They got a Husky/Akita. Now what?
July 16, 2012 8:15 AM   Subscribe

Husky/Akita mix-breed. What are we in for?

On a whim my son and his wife got a puppy yesterday. I say "whim" because in 2 weeks she went from wanting to get a kitten (they have a 4 year old cat) to bringing home an 8 week old Husky/Akita mix puppy. To be more specific, 1/2 Akita & 1/4 Husky-1/4 Shepard mix puppy that they found on Craigslist. They have a 2 year old and the aforementioned cat.

They both work full-time, but my son does work from home, so hopefully that's a plus on some level. My friends are telling me that this breed is not a good fit with kids, much less the cat that already lives there.

Is there anyone out there with experience with an Akita MIX? Does it help that it's a puppy and hopefully they can train it to calm down some? What are they in for, and what can they expect? What's the absolute #1 they should instill in this dog to provide a harmonious existence for all involved?
posted by SoftSummerBreeze to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What you have is a mix of very active breeds. Puppy training is going to be a must for this dog.

Your son and his family will have tumbleweeds of fur all over the hosue as these guys blow their coats a few times a year. The dog should be brushed every day or he may become matted, which will be painful for him.

You can't train a dog to calm down, hopefully neutering and age will help with that. Shepherds are known to be very good with kids, Akitas, it really depends. Huskys need lots and lots of activity or they'll destroy everything in your house. (Watch Dogs 101 on Animal Planet, it's very informative.)

I'm a bit confused about the use of "we" in your question. This sounds like an issue for your son and his family. Do you live with them? Do they live with you?

If you don't actually live in the house, I'd step back and let them deal with their new family memeber on their own. If you do live in the house, do your best to understand the breeds in this puppy and to be consistent with training.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:23 AM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Agreed, "we" was not proper. I only said that because of my concerns for my granddaughter and their cat.
posted by SoftSummerBreeze at 8:27 AM on July 16, 2012

Not a dog owner, but I have neighbors on my block who have an Akita that seems very sweet; they also have kids. However, I have also noticed that they groom him outside because holy crap, the shedding.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 AM on July 16, 2012

We'll keep our fingers crossed that this works out, and the dog doesn't end up in the pound.

If you're up for it, maybe you could help by gifting them a six week puppy training course and offering to babysit your g-daughter while they attend with the puppy. Also remember that a tired dog is a good dog, so you might try taking the puppy and your g-daughter for walks and to the dog park. This will also model good pet care for her, in case you think the adults might sluff.

Don't get involved in training the dog any more than to the extent of making it behave when it's with you.

Hopefully the adult cat will put the puppy in its place and all will be well.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:41 AM on July 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

They should expect fur. Fur everywhere. Fur on the floor, on the furniture, stuck to the sheets, in the windowscreens, on the food, on the ceiling of the shower, in the plants, between the piano keys, in the kids lunchboxes, between pages of all of their books, inside the refrigerator, inside contact lens cases, and anywhere else you could possibly think of. FUR. FUR EVERYWHERE.

I have known Huskies, Husky mixes, Akitas, German Shepherds, and German Shepherd mixes. Aside from the common FUR ISSUE, they are all high-energy and loyal breeds of dogs. They're also big and strong. The pup is going to outweigh that two-year-old in about a week and perhaps outweigh adult members of your family in a year. Do they have plenty of space for the dog to run around? A nearby dog park?

I'd say that it's less of an issue whether or not the dog's breed will be an issue than the dog's training. Akitas, Huskies, and German Shepherds aren't great dogs for first-time owners because they're so high energy - and they're working breeds, they need to WORK! Or at least have something to do to pass the time. A bored Working Dog is a destructive Working Dog. Suggest that they take the pup to classes early on. Nothing fancy, the dog doesn't need to learn how to jump through a hoop or anything. But it will help to calm and harness some of the puppy nuttiness, and it give the dog something to work on.

