On Good Friday, an eight year old boy in the Sydney suburbs was attacked and bitten in the face by his neighbours’ 18 month old Siberian husky. He required plastic surgery to repair deep gashes on his left cheek, nose and lips. This story sent a chill of recognition down my spine as did the photo of the little boy who had been attacked. What is more upsetting is that these are not isolated incidents. A couple of weeks ago a group of huskies attacked and killed a four year old boy in Pangnirtung, Canada. A 3-month-old Nebraska boy suffered broken ribs after being attacked by a Siberian Husky in 2009. In 2007, a baby in Perth was plucked from its cot and killed by the family’s pet Siberian husky. Between 1982 and 2006, huskies or husky mixes were responsible for over 30 reported attacks on children in the U.S. and Canada. Only pit bulls (duh), rottweilers, chows, German shepherds and akitas more frequently bit kids.
In that last report, it is pointed out that huskies – unlike the more aggressive dogs – almost never attack adults. They are referred to as a special case, with most of the attacks occuring in regions where the dogs are kept in packs, often without regular human supervision – as with the death in Canada last week.
But that wasn’t the case in Sydney, Perth, Nebraska or here in Adelaide. Huskies are not considered an aggressive breed and I don’t think they are, despite these news stories. They’re pack animals and require a firm understanding of pack hierarchy. For huskies that are family pets, the pack is that family. I think that the reason that most husky attacks are on children, especially young children, is that the addition of children disrupts the dogs’ pack structure. They are confused and they try to restore the pack hierarchy. They lash out, without understanding the inevitable repercussions of attacking a human child.
One of the Sydney husky’s owners said that the dog was “fine usually”. So was ours. Outside of the typical puppy nipping and occasional playful roughhousing, our husky never bit anybody. Never would. He sat idly by while someone broke into our house in Oxford in the middle of the night. He was remarkably well trained for his breed and I had worked hard on that training. I know how to train a dog. We did all the things right when the kids started to come – didn’t leave the dog alone with them, mediated dog-child interactions and on and on. Even when my husky attacked my little boy, they weren’t alone together. They were on a beach with four other responsible adults. It happened in a millisecond.
We’re very, very lucky. We’re lucky it wasn’t worse – that Boy Z isn’t dead or didn’t require plastic surgery. We’re lucky we didn’t make the news. We’re lucky not to be a statistic in some report about dog attacks.
I want another dog. Boy Z wants another dog. But when the time comes, it won’t be a husky. Nor will it be any of those Nordic working dogs. I can’t trust them again. I’ve seen what they’re capable of, seen how they can turn in a moment. They’re too closely related to wolves. It was the lupine characteristics of the breeds that drew me to them in the first place and unfortunately it is the lupine characteristics of the breeds that lead them to occasionally attack children.
I guess the point of this post is to serve as a warning – Siberian huskies are not, by nature, aggressive. But they are dangerous to children. And I don’t think enough people know that. I didn’t know that, and I’d owned huskies for over a decade. If you’re a husky owner and you’re anticipating starting a family or have recently started a family – do not trust your dog(s) with your children. I know you think your dog is different. I thought my dog was different. I knew about the Perth attack before my son was born. My dog seemed fine with my sons. But my dog wasn’t different. No matter how gentle and harmless he seemed, there was a wolf inside of him the same way that there is a wolf inside your dog. Maybe your dog is different, but is it worth the risk?
Don’t trust your husky with your children. Don’t leave them alone together. Don’t let your dog off lead in the presence of the children even if you are there. I’m not saying to get rid of your husky if you have kids, though in our case everyone (dog included) might have been better of if we had re-homed the dog before our kids were born. For your sake, for your children’s sake, for your dog’s sake: do not trust your husky with your children.