Breed Breakdown: Siberian Husky

By Adrienne Bombard

husky-dog-breedPet Naturals® of Vermont is starting a new series of posts for people who are thinking about getting a dog. In addition to being a lot of work, especially for puppies, certain dog breeds have special needs that many people may not be aware of. After dog sitting a co-worker’s huskies one weekend, I got a taste of what it’s like to take care of some of the most misunderstood but beloved dogs.

This week, I’ve asked our Interactive Marketing Coordinator, Adrienne Bombard, to write a few things about her two huskies—Achilles and Hadley (featured in the images). Achilles is an 8-year-old male Siberian Husky, and the darker Alaskan Husky, Hadley, is nine. If you’ve ever considered owning a husky, read this post first.

Ruminations of a Husky Owner

Yes, I own huskies. What gave it away? Perhaps the extra layer of fur that covers me head to toe. Perhaps, the way I gingerly open my door when I return home. Knowing that I will find two happy, jumping and excited dogs on the other side who have probably become bored at some point and decided to eat a belt, or a shoe, or a book, or whatever they happen to spy on any given day.

People approach me all the time with comments and questions: “Your dogs are so beautiful!” “Are those sled dogs?” “Do you pull stuff with them?” “Can I pet them?” “Are those wolves?” Thanks, I know they are beautiful dogs, but it’s not like I gave birth to them myself. No, the only thing they’ve ever pulled was me before they were leash trained. Go ahead, pet them; they love people and will sit for hours for brushing or petting (at least Hadley will). No, they are not wolves.

husky-dog-breed-2I have owned my huskies for seven years, and in that time, I have learned a few things. Here’s the husky breakdown:

1)   Exercise: These dogs need it. It needs to be regular; it needs to be tiring; it needs to happen often. Remember, these are working dogs. They pulled sleds for miles in the snow. In every fiber of their being, they want to run and run and run. But you have to be careful in the heat.

2)   Diet: The Siberian Husky has a notoriously soft stomach. Often the “mutt” husky can handle stomach issues better, but a Siberian is prone to digestive issues that often end up with me and a mop bucket, with a scarf tied around my nose. This is why things like dog food recalls can throw a huge wrench in my plans, and I never give my dogs table scraps. (Okay, never is too strong. They do get some chicken breast when I cook it from time to time, but otherwise, never!)

3)   Socialization: They are pack animals. Two is better than one, but keep in mind, that means twice the hair. Left alone, they get bored and destructive. They look to their pack leader (me) to let them know what’s going on in the human world. They are happiest when the entire pack is accounted for. That is when they can actually lie down and be the cuddle bugs and couch potatoes they really want to be.

4)   Leash or No Leash: I didn’t let my dogs off leash for two years, except at the dog park. Granted, I got them when they were young adults, so there was catch up training to be done. But these are prey-driven dogs. I have watched my male catch and shake a mole to its demise. It happened so fast I was stunned. A squirrel, a deer, anything could set them off.

So I worked with them. I took them to an off leash park and worked on recall. I would walk laps around the park encouraging them to walk at my side. I would stand at one end and using the same whistle every time, I trained them to come to me (or at least acknowledge my existence). I have sat in the woods and waited for over an hour for them to return to my side after being distracted by who knows what. I would say they are at 80% recall now. So my advice is get them microchipped, never take their tags off, and make sure that your neighbors are familiar with them. And last but not least, make sure everyone knows you don’t own wolves!

husky-dog-breed5)   Special Considerations: Huskies like to wander, and what they cannot get over, they will go under. If you think that simply putting your husky out in the yard is a good idea, be prepared for the consequences. The utmost escape artists, your husky will have climbed that fence and gone for a run before you even get back on the couch. If they don’t go over the fence, they will dig. Not just a little hole, but one you could put a body into. They can slip through holes one-tenth of their size, and the only evidence you have that they were ever there is the little wisps of their coat that they will inevitably leave behind.

6)   Chewing: The majority of animals that are surrendered to animal shelters are there because of behavior issues. Behavior issues for many animals stem from inadequate training and exercise. These dogs are extremely smart and need to be mentally and physically fatigued to keep behavior issues at bay. While they are not often the dog to play catch with, they love to play chase, tug on toys and ropes, and generally rough house with each other. So here I refer back to tip number one: Exercise!

7)   Shedding: I’ve read a lot of sources about huskies that say the shedding is bad twice a year. They are lying. It’s bad all year. It does not stop, but it comes in waves. My advice is to rip up carpets for wood floors or invest in a really good vacuum. Also, have an ample supply of lint rollers and brushes to try and ward off some of the hair. If you want your guests to have a hair free place to sit, use sheets or covers that can be whisked off seconds before they arrive.

8)   Rewards: After all of the frustrating parts about huskies, they are awesome! They are terrific companions, great with kids, and always ready for walks, play, or cuddles and treats. These dogs are intuitive. They know your emotions before you do. They are caretakers, and like any other dog, when offered love, they happily receive and reciprocate.

Lastly, I must say that they are worth the work. I take real pride in the work I have done with Achilles and Hadley. I glow when complimented on their behavior, or when another husky owner sees me walking with mine off leash, and awestruck they ask, “How did you get them to do that?” It was a lot of work, but completely worth it!

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