Indefinitely Wild

How to Own a Husky in the City

The megapopular breed is possibly the worst city dog. But adopt these practices (and warning: they just might uproot your life) and it can also be the best.

Bowie (left), and Wiley (right) "enjoy" a bath. I use quotes because they freaking hate baths. (Wes Siler)

The number of huskies being abandoned has reached a record high. People buy the breed for its looks without considering what they’re like to live with as high-energy creatures that need a lot of exercise and freedom.

This is our attempt to fix that. Whether you’re shopping for a husky now or have one that’s already destroying your couch, let’s look at what huskies require from their owners and how you can live harmoniously with one.

Who are we to give this advice? Well, Blair’s a dogsled racer who lives in the woods of northern Wisconsin, and Wes lives in Hollywood with his five-year-old Spitz-type mutt named Wiley and a nine-month-old half-husky, half-German shepherd named Bowie. We’ve made our dogs happy and think you can, too.

Why Are Huskies So Popular?

“We understand that due to the direwolves’ huge popularity, many folks are going out and buying huskies,” says Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s Game of Thrones. “Not only does this hurt all the deserving homeless dogs waiting for a chance at a good home in shelters, but shelters are also reporting that many of these huskies are being abandoned—as often happens when dogs are bought on impulse, without understanding their needs.”

Hollywood’s focus on wolves isn’t entirely to blame. The internet has made ordering a totally unsuitable pure-bred dog extraordinarily easy. The American Kennel Club’s website lists 182 husky puppies for sale. Ordering one isn’t quite as easy as clicking “buy it now,” but after filling out some forms and making a phone call, you could be picking up a husky at your local airport in a week or two.

I have 21 huskies, and only two of them want to be pets. I know because when the other dogs come into the house, they wail at the door until I let them out again. They enjoy but do not crave human attention, and they are generally happiest when they’re outside, running and playing with their friends. They’re sled dogs through and through, and those perfectly adapted to indoor life are the rare exception: the dogsledding dropouts, so to speak. —Blair Braverman

Combining fantasy, fashion, and immediate gratification just isn’t a great combination when it comes to living creatures that require significant amounts of time, energy, and ongoing expenses. Rescue facilities in the United States and Europe report that the number of abandoned huskies has roughly doubled since Game of Thrones premiered in 2011.

Why Are Huskies So Problematic?

It’s tempting to say that huskies aren’t the problem—the owners are. But that would only be half true—this is one of the most challenging dog breeds around. Energetic and intelligent, huskies easily grow bored. Combine endless amounts of pent-up energy with levels of creativity and problem-solving that rival those of a two-year-old child, and you have a recipe for mischief-making of the highest order.

Plus, your two-year-old can’t jump a six-foot fence. And it can’t dig under one. Your kid’s jaws aren’t perfectly adapted to destroying furniture. Unless you really screwed up, it probably doesn’t have a strong prey drive, either. Or the ability to kill and eat every small animal it comes across. A kid might howl like a husky, but landlords and neighbors tend to be more understanding when it’s a human making the noise.

Bowie gets about ten miles of off-leash running in most days. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want to get out on his own. So far, he’s escaped our yard twice. I caught him both times because he stopped running momentarily to try and eat a cat. —Wes Siler

Huskies require huge amounts of exercise, don’t take easily to training, are notorious escape artists, have a very high prey drive, love to dig, are heavy shedders, make a ton of noise, and do best as part of a pack. Can you realistically deal with that if you live in a city, or even the suburbs?

What Huskies Require

Let’s work through the breed’s requirements, one by one, and how you can best address them.

They can run more than 100 miles a day, day after day—a migration that, in a wild species, would make them one of the fastest-moving land animals on the planet. —Blair

Exercise: Huskies need to run and are designed to pull. They make great trail dogs, so they’re an ideal companion for trail runners, mountain bikers, backcountry skiers, and the like. While on-leash walks and regular bathroom breaks if you live in an apartment are obviously a requirement, a husky also requires significant daily off-leash exercise. Dog-friendly hiking trails are ideal, but a small dog park or a simple game of fetch will not suffice. Five to ten miles of off-leash running a day (that’s for adult dogs; refer to our previous puppy guidance for younger dogs) will produce a happy husky. A well-exercised dog will be a well-behaved dog; exercise will mitigate most of the husky’s other issues.

Training: Incredibly intelligent, huskies are adept learners, but they’re also sensitive and willful, don’t take to harsh methods, and retain a high degree of self-determination. Only positive reinforcement methods should be used and repeated regularly throughout the dog’s life, and a husky will always work best with motivation. Patience and consistency are key.

