So You Think You Want a Husky?

Close-up shot of a husky dog's blue eyesI’ve been involved in wolf, wolfdog and dog rescue for something like 30 years. I’ve volunteered for and have been employed by L.A. city shelters. I’ve worked for a respected rescue group. In addition to being a professional trainer and behavior specialist, I now volunteer at an L.A. County shelter. I share all of this to let you know that I’ve seen a lot in the dog world over the years. But never in all of that time have I seen anything like the flood of huskies that is now pouring in to California shelters and rescues.

When a breed is popularized through film or television, unfortunate things happen. People get the Disneyesque version of the breed in their minds. Remember 101 Dalmatians? Think about all the unwanted Dals that ended up in shelters when people found out their dog was not Pongo. Or how about the Taco Bell Chihuahua, and all those oh-so-cute Chihuahuas who were purchased, given up, and left saying, “Yo quiero…a permanent home.” Add one part over-breeding and two parts lack of education and, well, now it’s happening with Siberian huskies. I believe the trend can be attributed in large part to the huge popularity of Game of Thrones. I personally never watched the show, but I do believe the “direwolves” were the catalyst for many people wanting wolfy-looking dogs.

The unfortunate part is that huskies, a breed I know well and love, are not only not direwolves, they’re not even typical dogs in the sense of what most people expect when they get a dog. Hence all the poor huskies that are now sitting in shelters and rescues. Unfortunately, people often see only the beauty of the breed. And huskies are beautiful; the gorgeous, thick coat (which, by the way, will shed constantly and also decorate your home twice a year when the undercoat is blown), the masked-looking eyes that are sometimes a startling blue, and yes, the resemblance to wolves. And huskies are intelligent, affectionate yet independent dogs who normally get along well with other big dogs. But what many people don’t see is that the breed comes with a specific set of needs and issues.

If you’re considering getting a husky, consider this:

1. Huskies are escape artists. They’ll jump over fences and dig under. (Burying a skirting of chain link along the fence line can help prevent dig-outs.) As far as fence height, some huskies will remain inside five foot fencing, but my recommendation is six feet or higher. Some owners even add lean-ins—those angled arms you see at zoos—at the top. Adding lean-ins to our already high fencing was the first thing we did when we adopted my girl Sierra, a husky mix who had been at a County shelter no less than four times before we adopted her. Oh, and getting back to your yard, if it’s a beautiful, pristine oasis with lovely flowers that you don’t want dug up or destroyed, this may not be the breed for you.

2. Huskies have a strong prey drive. More than a few have been surrendered to shelters because they chased or killed the family cat, or killed chickens or other small animals. Unfortunately, some have also attacked or killed a smaller family dog. Not all huskies have this strong of a prey drive, and some do coexist with smaller breed dogs. But personally, if I had chickens, a cat, or a small dog, I would not bring a husky into the home. Why take the chance?

3. Huskies need lots of exercise. And I don’t mean a 15-minute potty walk twice a day. I mean exercise; daily runs, hikes, or at least long walks. We used to do “urban mushing” with our dogs (a husky mix and a malamute mix), where, using special equipment, they pulled one of us on a scooter. In colder climates, people do actual mushing or carting with their huskies. Again, these dogs need serious exercise. If you’re an active, outdoorsy type, great! A husky may just be the perfect companion for you. If you’d rather sit on the couch and watch Game of Thrones reruns, maybe not so much.

4. Huskies can be very destructive when left alone. If you’re planning to leave an unexercised husky in an apartment and go off to work, you should also plan to come home to a space that has been completely redecorated in the Doggy Demolition motif.

5. Huskies don’t bark much, so they don’t make good watchdogs, but they do howl. Will this be a potential problem with your neighbors?

6. Huskies can be challenging to train to off-leash reliability. I tell you this not only as an owner but as a long-time trainer. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it will likely take a lot more work, as many will run off and will chase squirrels and other prey rather than coming back on command.

