My husky is almost four years old and I am frequently asked ‘ How did you train him?’
Well, that’s the wrong question. The right question is; ‘How do you train him?’
Every day is a training day. He needs reminding, through positive reinforcement, (this means treats and praise, not force and punishment) everyday, that yesterday’s rules still apply today.
He’s my 4th dog and I previously had terriers. People told me, and continue to tell me:
You can never let a husky off its lead or it will run for miles
You have to be the leader of the pack
You have to break them and show them who’s boss
You’ve got to be alpha male
They’re hard to train because they’re close relatives of wolves
None of these things are true but I’m not going to argue with people about this. Telling people how to raise a dog is like telling them how to raise their child, it’s not a conversation that usually ends well.
If you want to know more about wolves, dogs, packs and behavior then I recommend
Spike’s behavior, for a husky, is outstanding. I know this because professionals tell me. The vet said; ‘I wish other husky owners could see how you’ve trained Spike.’ Other dog walkers have made similar comments. While his behavior for a husky is very good, for a ‘normal’ dog, he’s just average, or on a good day, above average. If I’d committed the same amount of time and effort in training a spaniel or labrador, I’d have had a perfect pet dog.. probably.
I’d paid a deposit for Spike and would collect him at 8 weeks from the breeder. When I realised that seemingly everyone thought I’d have a dog I couldn’t train, I saw this as a challenge. If you want to train a husky to be a domestic pet you can live with, and one that you can take to the park with some confidence that it’ll neither run away or intimidate other dogs or people, then you could do as I did.
I read every blog, watched every YouTube video and read this book. It’s not about huskies but started to help me realise that most dogs don’t just learn to be well behaved (Some people ofcourse have exceptionally well behaved dogs without ever seemingly spent a moment training them).
The most significant decision I made was to seek the advice of a professional dog behaviourist and trainer – Sue McCabe of Muttamorphosis.
I took Spike to puppy class and he was rubbish. He howled, jumped at the other pups, tried to steal treats and I felt like the parent of the school bully. But I listened to what Sue was saying, and for 6 weeks, we went home and I tried to follow the principles of teaching and learning that Sue had shared with us.
The last session of the puppy class was tricks and fastest recall. Fastest recall involved leaving Spike at one end of the hall and calling him from the other end. He would need to focus on me and ignore the puppies lined on both sides and the other dog competitor who would be running in the opposite direction. You can see here how well Spike did, infact, he won!
He also won Best Trick and I was so very proud of him.
Several other dog owners, who I knew through my previous dogs, made comments such as; ‘What are you going to dog classes for? Don’t you know how to train a dog?’
And when I taught tricks like walking round me, spinning on the spot or walking through my legs they would say; ‘What’s the point of that?’
Well, no, I realised that before Spike, I didn’t know how to train a dog. All my dogs would return on recall, eventually, when they were ready to come to me. They would sit on command, if the mood takes them and they would bark at other dogs until the dog had passed, and I’d shouted ‘No!’ about twenty times.
By listening, and learning from the dog trainer, reading about the principles of training, watching professional trainers’ videos, and only accepting exactly the behavior from Spike that I want, I have a husky that is making progress to being the dog that people and other animals want be around. It takes persistence and commitment. It’s frustrating and rewarding. He was boisterous and destructive. he’s intelligent and easily bored. It’s not a surprise that there are so many huskies who end up in animal rescue when they’re no longer pups.
There have been setbacks along the way. He became dog aggressive around 15 months old. The initial incident involved a beagle he liked who tried to take some barbecue food left by someone in the park. It was a nasty incident and from that moment Spike would chase any dog he got a scent of, even if it was out of sight, and rough it up – causing distress to dog, their owner and me. Almost 3 years later we’ve made great progress. He doesn’t hunt dogs down and mostly can be off lead around them. I do muzzle him though. If he’s going to be off lead I muzzle him and know he can’t harm another dog. (It took two days to train him to accept the muzzle, lots of peanut butter and he doesn’t mind it at all).
The purpose of all the tricks I’ve taught him is it builds and reinforces our relationship. It gives him things he can do that will result in praise and treats – every day. The tricks act as a focus on me. If I think I’m losing his attention I make him do a trick and it seems to remind him; ‘Oh yeah, when I do the right thing I get praise and reward.’ The tricks are the equivalent of the teacher who will pull an unruly pupil to order by saying; ‘Sit up straight and fold your arms.’ A simple technique to refocus attention and behaviour.
I don’t usually make him do all his tricks at once but here’s some of the things we do most days:
So, how do you train a Siberian husky?
Ignore anyone who talks about ‘packs’ ‘dominate’ or ‘you can’t’. Learn about the principles of effective training, be consistent, never give up on your dog and, without any doubt, I’d recommend spending some time with a well respected professional dog trainer.