They can sprint up to 30 miles an hour, which means that if you turn away for six minutes, they could be anywhere within a three-mile radius. —Blair

Escaping: Huskies need a yard that’s completely enclosed by at least a six-foot fence. Huskies can climb simple chain link, so a privacy fence will work best. Burying the fence at least a foot into the ground and surrounding it with concrete slab or employing other anti-digging measures should be considered a requirement. Gates should be equally tall and impossible to dig under and should feature automatic closures, if not also auto-locking mechanisms.

Prey Drive: Keep your husky on-leash in places where you don’t want it to hunt, kill, and eat small animals. Lots of toys and frequent play help direct the dog’s urges, but a husky will do best if it regularly gets the opportunity to pursue things like rabbits, squirrels, and rats in a safe an appropriate environment. Squeamish owners need not apply.

When Bowie was five months old, I rescued a baby fox squirrel. The baby was in a box on the kitchen counter, but I needed a syringe to administer Pedialyte. So I locked the dogs outside and ran to Rite Aid. While I was gone, Bowie taught himself how to work a door latch, opened two of them, and got the squirrel off the counter. As soon as he saw me, he tossed his head back and swallowed the baby squirrel whole. —Wes

Digging: Like prey drive, the urge to dig isn’t something you can just wish away. Give your dog a permitted place in the yard for it to dig, and squirt it with a water gun when you catch it digging elsewhere. Fill in undesired holes, possibly with bricks and the like, to further discourage digging in those areas.

Shedding: Fur is another thing you’re just going to have to welcome into your life if you want a husky. Regular combing helps, particularly in summer, when they need to be combed to help thin their inner coat. Expect your husky to blow its coat twice a year, producing an entire dog’s worth of excess fur during a very short time period. Brush even more often while that’s happening. A robot vacuum and a quality human-operated vacuum designed to catch pet hair are both essentials for a husky owner, but you’ll probably benefit from hiring a cleaning service, too.

Noise: Huskies don’t tend to be problem barkers, but they do express themselves by howling regularly. Expect to hear your dog howl when you leave, when you come home, when your husky is hungry, when it wants to play, or when you leave it alone. Apartment dwellers should consider their building’s insulation levels and tolerance for noise. Homeowners should make nice with their immediate neighbors several houses in either direction.

In their winter coats, huskies think freezing temperatures are too hot. Every aspect of their physiology is adapted for deep cold, from their metabolisms to their soft ears and the fluffy tails they curl over their noses to sleep in the snow. —Blair

Pack Instinct: Huskies aren’t necessarily very human-focused, but they do need companionship. For this reason, they can become noisy and destructive when left alone. Huskies work best when they have company. That can be another dog or dogs, a human who works at home, a dog-friendly work environment, or a house where multiple people live and whose presence mostly overlaps. When with your husky, you can expect it to want your attention, if not demand it.

Heat Tolerance: You can’t talk about husky ownership without talking about hot temperatures. Designed to work outside in temperatures as low as minus 75 degrees Fahrenheit, huskies will obviously do better in colder climates. But the thick double coat that makes them thrive in the cold can also help insulate them from extreme heat, which is why you should never shave a husky. Dogs will adapt to the environment they live in and shed as much fur as necessary for the weather they’re experiencing. Help them through this by combing them frequently. Care should also be taken while exercising when it’s hot outside. Do that early in the morning or late at night when temperatures are coolest. Take care to provide your dog with adequate water while exercising, and pay attention for signs of overheating. Also, don’t leave a dog that’s used to warm temperatures out in the cold.

Is This Realistic?

It’s possible. People successfully own huskies in small apartments and in hot, humid cities and while holding down normal jobs. But those people are the exceptions. The more time and space you have, and the more exercise you enjoy or need, the easier life with a husky is going to be.

If you want a successful life with a husky, you’ll have to shape its world to be as well-suited to its instincts as possible. —Blair

The common factor that unites successful husky owners, whether they’re in Alaska or Los Angeles, is commitment. You need to ask yourself if you’re prepared to commit to this much exercise, if you can afford to spend this much time with a dog, and if you want to alter your entire lifestyle to suit a pet. Honestly, for most people the answer will be no. But those who can manage it will be rewarded with an incredible partner.

He’s still a baby, but Bowie’s already the smartest, most athletic dog I’ve ever owned. Just wish he’d use all that for something other than evil. —Wes


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