The Siberian Husky

Siberian Husky

In 1925 several teams of Siberian Huskies famously carried diphtheria antitoxin in a long-range relay of 20 or so mushers to the stricken city of Nome, Alaska, some 600-plus miles from Anchorage. The dogs and their handlers raced over punishing frozen Alaskan wilderness for five and a half days, tolerating temperatures that hovered around 40 below zero, a feat which thrust them into the public spotlight as canine and human superheroes. The Siberian Husky—solid, hardy, willing to pull most anything to which she is attached—thus gained notoriety as a superlative canine, but also simply as a likable dog. She is not for everyone. If you do not possess patience and understanding in spades—for her proclivity to dig, her uncanny ability to escape a fortressed enclosure, her willfulness, and her indiscriminate acceptance of anybody coming inside your house (even thieves)—this dog is not for you. But if you're willing to commit your time and energy to this intelligent, occasionally comical, and generally winsome creature, she makes a wonderful companion and family dog.


Other Names

The Siberian Husky may also be referred to simply as a Husky, or as a 'Sibe.'


Siberian Husky Mixes

Husky mixes may be available for adoption in shelters and rescues. To adopt an AKC registered or a mixed breed Siberian Husky, the best first step is to contact shelters and breed-specific rescues to let them know you're interested.


While a Siberian Husky mix may show some of the physical characteristics and traits of the Husky, the genetics of the other breeds in the mix may also be present. Most shelters do not perform DNA testing on the animals they care for—breed is often determined based on physical characteristics, as well as information provided at the dog's surrender.


Siberian Husky mixes adopted from a shelter may share physical characteristics of the breed, but their temperament may not match the breed standard. Shelters and rescues attempt to determine each dog's personality through a series of evaluations—even if the dog's temperament may not follow the breed standard, you can get the dog that suits your home.


Siberian Husky mixes may include German Shepherd, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, Rottweiler, or Alaskan Malamute.

Physical Description

Coat

Siberian Huskies have a medium-length double coat that is 'well-furred' in appearance; the undercoat is soft and dense, and the topcoat straight and mainly smooth, never harsh or standing off the body. The husky coat comes in a variety of color combinations, from solid black to pure white, and with colored markings that can include reds and coppers. The Siberian Husky face notably often features distinctive markings or a 'mask,' adding to the breed's allure.


Height

Average Height: 20-23.5 inches


Weight

Male: 45-60 pounds

Female: 35-50 pounds

Breed Standard & History

The Siberian Husky—sometimes called a 'Sibe' or simply a husky—is a medium-sized working dog, quick and light on her feet, with a smooth, effortless gait. Because of her northern heritage, her body is moderately compact and well furred, with erect, triangular-shaped ears and a 'fox-brush' tail she carries over her back in a sickle. Her almond-shaped eyes are set a bit obliquely, and may be brown, blue, one of each, or parti-colored. Her loin is taught and lean, and she rarely carries excess weight; she possesses a winning balance of power, speed, and endurance.

The husky is a traction dog through and through, willing to pull a light load over tremendous distances.


The Siberian Husky is not a wolf hybrid as some assume, but a domestic dog. It's thought this ancient breed—some 10,000 years old—originated among a nomadic Siberian tribe called the Chukchi Eskimos; the word 'husky' in fact comes from the word 'Eski,' an obsolete word for Eskimo. The Chukchi bred them as traction animals to pull sleds over great distances, specifically to carry walrus meat from the ocean far inland where the tribes lived. But these dogs were distinct from other working animals because they were invited to live among people as adjunct family members, sleeping with the Chukchi children to provide them warmth and comfort.


Siberian Huskies came to Alaska in 1908 to be used as sled dogs during the gold rush there. They competed in long-distance sled races, and later were used as mail carriers. In addition to their noteworthy role in bringing diphtheria serum to Nome in 1925, the dogs accompanied Richard E. Byrd on his celebrated Antarctic expeditions, and aided the US Army's search-and-rescue operations during World War II.


The last Siberian Husky was exported from Siberia in 1930, just before the Soviet government closed the borders. They continue to be bred in the United States, although they are no longer identical to their Chukchi ancestors. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1930. The Siberian Club of America was founded in 1938, and the Canadian Kennel Club formally recognized the husky in 1939. Today the husky still excels at dog sledding and dogsled racing, celebrated for her incredible endurance and work ethic, but as desirable for her winning demeanor as a family pet.


