There are some ways that Siberian Huskies may seem like not the smartest dogs ever.
Siberian Huskies are terrible watchdogs. They were bred to live in packs for pulling sleds across miles of snow. Usually, they lived in a village full of people.
Even in the twenty-first century, your Siberian Husky is more likely to want to play a game with a burglar than to bark and warn you.
Siberian Huskies don’t just break the rules when you’re not around to give them firm guidance. They take breaking the rules to a whole new level.
I had a Siberian Husky, Oscar, kept in a student apartment. Oscar wasn’t happy with the AC system’s failure to keep the apartment cool on steamy Austin summer nights.
Oscar didn’t just park under the air conditioner, Oscar jumped over the patio fence and ran six blocks to an HEB grocery store, At the grocery store, Oscar would run straight for the frozen juice display, stretch out, and take a nap.
Given that Oscar had never been taken to HEB, and there supposedly isn’t some kind of canine psychic hotline, Oscar must have been sort of a genius for finding cool places to sleep.
But it took six trips to the grocery store and six calls from an increasingly annoyed store manager to train Oscar to sleep under the air conditioner.
Siberian Huskies show very high intelligence for doing their way. They don’t show as much intelligence for doing things your way.
But is the problem that Siberian Huskies aren’t smart, or that they are mischievous spirits with a sense of humor? Here’s what the experts say.
Canine psychologists rate Huskies as having “average” intelligence
Canine intelligence expert Stanley Coren rates Huskies as showing average intelligence in dog intelligence trials. For learning to obey and working intelligence, Huskies ranked 74th out of 138 breeds tested.
Stanley Coren is a Ph.D. professor at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. To run his experiments, he asked all the obedience trial judges of the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and American Kennel Club (AKC) to help.
Coren asked the judges to rank each breed on two intelligence traits:
- The number of training sessions required to teach a dog a new command. The fewer repetitions needed to treat the command, the more intelligent the dog.
- The success rate of the dog in performing a known command. A dog that did the “right” thing 95% of the time would be more intelligent than a dog that obeyed the command 25% of the time.
Dogs like Oscar that found the frozen orange juice section of a grocery store all on their own didn’t get any extra points.
Coren only evaluated breeds with at least 100 individual dogs participating in the study. Some hairless Xoloitzcuintli or Swedish Vallhund might have been the smartest dog ever, but if there weren’t 100 dogs taking the test, Coren didn’t consider any results.
No mixed breeds were tested, either.
How Huskies Performed in Their Intelligence Tests
Coren’s panel of judges found that Huskies needed 25 to 40 repetitions to learn a new command.
That means 25 to 40 training sessions to learn “Sit,” 25 to 40 repetitions to learn “Stay,” and so on. Once they learned a command, they performed it 50% of the time.
These results put Huskies in the same intelligence category as Boxers, Great Danes, Australian Shepherds, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.
How Husky Intelligence Compares to Other Breeds
At 74th, Huskies were more intelligent than 64 other breeds. However, they weren’t as great at learned obedience as the “above average” dog.
The “above average” dog needs 15 to 25 repetitions to learn a new command.
Once the dog has learned the command, it performs the command 70% of the time. “Above average” dogs include Giant Schnauzers, Miniature Pinschers, and Dalmatians.
“Bright” dogs needed just 5 to 15 repetitions to learn a new command. Once they learned the command, they had an 85% performance rate.
“Bright” dogs included Burmese Mountain Dogs, Corgis, Pomeranians, and Cocker Spaniels.
The top 10 most intelligent breeds were in a league of their own. They needed just 5 repetitions to learn a new command. They had a 95% success rate at performing the new command.
The most intelligent breeds included German Shepherds, Border Collies, Golden Retrievers, Rottweilers, Labradors, and Doberman Pinschers. These breeds are the most popular dogs in both Canada and the USA.
A Husky’s Intelligence Isn’t All About Being Obedient
Real-world Husky owners can confirm that Huskies aren’t great at learning to obey.
Oscar, the Husky mentioned earlier in this article, eventually learned “Stop” (as in “Stop, You’ll Get Run Over!”) but never paid a lot of attention to “Fetch.”
That isn’t to say that Huskies aren’t intelligent in their own way. Here are some comments about Huskies we found on Reddit:
“I think my Husky understands my body language better than most people. She nods her head at just the right times when I am talking to her.”
“We got our Husky as a puppy. He learned to stay, down, come, and shake in the first six weeks we had him. He just doesn’t want to obey every time we tell him to do something. He’s really stubborn.”
Stubbornness is a trait commonly reported by Husky owners.
“Our dog is always loving and always ready to play. ‘Let’s play’ is the one command she obeys 100% of the time. Well, that and ‘Let’s eat.'”
“Huskies have high energy, and they have high intelligence. But their intelligence can cause problems when you have to leave them alone.
We crate our Huskies when they are away because even the most loving Husky will find ways to cause mayhem when they know they aren’t being watched.”.