In my humble, dog-loving opinion (I Am Not Your Dog Professor): there is almost nothing better you can do for a kid than to have them grow up with a dog. Learning to take care of the dog will help the kid learn responsibility; having a loyal friend to confide in and whose fur you can sob into when life isn't fair; even learning the tough lessons that come with a dog's painfully short life span. Dogs that are brought up with kids in particular often take a role of protector of the small ones in the family.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:41 AM on July 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

They have likely set themselves up for a difficult "first dog" experience and gone against pretty much every piece of advice that would commonly be given to someone looking to get a dog for the first time. Just so they know what they're in for.

As Ruthless Bunny says, they should definitely do some puppy training and probably continue obedience training beyond puppyhood. Look around to see if there is a local dog training club that offers classes and get the dog in class as soon as the club allows.

It will likely be a smart and active dog which means it will need a ton of exercise and stimulation. And not like, "let out in the yard for a few hours" exercise. It will need to be directed, like daily long walks, playing frisbee, or going jogging. Also lots of available toys and some human-dog playtime every day. Smart dogs will get bored and find ways to amuse themselves, which almost always means destroying something.

They'll probably want to read up on dog-cat introductions too and maybe try to control that, though I guess it might be too late.
posted by ghharr at 8:42 AM on July 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Anecdata: I love both akitas and huskys, so I am biased.

I dogsat for the sweetest and calmest (and giantest) akita once. He weighed probably 30-50 pounds more than I did, and could have easily torn away from me while leash walking him, but he was super calm and obeyed directions easily even from my high-pitched voice.

All the huskys I have known have also been calm and good-natured dogs. I used to pass a husky on my walk to school, and he was always tied up on the porch and just calmy laid around and sometimes walked down the steps to let me pet him.

But, with kids and the large-size of these dogs, I would definitely look into dog training for your dog. Your dog may be so big that you cannot physically control it, so you need to have it trained to listen to your verbal commands.
posted by shortyJBot at 8:45 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have two Siberian huskies (though one of them is 1/4 Malamute). Akitas and Huskies belong to the Spitz Breed group and are basically the closest breed to wolves that exists today. As such, you're dealing with a pretty strong prey drive that can kick in randomly and suddenly.

I have two older cats, and it was a risk to bring huskies into the house-- the thing that makes them less interesting to the dogs is that they're old and slow and don't move around a lot. In other words, they don't look a lot like prey. If we had kids we would not have gotten huskies. There are rare horror stories and I personally wouldn't risk it. Mine are great when kids are playing with them at the park but the prey drive can kick in out of nowhere. We keep a close eye on them with the cats as it is. That said, plenty of families with small children have huskies without any issues.

Ruthless Bunny is dead-on about the energy level. You can't imagine the amount of energy these puppies have-- mine could easily power a small city if their energy could somehow be harnessed. They also play quite "rough"-- it can look a lot like fighting to an outsider (lots of biting at necks and shaking, a lot of stalking and taking the other down). They need lots of exercise and play and socialization.

And yes, the shedding. Look up YouTube videos, especially the ones using the Furminator.

They're also very smart and can be escape artists. They should start leash training immediately; this is probably the biggest challenge with the breed.

All of this said, my husband and I agree that we would never have another breed. It helps that we live up by the 60th parallel and they're pretty uniquely qualified to have an excellent quality of life here year-round (six months of snow each year).
posted by mireille at 8:46 AM on July 16, 2012

Digging is a thing with a friend's husky crosses. Railroad ties cemented in below the frost line has slowed them down a bit, but everything else lasted no more than a couple of weeks.
posted by scruss at 8:55 AM on July 16, 2012

If they live in a city with dog runs, get the puppy down there as soon as it's cleared by the vet that all it's shots have taken. Getting a puppy like that regularly socialized with other dogs is crucial as you don't want it to have an anger/anxiety reaction on the street when another dog goes by. As a bonus the puppy will get worn out with the healthy play.

Don't let the dog get away with rough and tumble biting/mouthing behavior with humans just because it's a puppy and it's cute. Imagine the 140 pound version of that rough and tumble. Not good.

Generally if dogs meet cats while they are still puppies then there won't be an issue.