AKC Breed Category

Working Group

Personality

General Temperament

A sound Siberian Husky is friendly and gentle, alert and outgoing. And while a mature husky may show some measure of reserve and dignity, she is not generally aggressive towards other dogs, nor suspicious of strangers—she might let you know somebody's there, but has no drive to protect you. For this reason, she makes a terrible guard dog. Because she is wired to be a pack animal, the Siberian Husky tends to do well in a multi-dog family, and some insist it's actually easier to have a pair of them than one. Regardless, your Siberian Husky needs a strong human alpha—once this is established, she will respect you and you'll have an easier time training her.


The Siberian Husky does not make a good match for the couch potato lifestyle, nor for the person who expects eager compliance with commands. But for an energetic and assertive, experienced dog owner seeking an enthusiastic partner for play and exercise, and one who gets along well with kids and other dogs, the Sibe makes an excellent choice. An occasional comedian and an eager worker, she is an intelligent, agreeable, and social dog who enjoys showing off her tricks and talents.


Family Life

Are Siberian Huskies Good with Kids? Huskies are affectionate and good-natured, and welcome everyone into the home. They are generally reliable around children and make good family pets, but should be closely supervised around your kids. Teach young children to handle the dog gently and avoid pulling her enticing tail or otherwise tugging at her. And because your Siberian Husky may guard her food, best to leave her alone while she's eating.


Are Siberian Huskies Good with Other Pets? Siberian Huskies have a strong pack instinct and thus get along well with other dogs. But be advised that punishing conditions in Siberia also created a strong prey drive in this dog, and even a modern husky may view small animals—including squirrels, rabbits, and even cats—as potential prey. She'll do best when she meets other household pets while she's still a puppy.


Protective

Are Siberian Huskies Good Guard Dogs? The answer is an emphatic no. While your husky may bark or howl to announce a visitor, she makes friends indiscriminately and is more likely to welcome a would-be thief into your home than to guard you or your possessions.


Energy Levels

On a scale of one to five—five being high-energy—huskies are a solid five. This working breed needs a daily outlet for her vivacity. Because of this and other traits, the Siberian Husky may prove challenging for the first-time dog owner.


Specific Concerns

  • The Siberian Husky is not especially interested in pleasing you, and can be difficult to train, demonstrating her skills beautifully in her class and then refusing to comply at home.
  • She loves indiscriminately and makes a poor guard dog.
  • The husky is notorious for finding her way out of most any enclosure pretty effortlessly; any kind of fencing you install for her must be tall and also sunk deep into the ground.
  • She possesses a strong wanderlust, and once out of her enclosure has no sense of direction—she may cover miles before she is caught.
  • Your husky is fully capable of demolishing the inside of your house, and can wreak havoc in the yard, especially if she's under-exercised: safeguard your possessions indoors, and give her a special spot of her own to destroy outdoors—you will never 'train' the predilection for digging out of her.
  • She does not tolerate alone time well, and is challenging for an uninitiated dog owner.
  • Sheds profusely, and 'blows' her undercoat—drops large amounts all at once— twice annually.
  • She has a strong prey drive and should be leashed always when you walk her, as she will give chase to small animals.
  • She may never bark, but she loves to howl, and at the slightest provocation; this may make her unsuitable for apartment living.
  • She requires lots and lots of exercise.

Requirements

Indoor

The Siberian Husky adapts well to life indoors, even in an apartment, so long as you get her outside a couple of times a day for vigorous exercise. She may howl indiscriminately at noises that set her off—sirens, for example—and so this could be a catch in a multi-family dwelling. And left alone for long periods she may turn to destructive chewing, potentially causing thousands in damage. Obedience training, crate training, and close supervision are crucial for the Siberian Husky indoors.


Outdoor

A Siberian Husky has a thick double coat that protects her from the cold, so she tolerates it well—even frigid, sub-zero temperatures—as her breed has done for thousands of years. She also tolerates heat within reason, after she's blown her winter coat; give her access to plenty of water. And while vigorous outdoor activity is essential for this dog, she is brilliant at escaping an enclosure, either by digging her way out, or going over the top of it: be vigilant. She will also dig for pleasure—you can't train out this strong instinct in a husky, so it's better to provide a sanctioned digging area for her outdoors than to try teaching her to respect your perennials.


