I know, I know, I’ve already written about Samoyeds. But Huskies are different, I swear! Yes, they’re also originally from Siberia, and yes, they are also extremely loving and gentle. But, there are some serious differences, and if we don’t fully understand the nature of the Siberian Husky then it is unwise to even consider having one in the family.
Let me take a step back. Those beautiful specimens you see in the photos above are owned by competitive skijorer Larry Nichvolodov, who can be seen riding his bike around Dunedin being pulled by his pack of furry friends (a sight to behold, believe me).
“Hold up, what the hell is a professional skijorer?” You ask.
This is what I said to Larry, and he directed me to the Ski Dogs New Zealand Facebook page (I highly recommend checking it out). I found out that skijoring is the art of cross-country skiing with your dog. I was stoked – I found a sport that combines my love for snow sports with my obsession with doggos – why have I never heard of this before!?
Huskies, like Samoyeds, are more naturally selected than other breeds, and have co-evolved with their humans since the first employment of their ancestors as sled-dogs in Mongolia about 35 000 years ago. Many scientists and historians believe that it was the use of sled-dogs that made way for humans to migrate north in to the arctic circle, as it allowed them to travel long distances quickly in order to obtain basic provisions, hunt on sea ice, and communicate with other groups. For over 30 000 years they have evolved to pull sleds, and that is precisely why Huskies are unparalleled with any other bred in their endurance, stamina and strong will. Many communities in Alaska, Canada and Greenland still use Huskies for daily life (if you’re interested, check out this amazing video from BBC’s Human Planet about subsistence hunting with Huskies in the arctic).
You only need to research for minutes to find countless stories of heroic Huskies who made unimaginable journeys against all odds, loving and caring for their humans in the process. There is of course the famous story of Balto, which was made in to an animated film in 1995 (no surprise I have already seen it about 30 times). Balto was a Siberian Husky (although in the film he was portrayed fictionally as half-wolf) who lead a team of sled-dogs on a treacherous mission transporting diphtheria antitoxins to Nome, a remote town in Alaska, that was experiencing a deadly outbreak of the disease. After the success of Balto’s mission, a statue of him was erected in his honour in Central Park, New York City, and the path he took to retrieve and deliver the medicine is now being used for an annual Alaskan sled-dog race in commemoration.
These days, there has been a significant amount of criticism aimed at using Huskies for snow sports, as events such as sled racing in Alaska can be particularly dangerous, answering to a significant amount of deaths and injuries amoungst the dogs (check out what PETA has to say on the matter). Although there is certainly truth to these criticisms, and any sport that uses animals should be treated with caution, it is important to point out that these dogs are born to run, to be outside, and to experience pain and hardships. Many would argue that it is crueler for a Husky to live a long life in a sterile apartment with no room for exploration or to stretch their legs than to die outside doing what they love.
Larry is on to something. He cannot skijor all year, and you need only to flick through the photos on the Ski Dogs NZ Facebook page to see how much his dogs adore competing (and how much they are spoilt in the process). So in summer, they pull him on his bike, and they look completely at home. Without this sort of intense physical and mental stimulation every day, Huskies can be an absolute terror. They become neurotic, start digging and destroying your garden, and will stop at nothing to free themselves from their yards – they are very well known as expert escape artists. The best thing is to do as Larry does and take up a sport with your Husky, and give it a job to do. They benefit hugely from activities like hiking, long-distance running (or bikejoring) over varied terrain, or if you don’t want to do the exercise yourself, attend agility classes. You never know, you might have a champion Flyball dog in your hands! But be warned, Siberian Huskies are extremely smart and devilishly stubborn, so as long as you are as hard-headed as them you can train them to do amazing things, and they will adore you for it.