Siberian Huskies are a beautiful, hard-working breed. They are independent thinkers. They can run for miles and haul heavy loads behind them. Did I mention they are beautiful?
They are also ranked #4 for dog bites. They are very highly prey driven. They have an instinctual “escape” need. They are bolters. They are a stubborn breed that needs a strong, experienced owner.
Do I think Siberian Huskies can make it as service dogs? For an adult who has experience with this breed, yes. For a young child, who screeches, and flaps hands, and also want to bolt. No.
I simply picture a young child, tethered to a strong Sibe, door open, squirrel running in the yard.
Did you just shudder?
Once again, I do think that for an adult who is familiar with this breed, they could be a great service dog.
Not for my child.
Todays letter is from the founder of Project2Heal. It was sent to Global Giving.
Will someone PLEASE listen before a tragedy occurs with the name “Pepsi Pups” attached to it?
Dear Mr. Heckilnger:
My name is Charlie Petrizzo. I am the founder and CEO of Project2Heal. Project2Heal is a non profit organization that performs a number of functions for children with disabilities. Primarily we breed and train Labrador retriever puppies for children with special needs ranging from burn victims to down syndrome to autism. Our breeding stock come from a woman who has been breeding Labrador retrievers for over 50 years. She began her breeding to provide dogs to the Seeing Eye foundation in Morristown, New Jersey. Today she helps organizations like mine to provide the best genetics available for service dog jobs.
The nature/nurture paradigm holds true with respect to dogs. Nearly one third of the adult dog’s disposition and temperament as well as its ability to work will be the direct result of its genetic makeup. Therefore the parents utilized in the breeding process are critical. The early environment, especially the four to twelve week age is also critical to the development of a puppy and subsequently the ability of that puppy to endure the training necessary to become a true service dog. For seven years now we have donated our puppies to organizations like North Star Dogs as well as training some of our pups on our own for the needs of local children. Our dogs have an extremely high rate of success because of our thorough pedigree reviews and enriched early socialization programs.
It is my understanding that the Pepsi Corporation has recently decided to give a $50,000 grant or donation to Lea Kaydus who has decided to raise a litter of Siberian Huskies for placement with children with autism. In my professional opinion there are a number of red flags that your organization should seek out information on prior to finalizing your decision if you haven’t already done so as this sounds like a recipe for disaster.
First, no experienced service dog professional would pick a Siberian Husky as the breed of choice for working with children with special needs. The single most important characteristic or temperamental trait that a dog must possess to work as a service dog is a “forgiving disposition”. Children with special needs will pull tails, pull ears, grab skin, etc. It is for this reason that Labrador retrievers and Golden retrievers are the most sought after dogs to be used with these children. The demeanor of these breeds in general is a forgiving one and also a submissive one. They are very accepting of the idiosyncrasies of special needs children.
Closely related to this trait is the trait of intuition. Retrieving breeds that have been developed over hundreds of years to work in very close proximity to their “master” (i.e., sitting next to them in a boat or a blind patiently waiting to receive their cue to retrieve) have developed an intuitive nature that often allows them to perceive when the child that they are serving may need them most. This is especially true for children with Autism who have what are referred to as “Meltdowns” which are episodes of extreme anger or excitement. The last thing you want in such a situation is a dog who may misinterpret or misread the intention of a child who, with arms flailing, may run at the dog and grab its ears or tail. As a breeder of Labrador retrievers I generally do not have to be too concerned about this issue because of the typical nature of the pups that are produced from our pedigrees.
You may ask “Why not the Siberian Husky”? Well, we know that the domesticated dog has evolved from the European Grey Wolf. How far removed a specific dog breed is from the wolf can provide a general insight about its temperament or disposition when it might be tested in a situation such as the one I described above. Consider the physiological attributes of a wolf: a thick furry coat, a bushy tail that often curls over the back, mutli colored hair pigmentation including white, a narrow skull and snout, prick or stand up ears, brown or blue eyes. Compare those physiological traits to those of the Siberian Husky. The Husky still possesses all of these physical attributes. This should tell you something.
The domestic dog is a neotenized version of the wolf. Neotony is the biological phenomenon of a species maintaining the juvenile (puppy)characteristics of a predecessor species into adulthood. From the standpoint of dog breeds, in general, those breeds that are “further removed physiologically” from the ancestral species of the European Grey wolf will more than likely maintain a greater number of the puppy behaviors of that species into adulthood.
Now, consider the physical attributes of retrievers. They have a very blocky or square skull with a short square snout. They have drop ears as opposed to prick ears. They possess no white hair pigmentation. Their hair is a double coat as opposed to the thick fur of the northern breeds. The tails come straight out of of their backs as opposed to curling over the back.These are the physical attributes of very young wolf pups.
In summary, the retriever is as far removed from the adult version of its predecessor species as possible. This is clearly evidenced through the physiological traits of the adult retriever relative to the adult wolf. Compare this to the Siberian Husky which possesses nearly all of the physical attributes of the adult wolf and you can clearly see from the standpoint of assessing physical attributes why professionals would choose one breed relative to another when working with special needs children. In my opinion, the choice of a first time service dog breeder to chose a litter of Siberian Huskies because that is what she has, should raise a red flag for Pepsi. Ot would certainly raise a red flag for me if I were consulting on such a placement.
Siberian Huskies are wonderful working dogs, not service dogs. They are very driven. Their work is primarily that of endurance; pulling heavy weights over long distances at the urging of their master. They are not however a good choice for the average family as a pet. In my opinion as a service dog breeder they are a poor choice to be used with children as a service dog. Of course there are exceptions to every rule. However, when you are considering the safety of children I would submit that the responsible thing to do is to use the standard that has proven itself time and again. That standard of excellence is found in well bred and socialized Labrador and Golden retrievers.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.