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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The Siberian Husky loves life. Happy and affectionate, he’s a working dog but not a guard dog. His dense double coat makes him well-suited for cold climates, where he can’t get enough of frolicking in the snow.
The Disney adventure movie “Eight Below” is based on the true story of the 1957 Japanese expedition to the South Pole and stars six Siberian Huskies.
Not every breed made its American debut with as big a splash as the Siberian Husky. A team of these lean, fast sled dogs, originally developed by the seminomadic Chukchi people of Northeastern Asia to pull sleds over long distances, proved just what they were made of while racing across the frozen Alaskan wilderness to deliver life-saving diphtheria serum to remote Nome, Alaska, in January 1925. Some of the dogs were taken on a tour of the Lower 48 after news of the courageous men and dogs spread, and they were met with wild acclaim. From that day on, the Siberian has been popular.
For those looking for a calm dog to settle with on the couch in the evenings and maybe enjoy a short stroll around the block a few times a week, the Siberian Husky isn’t a match. The same goes for those looking for a devoted companion who lives to please and hangs on his owner’s every word.
But for people who want a dog to be a partner and friend, who will love children, greet guests, and get along with other dogs — and most importantly, for those ready and willing to provide consistent leadership and plenty of vigorous exercise every day — then a Siberian Husky will be a joy.
Although they usually get along well with other dogs, Siberians have a strong predatory streak and may consider small animals, including cats, prey. Those with multispecies households need to be extremely cautious with this breed.
As should be expected from a breed developed for snow country, the Siberian sheds year-round, but more so in spring and fall. On the upside, his short, thick coat requires little care, and frequent brushing will curb the shedding.
Siberians are not usually barkers, although they’ll often howl, especially to a siren. They are adept escape artists and have been known to climb over and dig under some pretty serious fences. Neutering may lessen the sense of wanderlust, but don’t count on it: Siberians should be microchipped and have an ID tag on their collars at all times if you want to help ensure their safe return after an escape.
Although working Siberians often live happily in kennel situations because they get lots of exercise, relegating a Siberian to the backyard isn’t a great idea. He’ll easily become lonely and bored, and that means he’ll become destructive. Siberians are world-class diggers when they’re not jumping fences and wandering for miles.
Finally, if you are looking for a dog who focuses only on you or will protect your home, choose a different breed. Siberians do not grasp the concept of strangers and may instead greet all with enthusiasm. A Siberian does not a good watchdog make.
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The Siberian Husky is not a dog-wolf hybrid. The original dog was developed about half a million years ago by the Chukchi people in Siberia. He was a working dog who pulled heavy sleds over long distances. The Chukchi tribe lived inland and had to travel to the sea to hunt. They needed a way to get a full sled of walrus meat back home. A sledding dog was just the answer. The Chukchi women took care of the dogs, so the dogs were always around children.
In the early 1900s, the dogs were brought to Alaska to compete in long-distance races, notably the All-Alaska Sweepstakes. Known as Siberians after their homeland, they gained fame for their sledding capabilities and began to be used to deliver mail as well as race.
The Siberian Husky’s greatest feat came in 1925 when people in Nome, Alaska, suffered a diphtheria epidemic in the middle of winter. Antitoxin was needed desperately. A long-range relay of about 20 mushers brought the antitoxin from Anchorage to Nome in six days, nearly 700 miles in temperatures that hovered around 40 degrees below zero. The run brought fame to the breed.
Siberian Huskies were used on the Byrd Antarctic Expeditions, as well as in the U.S. Army’s arctic search-and-rescue efforts during World War II. Many Siberian Huskies were assembled and trained at Chinook Kennels in New Hampshire for use on the Byrd Antarctic Expedition beginning in 1928. Siberians also performed gallantly in the Army during World War II as part of the Air Transport Command’s Arctic Search and Rescue Unit.
Today the Siberian is still famous as a great sled dog who can win races, but he’s also a terrific family pet and companion. He ranks 18th among the breeds registered by the American Kennel Club.
The Siberian Husky is not a one-person dog. Nor is he a guard dog. He might let you know someone is around, but he has no concept of protecting you. The Siberian is a friendly and gentle dog who is not overly suspicious of strangers or aggressive toward other dogs. Among the qualities that make him a wonderful companion are his intelligence, eagerness, and sense of humor. This is a dog who will never let you take life too seriously.
If you plan to live with a Siberian, it’s a good idea to reorder the way you think about events. For instance, though you may think your Siberian is indulging in destructive behavior, he is simply acting on centuries of instinct. He doesn’t dig to be annoying, he digs for shelter and a place to hide and bury things. Or he might be going after a critter. In the tundra, that’s how you find a meal. If you are determined to have both a Siberian and nice landscaping, be sure to train him right from the start that he has one place in the yard to dig; otherwise it’s possible you could look outside one day and see a lunar landscape.
