I don’t know if you have a similar phrase, but a bucket list includes all the things you want to do before you kick the bucket (or die). I don’t know if Icelanders realize that visiting Iceland is on the bucket list of many Americans. This is one of the reasons I was so delighted to receive the invitation to judge the First Specialty of the Siberian Husky Club of Iceland. Much to our delight, our trip to Iceland was everything we expected, and much, much more. Your country is one of rare natural beauty, but your very best treasure is the population of Iceland. Never have we ever been to a friendlier place. From people in the shops and restaurants to the dog people, you all made us feel welcome and happy to be in Iceland.
Your show location was lovely—I wish we had as lovely a place to hold our local show! From the minute I stepped into the show area, I felt immediately at home; thanks to all of you who speak English so beautifully. I speak a number of languages, but Icelandic is not among them. Thank you for giving me the honor of judging your first Specialty show—I shall remember this trip fondly.
As a judge for the American Kennel Club, our show process is somewhat different than that of FCI countries. Although the classes, judging sequence, and awards are quite similar, in the US judges do not have the opportunity to discuss dogs with the exhibitors. Rather we make our selections and move on to the next class of dogs. And, we must do so quickly, as we are expected to judge 25 dogs per hour—that’s 2.4 minutes per dog. I prefer your judging process, where the judge has adequate time to evaluate the dog, and to provide both written and verbal comments about the dog being exhibited.
Although I was unable to present all dogs with ribbons, I was very impressed with the Siberians in Iceland. I am not sure you realize how good of a job you Siberian breeders, exhibitors, and mushers have done with our Breed. Over such a short time, with a very limited gene pool, and significant importation and quarantine restrictions, you have some very lovely dogs! The vast majority of the dogs I judged have the correct proportions called for in the Standard. Correct Siberian breed type—those characteristics that define a dog as a Siberian—was evident in all the exhibits. There was never a question in my mind that the dogs I judged were Siberian Huskies!
As impressive as your dogs are, so are your Club members, the other Judges in attendance, and the owners and handlers. Your interest in the Breed, in my comments, and just in talking about dogs was very gratifying. One of my favorite classes was where your breeders entered a number of dogs they had bred. This class was so important, as I could see the progress of the breed under the guidance of each breeder. Breeding dogs is a lifelong journey, always trying to produce that perfect example of our Breed. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to be able to speak with your breeders and congratulate them on their hard work, while having the opportunity to offer some ideas and suggestions for future considerations. These are those rare chances where breeders can exchange ideas and help grow in our passion.
And, as pleased as I was with your dogs, there are three areas in which I offer some advice. The first is a suggestion I make with everyone around the world, and that is to improve your shoulders. Siberians do most of their work through their front assembly, and far too many Siberians have shoulders that are too straight with short upper-arms (humerus). When looking for dogs to import, try to find the ones with the best shoulders you can find.
I made a number of comments regarding the condition of some dogs—the dogs’ muscling and overall fitness. I think these comments were a surprise to many, as their dogs had recently finished the sledding season. We all must realize that the Siberian’s original job was to carry a light load at a moderate speed over great distances. This means that they might run 100-150 km day-after-day over varied terrain. Although we run our dogs on teams, few of us have the opportunity to train and run our dogs vast distances and over mountains to get them into peak condition. Just like people, all dogs are different, and some may require longer exercise or different exercise. Check your own dog, feel the hardness of his muscles. You should be able to determine if he is getting enough or the correct type of exercise to be in his best condition.
The most frequent comment I make when judging around the world is about the dogs’ feet. The correct Siberian Husky foot is the very best foot for an endurance sled dog—no other foot compares. But, I see more poor feet on Siberians, especially in many countries. Here is the section of the Standard on feet:
Feet: Oval in shape but not long. The paws are medium in size, compact and well-furred between the toes and pads. The pads are tough and thickly cushioned. The paws neither turn in nor out when the dog is in natural stance. Faults: Soft or splayed toes; paws too large and clumsy; paws too small and delicate; toeing in or out.
This foot, due to its tough, thick pads, has some depth to it. It is oval in shape. It is a tight foot with strength and the ability to act like a snowshoe in the snow. Unfortunately, many of the feet I see are flat with somewhat splayed toes.
There are a number of factors that contribute to poor feet. The first is heredity. And, in a limited gene pool, it is often difficult to eliminate this cause of poor feet. In such cases, however, consideration should be given to proper feet when looking outside for breeding stock. Poor feet can, also, be caused or made worse by other physical characteristics, environmental conditions, or care. A dog’s pasterns act as shock absorbers as a dog runs. Dogs with straight and inflexible pasterns lack that shock absorption, which will transfer the shock to the feet, eventually breaking down a correct foot. Additionally, dogs that run and jump constantly on concrete or other hard surfaces may damage their feet with repetitive stress. Finally, long toenails tend to flatten a dog’s foot over time. Many dogs grind their nails through routine running and playing, but this is not true of all dogs. Pay attention to dogs with long nails and trim them.
So, the messages I would like to leave you with are these. I offer my heartfelt gratitude for doing me the honor of inviting me to judge your first Specialty Show. We send our thanks for the kindness and friendship you all showed me and my husband during our visit. I offer my thanks to you for sharing your beautiful dogs with me. On behalf of Siberian Huskies everywhere, I thank you for the great work you have done with our Breed, which I know will continue. As much fun as the judging assignment was, I also thank you for the opportunity to meet with both owners and judges to share knowledge about our lovely breed. I invite you to consider joining the US Siberian lovers any year at the Siberian Husky Club of America’s National Specialty—come see dogs, meet other Siberian fanciers, and make new friends; we would love to see you! And, finally, thank you for helping with our bucket list, but as is the case with all travel, we didn’t get to see and do everything we wanted to, so we will have to plan a second trip to Iceland to have another adventure and to visit with our new friends.