Where does the Siberian Husky come from?
As their name indicates, Siberian Huskies originate in the unforgivingly cold and icy lands of Siberia. It was only in 1908 that the first Huskies were introduced to Alaska as competitors in sled-dog races. Today’s Siberian Huskies have been developed from the native sled dogs originally bred in North-East Siberia. These dogs are said to have been around for thousands of years. And the indigenous people of Siberia, called the Chukchi, had good reason to perfect their canines through selective breeding: There survival depended upon these dogs. Without the sleds, they would have starved to death, as there was no other way for the hunters to take food back to their families.
In the 1930’s, 12 of these Siberian sled dogs were introduced into the United States. Soon, this extraordinary “new” breed became popular in other countries as well. It is said that “every single Siberian Husky in the world has ancestry going back to the handful of dogs [who were] imported into the US in the early part of the 20th Century.”
What is their temperament like?
First and foremost, Siberian Huskies are born team players – they had to be in order to survive in the unforgiving Siberian climates: The ancient sled dogs had to closely cooperate with their fellow dogs and the people of the tribe. And even today, this tendency to play nice with other canines as well as humans prevails. Which is why Huskies are not the best guard dogs.
With the right socialisation and training, these stunning dogs can become devoted family companions and do well with children – however, they are not the best choice for families very small children due to their high prey drive and their potential for reactive behaviour: In the absence of a calm, consistent canine leader in their life, the strong-willed and quite independent Siberian Husky can develop aggressive behaviour. This is usually motivated by the dog’s effort to take the leadership position by himself, as – in a dog’s mind – there cannot be any vacuum: Someone has to lead, and if the human does not, then the dog feels the need to fill that void itself.
Especially in more recent times, many people have been drawn to the Husky as a pet because of its amazing, wolf-like beauty. But what they fail to understand is that Huskies are serious working dogs, and not designed to be indoor pets. Huskies come with a prey drive that is far beyond average, and they are veritable escape-artists. When given the opportunity, a Husky will hunt just about everything, even birds, and can cover enormous distances whilst doing so. Which, obviously, puts the dogs at great danger. Huskies can easily overcome even tall fences and enclosures that would securely hold any other dog. And, due to their heritage, they absolutely love to run – so much so that electric fences usually will not hold them: A Husky will often rather take the pain of crossing the threshold of the electric fence than forego an opportunity to hunt and roam.
How intelligent and trainable are Siberian Huskies?
These beautiful, Spitz-like dogs are very smart, but their intelligence is coupled with a strong tendency to think and act independently. This independence is deeply ingrained in the Husky, as the indigenous people of Siberia had to rely on these dogs’ instincts for their safety: The journeys they had to undertake by dog-sled to transport food were extremely dangerous, as the heavy sleds could easily break through thin layers of ice, dragging men and dogs to a terrible death in freezing cold waters. As it was humanly impossible to predict the thickness of an ice sheet laying ahead, the mushers had no choice but to rely on their dogs’ instincts. The decisions to halt or deviate from a certain route was, therefore, not made by the man on the sled, but by their lead dogs.
And that is precisely why Siberian Huskies are very used to thinking for themselves and to evaluating situations before making their own decisions. Of course, this presents us with a dog who does not at all feel the need to please their owner. This is not to say that Huskies cannot be trained to decent levels of obedience. But it takes a lot of skill and patience on the part of the handler.
Are Siberian Huskies healthy dogs?
Siberian Huskies are a quite healthy and robust breed in general and are known as low-maintenance dogs with regards to their health. However, they can suffer from various issues typical for larger dog breeds – such hip and elbow dysplasia as well as eye-conditions. Also, Huskies are more likely than other breeds to suffer from Inflammatory Bowel Disease – a disorder of the immune system -, and a neurological condition called Degenerative Myelopathy.
Therefore, choosing a Husky breeder who not only tests his breeding stock for dysplasia, but also for all other serious conditions known to affect the breed is crucial. The life-expectancy of the breed usually ranges from 12 and 15 years.
How much exercise does the Siberian Husky need?
These dogs need large amounts of physical exercise and mental stimulation on a daily basis. Huskies can get quite destructive when under-stimulated and start chewing things to alleviate some of their pent-up energy and frustration. Due to their nature as sled dogs, bred to run hours upon hours without tiring, Huskies need far more exercise than the average large dog. So much so that even long walks on a leash will not satisfy them. Unless you actually work them as sled dogs, you could teach them to simply run next to a bicycle – or you could engage together with them in so-called draught dog sports, such as canicross, dogscooting or bikejoring. Sled dogs are perfect for these kinds of canine activities.
What are their grooming requirements?
Huskies come with thick, plush double coats. Regular brushing is needed at least three times a week to keep their luxurious coats clean and shiny - and to minimize shedding. A pin brush, paddle brush as well as a comb with wide-set teeth are the best tools to use for the rich coat of these glorious dogs. During shedding season in spring and autumn - when Huskies blow their coats within a short time-frame -, I highly recommend using a Furminator. This one simple tool is a true live-saver during the Husky’s shedding season.
The amazing Siberian Husky is a wonderful breed that can be trained to decent levels of obedience. But due to their extraordinary high energy, prey drive and independence, these are not beginner’s dogs. Huskies are ideally suited for experienced owners of large, independent breeds – owners who are willing to dedicate a good part of their free time to providing their dogs with the exercise they need to be happy and well-balanced canine companions.