disease and Soviet politics, the
Chukchi dog, as a distinct breed of Siberian 'Laika' no longer exists in any
meaningful numbers, if at all, in its native land. Having said that, sled dog
enthusiasts in Kamchatka are working with the few remaining aboriginal dogs to
re-establish the Kamchatka sled dog, and as part of that programme, initiated
the Beringia sled dog race - the longest sled race in the world at nearly 2000
kilometers long.The race is run from a village in Kamchatka (eg Esso)
through Palana in the Koryak region, to a village in the far north (eg Markovo).
The Esso-Markovo route at 1980km is the longest sled dog route in the world and
takes three weeks to complete.
Beringia Race - from http://www.thearctic.is
as the breed came under increasing threat to its very existence in its own
homeland, it began to gain a foothols in a new continent only a few miles away
across the Bering Straits. Sled dogs had been used in Alaska for millennia, just
as in Siberia. The influx of thousands of people as a result of the Klindike
Gold Rush had led to a massive increase in the need forsled dogs. Thousands of
dogs (often totally unsuited to work in arctic/sub-arctic conditions) were
brought north f4rom Canada and the US. Jack London's "Call of the
Wild" is a fictionalised tale of one such dog - 'Buck,' a St. Bernard
new population of Alaska, often with money in their pockets, needed R&R
after their exertions in the gold fields. Gambling joints, saloons and brothels
flourished, as did the new sport of sled dog racing. Probably started by drunken
bar-room boasts abou t who had the better or faster teams, the sport of sled dog
racing soon featured organised events. The Nome Kennel Club was formed and
organised the biggest of the events - the All Alaska Sweepstakes Race. First run
in April 1908, the race was soon to become an annual \event and the showcase for
the extraordinary abilities of the "little Siberian rats."
Siberian Husky Welfare Association (UK) 2008