You might think, given all of these warnings, that I’m trying to dissuade you from adopting a husky. I’m not. I’m just trying to prevent more from ending up in shelters or rescues. Again, huskies are beautiful, affectionate, intelligent, companions. It’s because I love this breed that I implore you to consider whether a husky is really the right dog for you. If you do decide to get one, consider adopting. Shelters and rescues are filled with huskies of all ages, victims of a lack of knowledge on the part of previous owners. And consider an adult dog. What you see with an adult is what you get as far as temperament; it’s not going to develop into something different as the dog grows. And, you’d be saving a life.

If you’re interested, please visit your local shelter, especially city and county shelters where the dogs are in danger of being euthanized if they’re not adopted. You can also search on Petfinder, Pet Harbor, Instagram, Facebook, and many other places online to find huskies that are available through private owners or rescues. If you’ve got the right containment and home situation, you might even consider fostering for a rescue group, which would allow you to “test-drive” the dog and make an informed decision on whether to adopt. In any case, howls of thanks to you for reading. Please help to spread the word and to educate others about this very special breed.
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Subscribe above to be notified of new postings. You can find my books, seminar DVDs, and blog at www.nicolewilde.com. And you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.

14 Responses to So You Think You Want a Husky?

  1. They are indeed beautiful dogs, but much as I love dogs, I know I would not be a good owner for one. It is heartbreaking that so many are being given up.

  2. Jacob Rogers says:

    I have his keys before love them but can’t find one close to Andover Iowa they need to be good with cats and kids and I don’t have the money to spend 400 bucks on one

    • Jane Eagle says:

      If you can’t afford $400 to get a husky, how will you possibly pay for quality food, vet care, leashes, containment, and all other basic costs? I estimate that if anyone got a “free” dog, by the time you pay for their care, assuming they live 10 years and have no accidents or illnesses, you’ll spend about $10,000.

  3. Paula Webber says:

    Everything you are saying is true. I’m fortunate to be part of a long distance dog sled race in Canada’s north. Most of the dogs are Alaskan Huskies, and seeing these incredible dogs doing what they are bred to do, is absolutely thrilling. They are the true athletes of the dog world.

  4. Stephanie says:

    Currently dealing with an owner well out of her league with a Husky…it’s maddening…

  5. Puppylover8 says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I only wish your post here got more exposure. Submit it to magazines, perhaps??

    Helping out four rescues, adopting four rescues myself, I now measure the health or sickness of a society by how they treat pets. LA is an absolute nightmare (I was going to use a stronger term here) for animals. Take a look at just one shelter, Saving Carson Dogs, where residents line up on Saturdays to dump their dogs. And I thought my county was bad, here in the Midwest. Thank God for the good people there trying to help. Good people chasing the bad.

    I cannot think about it 24/7 or it’ll tear me apart. If anyone can help in anyway they can, then please do so. You will not regret it.

    Thank you and all the rescue organizations, for all you do!

  6. Mike Lehane says:

    Nicole, EXCELLENT article!!

  7. 45 years of Huskies has me agreeing with ALLLLL of this. I keep telling people new to the breed – DON’T think a Husky is a dog. It’s not. DON’T think you can train a Husky. You can’t. You can only negotiate. They love to dig to China. They expect to be equal decision makers in the family unit. You will never have a dog. If you think a Husky is going to be Rover, move over. LOL My mom was the Husky whisperer. She used to have constant conversations and negotiations with all of ours – something I am glad I learned from birth. Please don’t adopt of a Husky if you want a dog. Please adopt a Husky if you want a tireless comedy machine who really is going to be another sibling in the family unit. And like a toddler, they will make mud pies and they will rip all the cushions apart to see who’s inside, and they will eat your toilet paper and yes, they can figure out how you locked that gate or crate and escape and roll up in your bed on your pillow with their muddy feet and yell at you like a wild banshee when you try to take the sheets off to wash them. How dare you! But the look they will give you… if you can resign to all of that, you’ll strike gold.

