Adopting A Siberian Husky: The Good, The Bad, and the Beautiful
My boyfriend and I recently adopted a 5 year old Siberian Husky. Her name is Sindel and she has quickly stolen our hearts. Getting this beautiful dog into our home was a very trying adventure. Many people want to adopt Huskies because, let’s face it, there are few breeds more beautiful than the Siberian Husky. Several movies, like Snow Dogs, has increased the demand for this breed. However, this is not a breed for everyone. If you do even the slightest bit of research, you will see that they require a lot of exercise, grooming and patience. They are not like typical working dogs who live to please their owners. They require an unique approach. They are known escape artists. They will climb, jump and dig their ways out of regular fenced in yards and do what they were bred to do. Run. And run. They also are said to have a very strong prey drive. They supposedly cannot live with cats. Many Huskies end up in shelters because they are purchased for their looks by people who do not research the breed or do not commit to the needs of the dog and they become too much to handle.
With all of this being said, I personally was not interested in adopting a Husky. First and foremost, I have cats. And I love them very dearly. Second, I am used to living with working dogs who are bred to obey their owners. I have raised a Border Collie, a Shepherd mix and a Doberman. All of which took to training easily and were happy to work for treats and praise. Last but not least, I did not want to deal with the shedding. Alas, my boyfriend had his mind set on a Husky and none of the “negative” traits of this dog deterred him, so I gave in.
Finding the Right Fit
I did not want to raise a puppy and I was concerned about bringing in an adult Husky around my cats. So we started researching rescues for dogs who were okay with cats. We found several, but they would only adopt dogs to houses with fenced in yards. We did not qualify because we live in an apartment. We found a couple of Huskies in shelters in the state. They would not adopt Huskies to homes with cats at all. One woman at one of the shelters told me that if I wanted to have a Husky that could live with cats, I should buy one from a breeder. I thought that was the most absurd thing an animal shelter employee could say. On principle, I would NEVER buy a dog from a breeder when I can save one’s life by adopting and for an animal shelter employee to suggest that made me really angry. But that is besides the point. After about two months of searching, we realized we were not going to be able to rescue due to the restrictions they put on being able to adopt this breed.
We moved the search to Rescue.Org where individuals can post their personal pets to be adopted. We ran into similar difficulties. Eventually, after scouring that website and Craigslist for weeks, we came across Sindel. Her owner was obviously not some kind of backyard breeder. She was spayed and vetted. Her owner just could not afford her after a divorce. We drove an hour and a half to get her and bring her home. She was said to not have been good around small animals but had not been tested with cats. Having had experience with raising dogs around cats, I decided I was up to the challenge.
The Fight Against Nature: Prey Drive vs. Cats
I read several articles online that suggested that the animals be able to sniff each other through the door for a few days and then be allowed to sniff each other under close supervision while both were in a calm state. Sindel is an uncharacteristically calm Siberian Husky. I tested her prey drive by seeing if she would chase toys or balls. She showed zero interest. I was hopeful. Upon first contact, Sindel sniffed my cat briefly and went straight for his neck! I couldn’t believe this calm dog with seemingly non-existent prey drive reacted in that way. I was scared the stories about Huskies were true! I automatically started wondering if we could keep her, what I could do about the cats, whether they would need to be separated for the rest of eternity. I was disappointed, but still determined. I came across an amazing blog (http://blog.adoptandshop.org/breaking-bad-habits-prey-drive/) and found hope again. Although Sindel did not take well to the prong collar, (it just made her more curious!) we did employ some other techniques mentioned.
I wanted her to be able to smell Casper in a way that was safe for both of them. We put Casper in a dog crate and closely supervised for a few days. In the first couple of days, Sindel was extremely interested and paced around the crate. She was punished for barking and rewarded for ignoring. She was allowed to sniff as much as she wanted as long she did not growl or bark. She did try to bite him a couple of times through the crate and she was reprimanded for that. After the first couple of days, she was still interested but would come when called with treats. This made me realize that she was not completely fixated and that was great news. We praised her very enthusiastically when she would look away from the crate and gave her treats when she left the crate altogether. We did this for about a week. She had gotten to the point where she did not care that Casper was in the same room as her, when one day my boyfriend accidentally left the bedroom door open for a couple of seconds. I came out of the bathroom and saw Sindel in the room with the cats. I panicked for a split second and then all of my years of watching Dog Whisperer flooded my thoughts and I thought “caaaaaalmmmm energyyy.” I said to my boyfriend, “Turn around slowly. Sindel is in here….. WATCH HER but be calm” So we watched her slowly enter and sniff around and praised her for staying calm and got her out of there after a few minutes without bloodshed. Following that situation, we let Casper roam for 30 minutes at a time with Sindel in the same room, still watching closely and praising for staying calm for a few more days. Casper is extremely confident around dogs since he was raised with my other 3 and he does not scare easilly. Our other cat, Eva, is jumpy and nervous around dogs and it is apparent she makes Sindel nervous and you can observe her physically going into hunting mode. So Eva is allowed out for about 10 minutes at a time, but we are very close when she is. Sindel has come a long way in less than a month from trying to eat the cats to being able to relax while they are in the same room. Classic conditioning wins again!
Anyway, there is my short novel about our first experience with a Siberian Husky. As with any other dog, it takes patience and training. As stated in many articles about this breed, she is not taking well to obedience training, though she will finally sit when asked…. if she feels like it. But hey, progress is progress. We will keep at it. 🙂 I am disappointed in the adoption processes for many of the shelters and rescues I spoke with. While I do understand being responsible with who gets the dogs, I feel as though it would help them to save more lives if they were more lenient and spoke with individuals to determine whether they were a good fit or not. Especially the rescues. So in the end, I’d like to think we still helped out by adopting an older dog and working with her on training and giving her a loving home.