Living the Dream: Sharing Your Home with a Husky (Part 1 of 2)
I spent my early teenage years with the family poodle, Goof. Goof’s two favorite things in this world are playing fetch and sitting on my dad’s lap. Goof was always making every step my dad made around the house, and wasn’t really mine in the way Portia came to be. Portia is, for all intents and purposes, my first dog.
Portia was an addition to the family, but ultimately ended up bonding to me. I think I became her person for a variety of reasons. We hung out a lot, of course. I took her for car rides and walks, and her crate was in my room. She quickly progressed from puppy to gangly teenager to adult dog. One day I realized that somewhere along the way we had become best buddies.
Despite our wonderful bond, having Portia in my life presented a lot of challenges. Due to genetics and a lack of socialization (more on this below), Portia was afraid of both strangers and other dogs.
Looking back, a husky is a damn hard breed for a first time dog guardian. To say nothing of a husky with a variety of behavior issues. But here we are almost 10 years later living the dream (within reason). We hike, learn tricks, cuddle on the couch and just enjoy one another’s company in general. I now feel loyal to this breed and only hope I can be an advocate for them through writing, training, as well as by example.
My friend and colleague Kristi Benson of Kristi Benson Dog Training in Manitoba, Canada is a fellow lover of huskies and all things sled dog. Kristi’s writing contributions to the Sled Dogger is even titled Husky Help Line. Kristi has also spent much of her time and energy rescuing sled dogs. Needless to say, I had to ask Kristi her thoughts on this topic and she graciously obliged. If you’re considering bringing a husky into your life, she has this to say,
Huskies and other northern breeds are deliciously beautiful, and can have these outrageous and hilarious personalities that really draw the unknowing dog seeker in. But like everything in life, northern breeds are very much “buyer beware”. The hilarious videos in your social media feed showing a Siberian digging a hole under a fence or howling at the vacuum cleaner are really, actually showing what these dogs do: they dig, climb, and destroy anything between them and glorious freedom, and they shed an apocalyptic amount of hair (on the daily). Unlike breeds that were bred to really pay attention to humans, northern dogs enjoy pleasing themselves. If you love this stuff, and enjoy watching “Dog TV” in your living room, then a northern might be for you. But if you like a dog who naturally finds humans irresistible, then you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle with a husky.
But alas, some folks charge ahead into huskydom without doing their homework. I'm sad to say that huskies really got the short end of the stick when it came to the Game of Thrones craze. Apparently everyone wanted a loyal and fantastical direwolf, an animal that exists only in our imagination. Instead they got a dog.
Whether it’s Paris Hilton’s purse dwelling chihuahuas or Game of Thrones’ direwolves, pop culture trends can often cause a specific type of dog to become over-represented in the shelter/rescue system. When it comes to seeing surrendered huskies in the shelter system, Kristi elaborates on the patterns we tend to see,
There are often a few husky crosses in the local shelter, and the reasons for relinquishment can often be summed up as “I didn’t expect this dog to act like a husky!” The husky in the corner kennel was excavating her way to China. The husky in the next kennel over was bored stiff with only a half-hour leash walk and took out his frustration on the chair legs, the stair rails, the table legs, the wall, and … you get the picture. And the hair. So much hair! Where does it come from?
Despite the truth in all of the above, I’m not here to dissuade you from bringing a husky into your life. In fact, I want you to! Provided it's the right fit, of course.
First, let's start with what I love about this breed.
Huskies are fun! They really are a unique breed. All of those silly videos you see of them actin' a fool online are actually pretty accurate. If you want a dog that makes you laugh, a husky is a good choice.
Huskies are (mostly) quiet. If you don't want a dog that does a lot of barking, many huskies fit that bill. Don't forget the howling and talking though.
Huskies get you out and about. To be honest, I probably never would have started hiking had it not been for having a husky. She just had too many beans and I needed to do something about it! But please, only make this a part of your decision making process if you're already a person that likes to spend time outdoors. Getting a dog likely won't change something you inherently dislike.
