How to Take Care of a Siberian Husky
As the owner, or potential owner, of a Siberian or Alaskan husky, it's important to know that this kind of dog needs special care because of a few aspects of the breed. These dogs were originally bred to run long distances and sprint in extreme weather, which means they have thick coats of fur that need special care and they do best when they are thoroughly trained and given a lot of exercise. Even though it may be a bit more work to properly care for a husky, they can also be loving canine companions to their owners.
Exercising a Husky
1. Be prepared to give your dog adequate exercise.
These high energy dogs need a lot of exercise; it’s what keeps a husky happy. Healthy huskies need the equivalent of three to five miles of exercise four days a week.
- This exercise can be in the form of running, playing with other dogs, swimming, or one-dog sledding type sports, such as bikejoring, skijoring, or swimjoring.
2. Build up the amount of exercise you give your dog slowly.
Your husky may have the energy to run all out the first day, but it doesn't have the conditioning. When biking, go slow enough that your husky can run at an easy pace.
- Most dogs start out much too fast and need to be managed until they settle into a comfortable pace. It's easy to out run a husky on a bike, which puts your husky at risk for overheating, becoming overwhelmed because the pace is too fast, and fearing the exercise.
3. Only exercise your husky during cool weather.
Temperatures above 65ºF (18ºC) are bordering on too hot to exercise. If there is a breeze, low humidity, or your dog can easily cool off in water, you may be able to exercise at these temperatures.
- On hot summer days keep exercise to a minimum or only exercise before the sun comes up and heats up the day.
- Consider altering outdoor exercise with indoor exercise in an air-conditioned building.
- Keep in mind that racing sled dogs do not work very hard unless the temperature is below 20ºF (-6ºC).
- Keep warm weather exercise sessions less than 3 miles (4.8 km) long (less than 5K).
4. Watch closely for signs of overheating.
Siberian huskies have multiple coats of fur, and were bred for working in the snow. Keep this in mind when you take them out on a warm day. These include: excessive panting, excessive salivation, bright red tongue and gums (or pale gums), thick saliva, weakness, collapse, and vomiting, which is sometimes bloody. You never want to get your dog to this point, as heat illness (stroke, overheating) can cause serious consequences to your husky.
- Give your husky plenty of cool water to drink. Some dogs enjoy ice as well.
- There are ways to prevent heatstroke starting with using common sense. If you are uncomfortable in hot weather your husky, with its thick fur coat, is probably much more uncomfortable to the dog, than you.
- If you exercise your husky using a head halter, make sure your husky can open its mouth wide enough to pant normally. The mouth is the only pathway for reducing body heat.
- The larger the dog, the harder it is to stay cool. Dogs stay cool through panting. Larger dogs have more body heat to get rid of, so it takes time for them to cool. If you have a large husky – 60+ pounds(27kg+) – take extra precautions in the heat.
Grooming a Husky
1. Brush your dog regularly.
This will help keep its coat in good condition but it will also reduce the amount of fur it sheds in your home. Consider using a Furminator comb, which is an incredibly effective tool for getting the loose fur from the top coat and undercoat.
2. Keep bathing to a minimum.
You can bathe your husky, but sometimes a good brushing and a waterless shampoo is all your dog really needs. When you bathe your dog with shampoo you break down the protective skin oil. Only bathe when absolutely necessary (like after an interaction with a skunk) and make sure his or her fur dries thoroughly to prevent skin problems.
3. Never shave your husky.
Fur helps regulate body temperature. Most huskies have a double coat, which consists of a thick undercoat and a guard hair layer. These layers keep your husky warm and cool.
- Only under medical circumstances should you ever shave a husky.
- The skin of Nordic dogs is like that of light skinned humans, meaning that it does not protect them from the sun's harmful rays( no pigmentation). When you shave your husky you leave the skin unprotected from the sun.
- Also, every time you shave your husky, the undercoat will grow back less successfully and the outer layer of fur will grow back less soft and more apt to get tangles and knots.
