Huskies are gorgeous, intelligent, and loving family pets. They’re not the kind of dog you expect to see filling America’s shelters.
Nevertheless, there are A LOT of Huskies in shelters. In some shelters, up to half the population is Huskies.
Why Are There So Many Huskies in Shelters?
So many Huskies end up in shelters because people often buy or adopt Huskies without considering the amount of time, patience, and money required to provide them with proper exercise and mental stimulation and to handle their high energy levels and shedding.
In addition to irresponsible decisions made by their owners, the fact that Huskies are genetically closer to wolves than other dogs and their independent nature often results in behavior issues that lead to abandonment.
I’ll break down why so many Huskies are in shelters and give you some tips if you’re interested in adopting this fascinating breed.
Keep in mind that what you may see labeled as a Husky at a local shelter may not actually be a Husky or even a Husky mix. Malamutes, Eskimo dogs, or Alaska Klee Kai mixes could all be mistakenly counted as Huskies and falsely increase the number of Huskies reported in shelters.
Huskies are kind of like Pitbulls at shelters in that way. If a dog looks anything like a Husky or a Pitbull, they’re called a Husky or a Pitbull. This is a big reason shelters report there being so many Pitbulls in shelters, too
Why People Like Huskies
Huskies rarely top canine intelligence tests, but that’s because of the independent nature of their intelligence. They’re able to use their intelligence to obey your commands or ruin your life, depending on how they’re directed and motivated.
For owners who win their Husky’s love and harness their ability to solve problems independently, a Husky’s intelligence can make it the best friend and working partner you could ever have.
Life of the Party
Having been raised and worked in packs throughout their history, Huskies do well with other dogs and people.
Nearly all of the Huskies that I have met have been truly delightful, wonderful with everybody, and a joy to be around. They have an effervescence about them, as if constantly asking the world, “Why isn’t everyone as happy as I am?”
Huskies don’t have much natural smell and seem inexplicably able to keep themselves clean. They have an almost cat-like fastidiousness about keeping themselves clean despite their very dogged nature when it comes to playing hard.
I’ve watched a group of dogs play in the mud until they were stinky and dripping, sure I’d have to give them all baths (and least excited about bathing the Husky) and found that with a few hours in the sunlight and rolling in the grass, the Husky looked like it had never seen dirt.
Movie Star Good Looks
Few dogs can grab attention and keep it like a Husky. They truly are the supermodels of dog breeds. I think I’ve only seen one or two ugly Huskies in my life…
It’s not just that Huskies are good-looking; lots of breeds are good-looking. It’s their particular wolf-like appearance that is getting them into trouble.
The wolf-like appearance of Huskies, combined with their availability, made them a popular choice for fans of HBO’s hit TV show, Game of Thrones.
There’s a well-established trend of breeds featured in popular movies (101 Dalmations) and TV shows (Lassie) becoming the dogs in people’s homes.
In fact, researchers at Plos One studied the effects of movies that featured particular breeds or individual dogs on canine demographics. Not only did they find that there is a clear increase in the number of dogs of those breeds registered with the AKC after the movie’s release, but they even found a direct correlation between the number of people who saw the movie on the opening weekend and the degree of increase in that breed’s popularity. Also, those breeds remained more popular for up to a decade after the movie’s release. (source).
So, why then are these dogs, who have so many great qualities and increasing in popularity, ending up in shelters instead of the homes of Game of Thrones fans?
Why Huskies End Up In Shelters
According to PETA, employees with Riverside Animal Services believed the increase in abandoned Huskies was a direct result of the popularity of the HBO show Game of Thrones, which premiered in 2011 and reached the height of its popularity in 2019. (source).
Riverside County Animal Services states that “in 2013, 351, or 1.7 percent of all impounds, consisted of Husky or husky mixes.” By 2018, “the number of Husky or Husky mixes has increased to 1,027, or nearly seven percent of impounds in the county’s shelters” (source).
Other shelters noticed even more dramatic increases in the number of Huskies in shelters after Game of Thrones premiered. Buffy Martin Tarbox, Communications Director for Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA, noted that the increase was so dramatic that “Husky and Husky mixes represent 50% of the shelter’s current total dogs available for adoption.”(source)
Besides the fact that we know popular shows like Game of Thrones that feature particular breeds of dogs WILL result in an increase in the number of those dogs in the communities, the fact that so many of the Huskies entering the shelters were named Daenerys, Cersei, and Arya (after characters in the show) is a real indicator that Game of Thrones fans bought or adopted huskies and then either lost, abandoned, or surrendered them.