Huskies are also smart, a lot of folks mislabel them as "stubborn." It's far more accurate to say that they are intelligent and quick-witted and adept at meeting their own needs. I've had a blast training my own husky over the years. I've learned that sloppy methods and half hearted efforts will not hold her interest, which has thankfully made me a better trainer. I believe this is where the "stubborn" perspective comes in for a lot of people.
Continuing this line of thinking, Kristi adds that, “If you’re used to training whip-smart cattle dogs or gun dogs who naturally pay a lot of attention to the human in the room, the independence and self-reliance of a husky might not be your cup of tea.”
In addition to their independence, huskies have a reputation for being friendly. Most breed standards will tell you that huskies are good with strangers, children and other dogs, which is heartening. However, always consider the dogs you may bring into your home on a case by case basis. Dogs are individuals with varied genetics and socialization histories. Never assume their behavior will align with the breed standard. “And further,” says Kristi, “huskies bred for traction sports are known to be spooky of strangers. Many of these dogs find new people to be inherently scary. Although socialization and training can help, the end product will likely never look like a naturally gregarious dog.” In fact, the best way to choose a dog for your home would be to preemptively enlist a qualified trainer to help you in the decision making process.
Speaking of traction sports, huskies have a lot of energy. This can be a positive depending on the sort of dog you want in your life, as well as your own lifestyle. It's important to evaluate your lifestyle as it is, rather than how you want it to be when researching the right breed for you. In order to keep from finding yourself confronted with the heart-breaking decision of rehoming your dog, consider the following. Start by doing your research and being honest with yourself about the time and effort you're willing to invest in your new family member. If you want a companion who naps a lot and doesn't require much in the way of exercise, you may want to consider adopting a senior dog, many of which are so often overlooked in shelters.
To elaborate, a lot of breed descriptions will say "high energy" or "needs a job." Consider these phrases carefully. If you have a full-time job and are a weekend warrior when it comes to hiking and other dog friendly adventures, you may want to continue looking. High energy means high energy seven days a week.
Like all breeds, huskies can have a down side depending on your personal values.
They shed. A lot. I'm a bit of a cleaning fanatic, and even I find this stressful at times. If dog hair is not your thing, keep looking. It'll find its way into your food, under your couches and onto your clothes every time. Frequent brushing and vacuuming are definitely requirements to keeping the hair situation under control. Also be sure to keep a lint roller handy at all times.
Huskies can be on the large side. Naturally, this means more dog food, bigger poops, and possibly more expensive care in general. Many boarding facilities charge by the dog's weight, so that's something to bear in mind.
They can be magnets for passersby. If you like to keep it low-key and don't want to stop and let every pedestrian pet your dog, this may not be the breed for you. Let's face it, part of the reason we like huskies so much is because of their wolfy beauty. This means you'll get lots of attention anytime you stroll down the sidewalk together.
That wolfy beauty we just talked about? Unfortunately not everyone is a fan. If you have a husky, you may not be able to live just anywhere you want. Yes, it's unfair but unfortunately it's the world we live in. Many homeowners associations and rental companies do not permit huskies, having deemed them a dangerous breed subject to Breed Specific Legislation in some areas. This means if you're renting or have plans to move, you may want to consider a breed with a better "public persona" that is likely to be accepted anywhere. Usually this includes small dogs under 25 pounds or popular large breeds like Labs and Goldens. I'm not saying these dogs are without behavioral issues, but I am saying that the public at large tends to think they are.
All this is to say that I love my husky. I revel in her quirks and can't imagine life without her. If you're still on the fence, consider fostering. This way you can get more familiar with the breed and what it takes to care for them. You may foster fail and make the lucky pup a permanent part of your family. Alternatively, you may foster until the right family comes along. Either way, you've done some good for a dog in need and learned a little along the way.
Please stay tuned for our next installment of "Living the Dream: Sharing Your Home with a Husky." If you need a hand finding the right dog for your family, find a graduate of the Academy for Dog Trainers to help you out by clicking here.