Basic Siberian Husky Ownership – The Least You Should Know before Bringing Home a Husky

Basic Siberian Husky Ownership – The Least You Should Know before Bringing Home a Husky

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Siberian Huskies" by Mary Meisenzahl. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Mary Meisenzahl

In this chapter, we’ll give you some tips and strategies to help adjust your new pup to your home and prepare for a successful relationship. Any dog will take some time to adjust to new circumstances and rules, so hopefully this guide will make the transition as smooth as possible.

Standing by Your Expectations

 As we’ve mentioned before, the first few days with your new puppy are some of the most important—they show your puppy what he can expect to get away with, what he can expect to be rewarded for, and how the routine will go.

Everyone in the household, along with any visitors, must be on the same page about your expectations. If you don’t want a dog that spends his life begging for food, or trying to snatch it off the table, you can’t allow it from day one. Even when confronted with the sweetest puppy-dog eyes in the world on day one, you must resist. That goes for little kids too! If even one person is susceptible to begging and whining, the dog will realize and come back to them, again and again. This goes for just about every rule you want to establish. Pups not allowed on furniture? Don’t allow it, even on the first day.

 How to Crate Train

You probably already know the benefits of crate training. As we’ve discussed in earlier chapters about bringing your puppy home, the crate can be a place of rest for your pup. It can serves as a bed, and since it’s enclosed, the crate can also be a safe retreat from pestering children or too much excitement. Alternatively, a crate can also be a safe place to put an overactive pup so he doesn’t get into anything dangerous when you aren’t around to supervise him.

Siberian husky on grass
Photo Courtesy – Hannah Henson

Finally, the crate will be a great tool for you in potty training, which we’ll address in the next chapter. If your pup sees the crate as his bed, that’s helpful because dogs are very reluctant to go to the bathroom in their bed.

The first step to effectively crate train is choosing the right crate. Ideally, it should be large enough for your dog to walk in, turn around, and lie down, though not so big that he can potty on one side and sleep on the other side. Of course, your Husky is going to grow, so you’ll want a crate that will accommodate his adult size. Some large crates come with partitions so that you can block off the appropriate amount of space as your puppy grows. Jill Campbell of Campbell’s Siberian Huskies recommends a coated wire crate as a place for the puppy to be alone, because Huskies get too hot in plastic crates.

Before you lock your pup in his crate, it needs to be familiar and hopefully not too scary. It’s best to already have the crate set up when you bring your puppy home, so it’s simply part of the furniture in the room. Leave the door open, and allow him to sniff and explore.

Next, work on making the crate welcoming and appealing. Line the crate with a good blanket or dog bed. You can also throw a toy your pup likes playing with into the crate, and allow him to chase after it. Consider placing a blanket over the top as well, to mimic a den environment.

Going in and out of the crate freely is a good start. Then you want to train your pup to tolerate staying in the crate with the door closed. One method that tends to work well is using treats. Show your pup one of his favorite treats. Let him smell it and taste it. Once you’ve really got his attention, throw it in the crate and close the door, with the puppy on the outside. When he’s crying and begging to get into the crate, let him in and close the door behind him. Leave him in there for a short period, around ten minutes, then let him out and immediately take him out to potty. This way, you’ll ingrain the idea that good things can be found in the crate, and it will be associated with positive experiences. You can also establish a routine of potty time immediately after the crate.

Begging

Just about all dogs beg. It’s their natural reaction to food—if it’s there, they want it. With training, you can discourage this behavior and prevent the pup from annoying or harassing your family and guests at mealtimes.

The most important thing you can do to discourage begging is not to give into it. Rewarding begging, even infrequently, can undo your training and reinforce the behavior. Huskies in particular are smart, and they will figure out if there is one member of the family especially likely to fall for the begging routine. Wendy Bentley of Sweetgum Siberians recommends, “Never feed them human food. Once they get the taste of human food, they may become extremely picky.” I’ve experienced this with my own Husky. We became a little too liberal with the treats, and soon she was turning her nose up at plain dog food, waiting for us to add human food on top. This was a wakeup call, and we all decided to be more strict with our “no rewarding begging” rule.

Siberian husky snow
Photo Courtesy – Kelly Rycroft

Be vigilant at home in not rewarding begging, but don’t let up when you’re away from home, either. Remind all visitors and friends that you don’t give your begging pup treats. This can be really hard, and you might even feel mean, like you’re denying your pet. Remember, you feed him two meals a day! He isn’t starving, and in fact you’re looking out for his health. Many dogs in the United States are overweight, and by feeding your Husky a healthy diet you’re helping him avoid health problems.

Beyond just not rewarding begging, you should not pay any attention to your dog while he attempts to beg for a treat. Don’t look at him, talk to him, or do anything else that seems like it might eventually lead to a treat. This includes reprimanding him—that’s still attention! It’s better to just let the behavior pass, and reward him with treats at other times.

