If you're thinking about getting a dog, making a 15 year commitment to another soul, it is very important to make a choice you can live with. Doing research online is a great start, but nothing beats meeting the dog or the breed, and knowledgeable owners and breeders.
Recently, the annual Dog Lovers' Show was held at the Royal Exhibition Building in the heart of Melbourne. It was a lovely day and a wonderful turn out. Expos like this are brilliant ways to meet and hear about lots of lovely dog breeds, although many of the breed displays were upstairs, tucked out of the way, leaving the ground floor for paying exhibitors with every kind of dog food, treat, jacket, gadget, collar, leash and toy you could imagine.
Wee Monster, J and I watched a demonstration by the police dogs, met some lovely Australian Shepherds and chatted to a few people about some gadgets. But our SHCV friends spent the day(s) manning the Siberian husky stand, and talking to people who were interested in the breed.
There were quite a few!
Mia and her family were there on the Sunday, and I asked them what questions they were most often asked.
"Do they get hot in summer?"
This is obviously a big one for Australians. The answer is that husky coats insulate against heat as well as cold. Many huskies love sunbaking and lounging around in summer. Like any dog, they need access to fresh water, they need to be gently exercised early in the day or late in the evening before footpaths and roads get too hot and, at extreme temperatures, they might need to be kept inside or under a sprinkler.
A coat/grooming issue I always seem to be discussing with people is the fluff (maybe because I always have some on my clothes!) Those coats are beautiful, but they do shed. Regular grooming and an understanding of the twice yearly "blow" of the undercoat is important.
"Is she fully grown?"
Many people have got a mixed picture of Malamutes and Huskies in their head. Huskies are classified as a medium dog, and always surprise people who haven't met them before. The average husky's back is about knee height, which unfortunately means their nose is often at a perfect level for crotch sniffing.
(One trick for assessing the age of a dog is to look at the front legs. A puppy will have a lumpy patch above the paws - the "knuckles" - whereas an adult will have smooth, straight legs.)
"Do you race in the snow?"
Yes! Here in Victoria we are lucky enough to have Australia's only 4 snow sledding races, as well as a hefty dry land sledding calendar, between the SHCV, AMCV, NVSDC and Goldseekers.
There were also a few questions about potential ownership. Most of the SHCV associated breeders have seen far too many huskies bouncing through rescue groups over the years. They are now very careful to get to know prospective owners, and most puppies are spoken for before they're born. Taking on a rescue husky and being an active member of the husky community is a good option, especially for an "aloof" breed like huskies, because second hand huskies give first class love.
"We also got some requests for advice on caring for a "naughty" husky."
Huskies are pretty gorgeous, which makes them a dangerous trap for impulse puppy buyers. Suddenly, six months have whizzed by and their pretty puppy is a leggy teenager, destroying the house, the yard, howling and driving the neighbours nuts. A Mallie breeder friend like to say "dogs aren't lawn ornaments." Dogs, no matter what the breed, need exercise and stimulation. They need firm boundaries, clear rules and good company.
Huskies in particular were bred to be intelligent, independent dogs. The lead dog in front of a sled can see things a musher can't, so the Siberian people favoured dogs who had the brains to know when to obey and when to disobey. Like guide dogs refusing to take blind people into the path of oncoming traffic, huskies had to make the decision about whether the ice or snow ahead was safe to traverse, even if that meant disobeying orders. That makes them aloof, less interested in human approval than many other breeds. They get bored easily, they become expert escape artists, and they try to step up and be the pack leader if there aren't clear boundaries.
The answer to most issues with huskies is time. While we were at the Expo on Saturday, I heard a person say sadly that they didn't have a big enough yard for a husky. The exhibitor was quick to say, it's not space, it's time. Time out jogging, time on the couch, time exploring the world together. Time to learn about the quirks of the breed, time to understand the idiosyncrasies of your dog, time to establish routines that your dog will understand and find comforting. Expecting an intelligent dog to sit passively in your backyard for you to come home and spend ten minutes with it is as foolish as expecting that pretty puppy to stay tiny forever.
"Can I pat your dog?"
Yes, thank you for having nice manners and taking the time to ask, not just assume it'll be ok!!