Why Experts Think Huskies Are Average and Owners Think Huskies Are intelligent
Most people who own a Husky think their animals are intelligent. That doesn’t mean that they think their Huskies are obedient.
There’s not much room for getting out of line for one Husky hitched up with 20 other huskies to pull a sled. In this situation, disobedience becomes painful. The other Huskies won’t allow it.
But there’s plenty of room for misbehavior for a Husky cooped up in a studio apartment (which we never recommend, trust us on this one). Here of some the ways Huskies display a kind of intelligence that doesn’t register in formal testing:
- You learn that your Husky can find the one place to dig under the fence you haven’t reinforced, or knows how to take the lid off the garbage can to look for goodies, or has figured out how to open the refrigerator.
- You try to reward obedience with treats, Your Husky plays dumb hoping you will just give them the treat anyway,
- You discover that your Husky isn’t motivated by food. You discover your Husky is motivated by love.
Make sure your Husky isn’t training you.
Tips for Making the Most of Your Husky’s Unique Intelligence/Temperament
Huskies don’t make great show dogs. They don’t learn tricks. They don’t care about treats. They are terrible watchdogs. But they make wonderful, loving, boisterous companions with the right training.
Here are five tips.
No matter how long it takes, teach the basic commands
It can be tempting just to give in to your Husky’s independent temperament, It takes real effort, sometimes with professional help, to get your Husky to respond reliably to come, stay, down, and stop orders.
But a certain amount of training is necessary for your Husky to keep the peace with other animals and for its own safety,
You need to be able to stop your Husky from running out into the street and getting hit by a car.
You need to keep your Husky calm when children play too hard.
You need to be able to take charge when there is the slightest hint your Husky will bite someone. You need to make sure your dog will come with you in a fire or a natural disaster,
Training your Husky to perform basic commands can take more than the 45 repetitions Coren’s judges reported.
Training Huskies can become a pain. But by going through this process with your Husky — and making sure your Husky obeys your kids’ commands, too — you build lasting bonds with your dog.
Choose the right treats for rewarding good behavior
Sometimes it seems that your Husky wants your attention, not a treat. What’s really going on is that your Husky wants your attention and the treat, too.
Treats are a valuable tool for rewarding good behavior and treating you as alpha. But some treats are better than others.
- Think about the size of the food treat. You want a bite-sized treat. You want to keep your Husky working for more, so the treat needs to be small. Pea-sized treats are best, so you can reward the behavior and get on with more training. It’s OK to break up larger treats into smaller pieces.
- Make sure you don’t give your Husky so many treats that she loses interest in mealtime. Treats are not supposed to be meal replacements.
- Soft, meaty, smelly treats are better than kibble. You want the treat to go down in one bite. You don’t want your Husky looking for crumbs on the floor.
Don’t be afraid to try different approaches to training
There are a number of approaches to training your Husky. Some are more outdated than others, but you are free to go with what works.
I’m the boss
One approach to training your Husky is the “I am your alpha” method.
You never get down on the floor at dog level. You never let your Husky get on furniture, including your bed, at your level. You treat your dog as a member of your pack, but you are always in charge.
This approach was thought to appeal to the pack instinct. But it’s been mostly replaced by purely positive reinforcement.
In the purely positive approach, you reward the behavior you want, and you ignore the behavior you don’t. Your Husky is only confused by punishment after the fact.
You can come home and punish your Husky for destroying your goose-down comforter while you were gone, but your Husky will think “What’s this about? My human is mean.”
The purely positive approach is to give your dog a treat when you come home and the house isn’t destroyed, and to be prepared to spend some time and dollars on Amazon for replacement stuff when it is.
Likewise, you reward silence. You don’t punish howling.
The purely positive approach only works if you are consistent and everyone in your household is on board with it.
Clicker training is an offshoot of the purely positive approach.
Use a clicker to make clicking sounds when your Husky has done something right. Your dog will eventually learn to do things that get clicks.
The advantage of this approach is you can reward your dog the instant he does something right. The hard part of clicker training is getting your dog to like the clicker.
Fixing bad habits
There is one thing to know about bad habits in dogs in general and Huskies in particular:
Don’t accidentally reward bad behavior.
If you yell at your dog after an accident on the carpet, your Husky will think “Ooh, my human howls, too.”
If you put your Husky in their crate with their favorite blankie and a chew toy after they try to escape, they may try to escape again tomorrow.
Generally speaking, the only way to change bad habits in Huskies is to give them an alternative behavior and then reward them for doing it. For this, you may need some professional help.
It’s always best to buy your Husky puppy from an AKC-accredited breeder.
They will give you a chance to meet your puppy’s parents. They will give you opportunities to get to know your puppies before making a final commitment to taking one home. They will make sure your puppy is well-adjusted and phobia-free.
Then, it is a good idea to invest in obedience school. Get all the professional help you can to make sure your Husky has the basic obedience intelligence needed for a safe and healthy life so you can enjoy their amazing emotional intelligence.
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