4. Protect the dog's paws.
Always check the pads after exercise to make sure they are not damaged by the road or trail surface. Hot surfaces can burn the paw pads severely and rough surfaces can cut the pads. Look carefully at each pad and between each toe. Also double check the nails to make sure they are not so long that they inhibit natural foot movement.
- Also, dog paws have a few sweat glands. The warm foot, which becomes moist from the sweat gland, against cold snow can lead to the snow getting stuck between your husky's paws. This can cause skin damage. Dog booties can be used to stop this from occurring but if you don't have them, just make sure the dog's paws are clear of snow right after exercise.
Training a Husky
1. Use the proper tools to train a husky.
The best tools for walking a husky are the front clip harness and the head halter. Harnesses also work, but if you want your dog to learn to pull use the harness for that job. Your husky can learn to pull in a harness and walk nicely with a head halter.
- Train with the right equipment. Don't let your husky pull you with while wearing a collar or head harness (even just down the road on your skateboard). The dog can damage its neck and back. Always use a harness.
2. Train a solid recall.
Training your dog to come when called is called a recall. Recall training should only be practiced outdoors if your dog is on a leash. To be successful in the recall start practicing it as early as possible. Force-free methods - methods that reinforce with things your dog likes - work best in creating a solid recall.
- One of the best way to train a solid recall is to start training your husky at a young age. Make sure it’s on a leash in an enclosed area (fenced in yard) and at a time when it is more relaxed—after a moderate amount of exercise is a great time. Keep some small tasty treats (tiny slivers of cheese or cooked chicken breast) in your pocket. Let your dog wander around then call its name saying “Come (insert name).” When he or she comes praise it and give it a treat.
- Work on this training for short periods of time (5-10 minutes) over the course of a week. When your dog is coming consistently to you, you can stop giving treats and only giving praise when it comes to you. It’s an invaluable and potentially lifesaving lesson to learn.
- Every time your husky has a chance to run free, either by choice or by accident, it will learn that running free is fun and it will want to be free to run as much as possible. Limit this from a young age if possible.
3. Manage the high prey drive of a husky.
This is especially important around cats and other small animals the dog might mistake for prey. In order to manage your dog's natural instinct to hunt, you need to keep your dog contained, train it to respond to your commands immediately, and give it outlets for its energy.
- Keep a husky contained for its own safety and the safety of other animals in your area. Keep it on a leash when in public and make sure any yard it is free to roam in is fully fenced.
- Train your husky to come on command. If your dog is stalking prey or actually attacking another animal, it's important to be able to get the dog's attention and stop it from continuing bad behavior. Voice control over your dog's actions is of utmost importance. It can take a lot of work to get your dog really well trained but it is worth the effort.
- Give your dog a lot of outlets for its energy and its prey drive. On a regular basis play fetch or tug of war with your dog, or simply give it lots of toys to play with. If you can focus the dog's energy on fake prey instead of real prey, you lessen the chance the dog will attack another animal.
- Sometimes a husky and cat relationship can work out without a glitch, but often it is a constant management situation. If you are really skilled at keeping doors shut, gates locked, litter boxes cleaned, and protecting your cat at all times, you can probably have a cat and husky in the same house.
- If you have poor management skills, don't get a husky if you already have a cat. Huskies and cats live together peacefully if they are each properly socialized and introduced to one another.
Feeding a Husky
1. Feed your husky a balanced diet.
In general, it's best to feed your husky a mixture of commercial dog food and raw food. They need a diet high in protein, so feeding a well-balanced commercial food combined with raw red meat can fulfill their dietary needs.
- You could spend a good portion of your life researching dog food and trying to figure out what is best. If you are unsure about what to feed your dog, consult with your veterinarian. He or she should have a good suggestion for you.
- Never feed a dog cooked bones! They can splinter and injure, or kill, your dog. Raw bones, on the other hand, are great for a husky to chew on.