Exercise

Daily vigorous exercise is a must for the Siberian Husky, whether it's in your own back yard or out and about. A husky does well with a half hour to an hour of daily exercise; she will gladly run with you (and can most assuredly outrun you), but keep an eye on her in the heat. A small, secured outdoor enclosure also does the trick, under close supervision. Remember that a Siberian Husky is a working dog and needs to keep on working to stay happy.


Endurance

Because this breed was developed for work, the Siberian Husky possesses endurance in spades, along with power, speed, and an enviable work ethic.


Activity distance rating

  • Running Miles: Because she was developed as a traction dog, the Siberian Husky is a born runner, although she is better at distance running than at speed. Once she is conditioned, mileage is no issue for this dog; she can go as far as you wish with enthusiasm, but with a single caveat: the heat. Be smart on your warm-weather runs. She'll never say no, so time your run carefully (opt for early or late in the day during the summer), give her plenty of opportunities to drink fresh water—at least as often as you take a drink—and keep an eye on her for signs of overheating.
  • Hiking Miles: A dog capable of handling the celebrated and grueling Iditarod dogsled race can easily handle hiking, even over great distances, once she's conditioned to do it. So long as you're not expecting too much of her in the heat, she'll match and double your hiking mileage. And because she is genetically predisposed to pulling a payload, ask her to carry a pack: this sled dog will gladly rise to the occasion. But while she is generally good at following the trail, best to leash your gal to keep her natural wanderlust in check.


Food

Generally, a husky does well on 1.5 to 2 cups of high-quality kibble a day, divided into a couple of meals (or dispensed in a busy toy). In spite of their thick coats, huskies are actually fairly small dogs, and their minimal nutrition requirements are a holdover from their beginnings as traction dogs for the Chukchis: they were asked to pull light loads over great distances at a fast pace. Thus, the dogs evolved as small, sinewy, and lean. But what you feed your companion husky depends upon her size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level: each dog is different. Quality matters, too—the better the food, the more nutrition will be packed into it and thus the less you'll need to dispense into her bowl. Consult your vet with specific questions about the best diet for your Siberian Husky.


Alone Time

Siberian Huskies tolerate long periods of alone time poorly. This is a social dog who thrives on human interaction, so be prepared to give her plenty of it. She'll resort to destructive chewing left alone indoors, and will destroy the landscape outdoors if she does not first escape her enclosure. And once she's gone, she's gone, with little sense of direction or distance traveled.

Health and Grooming

Life Expectancy

12 years


Grooming

This double-coated breed is a heavy shedding dog. She'll 'blow' her coat—meaning, heavily shed the undercoat—twice annually, in the spring and the fall; buy a good vacuum cleaner. If you live in a colder climate you can expect a bit less shedding from her. And you can avoid matting if you brush her twice weekly during peak shedding, and once weekly the rest of the year. A shedding blade or coat rake work well on a Siberian Husky during peak shedding season, but a slicker brush is fine for the rest of the year. Huskies also benefit from regular baths, but stay fairly clean from their own grooming habits.


Brush your husky's teeth a couple of times a week to reduce tartar buildup, and trim her nails once or twice monthly if she does not wear them down naturally through activity: if you can hear them 'clicking' on a hard surface, they're too long. Check her ears every week for redness or odor that indicates an infection; wipe them out with a cotton ball dampened with a gentle ear cleaner.


Common Health Issues

Most huskies are healthy, but like all breeds, they can suffer from a number of afflictions. You may encounter any of these afflictions in an otherwise healthy Siberian Husky:


  • Cataracts, an opacity of the eye lens that interferes with vision. The dog's eyes will look cloudy. Cataracts usually occur in a senior dog, and in some instances can be removed surgically.
  • Corneal dystrophy, an opacity in the cornea or outer, transparent portion of the eye, caused by lipids in the cornea. It's observable in young adults and more often in females and has no cure, but does not affect the vision.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness. A reputable breeder does not breed a dog with PRA.

Start with a good breeder who can show you health clearances for your puppy's parents, including Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certificates for hip dysplasia—an orthopedic condition where the head of the femur, or thigh bone, does not fit properly into the hip socket (score of fair or better), elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and von Willebrand's disease; from Auburn University for thrombopathia; and from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF) for normal eyes. Confirm clearances by checking the OFA website (offa.org). And ask your dog's breeder about the ages of dogs in her breeding lines and their causes of death.