If your dog is around at mealtimes, he probably begs and tries to sneak up onto the table. To curb this behavior, start a new routine where he waits in a different room while you eat. This won’t be easy, and probably won’t take right away. You might need to use a baby gate, at least at first, to keep him out of the kitchen or dining room. After you finish eating, go to your pup and reward him with snuggles and treat. You want to establish the message that staying quietly in his place while you eat will yield the best results for him. You might also consider leaving him with a treat like a Kong filled with something he likes while you eat, to distract him.

Finally, and this applies to just about every behavior you want to curb or encourage, be patient. Your puppy is still learning how to live with you and testing boundaries. He won’t change overnight. Don’t be surprised if it takes a while to see any difference, even if you are as consistent as can be.

Chewing

Siberian Husky lying down
Photo Courtesy – Paige Whiting

 Puppies love to chew on just about anything, and Huskies are no exception. Especially at first, when everything is new and you’ve just brought him home, keep an eye on your dog. Do not give him the run of your house unsupervised, or you’re setting yourself up for destroyed belongings. Liane Tofani from Midnight White Siberians says, “If you don’t want it chewed, don’t leave it laying around.” Until you have established some boundaries and feel confident your pup knows what he is allowed to chew, don’t give him the chance to destroy anything valuable.

Your dog might be chewing for any number of reasons. He’s testing boundaries, bored, or maybe he just wants attention.

To start enforcing good chewing behaviors, you should provide your dogs with some toys that he is allowed to chew. Make sure that they’re distinguishable from non-chew household items—don’t give him an old sock or T-shirt and expect him to know which socks are his and which are yours!

While your Husky is learning the rules, always supervise him. It’s a good idea to keep him confined to a small area, like one room that is puppy proofed with water and chew toys. The crate can also be a good place to temporarily get away from chewing temptations.

Keeping your pup mentally and physically stimulated is key to stopping chewing. Jess Moore of Jalerran Huskies says, “They need some sort of daily exercise—a walk at least. But, don’t forget that mental stimulation can be as important as physical exercise, as these guys are very intelligent.” The more time you can offer a Husky playing with people, the better. The same goes for walks, puzzle toys, and anything else that will use up his energy. Remember, any energy that doesn’t get burned off in playtime will be used on your home and belongings! Of course, exercise should be based on age, so don’t overdo it with a young puppy, but Huskies will behave best when they’re tired out.

If you have a pup who has a particularly bad interest in chewing, you might want to look into taste-deterrent products like bitter apple. You can spray them on items your dog is prone to chewing (like a leash). Be sure to observe them, though. Some dogs don’t mind the scent, or even like it. My Siberian, for example, loved nothing more than chewing on her leash. We coated it completely in bitter apple spray, which didn’t bother her at all, but made our entire household gag every time we breathed it in.

As far as what not to do, never chase your dog to take whatever he is chewing. To him, being chased by you is a fun game! You don’t want to reward chewing behaviors with playtime and attention. Instead, call your pup, or offer a treat in exchange.

Don’t punish your dog if you find something he chewed up hours or even minutes ago. Unless you catch him in the act, it won’t do much good and he won’t understand why you’re mad at him. If you do manage to catch him, firmly say, “Drop it.” When he drops the off-limit item, you can offer a treat or other chew toy. Praise him when he chooses the toy over something that he shouldn’t chew on.

Howling and Barking

 If you’re an experienced Husky owner, you probably know about their propensity for howling. Siberian Huskies rarely bark compared to other breeds, possibly because barking is often territorial and Huskies are very non-territorial. If your Husky does bark, it’s likely at something like an animal. You probably won’t have to worry much about barking, but your neighbors aren’t likely to be too fond of howling.

Siberian husky pupppy
Photo Courtesy – Carolyn Kline

No one really knows why Huskies howl, but we know a few things that can inspire them. Howling is a way to communicate, but what is your pup trying to tell you? He might be bored, hurt, want attention, or simply be in the company of other Siberians. In other words, howling can signal just about anything, which isn’t all that helpful for you. Here are some strategies to interpret why your pup is howling.

If howling is accompanied by whimpering, or seems to occur even when you’re not around, that’s a sign that something could be wrong. Check out your dog, and take him to the vet if necessary.

It’s far more likely that your dog is howling for attention. As social animals, Huskies don’t like to be left alone for extended periods. You might hear howling when they are left in their crate, or any time that they have to be separated from the rest of the family for some reason.

Much like begging, howling and whining are often cries for attention, and rewarding them only encourages the behavior. While you should never attempt to totally silence your dog (dogs make noise! Don’t get one if you can’t make peace with that!), there are ways to discourage the behavior through training. When your pup starts howling, whining, or whatever his preferred sound is, just let him go. Don’t attempt to silence him, just let him tire himself out. When he finally stops (be warned, this may take a while), immediately say, “Quiet,” or whatever word you plan to use, and give him a treat. If you can diligently do this, he should eventually start to associate “quiet” with not howling and then getting a treat. Again, this doesn’t guarantee your dog will never howl, it’s just a tool to keep it from getting out of hand.

