Defining the True Seppala Bloodline

THE 1976 BOOK, The Seppala Siberian: A Breeder’s Manual, contained the simplest basic definition of Seppala strain:

Seppala Siberian: Any registered Siberian Husky whose pedigree lineage may be traced back exclusively to foundation stock bred by Leonhard Seppala or imported directly from Siberia.
This definition still holds good today, unchanged really since the 1940s when the distinction first began to be made between “Seppala Siberians” and other Siberian Huskies. It remains the one infallible touchstone to distinguish the true Seppala. However, the “registered Siberian Husky” reference is rapidly becoming obsolete now as Seppalas take on their true identity as a separate breed.
Attempts to re-define Seppala strain occurred in two books published in 1986 and 1992 by Douglas W. Willett, replacing the original definition to favour the Willett practice of cross-straining Seppalas with a wide variety of other stock, mostly but not all from mainstream Siberian Husky bloodlines. The re-definition involved an arbitrary “founders list” (which failed to include all known founders contributory to the strain), joined to a “percentage system” that attempted to quantify the actual proportion of Seppala ancestry in a given dog. The Willett percentage system has undergone continual change since its inception, according to the evolution of the Racing Siberian Husky based breeding programme carried out by Willett and his “satellite kennels.”

Large numbers of animals bred and sold under the Willett percentage system have tended to result in considerable confusion in the minds of many regarding how “Seppala” may be defined, as well as whether this or that individual dog should or should not be considered a Seppala. The practice of calculating a Seppala percentage for any Siberian Husky out of racing bloodlines has pretty much obscured the true Seppala genetic identity in the popular mind.

Actually the correct name for the ISSSC/ConKC sleddog is “Racing Siberian Husky”; that is what it should be called to avoid total confusion and to respect the traditional definition of Seppala strain. Current ISSSC practice appears to consider virtually any racing Siberian bloodline, including the Seeley-based strains like Anadyr and Igloo Pak, as a “percentage Seppala.” The ISSSC website claims 500 Continental KC “Seppala” registrations in the two year period ending in summer 2004! (This number does not include AKC Siberians from the same bloodlines not registered with ConKC, nor does it include the SSSD Project Seppala Siberian Sleddogs.) It is unlikely that even one-quarter of that number would satisfy the original definition given above.

There is really no need for confusion. Seppala ancestry is very easy to determine. Once a five or six-generation pedigree has been worked out for the dog in question, anyone can quickly verify Seppala status (although some lines may have to be extended another two or three generations). Every pedigree line should trace back either to one of the ten Markovo-period “Second Foundation” dogs, or to contemporary Siberia import stock such as the Sergei Solovyev dogs. The ten names to look for are as follows:

No other pure Seppalas of the post-McFaul period engendered pure-strain bloodlines that survive today! (Other Seppalas were bred but only cross-strain lines survive today from any dogs other than the ten named above.) If every pedigree line not derived from contemporary stock from Siberia is closed by one of these names, no matter in what generation, then the pedigree is a Seppala pedigree, because all of these founders in turn trace their pedigrees back to the McFaul/Shearer Seppala mainstream.
December 2007 Update: Owners of “percentage-seppala” stock are advised that I.S.A. is not currently approving applications for exceptional acceptance of percentage stock no matter how high the claimed percentage. For a time we had hoped there might be a way to steer a middle way, accepting a few exceptional individuals from high-percentage Seppala bloodlines. As the situation has developed over the past two years, however, it has become less desirable for us to maintain an exceptions policy. There are basically three reasons for this position:
(1) Claimed percentages have been found to be consistently much higher than the actual McFaul/Shearer bloodline content, causing arguments about the actual percentage when analysis is carried out. ISSSC policy from the outset has been to exaggerate Seppala percentages, claiming “100% Seppala” status for many individuals whose actual McFaul/Shearer content may range from 88 to 95 percent, and claiming 75-80% Seppala content for mainstream racing Siberian bloodlines that were never eligible for inclusion in the SSSD Project. This in turn has led many owners to believe their dogs to be genuine Seppalas when such is not the case, at least in Project terms.

(2) Serious questions have arisen concerning pedigree reliability in more than one widely-distributed bloodline, cases in which DNA analysis has disproved the claimed pedigree. Thus we are reluctant to accept stock whose pedigrees are unsupported by WCAC/ISA photographic proof of matings. Percentage Seppala calculations and pedigree analysis have no meaning or usefulness when the pedigree itself cannot be relied upon to reflect actual parentage and ancestry.

(3) Pure-strain Markovo-Seppala stock has become extremely scarce, while “percentage” strains linebred on individual animals unacceptable to the Project has become widely prevalent. It is feared that if percentage applications are allowed at this time, under these circumstances, core Project bloodlines might be swamped by exception and grade applications.

For these reasons it is felt by the Board that in order to safeguard core bloodlines and to avoid arguments with applicants, it is prudent not to allow such applications for the time being. The safety of this decision is backed up by the quality of animals currently produced by the Solovyev/Seppala matings in Project stock, together with the addition of less-related SSSD stock from the Cal Segu bloodline. Since Project ideals are becoming abundantly fulfilled by the current core breeding programme, we see no need to complicate matters by adding RSH bloodlines with no clear end in view.
(A more detailed discussion of Seppala definitions can be found on the SSSD Project Website’s “Seppala Definitions” Page.)