Age is relative. This not only applies to humans but also to dogs.
Of course, there are clearly defined phases in a dog’s life. Like how a dog grows from puppy to young dog. At the latest by the age of 2, the dog has reached his or her full physical growth, the so-called physical maturity. With sexual maturity, they turn into adult dogs. For females this can be as early as 6 months, males usually a little later, but at the latest when 12 months old.
During this period one speaks of puberty or flailing time. After this time for larger dogs, such as our huskies at 18 months, the dog is now grown up. After that many years of adulthood are to be expected. And at 10 years old people like to talk about senior dogs.
So much for theory. As I said, age is also relative in dogs.
With us, it starts with the fact that we always talk about “our puppies” until a new puppy litter is born. Our current “puppies” turned 3 years old in August 😊.
We also perceive the puberty phase to be significantly longer. We usually perceive our huskies to be adults when 3 years old. Some develop a little faster, for others, it takes a little longer.
What does “being an adult” mean in a dog’s case?
In general, I would say it means the dog has found its place: in the pack, in dealing with us and in coping the everyday life. Rules and routines are established and no longer questioned but accepted and internalized.
Socializing with other dogs is more relaxed, the dog has found his or her role in the pack and has also accepted it. Summarized, the dog feels secure, strengthened, knows how to deal with everyday life and relies on us as their pack leader.
Physically the dog is now ready to use its strength and energy in a targeted manner. At a younger age, the dogs are surely full of energy but it is difficult to master all this power. During puberty, they get to know their bodies and tend to overestimate themselves. In this period, we try to give them plenty of space to run freely, but make sure that we minimize the potential risk of injury and draw clear lines when they overdo it.
The first time for them to run in the team we want them to be about 10 months old. Preferable running in front of the sled in wintertime, but it can also be while autumn training with the UTV. Just very short stretches as part of the team and the rest free running. It’s amazing to see their excitement as they naturally lean into the harness. Some dogs can be initially skeptical of the harness and the sled and all the leashes around them. But if you help them calmly and confidently over this initial shyness, you will soon find a highly motivated sled dog in front of you.
They quickly understand that the procedure of starting is necessary before the wonderful fun of running and pulling in the team. They do not show much patience while we put a harness and booties on, as also link them to various lines. 100% impatience! If it were up to them, we could definitely make the start-up procedure shorter 😊.
Our mantra: keep calm and consistently enforce our rules. Biting a line? Of-limits. Quarrel with the neighboring dog? Of-limits. Jumping like crazy? Of-limits. Barking attentively? Granted. Remain at your assigned place, keeping the pulling line taut, being focused? Definitely desired.
In the first few years of a sled dog’s life, we must notably strengthen the unity of the team. At the same time, however, consider each dog’s individuality. The dog´s character will be shaped. It is important to deal with existing fears or uncertainties in an intended way. Quickly it happens, those uncertainties become more intense if you don’t help the young dog to overcome them. That is a great challenge for the musher to see these needs and react to them accordingly.
The young husky now becomes an experienced sled dog.
Their personalities have solidified. We, the mushers, know their strengths and weaknesses. We can respond to them in a direct and focused way and encourage them individually, making sure not to overwork them.
In this way, they can expand their abilities and grow individually. When they approach retirement age, usually between the age of 8 to 10 years old, they help us to train the young dogs. A young dog learns best from an adult dog!
But not every husky is a born sled dog.
It is rather rare, but also in the world of dogs, expectations are not always met.
We have a female with us who is not a sled dog. Funnily enough, she was the first dog I chose. Back then in the sled dog kennel where Johanna and I met. Jet was a few weeks old when I took her under my wings. She is a very special dog, has a strong personality, and is now 13 years old. An old lady, becoming a little more stubborn every day. Today I arranged to meet her in the garden for a short interview on the subject of “Aging gracefully as a non-sled dog husky”.
In the morning I pick her up from her dogyard. Her big eyes say: “Nice that you are coming. About time too. ”
She’s always a little cocky as soon as I open the door and likes to forget that she’s a little wobbly on her feet. So I take her by the collar and walk her slowly to the garden. Not as many pitfalls there and she can warm up a little. The joy is huge and in half-big leaps, she runs once across the garden. Many places have to be sniffed extensively. Not to forget her usual round tour through the kennel, passing all the other dogs in their dogyards.
She happily walks past the other dogs, who greet her with loud protest barking as they find it unfair Jet running free, while they have to be in the dogyard. But they would just be too wild and bump into the old lady.
Jet enjoys her tour a lot, especially when the other dogs are getting crazy about her strolling around. 😊
After her kennel round and the sniffs, she trots straight towards the gate. She briefly sticks her head between the slats, lifts her head a little bit, and manages this way to open the gate, walking outside. Since I’m busy cleaning the dogyards, I miss again when she slips out. But no panic, Jet just runs to the lake, takes a bath, and comes straight back to the gate again. Interestingly, she cannot open the gate in that direction, although she only has to push it …
Back in the garden, she is finally ready for our interview. She walks enthusiastically over to me, loudly grumbling, a very special sound of her.
Interview with husky lady Jet
Me: “Hej Jet. Thanks, that you have time for me. How are you today?
