In animal shelters and rescue groups, the numbers of homeless huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and other wolf-like dogs coming through their doors have increased dramatically. Partly inspired by a popular television series, people spontaneously (often online) buy one of these fluffy puppies and find themselves in the way above their heads. Here we take a look at how media popularity has affected these dogs and provide an overview of what Huskies – the breed that has been most dramatically affected – are and are not.
Originally, people in the far north bred dogs to pull heavily loaded sleds over long distances over some of the coldest landscapes in the world, among other things. Today, these northern breed dogs – Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, Samoyeds, Akitas, and other Spitz dogs – spend most of their time companions in a world where pulling a sled is almost never necessary for a living.
In recent years, the number of lost, abandoned, or surrendered breeds in the north – especially huskies – has increased. Ask anyone involved in protecting or saving them why, and the answer you are likely to hear is short and not sweet: Game of Thrones and its “terrible wolves.” The canines that appeared in this American fantasy drama, which drew more than 32 million viewers per episode in its eighth and final season of 2019, were Northern Inuit dogs, a type specifically designed to keep wolves by crossing Siberian Huskies and to resemble German Shepherds.
Northern breed rescue groups in the U.S. and abroad saw an increase in the number of dogs in need starting in 2011, the year Game of Thrones debuted. Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog charity, reported in 2019: “In 2010, a year before the first series aired, only 79 Alaskan Malamutes, Siberian Huskies and Akitas were cared for by Dogs Trust, compared to 411 the previous year – a 420 Percent more. “
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Dana Ramirez of the Rancho Luna Lobos nonprofit rescue and rehabilitation center agrees. “I would say the media is absolutely huge with huskies ending up in shelters. We see this again and again … someone buys a husky and then wants to give it away because it is too much work. We have a friend who breeds Seppala Huskies and after the movie Togo came out his puppy requests went through the roof. “
Unfortunately, Siberian Huskies aren’t the first breed to feel the pain of popularity. Do you remember lassie Rin-Tin-Tin? Pongo, out of 101 Dalmatians? Bruiser, the Chihuahua in legal blonde? Over the years as the entertainment industry has fueled the demand for certain types of dogs, puppy mills and backyard breeders have stepped up their efforts to meet them. (Reputable breeders spend a lot of time interviewing potential buyers about their lifestyle and living conditions. They do their best to discourage them from having a husky unless they are genuinely committed to the dog’s welfare.)
Realistically, most of us probably understand that buying a dog like one we love on screen doesn’t mean the dog we get will behave exactly like a dog that has been trained by professionals. Unfortunately, the excitement of living with our own pongo or bruiser – or terrible wolf – seems to override that understanding far too often.
The phenomenon is so common that it has drawn scientific attention. In their report on a 2014 study, Dog Movie Stars and Dog Breed Popularity: A Case Study of Media Influence on Selection, the researchers concluded that, “The release of films with dogs often increases in popularity joined by featured breeds for up to 10 people 10 years after the film’s release. ”
Here’s the bottom line: unless you really understand what huskies need, and are ready and able to provide it, you’re not giving in to the picture or the impulse. Without the exercise and stimulation they need, huskies get frustrated and play out. If the owner doesn’t understand why this is happening, acting out can lead to a one-way street to the shelter, far from home, or worse.
Don’t be that person.
For every generalization there is an exception – and often several. With that in mind, here is a quick list of what to and can’t expect from a husky in general.
Six things huskies are …
1. Working dogs. Smart, curious and easily bored, they need to do something. Without them, they are likely to be doing a job for themselves (digging, climbing, and escaping are often involved).
2. Good-natured and loving. They like people and are always ready for fun.
3. Hardwired to run. Inattentive people, unsafe fences, open doors and open gates can have disastrous consequences.
4. Independent thinkers. This is another hardwired trait – bred to navigate with minimal human intervention, they tend to make their own decisions.
5. Super shedder. These double coated dogs need … brushing frequently.
6. Singing. Some people love the howl of their “call of the wild”, others less.
Six things huskies Are not …
1. Guard dogs. You hold the door while thieves run your TV and computer.
2. Sofa potatoes. They are all about activity, preferably running.
3. Concerned about what to do. (Remember that “independent thinker” thing?) They can be trained, but it takes patience – lots and lots of patience.
4. Safe around small animals. Your interest in small, furry, or feathered creatures can be fatal to these creatures.
5. Suitable for apartment living or fine if left alone for long periods of time. They are far too energetic to be confined to a small interior space. And human companionship is a must; without them, they can be amazingly destructive.
6. Heat resistant. Dressed for the cold, they can easily overheat as the temperature rises.
With all of this, if you still want a husky in your life, we recommend saying goodbye to a rescue group or animal shelter. An online search is likely to turn up one on your neck of the woods. These groups work hard to save, care for, and place as many dogs as possible where they will thrive.
Find out more here
Bay Area Siberian Husky Club (BASH)
Siberian Husky Rescue in the Delaware Valley
Northern California Sled Dog Rescue (NorSled)