The Siberian doesn’t need a lot of space to live in, but he does need adequate exercise. He will enjoy having a place where he can run safely, and (health permitting) he’s a great companion for anyone who likes to take long walks, runs, or hikes. You can also harness his natural abilities and teach him to pull a sled, wagon, or cart. In a Siberian’s ideal world, you will learn to snowshoe and skijor and let him shoot through snow while pulling a sled. However, its always a good idea to check with your vet before starting any new exercise program with your dog.
Training? Well, some Siberians learn to perform well in such activities as obedience. Others pop out of the ring to share someone’s popcorn. The phrase “obedient Siberian Husky” is something of an oxymoron. Taking a laissez-faire and easily amused attitude makes training a Siberian much more enjoyable.
Curiosity combined with a love of running and exploring is a Siberian’s besetting sin. The original Houdini Hound, he can work a small hole until he’s out. And when he runs free, he can run far. If he stays outside in a kennel while you’re at work, inspect it regularly for possible escape points.
He’s not a big barker. Instead, the Siberian makes his own music. He will whine or moan, and when he feels like it, he will hold his head high and release his Siberian howl. There’s no other sound like it.
As a long-time nomad, he adapts easily to new situations. He won’t have any problems when you move to a new house other than figuring out where he can escape from it. And to him, that’s not a problem, but a complex intellectual task to be achieved.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on her puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
The Siberian is generally healthy as a breed, but there are some concerns to be aware of. Possible inherited diseases include hip dysplasia, an orthopedic condition in which the head of the thigh bone doesn’t fit properly into the hip socket. Mild cases result in arthritis that may be manageable with medications and other therapies. More severe cases require surgery. Hip dysplasia is a terrible situation for a dog who loves to run and pull sleds.
Siberians can also be affected by eye problems including juvenile cataracts, corneal dystrophy, and progressive retinal atrophy. Juvenile cataracts typically start forming before the dog is 2 years old. Cataracts are an opacity that forms in the lens and either clouds or blocks vision. Surgery can correct the problem. However, if the cataract isn’t causing pain or other medical issues, understand that most dogs, including Siberians, get around just fine when they’re blind. Corneal dystrophy involves a difference type of opacity, this time one that clouds the cornea, as opposed to cataracts that cloud the lens. Typically both eyes are affected. A Siberian can become blind depending on how much of the cornea is clouded. Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease of the retina that eventually leads to blindness.
Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Siberian Husky Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. To obtain a CHIC number for a Siberian, the breeder must submit hip evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) or Universityof Pennsylvania (PennHIP), and an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) or the Siberian Husky Ophthalmic Registry.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
If the breeder tells you she doesn’t need to do those tests because she’s never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been vet checked, or any of the other excuses bad breeders have for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Siberian at an appropriate weight is one of the easier ways to extend his life. Make the most of diet and exercise to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Siberian should look “well furred” according to the breed standard, and indeed he does. He has a medium-length double coat. The soft, dense undercoat is topped with straight guard hairs that lie smooth. That double coat means that the Siberian sheds. Oh, yes, he sheds. He sheds throughout the year; once or twice a year he undergoes a process called “blowing coat,” which is just what it sounds like. During this period you may feel that it is snowing gray and white hair. A shedding blade or coat rake will become your best ally.
That said, the Siberian is actually pretty easy to groom. Outside of shedding season, brush him occasionally with a slicker brush to remove dead hair. Trim the hair between the foot pads. That’s all. A bath is almost never necessary. The Siberian is a very clean dog with little to no odor.
The rest is basic care. Trim his nails as needed, usually every week or two if he doesn’t wear them down naturally with all his running around. Brush his teeth regularly with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with, and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes take to avoid those problems.
The Siberian Husky Club of America is a good place to start your search for a responsible breeder. Look for a breeder who abides by the club’s code of ethics, which does not permit the sale of puppies through brokers, auctions, or commercial dealers such as pet stores. Breeders should their sell puppies with a written contract guaranteeing they’ll take back their dogs at any time during their lives if the new owners become unable to keep them, and with written documentation that both the puppy’s parents (and if possible, his other close relatives) have had their hips and eyes examined and certified by the appropriate health organizations. Seek out a breeder whose dogs have working titles that require athleticism and good health, not just ribbons from the show ring.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Siberian Husky puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Siberian Husky might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dog of your dreams. An adult Siberian Husky may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy.
With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Siberian Husky in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Siberian Huskies available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Siberian Husky. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. Most people who love Siberian Huskies love all Siberian Huskies. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Siberian Husky Club of America may be able to help you find the perfect family companion. You can search online for rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Siberian Husky home for a trial to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Siberian Husky, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Siberian Husky to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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