Recently there has been an absolutely tragic story in the news about a tiny baby who was killed by the family dog. Often the animal in these cases is of the bull breed variety but in this incident it was an Alaskan Malamute. We don't know the details or background of this animal but the breed although beautiful is powerfully built and they are a demanding and challenging animal to own. However, despite this they, and other arctic breeds like the Siberian Husky, are becoming increasingly popular as family pets, although they are not always suitable to this environment.
The sled dogs are both absolutely stunning to look at; with their thick, silvery coats and piercing eyes, and are currently being featured heavily in films (Twilight) and TV shows (Game of Thrones). So, when only 35% of dog owners chose their dog because the breed would fit with their family situation and lifestyle and a depressing 20% opt for a dog based solely on it's looks, it is easy to see why people chose them as pets, although they may well be wholly inappropriate.
Now, to be clear, I am in no way 'anti' these breeds, in the right hands they make fantastic companions; loyal, obedient and handsome but they are often completely underestimated by inexperienced owners. The numbers being produced are huge, the Alsakan Malamute is one of the fastest growing breeds in registered numbers with the Kennel Club and there is no way they are all in suitable homes. Which means there are potentially thousands of bored, under-stimulated and frustrated Huskies, Malamutes and their ilk all over the county. This could potentially be disastrous (and deadly as we have seen) if they take their unhappiness out on their families, not to mention how miserable they must be.
Of course this argument can be used for many working dogs but the arctic ones are on a different level. They are bred to run and pull sleds for miles in the harshest conditions on earth. Their natural levels of fitness are astonishing, even an untrained animal has an athletic ability outstripping our top human competitors. So, I ask you, does this sound like the sort of pet that will be happy in a suburban semi, or worse, a high rise flat, and going for a lead walk a couple of times a day? No and this is why many of these breeds that I see in my surgeries are difficult to handle, hugely over-excitable and in many cases, very snappy.
Once an owner realises their mistake, they are often unwilling or unable to properly cater for their dog's needs and the animal ends up in rescue. It has been recently reported that the numbers of sled dogs being handed in to the Blue Cross have increased five fold in the last five years and despite the charities best efforts, adequate homes simply do not exist for them all.
Whenever I am presented with the gorgeous bundle of fluff and blue eyes that is a sled dog puppy in my clinic, I have a serious chat to the proud new owner about what they are taking on but by this point it is often too late, they are enamoured with their new pet and blind to the potential problems they may have. Of course many do know what they have taken on but very many do not.
My message and primary reason for this piece is to beg and plead with anyone out there considering getting a dog of any breed, please, please do your research first! Read up on them, speak to breeders and experienced owners about what to expect and don't forget, your local vets are only on the other end of the phone! We see thousands of dogs and hundreds of breeds and are always ready, willing and able to give you clear, unbiased advice on what might be best for you and your family. A bit of forethought and planning could save much hassle, heartbreak and, potentially, worse.