Jet: “Thank you. I’m fine. The swim was wonderful again. I enjoy it a lot. It just would be nice if you could open the gate for me more often. It is a little difficult for a lady of my age to move the heavy gate herself. “
Me: “Um. Well. Ok. You are right. I promise to do better in the future. But you do know that you are actually not allowed to be outside the fence? “
Jet (surprised): “Really? I thought the fence was only meant for the other dogs, to keep them from running everywhere, as headless as they are. “
Me: “Well, yes. Also them. But you shouldn’t just walk around everywhere either. “
Jet (outraged): “Just walking around? Me? A bath is not too much to ask, isn´t it? And when the nice old cocker spaniel lady walks by it is proper to have a little chat, don´t you think? And yesterday when the ducks were down by the water… “
I (reassuringly): “Ok, ok. You are right. Those are of course important reasons. I am sorry.”
Silence. I am petting Jet soothingly on her back. She looks into the distance.
Me: “Getting older is not easy, I assume? Can I do you something good? “
Jet (her eyes light up): “We could go for a walk together more often. And I would like a soft pillow in my hut. You know, the big one from inside. Well, actually it would be even better if I could sleep inside more often. The new couch is really very comfortable, I have to say. Anyhow, I find it very pleasant that you, now that I’m older, finally understood that I’m not one of the other huskies out here. They’re sled dogs, you know. This is not my world. They are so, well, how should I put it, vulgar. Some even coarse! “
Me (clearing my throat to gain time): “That sounds a little rude towards the other dogs, I think. After all, you are a husky too, just like the others. “
Jet interrupts me. “Husky lady, please.”
Me: “Husky lady. Right. So you feel like you don’t really belong in the kennel? But when you were younger, you liked to play with the others very much and even ran as part of the team for a while. Didn’t you like that at all? “
Jet (scratches her ear): “That was a difficult time back then. I have always enjoyed running, preferably free and following my nose. But unfortunately, that was something you didn’t like that much. So I tried what you wanted me to do: pulling a sled together with the others. It was okay in the beginning. Fortunately, the others always pulled so hard that it wasn’t so noticeable when I pulled very little. As long as I kept an I on that the backline was stretched, you seemed to be satisfied, as also the other dogs. That was quite ok. Especially when we were allowed to run fast! “
Me: “Why didn’t you enjoy that even later on?”
Jet: “It was boring. I wasn’t allowed to run in the front because you never wanted to go where I wanted to go. So I had to run behind the others. Always in a row. Very boring. The others really tried to motivate me. At least at first. I never understood what they like about it. At some point, I had the feeling that they would be better of without me. Back then Loop, Dino, Fausto, Ris, Falk and Luna were still with us. Our friendship was at stake, as I slowed them down all the time. “
Me: “Sounds like you do have some friends after all in the pack, right?”
Jet (briefly look at me, then back into the distance): “Back then, yes. That was a different breed of husky back then. Today’s sled dogs, it is not the same… Well, what can you expect from a husky who gets everything put in front of its paws? “
I (surprised): “It was harder for you than for the young huskies today?”
Jet: “Definitely! Just think about the first dog house that you and Johanna built for me and Luna! What a hovel compared to the luxury huts today! And the harnesses! Back then we could be happy when Johanna didn’t choose 3 sizes too big and each time a different style! And today we get our paws rubbed every day with the most wonderful ointments, even before we even have cracked paws, as a prophylactic measure. In the past, we sometimes had really sore paws and first then you put cream on them. “
Me: “That sounds terrible! I’m very sorry that it was so difficult for you. “
Jet lies down to the side, showing her belly to be pet. “Well, it wasn’t that bad. You always looked after us very well. And if I played a little more diva, then I was always allowed to come into the house and sleep on the couch. I’ve always been good as an actress. My friends liked it too. I often organized some special treatment for us all this way… “
Me: “I understand… Would you have liked to choose a different professional career? “
Jet (thoughtfully): “I have sometimes wondered if I would have been a good hunting dog. But when I heard that I was not allowed to eat the prey myself after I killed it, I no longer found it very interesting. “
Jet licks her mouth and looks into the distance again. “For a while, you and Johanna always had many nice people around. Then we went with them on long snowshoe tours. That was nice. I always had a lot of fun. It was so funny when I got tangled up in all the lines on purpose and people barely managed to get me out of it. I laughed so hard!”
I (slightly annoyed): “Yes, I remember. You can still do that very well today … “
Jet looks innocent and scratches her ear.
Me: “Now autumn is just around the corner. We have decided that from now on you can sleep in the house. But during the day we would like you to be outside with the other huskies. At least until it gets really cold. Is that ok for you?”
Jet: “That’s fine with me. It’s really nice with Heine in the dogyard. He’s not very talkative, but he always notices what’s going on in the kennel. I can no longer see very well and my hearing has also decreased. The fact that he always starts barking as soon as something happens suits me very well. Will I get the very soft pillow when I sleep in the house? “
I (affectionately): “Yes, Jet, you will.”
Jet (thoughtful and a little hesitant): “I suppose eating the cat is still taboo?”
Me: “Yes Jet, eating the cat is definitely taboo!”