Another vote for a good training regime done early. Dogs soak training up when young and it makes such a difference when they're older.
posted by merocet at 8:58 AM on July 16, 2012

Most people will tell you that any breed has its good apples and bad apples, and I'm sure Akitas are no different. However, Akitas are very large, very strong and the ones I have known would not be described as "family friendly". They may bond with one family member to the exclusion of others. They require serious training and very firm handling.

If I personally knew someone with a toddler and a cat who had picked up an Akita, mix or not, my very strong opinion would be to return it. Why worry about it? Why not get a recognized family friendly breed? The worst possible outcome would be an attack, obviously, but the next worst would be to keep it for several months and THEN re-home it, when it is no longer a puppy and is already showing problems, which would be two strikes against it.
posted by Glinn at 9:05 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Read this, from a responsible Akita breeder. If your son and his wife are responsible about the fact that they have brought a high-energy dog with an overwhelming need for both socialisation and obedience training into their family, they will vastly increase the likelihood of a positive outcome with a loyal, well-adjusted family pet.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:27 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think they will be fine IF they are willing to put the work into it. That means full training, 1-2 hours of exercise a day (and I mean real exercise, not just walking around the neighborhood), realize they are notorious escape artists, so microchip, tags, introduce him to all the neighbors, etc.
posted by Vaike at 9:50 AM on July 16, 2012

(For ease of writing, I've written this as if you, the OP, owns the dog. I understand this is not the case. Also, advance warning: Long post...)

You cannot train a puppy to be calm. Puppies are energetic and rambunctious (with very rare and often worrying exceptions), and large dogs spend more time being rambunctious than small dogs because they take longer to grow and spend more time in the adolescent phase. Exercise, exercise, exercise (but take care not to overwork the dog before it is fully grown.)

Huskies are compulsive diggers when they're bored and frustrated, and that instinct is not readily bred out. Expect holes in the yard regardless if it's hot out.

Be prepared to focus on leadership. Huskies and akitas are both dogs that are ready and willing to step up and take leadership if they feel it isn't being given to them. Showing a dog proper leadership really isn't hard - and in the kid's case, it should start as early as possible. If the kid is old enough to understand what you're saying to him, he's old enough to be a leader to the dog.

Regarding nipping/biting/roughhousing... My personal belief is that rough and tumble play is as important for dogs as it is for kids. The dog needs to learn to control its bite - not to learn never to bite. One day, if something startles it and it snaps out of instinct, bite control will make the snap a simple nip rather than a kibble-crunching-pressure bite. Any dog can snap when startled or irritated. It's not aggression, it's a warning. When the dog is playing as a puppy and it nips too hard, yelp and withdraw from play immediately for a few seconds. The dog will learn bite inhibition, which is much safer in the long run than trying to teach the dog not to use the only method it has of expressing displeasure.

And get that puppy socialized. Akitas can be protective of their people (this is what they were bred for, after all) and surly with other dogs. Huskies and shephers can be the same, usually to a lesser degree. Early and frequent socialization and play should make this a non-issue. If it seems to be becoming an issue, see a behavioralist (for behavior modification, not training) before it becomes aggression. But really, with proper socialization it should never become a problem.

The absolute #1 thing they should instill in the dog? Trust via fair leadership.

Best of luck with the new addition.
posted by Urban Winter at 9:52 AM on July 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

We're on day four of a new Akita puppy (pic). The things that have helped the most have been using a good, growly sounding voice when saying, "No," being really consistent about correcting or rewarding her, being really good and consistent about managing her food, water, and crate to help with potty training, and the breeder did a TON of work before we got her to get her socialized so she is pretty chill when we meet new people, do new things, hear new sounds, or go new places.

I can already tell that doing these things now will really pay off in the long run.

The only issue with a mixed breed like that is that you don't know what characteristic from each breed will emerge. It might end up being the size of the smallest of the breeds in her mix or might be the largest. It could have all of the best personality traits of the bunch (for whatever traits will end up being best for the dog's specific situation) or it might have all the worst.

Good, consistent training and socialization will help to amplify the good traits and minimize the bad ones.

Since Spitz breeds are so close to wolves, they also have a strong sense of "pack". Once they understand that they sit lower in the pack hierarchy than all the humans, being part of a pack can make them WONDERFUL with a family.

