Siberian Huskies are truly "charming" dogs. Their beauty and athleticism is uncommonly seductive. They are moderate in size, from 35-65 pounds, have little or no "doggie odor" and are very intelligent. Why then, do ethical Siberian breeders feel a lot of education is in order before they will place one of their dogs in a pet home?
First and foremost, a Siberian Husky is a working breed. The work they were originally bred to do required an independence and a desire to run that can be highly problematic to people who are used to a different type of dog. Although a Siberian might look like a smaller, prettier-colored version of a German Shepherd; they are anything BUT Shepherd-like in temperament. Most Shepherds bond very closely to their owners, and naturally tend to stay close even when off-leash. A Siberian Husky will not naturally stay with you off-leash. His desire to run will often overwhelm every other desire... there is great truth to the saying "you simply cannot take the run out of a sled dog." Even when they are enjoying your companionship, their ears may be still listening for the "call of the wild".
Siberian Huskies are highly intelligent and catch on quickly to common obedience commands and tricks, but they are not known for being particularly "biddable". Don't let anyone tell you they are not smart, because they are--in fact, as a dog trainer, I often find that they learn new things quicker than many other times of dogs. But they don't have any great "need to please", as far as performing on command just for the heck of it. Siberians lack that Golden Retriever type of "what do you want me to do for you ?" attitude; instead, they lean more towards a "what can you do for me today, ready for some fun?" type of personality. On the bright side, they are great hiking and jogging companions, and have incredible endurance for play and exercise. Of course they are at their best when being allowed to run in harness in front of a three wheeled cart (made for running dogs) or a sled in the snow but they are also incredibly happy just going for a walk on leash in the park or around the neighborhood.
To compare them once again to the German Shepherd Dog (because I have found that many people who are drawn to the breed are like me, someone who grew up with a GSD), it is important to note that another "different than Shepherd" behavior in the Siberian Husky is that they are not good watch dogs. The average Siberian Husky loves people, including those that might be visiting your home while you are not there! Part of a good German Shepherd's temperament is their natural tendency to guard their territory. A Siberian Husky was not bred for the same thing as a GSD. Siberian Huskies were developed and valued, as a breed, for their ability to run long distances at moderate speeds, a working dog that could be hooked up with his teammates and help his owner make a run into town, or even deliver supplies over incredibly long distances in very harsh weather conditions. This required a healthy body capable of great endurance, as well as a temperament that tended towards doing well with other dogs, since sled dogs work as a team. One of the great assets of Siberian Huskies for the multiple dog owner is that they typically love to run together in a large fenced yard, and "play well with others" as long as there are no female dogs in season around. If well-bred and socialized from a young age, they are a joyful and trusting breed of dog, so although they don't have guard dog tendencies, they also are NOT prone to the problematic behaviors that more territorial breeds often develop (territorial barking, growling at strangers, etc.)
Like any double coated breed of dog, Siberian Huskies shed quite a bit at certain times of year, so a high quality slicker brush, a fine toothed comb, a doggie coat rake and plenty of patience for grooming are a must. Although they can adjust to most any climate, Siberians do not do well outdoors alone. They were bred to be part of a pack. Siberians who are raised indoors with a human family as their pack tend to be more bonded to their owners than those who are raised outdoors with another dog for company. But if you want to keep your Siberian outdoors, he definitely will be happier with a canine companion and he should always be in fencing that is very secure. Siberian Huskies bore easily. Even with another dog for a playmate, a bored Siberian is likely to do things such as chew the siding off your house and re-landscape your lawn. Siberians love to dig holes while hunting for tiny bugs and other yummy tidbits to eat. Keeping them busy with tough toys like Kongs, which can be stuffed with goodies, helps keep them out of trouble. It is usually worthwhile to build a secure kennel run that has concrete or patio blocks as a base, with a cozy doghouse and plenty of shade, in the corner of your yard for your Siberians (remember, they love company so you need to have at least two if they are outside dogs!) If you own multiple dogs, you can have a fancier kennel set-up with covered runs and concrete dividers (see photo) but if cost is an issue and you are just fixing a place for two pet dogs, you can position the kennel near a shade tree and also use a plastic tarp to make sure the dogs have plenty of shade. Unlike many breeds of dogs, Siberians actually thrive outdoors if given a safe environment, another doggie companion and plenty of exercise.
