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Siberian Huskies sledding in the snow
Let’s get one thing straight, dogs are dogs, they aren’t wolves.

But with that said, our arctic breeds do have some strong instincts linked back to their original purposes as domestic dogs.

These behaviours can be challenging to deal with if you’re not ready for them, here we take a look at some of the common instincts that get our breed into trouble, why they do it and how to manage them.

 

Prey drive

Huskies are probably the breed with the highest prey drive I have ever met, followed closely by Malamutes, and Akita’s can be up there too. Prey animals include cats, rabbits, birds, possums, rodents, pocket pets and livestock.

Now all breeds can have prey drive, but the arctic determination and single-minded focus is hard to describe, if you’ve ever seen one hunting in action you’ll know what I’m talking about. Owners of arctic breeds often express complete disbelief and shock at their dogs intensity the first time they see it corner prey. This prey drive is one of the main reasons we recommend strong and secure fences, exercising on leash or in fenced areas, training for an emergency recall you hope never to use and bringing your dog indoors at night.

It’s true that when raised from a young age, and with appropriate guidance these breeds can learn to live with other creatures, accepting them as ‘pack members’. But as an older dog and if they’ve not lived with prey animals before, or in many cases when they’ve actually caught other animals in the past it is not realistic to integrate them into a home with other animals.

Similarly some owners have lamented the fact their dog and other pets have lived together in harmony for years, until one fateful day.

Prey drive instinct is most effectively curbed when discouraged in the first 16 weeks of puppyhood. If a dog is allowed to practise it’s instinctual behaviour, whether intentionally or not, the behaviour will become exponentially harder to stop. In older dogs these behaviours may have been practised countless times and proved very rewarding for the dog. They will not easily stop something they enjoy so much.

If the dog has lived with smaller animals before, it’s worth noting that it will still take time for them to learn who their new family members are. Dogs can often live in peace with the family cat, but see another cat in the street or the yard and it’s game on. So if you are introducing your arctic to another animal remember to start on leash and gradually progress to; through a barrier, muzzled interaction and then supervised interaction. Depending on the dog this can take weeks or months, it’s not uncommon for a full integration program to take around 6 months.

However not all dogs are suitable for these kind of interactions, and not all other animals are suited to living with dogs. We need to be mindful of the dog’s and other animal’s mental state. A dog so focused that it is a constant torment should not be forced to live this way.

In dogs with extreme prey drive a substantial aversive measure would be required to dissuade prey drive, if even possible at all. In most cases there is no need for this as a more suitable dog with lower prey drive can be placed into the home without the need for strong aversives. If you have an established home but have recently experienced an incident then an aversive experience can serve as a suitable reminder to your dog that aggressive behaviour towards other pets is not acceptable. Contact a qualified local behaviourist or trainer to help you with this.

 

An important note about prey drive: Your dog chasing or injuring a prey animal in no way indicates they will ever be aggressive towards humans.

From an evolutionary point of view humans have never been prey to domestic dogs, in fact we have been essential for their survival. Hence the close bonds they form with us; and their ability to understand our body language. Dogs do not see humans as prey and whilst they can show aggression to humans for a number of reasons, prey drive is not one of them.

As always no baby or young child should be put in a position where a dog is able to injure it. Parents when bringing a new baby home and introducing it to the resident dog must take the utmost of care. Babies smell, sound and look different to adults so your dog will need to learn this baby is a part of the human pack.

A second important note about prey drive: in many states of Australia your dog can be declared menacing or dangerous and even be destroyed by law due to attacking any animal that is not classed as vermin. In rural areas farmers will shoot to kill your dog if it is pursuing their stock. We cannot stress enough the importance of keeping your dog safe and secure to prevent injury to other animals, and your dog.

 

Leash pulling

For centuries Siberian Huskies and Alaskan Malamutes have been bred to pull. There is no denying it – they are great at it – and they love it.

To see them pulling a sled is to see them in their element.

But this basic instinct is not so convenient when you are trying to enjoy a relaxing walk down the street.
If left unchecked your arctic will pull you like a sled – it’s no walk in the park I assure you!

Teaching your arctic to walk on a loose leash from day one is critical to your success. The sooner you start, the sooner you will see results. Yes your dog may take longer to train than others, but it is possible. Consistency is key.

“But my dog loves to pull!”

Then let it! Give sledding a go. Or how about Weight-pull? Maybe Skijouring or Canicross is for you?
Your dog is smart! It can learn to pull when told to, and still walk loose leash when required.
Need to drain excess energy on daily walks? Try backpacking!

Leash-pulling is a major contributor to on-leash reactivity and dog aggression. Don’t let frustration build in you and your dog, start your loose leash walking training today.

 

Stranger danger and barking in your Akita

Akita’s can be an excellent alarm, in fact it’s unlikely you’ll ever need your doorbell again. One foot onto your property from a stranger and your ‘Akita alarm’ will sound. The postie however may not be delivering parcels to your door in the future.

Not all Akita’s will do this but many do, having been bred to protect the family home.

For this reason Akita’s can also be aloof, or wary of new people and will not tolerate other animals entering their home or yard.
Careful socialisation as a pup will ensure your Akita is friendly towards your houseguests and other people whilst out and about. Even still don’t expect them to be everyone’s best friend straight away, they need to get to know a person before they can earn the trust of your Akita.

When home your Akita may look to you to decide if your new visitor is friend or foe. But an empty home can be another story altogether. Whilst some Akita’s don’t back their barking up with a bite, their history as protection dogs remains strong in some. It’s not recommended for strangers to enter your property when your Akita is home alone.

Introducing your Akita to another dog you wish to bring into your home, even just for a visit, should be done outside the home initially on 'neutral territory'. Once the dogs are comfortable in their interactions with each other, only then should you consider bringing another dog into your Akita's territory.