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Depending on your point of view, off-leash walking with your husky may sound like a liberating experience or a complete disaster in the waiting. Sure, the idea of having a husky frolic in the snow around you may sound great, but is the reality of the situation so perfect? Can you train a husky to be off-leash?
Due to a combination of their high prey drive, desire to run, and natural stubbornness, huskies cannot be reliably trained to be off-leash. Instead of attempting to teach your husky to walk off-leash, it is a better idea to take advantage of long walks and large, well-secured areas to satisfy their need to explore.
Below, we’ll cover why exactly off-leash walking isn’t a good idea for huskies as well as safer alternatives to let your pup get out their pent-up energy.
3 Reasons You Can’t Train a Husky to Be Off-Leash
While every dog is different, there are several genetic reasons that huskies cannot be trained to be off-leash. Even a well-trained, obedient husky has inherited traits that make them poor candidates for off-leash walking.
Reason 1: They Have a Natural Desire to Run
Considering the fact that racing huskies are known to pull sleds nearly 100 miles in a day, can you blame a husky for wanting to run? After over 10 millennia of pulling sleds, the need to go long distances and move is ingrained in this breed. As a result, basic obedience training cannot be expected to counteract such a natural instinct.
As perfect as it might seem at first to give your husky some off-leash time to run around, they don’t have any instinct to make them come back. Instead, your husky is likely to continue running off in any direction until they tire. And in the case of this distance-driven breed, that may not be for a long time.
Reason 2: They Are Naturally Stubborn and Strong-Willed
Huskies are by no means impossible to train, but they lack the strong drive to please found in other breeds. As the hilarious video below shows, huskies are smart enough to learn complex tricks such as agility, but whether or not they actually listen to a command is up to them.
In most cases, this is an amusing and occasionally frustrating quirk of the breed, but stubbornness can prove dangerous when it comes to walking off-leash. It’s easy for a husky to run away seemingly out of nowhere, and this breed isn’t exactly known for looking both ways before crossing the street.
Even if they don’t dart directly into danger, getting a husky to come when called if they have no motivation to listen can be nearly impossible depending on the dog.
Reason 3: They Have a High Prey Drive
Although breeds like Great Pyrenees are known to be affectionate and gentle around small animals, all dogs retain some amount of hunting instincts from their wild counterparts. In the case of huskies, however, hunting in packs is still a recent phenomenon. At first glance, it might seem a bit strange that huskies have such a strong prey drive. After all, they weren’t bred to hunt or even herd. The truth of the matter is actually as unique as the breed itself.
Huskies have been bred by the Chukchi people of Siberia to pull sleds through the snow since prehistoric times. While they remained close companions to their owners throughout the year, huskies were effectively unemployed during Siberia’s brief summers.
During these times, huskies were allowed to roam and hunt for their own meals in packs, only returning to be fed once snow fell again. So when a husky sees a rabbit or even a small dog during a walk, they can’t be blamed for letting their natural preservation instincts take over. Unfortunately, this can result in a dead animal, injured husky, or lost dog.
How to Let a Husky Exercise Without Going Off-Leash
As we’ve established, it simply isn’t feasible for a husky to safely walk off-leash. That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of options to let your husky get out their energy and even explore a bit.
Let Them Run In Enclosed Spaces
A large, enclosed yard or dog park allows your husky plenty of space to run around, and such a large area is sure to have plenty of fascinating spots to sniff and explore. That said, it’s important to keep an eye on your pup and not assume that their boundaries are impenetrable.
Case in point? A husky named Houdini lived up to his name after being returned to a shelter seven times due to his constant escaping. Houdini’s abnormally skillful escapades are infamous for a reason, but other members of this clever and determined breed can also do some amazing feats if given enough time.
It’s key to frequently supervise your husky when they are outside. Doing a quick check to make sure any gates are closed before letting your dog go out can prevent an easy escape. Furthermore, regular examinations of the entire fenceline to ensure your husky hasn’t been working on an escape point are key.
Take Advantage of Their Pulling Instincts
Unless you live in a particularly snowy region, traditional sled-pulling is not an option for much of the year. Luckily, several creative and dedicated sled dog owners have created alternatives to satisfy their dog’s desire to pull in more varied situations.
More specifically, joring (as in bikejoring and more) is a popular sport devised for off-season mushing dogs. It involves allowing your dog to run in front of you as you ride a bike or scooter with the use of a bungee leash.
Finally, canicross is an increasingly popular sport that is relatively inexpensive and easy to start compared to some other weight-loading sports. It involves allowing your husky to pull on you with a bungee leash while you jog behind them, an experience that has been likened to flying.