2. Feed your husky a seasonal diet if it is an outdoor dog.
A good rule to follow is to add fat and protein during the cold months and hard training, and to subtract fat and protein during the warm months. This may be as simple as feeding one brand of food in the winter and another in summer.
- Only feed after exercise. Feeding before exercise puts your husky at risk of gastric bloat and torsion. This serious condition can kill a dog. A good rule to follow is to feed 30 minutes after exercise or four hours before exercise.
3. Provide water for your husky at all times.
Every dog needs unlimited access to water in order to stay healthy and hydrated. This is especially important to remember in cold climates and cold winter months, when water dishes may freeze. Ether move your dog's water dish into a warm area that it can always access or invest in a water system that will not freeze.
Caring For a Husky
1. Enrich your husky's life with lots of activities.
This will help to keep your husky happy. Most mushing dogs get several miles of exercise four times a week. If you don't mush full time, you need a little help keeping your husky happy. Enrichment means something that engages your husky in an activity that uses his or her brain. Bones, toys that can be stuffed with food, buster cubes, doggy daycare, long hikes, and dog sports are all great ways to keep a husky happy.
- Huskies are known as being escape artists. This really translates to a bored dog finding something better to do. If your husky is already an escape artist, or you want to avoid your husky learning to be an escape artist, they must get enrichment.
- Huskies are capable of learning agility, fly ball, Frisbee, and other dog sports besides mushing.
- One thing you can do to entertain you Husky is to design an agility course.
2. Keep your husky healthy.
Take your dog to get a veterinary exam on a regular basis. Your veterinarian can assess your dog's overall health and tell you what, if anything, to keep an eye on.
- Also make sure your dog is flea and tick free. Fleas can cause skin irritations and carry parasites. You have to be diligent about combing through your husky’s dense fur coat to keep on top of a possible flea infestation.
- Huskies that live outdoors are at a greater risk of parasite infestations and diseases. Make sure your husky has flea, tick, and heart worm protection, and has an annual veterinary checkup. These issues are easily prevented with timely veterinary visits.
3. Decide whether your dog will live inside or outside.
Huskies can live indoors like any other breed. Even mushers have started building dog barns (small horse style barns) for their teams. It has been discovered that dog teams recover better sleeping in the warmer barn versus sleeping outdoors during training. With training, your husky can be taught to live indoors.
- Even though huskies function well in cold climates, they are not immune from the cold. You cannot leave a husky out in the cold all of the time. At the very least they need warm dog houses or other shelters to warm up from the cold.
- In addition, you certainly do not want to leave a husky outside during very hot weather. A husky's thick coat does not allow them to cool down enough to survive in hot weather. If you live in a warm climate, do not have your husky live outside, as it needs protection from the heat.
4. Set up a warm dog house if your husky spends time outdoors.
Huskies do get cold and need a warm dog house to head into during cold or rainy weather. The dog house needs to be weather proof including a leak proof roof and walls. It should be raised slightly off the ground (using bricks, paving stones, or treated lumber) so air can circulate underneath and to keep water from pooling.
- A blanket or dry straw (changed/washed weekly) should also be placed inside the house.
- In addition, the house should be small enough so the dog can retain body heat, yet large enough that it can stand and turn comfortably.
- Note that an "Alaskan husky" is a dog that has been bred for mushing, and is not a specific breed. A Siberian husky is a purebred dog, which means it has specific marking, lineage, and confirmation requirements making it eligible for registration. Alaskan huskies can have Siberian husky lineage but not necessarily. Whatever your husky's lineage, be prepared for a high-energy, loving canine companion.
- Avoid leaving your husky in a parked car. Cars can reach temperatures of 120-140F (48-60C) within 5 minutes in a parking lot even with the windows open. Cars actually trap heat instead of dissipating it. Thick-coated dogs overheat very quickly. Your best protection is to leave your husky safely at home during hot weather.