The Siberian Husky is certainly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful dog breeds. However, hidden under the gorgeous coat, sleek lines and lovely face is a true sled dog character that is not often adapted to a family who is not familiar with the breed or ready to learn and adjust to its differences. Siberian Huskies are not ordinary domestic dogs. These dogs, like the other sled dog breeds, need to be with owners who can manage them in an appropriate, firm and non-violent “pack leader” manner. Their education should, ideally, begin when they are still at the breeder’s, and continue in a simple but logical manner when they arrive in their new homes.
Huskies in general are pack animals, like their wolf ancestors, and as such organize themselves into a relatively clear hierarchy with a dominant dog or perhaps a dominant couple, and the others coming after them in an accepted order of submission. In a normal, healthy pack structure, the adult dogs will sort themselves out with few real quarrels regarding who is next in line and the youngest dogs and any newcomers to the pack at the bottom of the totem pole. Establishing a trouble-free hierarchy is easier when the dogs are born into the pack and can be more difficult when dogs are introduced from outside.
Whenever dogs live in a pack and dominant characters collide, tensions, threatening postures, growling and sometimes out and out fighting may occur until all the dogs have understood and accepted their rank. It is up to the owner or handler as “super leader” to manage any problems calmly and in a no-nonsense manner in order to prevent the situation from becoming impossible to live with and avoid uncontrollable and chaotic situations that will lead to injuries. Sometimes Siberian Huskies hold lifelong grudges and should that be the case, then keeping dogs in a pack can become quite impossible.
Acquiring a Siberian Husky should only be done from a serious, reputable person who knows the breed well. The prospective owner should not be afraid to ask questions to be sure about this. It can be an established breeder or one who only has a litter for sale or even a shelter or rescue group, but the quality of the dogs’ socialization is primordial. Buying from “puppy mills” and pet shops usually has disastrous consequences both for buyers and for dogs. Many times the price is the same or higher than at a serious breeder’s but the guarantees are not as good. No matter how stunning the dog’s looks, he must fit into the buyer’s family and lifestyle and be healthy and easy to live with above everything else. If not, the chances are the family will have to re-home the dog, at best. The worst situations can be devastating.
If the Husky is the only dog in the family, in his mind the human family members will make up his “pack”. It is a mistake to believe a dog has the same reasoning process as a human, no matter if he seems “almost human.” No dog works that way; dogs reason like dogs and the owners must understand how the dog thinks and act accordingly. Basic education can help make sure the Husky does not become the leader of the pack and thus the potential source of much difficulty and heartache.
Siberian Husky puppies should remain with their mother for at least eight weeks and preferably up to twelve weeks. There are several advantages to a longer period with the mother and the pack. First, the puppies will have been properly weaned and will have received the majority if not all of their vaccinations. In addition, the mother and other pack members will have begun the puppies’ “dog socialization”, and the pups will have begun to learn to submit to the adults’ authority. The breeder will usually have also begun some simple education, such as “sit”, “lie down”, “no mouthing”, “name” etc. Finally, serious breeders will have made sure their puppies are well socialized with other humans and perhaps even with other species of animals. If all of this has been successfully done, the new owner will have no difficulty continuing the puppy’s education… and the key word is “continue.”
When educating Siberian Huskies, it is important to remember that they have excellent hearing and are very sensitive to posture and attitude. There is no need to shout or gesticulate except perhaps in an emergency situation or if they are at some distance, and in fact speaking quietly to the dog will get far better results. Shouting can also be perceived as aggression, and the dog will be less inclined to do what is being asked out of fear or perhaps react defensively. Creating a trusting, happy relationship is essential to educating a dog well and easily. Firmness may be necessary, but excitement and rough handling never is. Finally, while talking to one’s dog is part of the relationship, constantly chattering to him and using a number of different words for the same command is counter-productive. In the end, the dog just perceives it as “noise” and no longer recognizes any sound as something to which he should react.
Once the pup arrives in its new home, it should as far as possible be able to find situations that are at least somewhat familiar. This means that the buyer will have to discuss with the breeder about how the puppy has been raised and fed, and reproduce that as best he can when he takes the puppy home. In terms of education, this means starting the new puppy out the way things are intended to continue. Certainly, the first night is stressful for the pup, but, for example, if he is not to sleep in the owner’s room, he should not sleep there on the first night just because he misses his siblings and is vocal about it. Puppies need their own place to go for peace and quiet, and if the owner provides a blanket or towel which has the mother and sibling’s odor on it, it will help calm the pup and he will adjust easier to being without them.
Siberian Husky puppies are very playful and often try to mouth or play-bite. This is to be discouraged to avoid any possible incidents in the future. One simple way to do so is to flick the pup’s nose lightly if it mouths a hand or play bites. At the same time, scold the puppy firmly, stop all play and then pet and praise the pup when he desists. Older children should also be shown how to do this, and supervision should always be present with pups and toddlers to immediately correct any unwanted puppyish - or childish - behavior.
Offering a toy to chew and play with is also a form of positive motivation. Gentle but firm persistence will pay off and soon the pup will learn he is not to bite. At this time, it is also good to get him used to having toys or other objects gently but firmly removed from his mouth without protesting and to remain calm if people should go near his food or water dishes. This does not mean the dishes should be taken away while he is eating or drinking. Rather, he must learn that his dishes can be taken up for washing or other normal cleaning activities, but he will be respected and not bothered while he eats and drinks.
Teaching a Husky pup to sit and lie down on command is relatively simple. “Sit” can easily be obtained before feeding or giving a treat. The food or treat is held over the puppy’s head in a way that makes him look up and have to tilt his head back. The command “Sit” is repeated until the dog sits to better look up, and the reward reinforces the command. Soon the simple gesture of holding up the food or treat will prompt the pup to sit. Once he has understood he must sit and wait for the food, the lessons can be continued replacing the food reward with praise and petting. “Lie down” can be achieved by patting the floor or ground playfully in front of the puppy. He will want to play and probably flop down by himself. At the same time, the order to lie down can be given, and the puppy rewarded. He should be held gently but firmly in a “down” position (for example on his back, rubbing his stomach) for a few minutes and the order repeated to familiarize him with it. He will soon be proficient.
These are just some simple tips on how to begin educating a Siberian Husky puppy. If training is done regularly, as part of daily feeding, grooming and play routines, the puppy will learn quickly and the commands can then be extended to other daily situations. Puppies love to please, and a puppy that is well educated right from the beginning and knows what is allowed and expected of him will have a stable character and grow up into an adult that is easy to live with.
Learn more about Siberian Husky harness training and exercise here.
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