Even the actors in the show acknowledge that Game of Thrones has negatively impacted Huskies!
Please, to all of Game of Thrones‘ many wonderful fans, we understand that due to the direwolves’ huge popularity, many folks are going out and buying Huskies…shelters are also reporting that many of these Huskies are being abandoned—as often happens when dogs are bought on impulse, without understanding their needs. Please, please, if you’re going to bring a dog into your family, make sure that you’re prepared for such a tremendous responsibility.Peter Dinklage (who plays Tyrion Lannister) (source)
Jerome Flynn, who plays Bronn on Game of Thrones, released a video in partnerhship with PETA addressing the surge in abandoned Huskies.
Wait..Are Huskies Even in Game of Thrones?
The dogs that play the direwolves in Game of Thrones are Northern Inuit Dogs, which are decidedly NOT Huskies. In fact, the breed standard states that “Northern Inuits have a more wolf-like look than German Shepherds, Huskies, Malamutes, and other cold region type dogs.” (source)
So why aren’t the shelters swamped with Northern Inuit Dogs? Well, quite simply, they’re a lot harder to find. There are exactly four breeders listed with the Northern Inuit Society of America (source). Meanwhile, a quick search for Huskies on the AKC marketplace reveals more than 300 litters available right now (source).
The Husky is a quintessential working dog. They are still being bred for pulling sleds and running all day long. They CAN thrive in a family home, but it takes a lot more work than many would-be Husky parents realize.
A great solution is to let them pull. Hook up a pulling harness like this one to your skateboard, bike, or kid’s sled and have fun getting out the energy.
Huskies need a lot of exercise. I don’t mean a jog around the block. I mean hours and hours of engaged, active exercise every single day. This often ends up being more than a family can accommodate. Even an active family can underestimate the needs of a Husky and end up with a dog who is not getting enough exercise.
Huskies need active, engaged play and training to keep them mentally stimulated. Families who fail to engage in training games and competitive sports, food distributing puzzles, etc., are likely to end up with a Husky who chews their furniture and gets into creative problems.
Huskies are great escape artists, both because of their intelligence and their athleticism. Huskies can climb, dig, or jump out of just about any backyard if they want to.
Repeated escape attempts are frustrating and anxiety-provoking for families and dangerous for the dog.
At my local shelter, the most common reason for Huskies at the shelter were repeat offenders who escaped regularly from their owners’ properties until Animal Services finally took the dog into their custody.
Huskies are one of the breeds genetically closest to their wild ancestors. Genes from the archaic Taimyr wolf and grey wolf are still present in dog breeds from northeast Siberia and Greenland, including Huskies, contributing between 1.4% to 27.3% of their ancestry (source).
Unlike many hunting dogs who lived and worked under the close supervision and handling of people, Huskies lived a relatively wild life when not actively pulling the sled. They were typically left free to range around the campsite, hunting for prey on their own in the wild.
As a consequence, most Huskies have very high prey drives. You may be able to train a Husky to tolerate a household cat and resist chasing a child, but the instinct to chase may overcome a Husky unexpectedly. They may be fine hanging out in the house but may chase or nip at children or small pets outside or if they run.
This kind of behavior can be confusing to owners who don’t understand Huskies. They may think their dog is behaving unpredictably or that it will show unexpected aggression to other members of the family, which isn’t necessarily true at all. Families who don’t understand their dog’s behavior may be all too quick to give the Husky up rather than risk a bite incident.
Husky owners like to joke that you can train a Husky to do anything, but you can’t make them do a thing. Some of the most endearing traits about the Husky are also the reasons they end up at shelters so often.
This mischievous breed has its own ideas about things and isn’t the least bit afraid to get what it wants.
They offer intense love to their caregivers, but they demand a lot. Too many people think that a Husky would be a lovely yard ornament to take on walks and impress the neighbors, but without dedication, your Husky will likely turn your life into a nightmare.
That gorgeous Husky coat sheds. A lot. When grooming Huskies, I and several other groomers I know go through tactics like holding a shop vac or wearing a full beekeeping suit while brushing and blowing out a Husky (I’m not kidding…).