We read this book before our puppy came home. It gives some really great advice and is a fast and short read.

The dog can be totally okay with a young child in the house (though they should always be supervised with together) and a cat, it just takes training and time.
posted by VTX at 9:54 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend owned an akita while she was in college. She didn't do a very good job with obedience training or socialization and it ended up attacking a small child and having to be put down. Really sad, avoidable, and totally inexcusable. While I really liked the dog and thought it was beautiful and intelligent, I have to say it kind of scared me--just playing with it I was always surprised at its strength and aggression, and I'm not a small person. Not trying to scare you! I don't own, or know very much about dogs, but it's pretty clear yours will do well if you're committed to training.
posted by bennett being thrown at 9:56 AM on July 16, 2012

They're good dogs, very loyal and protective of the family.

My dad had one when I was a very young kid that was more of a threat to anyone messing with me than me. He has stories of things like me making a break for the street and the dog chasing me down and gently, but firmly picking me up by the diaper and carrying me back into the house like a naughty puppy. Or raising his voice and finding a 100+ pound dog putting herself between me and him and doing the angry not-screwing-around growl. Or investigating a noise at the gate to get in and finding toddler-me escorting a grownup down, accompanied by the dog, because you couldn't just come in the gate or...well, nobody wanted to find out what she'd do if a stranger came wandering on in, and it was kind of funny to have a kid that could barely walk talking down an enormous dog. Or the time she herded me into the house and then went to back down the enormous alligator that crawled out of the bayou behind the house. (She did, too, and yes, I had an odd childhood).

However, they're also bred to be working dogs. They're dogs that can pull a heavily-loaded sled all day and want to do more, more, more. They're not going to be satisfied with a couple walks a day and will destroy the house if they get bored. And they shed. Lord, do they shed. And they have to be trained, because they're smart and will put themselves in charge if you don't.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:04 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I grew up with an Akita. My parents have another one now.

This dog MUST MUST MUST be properly socialized and trained to be obedient and 100% respectful of all humans. Absolutely NO play biting/mouthing. They are in for a world of trouble if this dog is not seriously trained right.
posted by gnutron at 10:13 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pretty good advice in the thread -- advice that applies to all dogs, frankly. I myself am the owner of a G. shepherd / ?akita / something / something / ?husky / something / ?coyote / ?goat. She's very very fit and athletic, smart and was incredibly high energy as a puppy (which pretty much lasted about 3.5 years). She sheds a shit-ton. She's also quite skittish, despite huge amounts of dog, child, and adult human socialization. But as a 4 and half year adult, she's become a great dog, who's retained tons of personality while being responsive and safe around kids (my biggest worry). A great, great dog (but obviously I'm biased).

My advice, to repeat a lot of the contributions in the thread is:
1) Lots of training. Constantly teach the dog new things, or reinforce existing things, and reward positively.
2) Lots of energy expenditure. I raised my dog in Squamish, British Columbia, where I was able to walk the dog off-leash on hiking trails and logging roads two or three hours a day (generally, but never less than an hour a day, which is what she gets now living in a city). While I had ideal living / working conditions to pull this off, I generally expect that responsible dog owners need to put **real** time into working, playing and exercising their young dogs, with the caveat that
3) Until they are adults, dogs can get real long-term injuries if they are over-worked. Puppies, like 2 year old humans, often don't know when they are pushing too hard. Be careful and attentive and wait until you start, say, having the dog chase you on a mountain bike.
4) But basically, if all they are doing for 'exercise' is tossing the dog into the yard or going for a ten minute leash walk they are not good, responsible dog owners in my book.
5) All puppies chew, especially when left alone. Recognize this and accommodate it, don't try to police or deny it.
6) Crate training worked very nicely. My growing up involved about 6 dogs, none of which were crated. Amazing how much easier house-breaking and containg damage is.
7) Shepherds and shepherd crosses are often known for having delicate digestions. It took a while for me to find a brand that the Z. dog's system deals with well.
8) Its basically always counter-productive to yell or lose your temper with a dog. This is a monkey/ape thing, and to the dog, it just looks like out of control / unpredictable / irrational / untrustworthy / stressful behaviour. This is not the best way to get a dog to learn good behaviour. Calm, firm, positive is what you need at all times, even after the poor beast has pooped out your chewed up favorite shoes onto your prized Afgan rug and then puked in your rare record collection.
9) Lots of great AskMe pet advice over the years.
posted by bumpkin at 10:29 AM on July 16, 2012