  8. Michele Puglisi says:

    Thank you so much for this article. I’ve had 2 Huskies over the years. I’m in Clifton, NJ. 15 minutes out of NYC. Both my Huskies were adopted. Miss them both. I’ve recently gotten into web sites and interacted with people that seem EXTREMELY concerned of how many Huskies are there in LA and how short of a time that any breed of animal has until they are euthenized. Now I don’t want to sound like an outsider telling people what to do from all the way across the country. And I see rescues and fosters FRANTICALLY working to save one individual dog at a time. But there’s GOT to b another way. I’ve just read of a husky named Bianca that they were frantically trying to pull from a shelter and she only got 4 days and she was put down. It seems so unreasonable. I guess since I came upon your post, I just wondered, with your experience, is there anything you can do. I know they say there are Huskies out here to b saved. But not as many as CA. I thought if they could shift those in LA to east coast, they might have a better chance. Many possible adopters are always asking about transports from CA. But seems to be that by the time the person might work it out, the dog has been euthenized. I see that there are MANY concerned people. But it’s like trying to stop a train that keeps going. I presently have some rescue cats. Some my daughter brought home 😂 and a ferrill cat had a litter in my yard. I now have to scoot her off my chair on my porch when I want to sit😂. But I do miss my Huskies, dug up yard and all.😂. But I just thought I’d reach back to you to see if there’s anything you could do because everyone on these posts agrees how sad this situation is for particularly CA, Texas and Fla. But no one has an answer. My only Longshot answer is mandatory legal action on breeders. Or mandatory clinics for spay and neuter even if it’s vetinary students that do a certain amount of intern time to get license. I guess after looking at all the sad posts, I’m just hoping for an answer to end the suffering. Anyway, any ideas or action you can think of would of course be appreciated by the animal communities. Sending this note with the utmost respect and appreciation for your devotion to animals. 💕

    • wildewmn says:

      Hi Michele, you’re not the only one thinking this way. If you’re on Facebook, see my post on the Siberian Husky Rescue Network. I’m trying to figure out whether there’s any way to do regular transports. The whole thing is very complicated with lots of moving parts. But I am doing everything I can at this end.

      • Jane Eagle says:

        I would love to see someone work out and run with the idea that breeders MUST be better regulated. I envision some sort of ENFORCEABLE law that all dogs and cats must be microchipped by the breeder, and that registration stays with the animal in perpetuity (others can be added). Then when the animal ends up in a pound or a shelter, they can be traced back to the breeder, who must pay for all food, boarding, and veterinary care until the animal is adopted. As it stands, these greeders make big bucks selling innocent lives; and when those poor animals are dumped, we the taxpayers pay all the costs that really should be the breeder’s responsibility…as part of the cost of doing business. That right there would get rid of 99% of them. Then, if some idiot buys a pet that is not chipped, THEY are registered as the responsible party for the life of the animal. All new pets going to any vet (including the VIP shot clinics and the like) MUST be checked for microchips; any not chipped, the owner becomes the responsible party. Every vet I know already does this. How can we make this enforceable???
        This would also help the truly responsible breeders get their dogs back, too.
        And I envision a corps of volunteers who go through the ads every week and pose as puppy buyers; then they check to see if the seller is a registered breeder. And the breeder license should cost a minimum of $1000, preferably much more, since they are the ones responsible for all costs of the pounds. How hard could it be to get volunteers to go look at puppies???

        This past weekend, I found a post for a Siberian with a FRACTURED PELVIS. She had been sitting in the pound like that for 3 weeks, and her time was almost up. Why give vet care to an animal who will likely be killed? I see this ALL THE TIME, and it is obscene. When I called to make arrangements to get her, she had just been adopted, hopefully by someone who can afford her care.
        If you can judge a society by how animals are treated, we are barbarians.

  9. Oliver greenfield says:

    I have had an akita and a Chesapeake bay retriever that had many of the same attributes…

  10. Karen says:

    Good article, I gave a husky myself and had training at 10 weeks and worked with her. But my husky is very mellow.

  11. As a long time husky owner/lover and a rescue that will always take the breed, I’m am disgusted right now with the influx from Game of Thrones, we did see it to some extent with Snow Dogs and 8 Below, but right now the over breeding is causing serious issues. I’m seeing a ton of overly large Siberians, epilepsy which they are prone to, high strung bite cases from Amish puppy mills. Please if you even consider, I will be more than happy to let you borrow one for the weekend. They are truly not a dog for a first time owner.

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