So You Think You Are Ready for a Sled Dog?
Many people see beautiful huskies or malamutes and adopt them based solely on looks. After all, the beautiful blue eyes on many huskies and the fluffy coats on the statuesque mal are quite mesmerizing.
However, these dogs are not for everyone. They are high energy, and speak a language of their own. A large yard with room to romp isn't enough. You must be willing to exercise these pets daily or they can become destructive. This is why many end up in shelters looking for new homes.
What Exactly is a Northern Breed Dog?
Dogs developed in northern climates have a typical appearance. They are double-coated, with a soft, downy coat next to the skin protected by a longer, stiffer, guard coat. The soft coat helps to trap body heat, and the guard coat keeps the heat from escaping and water from penetrating to the skin. These dogs also have beautiful tails, often curled over their backs, that can protect their noses from the cold when they are curled for a nap.
Often referred to as Spitz-dogs, the northern breeds have thickly-furred upright ears, a pointed muzzle, expressive faces, and a smile. They range from the Norwegian Elkhound to the Keeshond, Akita, Alaskan Malamute, American Eskimo, Samoyed, and Siberian Husky. The Alaskan Husky is also a northern breed, although not a purebred dog; the McKenzie River Husky is a local Canadian race of huskies, and the Chinook, developed from Alaskan sled dogs, is the rarest of the northern breed group. The Siberian Husky is often confused with the Alaskan Malamute, but the Mal is a much larger, more heavily-built dog developed for heavy draft work, not speed.
What Type of Yard Should I Have?
Dogs like huskies and malamutes need a fenced in yard. Huskies (and some mals) are escape artists. The fence needs to be VERY secure. Huskies can jump or climb most fenced-in areas. Six feet is the recommended height. They will also very easily dig out underneath the fence, so it is recommended that if the fence is not placed upon concrete then something should be buried along the perimeter of the fence in order to properly contain them (think, chicken wire). Leaving huskies/mals in a yard or kennel unattended for great lengths is not appropriate for this breed as they are highly intelligent and they WILL find a way out if they choose to do so. If the fence is weak, they can push the fence up or chew through it. This can also occur with wood. Additionally, because they are sled pullers, tying out your Siberian for long periods of time or as a sole source of containment is not appropriate as not only will it escape, other neighborhood dogs then have open access to him/her. Your dog is a social animal and wants to be with you. Please respect that. Invisible fences are also not effective for this breed. These dogs learn very quickly that with a good running start, they can get past the range of the fence. Additionally, their thick fur interferes with the effectiveness of the collars.
Northern breeds will likely not be happy in an apartment unless you are providing them with lots of exercise daily. This would mean something like a morning run, lunchtime walk, evening exercise, and before bed time play time. A few short walks will not cut it with these breeds. They are intelligent and need an outlet for their energy.
Are These Dogs High Energy?
Generally, yes. Of course each dog is different, but it is a very safe bet that your dog will have quite a bit of energy. These dogs are not suited for people who will not provide them with adequate exercise opportunities or who will leave them in a crate/room for the duration of the day. You will find that when you spend time exercising with your dog, you will have a stronger bond with him/her. Additionally, your pet will be more content during their non-exercise time. If they do not have a chance to exercise for a few days for whatever reason, you will notice they will begin to become hyper and harder to control. Huskies, mals, and other northern breeds make great running or biking companions (please be careful of the heat). They're also great to hike with. Of course, you can always get involved in dryland or snow mushing! We encourage you to look into canicross, skijoring, and bikejoring.
Grooming and Care
If you do not like dog hair/fur in your house, on your clothes, in your car, etc northern breeds are not for you. There is a fine undercoat near the skin and a longer, coarser outer coat. You will find both coats in your home regularly - but twice a year they will have a major shed when you can actually see the hair tufting. Be prepared to vacuum your home regularly. Again, If the thought of dog hair on your floor/carpet is a big concern – consider another breed.
As for bathing, your dog does not need to be bathed that often. Twice a year is recommended, unless of course they get in to something nasty. Bathing too frequently strips the oil from their coats. This oil actually helps keep the dog clean. Additionally, most northern breeds groom themselves frequently and keep their coats quite tidy.
Children and Small Pets
Northern breeds tend to do well with children. However, as with any dog, they must be taught to respect the human and they should be supervised with children. No dog wants to have his tail or ears pulled on all the time, so it is also important to teach the child to respect the dog.
Northern breeds (especially Siberians and Mals) do have a high predatory instinct and will hunt cats, birds, bunnies, squirrels, etc. When a Siberian/Mal is raised with a cat, some owners have had success with this integration. However, when an older dog is introduced to the cat, it typically does not end so well for the cat. Every dog is different, so it is difficult to generalize concerning their adaptability with other dogs. Their ability to get along with other dogs, as with any breed of dog, also goes back to their level of dominance and ‘status’ within the hierarchy.
These dogs are intelligent, and have a mind of their own. You must be patient, but stern. You need to be the alpha in the relationship and build a bond of trust and respect with your dog. Although they bond easily and tightly to their human families, most northern dogs do not insist on constant affection. That being said, they love belly-rubs and ear scratches and will love to spend time with you. Most simply do not possess the desire to be stuck to your leg at all times. Few are successful in obedience competition, particularly at the higher levels, because they are easily bored with repetition and lack precision in their work. They are happy to obey, but always on their own terms. Rather than gaze lovingly into the master's eyes, the Siberian will most likely be content to come when called unless there's something else more interesting nearby. It takes a truly dedicated owner to achieve high scores and advanced titles. However, put a Siberian or a Mal in a harness and you will see them shine. After all, it is what they were bred to do. When you find what your dog loves, they will be eager to work with you.
We are happy to answer any questions you might have about adopting a northern breed. They are excellent pets and they will keep you on your toes. They are loving and will bring absolute joy to your life when cared for appropriately. They need lots of daily exercise, and you better be ready to brush your pet daily. Their beauty is incredible and you will have a friend for life if you treat them with the respect and love they deserve.
"He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion."
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