If you do use a kennel run, then make sure you go out at least twice a day to allow your Siberians to run around and play in a big fenced yard while you clean their run or do other outdoor chores. A kennel run can give you the peace of mind to know that the dogs are secure when you are not home, so you do not have to worry that they might dig out of the yard. If they are allowed out to run in the fenced yard several times a day, versus being left out there all the time, they also tend to get more exercise because they will use this time to run and play with one another. If you live in town and have a small yard, no problem--your Siberians will love being put on leash and taken for long walks in the neighborhood!
I love this photo of some of my friend Joni Barnhardt's Siberians having fun in their play yard, as I think it shows how much this breed enjoys each other (the photo shows young dogs as well as the older dog standing up, who was in his golden years, but still enjoyed interacting and playing with the pack). Note how submissive the pups are being to the old gentleman. The dog laying down in front is a middle aged dog who seems to be keeping on eye on the young ones to make sure they behave!
Siberian Huskies are not high in defense drive, which, on the bright side, means they are not likely to bite your friends. On the downside, don't forget that they are not likely to be protective of your property. Most Siberian owners state that their dogs would gladly give a burglar the key to their house, as long as he smiles at them and gives them a pat or two on the head!
One more thing to consider is the fact that some individuals of this breed tend to have high prey drive. This means they chase and kill small animals, including but not limited to your neighbor's cat if given the opportunity (it's up to you to make sure they don't have that opportunity!) Some Siberians live peacefully in a home with cats their entire lives, but the majority of them cannot be trusted with small animals, because they love to chase and capture prey.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that the average Siberian Husky does not have an aggressive bone in his body towards people, Siberians are consistently on the top ten list for fatal attacks on human beings. In almost every case, the person killed is an infant, a tiny baby left alone with the dog while the mother is in another area of the house. Dogs with high prey drive probably do not even understand that a crying baby is a human being. Instead, they probably see it as a small animal in distress. In the wild, prey in distress is going to be quickly dispatched by a predator. No dog, of any breed, should ever be left alone with a young child at any time, period. Siberian Huskies who are raised with children are great companions for them, but they should not be left alone with babies. You would think this would be just plain common sense but many times it does not occur to new parents that their friendly dog does not understand that a baby is a human being, versus a small animal. I repeat, do not leave a young child alone with any type of dog! We cannot blame dogs for acting like dogs. Siberians who are owned by responsible owners do not bite people. Period. This breed is not like a Dachshund or an Aussie, who may always be keeping an eye out for a stranger who needs a good nip in the butt or ankles! I have owned these breeds so I feel qualified to make that statement, since I have had to deal with their territorial and herding instincts. Overall, a Siberian Husky is one of the easiest breeds of dogs to socialize with people and a well trained Siberian Husky is a great choice even for therapy dog work.
Actually, this breed, despite the negatives which I think I have fully covered, is a very adaptable breed of dog that can do "almost" everything, if trained with motivational methods. The many dog sports that you can enjoy with your Siberian include agility, rally obedience, cart or sled racing, hiking and more. Many also love to swim, although few are born with any natural retrieving instinct, so don't expect them to retrieve the stick you throw out into the water! Siberians can make great house dogs, as long as you are willing to do plenty of brushing, and are also able to accept that they should be crate trained (since the tendency to want to play, dig, etc can also translate into torn up furniture if a young dog is left alone on his own unsupervised.) Here is a photo of two Meja Siberians, Garak and Allie, who are beloved housedogs that sleep in the bed at the Tuttle house!
If you've read this far and still have your heart set on being owned by a Siberian Husky, then be prepared for a long term commitment. All of our Siberian Huskies have lived to be between 13 and 15 years old. I have several friends who have owned Siberian Huskies who lived to be over 16. They are, as a rule, a fairly healthy and long-lived breed, and can give you years of enjoyment--if you are up to the challenge of living with an independent sled dog!
Interested in seeing more photos and reading more about the breed? Be sure to visit our Meja Siberians website. Meja Siberians is now owned by not just me and my husband Rick, but also our friends Robin Broadway-Tuttle and her husband Jon Tuttle . Robin has done an excellent job in putting together a website that showcases our dogs, the history of Meja, and also offers plenty of information for those who are interested in the Siberian Husky. Click MEJA to visit today!
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