THE SEPPALA SIBERIAN
A rare working dog breed, the Seppala Siberian Sleddog is developed for the purpose of pulling a sled in cold country. It is a moderate-sized dog averaging 18 to 23 kg (40 to 50 pounds) weight and 56 to 58 cm (22 or 23 inches) height. Colors and markings are considered of little importance; eyes may be brown, blue or any combination of the two colors. Seppalas are active and energetic but very docile and trainable.
Seppalas show a primitive canine type, never having been bred or selected for conformation or the show ring. The breed shares its ancestral base with the Siberian Husky and for half a century shared the same registry with that breed, but was bred always exclusively as a working sleddog breed in its own right and kept apart from show bloodlines. In the late 1990s, it was recognized by Canadian agricultural authorities as a new “evolving breed” and in 2002 a similar separate breed initiative was started in the USA.
Seppalas of today differ markedly from many other Siberian Husky bloodlines in physical appearance, being in general less flashily marked, longer in leg and body length, and lighter in weight and physical build than most Siberian Husky show dog lines. Pure-strain Seppalas have dense, smooth coats of medium length with an undercoat nearly as long as the guard hairs. Their ears are taller, set close together and strongly erect, the "stop" of the head less well-defined than that of Siberian Huskies. The tail is held high in a sickle curve over the back when alert, never "snapped" flat to the back or curling down the flank.
Many Seppalas are pure white or buff and white. Others are very dark, black, or charcoal grey with dark faces and white only on the feet and tail tip. There are many varied shades of grey, brownish grey, and blue-grey. “Sable” reds with black-tipped guard hairs and black noses occur, but the liver-nosed “copper” phase seen in other lines of Siberian Huskies is unknown in pure Seppalas. Agouti "wild type" coloration and piebald spotting are common.
Seppalas are known for their extremely smooth and well-coordinated gait and for the consistency and strength with which they pull in harness. Although they appear to the inexperienced eye to be rather small and lightly built for sled dogs, actually they are far more efficient pullers than some larger northern breeds. They are capable racing sled dogs, particularly in mid-distance events, although perhaps not as speedy as world-class Alaskan huskies or pointer-crossed hybrids.
Like other northern breeds, they shed their coats hugely once or twice a year, cannot safely be allowed to run free off leash, and love to hunt small game. They are generally robust and healthy, living twelve to sixteen years, usually working well in harness up to ten or eleven years of age. Health issues for the breed are those common to all northern breeds, such as allergies, cancer and eye problems. They are highly efficient in their use of food, eating relatively little but requiring very high-quality nutrition that is rich in animal protein, animal fat, and fish oil.
The defining characteristics of the breed are its natural, primitive appearance, its highly developed work ethic, and its affectionate, cooperative, and highly bonded nature. They tend to be more trainable than other sled dogs and to be more highly bonded to their owners. The Seppala Siberian Sled dog disposition is active, merry, and often quite inquisitive, although sometimes showing great reserve with strangers. A stable and serious temperament, neither nervous nor aggressive, is characteristic. Natural, innate sled dog mentality is a primary characteristic of Seppala dogs. Their nature is highly cooperative. They show great seriousness in their work in harness
Bred by the legendary dog driver Leonhard Seppala from dogs imported into Alaska from eastern Siberia, the Seppala Siberians became famous in Alaska for their domination of the All-Alaska Sweepstakes distance race in the period from 1914 to 1917. Later they became popular in New England when Seppala raced there and ran a kennel in Poland Spring, Maine.
In 1939 the last Siberia imports, along with several of Seppala’s dogs, became the breed foundation for the “Siberian Huskie” in Canada. The Canadian Seppala Kennels of Harry R. Wheeler in St. Jovite Station, Quebec, developed and bred Seppala Siberians until 1950 in genetic isolation from the developing Siberian Husky breed in the USA, which gradually became oriented more and more toward conformation dog shows. A succession of Seppala breeders kept the strain alive through the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1963, the third Seppala Kennels, run by C. S. MacLean and J. D. McFaul in Maniwaki, Quebec, closed without a successor kennel and by 1969 the unique Leonhard Seppala strain faced extinction. It was
primarily saved by the timely action of two breeders: Markovo Kennels in Canada and Seppineau Kennels in the USA. The bloodline was then carried forward and developed as a serious mid-distance racing sleddog by Douglas W. Willett of Sepp-Alta Kennels in the state of Utah. The pure, original Seppala bloodlines are rare but found in small numbers in several Canadian provinces, the main population now occurring in Manitoba where the parent kennel relocated in 2008.
The Seppala Siberian Sleddog Project that was started in 1993 by the protagonists of the Markovo rescue effort won Agriculture Canada’s recognition for Seppalas in July 1997. The fourth historic Seppala Kennels in the Yukon Territory carried the breeding forward. In July 2002, Doug Willett undertook a similar breed initiative through the Continental Kennel Club’s registry in the USA. At present two disparate populations use the same breed name: the original Agriculture Canada recognized population in Canada, identified by the Working Canine Association of Canada, and its descendants elsewhere, registered by the International Seppala Association; and the Continental Kennel Club population, which is not descended from the Canadian original. A third group of "Seppalas" is distinguished simply as an A.K.C.Siberian Husky bloodline
• Bragg, J. Jeffrey (1976). The Seppala Siberian: A Breeder’s Manual, Vicksburg, Mississippi: Privately published.
• Bragg, J. Jeffrey (1996). The Seppala Siberian Sleddog: An Evolving Breed in Canada’s Yukon Territory, Whitehorse, Yukon: (Privately published brief submitted to Agriculture Canada).
• Ricker, Elizabeth M. (1930). Seppala: Alaskan Dog Driver, Boston, Massachusetts: Little, Brown and Company.
• Willett, Douglas W. (1986) The Seppala Siberian, Viola, Idaho: Heritage North Press.
• Anonymous (2002). The International Seppala Siberian Sleddog Club, Seeley Lake, Montana: Privately published.