It’s important to note that with any pulling sport, a normal collar or harness isn’t safe to use for your pup. The pressure involved in bearing weight can cause a variety of temporary and permanent injuries. Instead, harnesses with an X-back distribute weight more evenly across your dog’s body.
Go On Long Walks
Unlike their larger cousin, the malamute, which is bred for short-distance treks with heavy objects, huskies are specifically bred to carry light loads over long distances. In other words, huskies are meant for endurance rather than intensity, and jogging rather than sprinting.
A husky will gladly be your jogging mate, but even a nice 30 or 45 minute walk is a good way to satisfy your husky’s desire to travel.
Use a Treadmill
It may seem a bit more mundane than a flashy sport like bikejoring, but letting your husky run on a treadmill is a practical and efficient way to get out their energy.
It’s very possible to use a human treadmill to exercise dogs on, but you may find it easier to invest some money into a dog-specific treadmill. These treadmills are typically longer and wider to accommodate the extended gait of our four-legged friends. They are also usually non-motorized, making them safer and easier to control for your dog.
The intensity of walking or running on a treadmill means it’s a good idea to keep workouts short and fun. It’s also important to note that treadmills aren’t a replacement for walks, but rather a good supplement, especially when it’s too hot out for a long walk.
Take Your Husky Swimming
As we’ve covered in a previous article, huskies can easily become successful and talented swimmers if you are patient with them. Swimming is an excellent way to wear your husky out, as it keeps your husky cool and is a full-body exercise.
Swimming doesn’t come naturally for this tundra-dwelling breed, however, and a high-quality life-jacket is required for them to safely tread water.
How to Teach A Husky to Walk On a A Loose Leash
One of the major reasons the idea of letting a husky walk off-leash may seem appealing is that training a husky to walk on a leash can be difficult. Luckily, there are a few tips and tricks to make teaching your husky to walk on a leash a much easier process.
Use Positive Reinforcement Training
The myth that training a dog to walk on a leash should involve any sort of pulling or scolding is just that– a myth. Walking is meant to be a pleasurable and straightforward daily activity, and it has been proven that dogs learn best with positive reinforcement.
To teach a husky to walk with you on a loose leash, have them come to your preferred side and give them a treat and plenty of praise. Then, take a step and give your dog a treat for walking at your side. If they pull ahead, stop walking and lure them back to your side.
Be sure to take another step before rewarding your dog, however, as you want to train them to stay by your side, not pull then return to it. Over time, you can begin to take more and more steps between rewards until your dog is walking reliably by your side.
Use A Proper Harness and Leash
The debate over harnesses versus collars is a surprisingly complex one, but many veterinarians and dog trainers err on the side of using harnesses. For a start, pulling on a collar can put pressure on your husky’s neck, restricting their airway or causing throat damage. Additionally, the broader area that harnesses cover makes it easier to control your dog and more difficult for them to slip out.
Having a well-fitting harness is important though, as a poorly fitted harness can restrict movement, cause discomfort, or even lead to your dog escaping. Harnesses should also be used in addition to collars, which allow for easy identification.
When it comes to teaching your dog to walk on a leash, using an exact 4-foot or 6-foot leash is preferable to a retractable leash or a bungee leash. This way, your husky has a good idea of when they are reaching the end of their leash and how far they can walk from you.
Be Patient and Consistent
Walking on a leash isn’t something that comes instinctively to dogs, and it can take a while before your husky catches on. In the meantime, expect to spend a lot of time waiting on your dog to stop pulling. Inconsistency and impatience will unintentionally reward your dog for pulling or confuse and frustrate them.
Along with being consistent in terms of how you train, it’s important to be consistent in terms of training frequency. You should at the very least take advantage of daily walks, but it’s also possible to work with your husky in 15 minute intervals throughout the day.
Take Sniff Breaks
As much fun as physically leaving the house and moving around is for your husky, it isn’t the part of the walk that’s truly enriching for them. With more than 300 million smell receptors, dogs experience the world primarily through their sense of smell, and are able to detect things such as the traits of nearby dogs, emotion, and even disease.
Taking regular breaks to let your dog sniff around allows your dog to enjoy the walk and reduces their need to pull in the hopes of being able to get some mental stimulation. Giving your dog a simple command to let them know that they are “off duty” for walking by your side helps them know when to explore a bit before giving them another command to return to your side. Example commands include “at ease,” or “sniff,” and “with me,” or “heel” respectively.
Although huskies can’t be safely taught to walk off-leash, there are still plenty of ways to let your dog get the exercise and enrichment they need. By taking advantage of enclosed areas and going on long walks, your husky can get the experience of exploring without the dangers involved in off-leash walking.