Numbers of abandoned and unwanted wolflike dogs, including huskies and malamutes, ending up at Blue Cross have been steadily rising over the past few years.
Part of the reason for the rise is down to people being drawn in by their striking looks – having spotted them on shows such as Game of Thrones - and making snap decisions to take on dogs such as Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes without thinking about how their lifestyle fits in with the breeds’ needs.
In the right hands, these dogs can make fantastic companions, but before you take the plunge, here are five things to consider…
1. Are you active enough?
All dogs need exercise, but sled dogs are super active. Huskies, malamutes and utonagans have lots of energy and stamina because of the jobs they were selected to do – for example huskies can pull sleds across hundreds of miles of icy terrain. They are not happy with simply slobbing in front of the telly after a 10 minute plod round the block.
They need a considerable amount of exercise – upwards of two hours a day once adult - and, if you’re not able to offer this, then you may find that you have one unhappy, bored and frustrated dog. To ensure that their needs are met and, providing the weather is not too hot, we recommend owners cycle or run with their dog regularly. Many need to be on-lead at all times, because of their strong desire to run and high chase drive. Canicross and bikejoring are excellent sports for arctic dogs and their owners to get involved in.
If you can’t give them this level of physical activity then we strongly recommend choosing a different type of dog, as without it, you are likely to be dealing with problem behaviours caused by frustration.
2. Do you like a good chinwag?
Sled dogs are known for being chatty. They make all sorts of noises, including talking, howling and singing, and enjoy chatting to their owners.
It’s not clear exactly why these breeds vocalise in the way they do, but they are doing so to communicate with you and seem to enjoy having a conversation when we humans speak back to them.
3. How are your hairdressing skills?
Sled dogs are not low maintenance breeds. Those gorgeous coats are built to survive Arctic winters so they are thick, and they shed.
Typically, Arctic breeds need grooming at least once a week, with some needing daily attention.
You’ll likely need to invest in a decent vacuum cleaner, too. That said, many owners report that Arctic breed fur doesn’t leave the ‘doggy’ smell around the home.
4. Do you have a secure home?
These dogs are known for being very athletic. A fence is no challenge to these breeds; they can easily climb over it or dig under it. Closed doors and gates are not enough – these Houdinis will find a way to open them and make a bid for freedom unless potential exits are properly secured, but this is usually only a problem if exercise needs are not properly met.
Sled breeds have a strong desire to run and they generally have a high prey drive too, meaning your neighbours’ cats are likely to become a target if your fence is not high or secure enough. That’s not to say they cannot live happily alongside smaller pets, it’s just that they typically have a strong chase drive. Great care should be taken to keep them safely away from livestock.
5. Will you spend lots of time together?
Dogs are a social species, and due to their heritage, northern breeds are often happiest in the company of other dogs. Sled dogs were bred to work in large groups of canines, and they often become unhappy when left.
No dog should be left alone for long hours at a time, but separation issues are common in Arctic breeds that are left for long periods, particularly those who don’t have enough exercise. Dogs suffering separation problems may become destructive, but if this happens the dog should never be punished; shouting at or physically chastising a dog won’t solve the problem behaviour, and will likely make it worse.
If you have lots of time, patience, understanding to give a dog and you enjoy living an active lifestyle, a sled dog could be the perfect pet for you. Please visit our rehoming pages to see the homeless dogs at Blue Cross who are just waiting to meet you.
We provide free pet advice as every pet deserves to be well looked after. We treated around 35,000 sick injured and homeless pets last year. We're so glad we've been able to help these pets who are unable to help themselves, but there are thousands of sick and lonely pets still in need, so we need to ask for a small favour.
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