Digging

Huskies love to dig. In the wild, dogs will dig to find water, follow the scent of animals or insects, build dens, find shade, or just because they are bored. As a pet in your yard, your dog probably doesn’t have any of these needs, but the drive is still there. Husky paws are perfect digging tools, and if you don’t watch out you can have a mess or an escape on your hands.

To stop your Husky from digging, consider what might be motivating him. Is he hot? If he’s outside and it’s even moderately warm, you should provide some shady spots for him to lie in and escape the sun. You could also give him a kiddie pool or some source of cool water to play and rest in.

If your Husky is a persistent digger, he might be bored or have extra pent-up energy. Like chewing and other behaviors you want to discourage, exercise and play will tire your dog out and make him less destructive.

Your Husky might also just really like digging! Some dogs will dig no matter how much exercise you give them, or how many other toys they have. If you want to give your pup a safe outlet to dig, you can make a sandbox or pit in your yard and allow him to play there.

Running Away and Escape Attempts

Maybe you’ve seen some famous Husky escapes online, where dogs leave home and end up hundreds of miles away, reuniting with their families against the odds. Huskies seem to show up in these stories a lot—they really love to escape!

Siberian husky playingSiberians are natural-born escape artists, but you can take some steps to prevent escapes. We already know Huskies are pack animals, and don’t like to be left alone for long periods of time. If they are, they’ll try to escape and find some company, so make sure that they have some interaction during the day.

They could also try escaping if their energy isn’t being used up, or they are bored. To remedy this, make sure your dog has a variety of toys to keep him busy. He should also get daily walks and play with his family every day to keep from having too much extra energy. Staying in the backyard alone doesn’t count as exercise; Huskies still need walks and other forms of play!

Huskies have a strong prey drive, so if they see another animal that they want to chase you’ll be hard pressed to deter them. This is what makes invisible fences such a bad idea for Huskies—they’re too strong-willed, so they’ll likely run through the fence and be reluctant to come back. Instead, it’s best to keep your dog inside when you’re not home or around to supervise. If he is going to be left outside without you watching him, a six-foot fence is generally the recommended height. You’ll also want concrete around the base to prevent digging.

Some Huskies might be experts at slipping out the door when you’re coming or going, so be aware of this as well! You might establish a routine of closing him off in a different room before anyone opens the front door.

Bedtime

 Trying to sleep through the night with a new puppy can feel like sleeping with a newborn baby. It’s a good idea to exercise a few hours before bed, so that your pup will be tired, but not still wired from playing.

Right before bed, make sure he has peed and pooped. This will maximize the amount of time before he wakes you up to go again. Don’t forget to reward him when he goes!

Crating your puppy is a good way to solidify a bedtime routine, and will also help you in potty training. Put your pup to bed when you go to bed, and place the crate next to you. Hearing you breathe will comfort your pup and help him feel less lonely for his mom and littermates.

The crate should be comfortable, with some kind of blanket or dog bed for him to snuggle with. It’s also a good idea to provide chew toys, which can be a comforting way for the puppy to wind down before sleeping.

As we discussed before, your puppy will not want to soil his bed, so if he has to go he will likely fuss. Pay attention to your pup’s specific way of telling you he needs to go, whether it’s whining, stomping around, or something else. Until you know his way of showing you, be cautious and take him out at any sign of fuss. Remember to reward him for letting you know he needs to go!

When you do get up with him, remain calm and gentle. You don’t want to give the impression that it’s playtime. Expect to wake up a few times per night with him, and probably wake up early as well.

Leaving Your Dog Home Alone and Separation Anxiety

 A puppy should never be left home alone all day, but at some point you will need to leave him home alone for shorter periods of time. Your goal here is to avoid creating separation anxiety, and make your comings and goings as insignificant as possible.

As soon as you bring your puppy home, you will begin to establish routines that he will take notice of. He will probably start to recognize your morning routine, and may get anxious at any sign that means you’re leaving soon, like your alarm clock. To counteract this, you want to slightly disrupt your routine every day. Don’t pick up your keys last thing each morning, and try to vary eating breakfast and getting dressed. The less time he has to get worked up because he realizes you’re leaving soon, the better.

When you leave, it’s also a good idea to distract your puppy so he’s not totally focused on you. A few minutes before you leave as you crate him, give him a Kong filled with peanut butter, or some other favorite treat. He will hopefully focus on that and miss that moment when you leave.

The most important part of not creating separation anxiety is committing to low-key entrances and exits. It’s tempting to pet and kiss your pup as you leave to remind him you love him, but that just sets him up to be sad and anxious when you do leave. Similarly, when you come home you probably want to shower him with attention immediately. These are both bad ideas! You don’t want to establish your comings and goings with major events and sources of affection for him. Counterintuitively, it’s actually best to ignore him for a few minutes when you get home. Then, feel free to play with him and show him attention.

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Siberian Huskies" by Mary Meisenzahl, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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