Recently we've seen a number of posts across various online forums all circling back to the same frustrations. The new owner who was sold a "Show Puppy" or a future "Working Dog" that didn't pan out. Only to find out the puppy was purchased through a breeder who isn't proving their lines to what they are presenting them as. It's frustrating, we know, we've been there too! It took a lot of education through mentors, guidance, and countless hours of self education through online sources. With this being said, we know that even the best laid plans sometimes do not pan out...that is just sometimes how it goes.
However, these posts prompted this question in our minds- Why, if you have a specific goal in mind with your dog, would you not go to a reputable breeding program who is not only breeding dogs capable to fit your goals, but also are actively proving their dogs in the function you are hoping to get into with your dog? Lets face it, puppies are cute. Puppies sell. Unfortunately, if you are not prepared there are those people who are willing to take advantage of this fact. You won't find your next show puppy in a random back yard breeder's program, just as you likely won't find the next Togo prancing around a 10x10 show ring.
Now, we do not wish to confuse this with companion pet purchases. We truly feel any dog is capable of being a wonderful family companion, though we continue to strive to educate toward responsible breeding programs and reputable rescue programs! Every puppy bred deserves to be born healthy and structurally correct.
Show prospect vs. "Show" prospect
So you are ready to add a puppy to your life and the thought strikes, maybe I'd like to show my puppy! Every puppy is cute, that we can't deny...but what really makes a dog a 'show dog'? What attributes are breeders determining make a puppy show quality? How do breeders evaluate their puppies as 'show quality' or not? Can a breeder who doesn't show really evaluate their puppies as show quality? Do a couple past Champions in a pedigree guarantee me a show puppy out of the parents today? These are just some of the questions to ask yourself when meeting breeders and evaluating if their program will be a fit for your goals. Alice Watt put together a wonderful piece on Selecting A Show Dog. I reference this write up frequently when thinking of adding a future show prospect or while evaluating my own dogs.
Finding a breeder who is successful in the show ring themselves will be a helpful thing to look for when searching for a puppy to show. These breeders will likely have winning rosettes, Official win photos from the shows, certificates of champion titles. Just to list a couple of identifiers to look for. These breeders, being active in showing themselves, should have a good foundation of knowledge to properly evaluate their litters for show prospects. We suggest checking the SHCA Breeder Referral List to find ethical breeders local to you who are active in breed activities.
Ethical show breeders are breeding with specific goals in mind. Often only breeding when they are ready to add to their own showing program. They should be health testing their breeding stock for, at minimum, all heritable disorders within the breed.
Working Dogs vs "Working" Dogs
This area is one that is becoming more and more crucial to fully research your breeder before you buy. With the recent changes in the APHIS Animal Welfare Act many non-working kennels are falsely labeling themselves as "Working" kennels to skirt some of the changes placed into effect. Some of the things you can look for are training equipment on site, such as harnesses, carts, ATVs, etc. Look at the actual condition of the dogs on premises. It's a pretty safe bet a true working kennel will have dogs who's structure and physical conditioning reflect the work that they participate in. If the dogs are grossly out of condition, or do not have the proper structure, you can probably figure they aren't actually working their dogs. At least not seriously enough to consider them a true working kennel. When evaluating working dogs I refer back to one of my own mentors Karen Yeargain and her blog Evaluating Functional Structure.
Much like show breeders, a working kennel will often have mementos of their racing career and/or individual dog sled dog degree certifications. Also, much like responsible show breeders, a true working dog breeder breeds with specific goals in mind ad often only when they are ready to expand or perpetuate their own running program. Since each musher has their own goals and desires in their running dogs, the widest variety in the breed, in my opinion, can be seen here. A successful sprint Siberian, may not look the same as a successful distance racing Siberian. Neither are truly incorrect...though you may find the look may become extreme from the "calendar puppy" look. A quality working Siberian may not 'fit' the show ring look, but bred with as much care and due diligence to the breed.
If you are interested in running dogs in harness you should take the time to identify what your running goals are or may be. Finding a working kennel who's style of running most closely matches your goals will be a great help in meeting your goals.
One of the things you may find with working dog breeders that may be different from show breeders is limited health testing. Most are consistent in their eye exams, not all are testing hips on the x-ray table. You may find hip testing being done when they are bringing in outside lines, breeding out to other kennels, or on a limited bases to verify things are still matching what they are seeing on the trail within their own lines. This is something we don't necessarily disagree with, as long as the trail mileage is adequate to prove the hips on the trail. We do not condone lax testing in recreational or amateur running kennels. We also do not agree with claiming past working lines within the pedigree as enough cause to not health test. No line of Siberian is immune to being carriers of genetic disease. In order to adequately prove the hips on the trail it takes a true dedication to running dogs in harness that you will not be able to accomplish running a few recreational miles every other day, or every week.
The Dual Purpose Dog
Just being a Siberian Husky does not automatically make a capable sled dog. Though it is true that a structurally sound, correctly built, typie dog should be able to easily accomplish work on the trail as well as present well in the ring. This is not always the case. Even the best structured dog may lack working drive...or the reverse being the dog that has drive but a body that isn't quite structurally capable of performing his job, regardless of how he does in the show ring. Probably more disappointing (in my opinion) is, regardless of how a dog performs in harness does not guarantee even a look in the show ring.
If you do decide that you are wanting a dog that could potentially do it all, it is again best to find that breeder who is active in both showing and harness work. They are out there! Though the gap between working and showing is present, and some would even say widening, you can still find programs that participate in a variety of breed activities. You'll likely see evidence of all activities they participate in as mentioned earlier. The overall structure you may find is often a moderate representation of each sides of the breed.
The main thing to consider, as you are deciding if now is the time to add a puppy to your life, and what is it you are hoping to accomplish with this puppy and find a breeding program that most closely reflects your own goals before deciding to buy. There is nothing wrong with waiting for that right breeder and that right puppy to arrive! Enjoy the process and most importantly, when that right puppy comes along, enjoy all you two can accomplish and enjoy together!
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Growing up in Montana my love of the Siberian Husky started at a young age. It has been quite a journey so far. There has been much to learn and still a lot more yet to learn! I truly believe that we are never too old, too experienced, or too full of ourselves to learn something new. I also believe that knowledge is useless unless we are willing to share it with others.