Trainability

Basics

Obedience training is a must for the willful Siberian Husky. Start early with her if you can, and have reasonable expectations: she will not win accolades in her canine 'Good Citizen' class. Nor should you be surprised when she demonstrates competence in a group setting but once home behaves like she's learned nothing. Stay patient and be consistent; you're most likely to enjoy success obedience training your husky when she understands you are the 'alpha' dog. Crate training is also an excellent strategy for the potentially destructive husky. And keep her leashed when she is not in an enclosure, as she will take off; she has a strong prey drive and will think nothing of going after the irksome squirrel across the street, and then will simply keep on going.


Advanced Training

While the Siberian Husky may not excel at obedience skills, you can train her to do tricks. Once she understands a few basic commands, she can probably handle navigating an agility course. She can also learn 'shake' or even waving 'hello.' She will gladly engage in games of fetch and hide-and-seek, and unlike most other breeds can be trained to 'sing' (howl) on command, an especially endearing talent. She may not win any awards, but these slightly more advanced activities will help stimulate and engage your curious and intelligent Sibe.


Sporting Dog Training

Sled dog racing is far and away the top sporting activity for the Siberian Husky, where teams of huskies pull a sled with the 'driver' or musher standing on the sled's runners, in a timed competition over a short "sprint" course of a few miles, a mid-distance course of 100 to 300 miles, or a long-distance course up to 1,000 miles—the Iditarod is probably the best known of these. Sled dog races can be run continually or staged, where participants run a different course each day from a central station.

Breed FAQ

Here are a few commonly asked questions about Siberian Huskies.

Explore Other Breeds

While the precise answer is not known for certain, wolf ancestry probably has much to do with it. Ancient breeds, including the Siberian Husky, possess DNA more closely resembling a wolf's DNA than do other breeds. Howling really boils down to communication, the main type being pack identification. In the wild this amounts to gathering the pack together again following a hunt. Wolves who do not go along on the hunt will howl to remind the others in the pack where to find home base again. And if you've been away from home all day, your domesticated husky may do the same. Howling may also be an expression of anxiety and thus an excellent attention-getting strategy, and a primal response to certain stimuli, including the distant sound of approaching sirens.

Yes. Huskies are adaptable dogs, able to flourish in any environment. Be advised that it's a bit more challenging for a husky who has been raised in a cold climate to move to a hot climate. The key to keeping this double-coated northern breed safe in the heat is plenty of access to shade, shelter, and water. Shaving a Siberian Husky who lives in a warm climate is not recommended, because the same undercoat that insulates her from the cold also insulates her from the heat: removing this protective layer can lead to sunburn and actually increases the risk of heat exhaustion.

The Siberian Husky frequently appears on top five and top ten lists of most dangerous dog breeds, with reported dog bites the oft-quoted metric. But many dog breeds—large and small—are capable of biting and aggression. Huskies possess an allure that draws people to them, including uninitiated dog owners who may not understand the commitment of time and energy that is part and parcel of Siberian Husky ownership. For this reason, the husky is well represented in animal shelters. But a well socialized, obedience trained, and supervised husky is not typically an aggressive or dangerous dog.

The scientific name for this phenomenon is heterochromia iridis, and it can occur in any dog breed, and even in people. The substance that gives the iris of the eye its color—melanin—is excessive or lacking in one eye. The condition may be congenital, or develops over time. And while genetics may explain it, heterochromia iridis can also result from an injury. It has no adverse effect on the dog's vision. And while it is more common in some breeds, including the husky, it disqualifies all breeds except the husky in most show rings.

In a word, yes: Siberian Huskies were developed to run and to pull, and if you've ever had a husky you may have found it difficult to train her not to pull—vigorously—against her leash. In fact, when she feels resistance, she'll likely pull harder still. Dogs on sled teams grow more and more excited and impatient to go while they're being harnessed, falling silent only when the sled is finally underway, content to do their work. But there are responsible and irresponsible dogsled operators as there are reputable and disreputable dog breeders. The best operators love their dogs and take exceptional care of them, feeding them the highest quality food, attending to their health and grooming needs in agonizing detail, keeping the kennels spotless, and giving the dogs plenty of time to play and socialize in a large outdoor enclosure—and usually also within the fold of the family who runs the operation. Your companion Siberian Husky may not actually pull a sled, but she is made for it and probably wouldn't object given the chance.