Huskies shed profusely year-round, and even more than seems possible seasonally twice a year. Taking care of all that hair on the dog and furniture can be a challenge.
Whether you’re thinking of adopting a husky or just want to help one out at your local shelter, get a dog rake like this one. Regular slicker brushes can’t get to the skin and really pull out that loose undercoat like a dog rake.
All that hair also means that this dog is not well-suited to hot temperatures. Here in Florida, dog beaches and air-conditioned play areas are essential for anyone trying to exercise a Husky in the summer.
Huskies often struggle to acclimate to warm climates, especially if the family moves from somewhere colder. Owners are likely to keep them inside for fear that they will overheat. Without sufficient exercise, Huskies begin to act out, resulting in new behavior problems that make it even more likely that the owners will surrender the dog.
Huskies are Talkative
Huskies rarely bark. In fact, it could be argued that they don’t bark. Huskies howl. They grunt and groan and whine. They even talk.
All of this vocalization likely developed as a way for Huskies to communicate well with their pack and humans, and it does serve that purpose. However, all that talking can be a bit much for the neighbors.
Noise complaints are one of the common problems with Huskies, and it can be a difficult one to overcome. Huskies are much like hound dogs in that vocalization is in their nature, which makes preventing them from vocalizing and causing problems difficult.
High Return Rates Mean Huskies Keep Coming Back to the Shelter
Huskies that have not received proper care, socialization, or exercise will develop bad habits, like inventive escape attempts, extreme destructiveness, and a crazy attitude toward life that’s hard for owners to control.
Huskies account for the highest returned breeds at the Riverside County California Department of animal services at nearly 13 percent, based on 2018 statistics (source)
Every time a Husky comes back to the shelter, their chances of a positive outcome drop dramatically. Shelters that keep seeing the same huskies being returned, adopted, and returned again will have to make difficult decisions about that dog’s long-term adoptability.
Whether or not a Husky is returned can be a matter of life and death.
Responsible Adoption of Huskies
The very traits that are so delightful and beloved about Huskies are the exact traits that drive this breed into shelters. By educating themselves before purchasing this breed, owners can make an educated decision about whether it is the right dog for them.
You’ve made a great start by researching just why there are so many in shelters. Whether you’re interested in purchasing a Husky from a breeder or you want to adopt one yourself, understanding this breed is key to ensuring the dog you choose lives its life with you as its forever home.
Is This the Breed for You?
Most Huskies live at least a decade, and this generally healthy breed can often live to be 15 or even older. Huskies don’t do as well in all environments.
If you think you may need to move to a small apartment or a hot climate and aren’t ready to commit to dog daycare or some other way to occupy your Husky, this may not be the right breed for you. Huskies are also on the banned breed list for some residences, so make sure that you’re not planning on moving anywhere that won’t let you take your dog with you.
Get to Know Some Huskies
Find ways to spend time with Huskies so you can get a better sense of what they’re like. This is a very distinct breed, and it’s definitely not right for everyone.
The Husky isn’t an uncommon breed in most areas, so a few trips to your local dog park are likely to give you the opportunity to get to know a Husky and even talk to their owners. Most people are more than happy to talk at length about their pet’s assets and shortcomings.
Your local dog shelter may also have Huskies that you can get to know. Volunteering is a great way to spend some one-on-one time with these dogs.
I cannot encourage fostering enough, in this as in most situations when it comes to rescue. Huskies from shelters may be escape artists, counter-surfers, or treat your floors and walls like their personal chew toys. It’s entirely possible to work through a Husky’s issues or adapt your life around them, but it’s good to know what you’re working with before you commit.
Choose Your Dog for Life
It is possible to keep a Husky in your life no matter what you want to do, but it will take some adaptation. Huskies are adaptable, but you must be too.
Dog daycare, walkers, and pet sitters can all be solutions in situations in which your Husky doesn’t have as much one-on-one time or exercise as they need from you. Dog beaches, swimming pools, and indoor exercise areas can all suffice for Huskies living in hot climates.
If you’re going to adopt a Husky, make sure that you are ready to make the changes you need to keep them in your life long term. This loyal breed is surrendered to shelters far too often. Don’t let it happen to your dog.