Purely anecdotal: I've personally known only two dogs who have killed cats. One was a Husky, the other an Akita. The Husky killed a cat it had lived with for years. I love dogs and these were both relatively well behaved, but probably not well trained. Best of luck.
posted by ilona at 11:06 AM on July 16, 2012

The really good thing is that they got this puppy at a really perfect age for early socializing and for making this puppy into a dog that will be comfortable with children and other animals. I would say they need to start socializing asap, with the child, other dogs, and other humans that aren't in the household. From the get go give this puppy some positive experience with the 2 year old, having her handle it if it is feasible, very gently of course, and being sure never to frighten the pup (with sudden movements or loud noises) you don't want to yell at or scold a puppy at this stage at all (optimally never, but we all know sometimes they drive us nuts). Handling this dog with care and lots of socializing now, can prevent a lot of problems in the future, that you may or may not have with those breeds.

Another great thing is that your son is working at home, and should be able to provide this dog with a nice regular schedule. No matter what the breed, any dog needs a regular schedule, and it will help a lot with house training, as well as reducing stress on their puppy.

With Akitas, they can be very willful dogs which you shouldn't have a problem with if they start training early, and are consistent. Akitas can also be very sweet and affectionate with their family. I will say that a lot of husky mixes that I have encountered have been very neurotic dogs that had very destructive tendencies, but with most of them I think it was a case of boredom rather than separation anxiety. Not nearly enough exercise, and being left to roam a house, where there are lots of pretty things to chew or tear up and not enough to occupy their mind. I would definitely suggest crate training if no one is at home or keeping tabs on them, at least until they have built up some trust and you are confident that they will succeed if left alone. And when they do move up to being allowed to roam, give them something to keep them occupied as you leave (put peanut butter in a kong and freeze it over night, and give it to them as they leave). It will keep them occupied for a while, and relieve any stress at being left alone.
posted by Quincy at 11:55 AM on July 16, 2012

As a data point, my absolutely favorite dog was a 90 lb. husky shepherd mix. And yes, she shed a ton. But she was smart as a whip, protective without aggression (i.e. always positioning herself between me and the handyman in a really non-threatening but consistent way), beautiful and sweet. God she was a great dog.

But as a puppy, she was an utter nightmare. Her intelligence was an asset as a grown, well-trained dog, but was infuriating as a puppy. Here is my advice: Training is critical as the smart ones will push very single boundary to the nth degree. It must absolutely be established that the dog is subordinate to every creature in the house, period. Any tiny sign of dominance towards any family member and especially the baby should be immediately met with swift rebuke that makes it abundantly clear who is boss (I am not talking corporal punishment). I look at the hierarchy this way (Baby, Parents, cat, dog) The dog is also subordinate to the cat for the sole reason that it can kill it so the swift rebuke rule applies here too--even if the dog is chasing the cat in play.

If the parents are not up for being extreme enforcers of the dominance hierarchy, they could be in for a world of trouble. This is no judgment on them as I have opted for much simpler dogs since my beloved dog passed away, but less intelligent, more obedient dogs are just so much easier. But if they do it right, it could be an absolutely fabulous dog. I did about 80 percent of it right but I had no kid or cat at the time to protect.
posted by murrey at 2:52 PM on July 16, 2012

I highly suggest you learn about clicker training and positive reinforcement. You do not want to begin training this dog through "dominance" old-school methods. Clicker training can begin tomorrow. Look it up and watch some videos on youtube. If you search my history, I've given a number of examples of proper books and trainers. Email me if you want me to search for those comments.

And get a FURminator.
posted by barnone at 3:08 PM on July 16, 2012

Purely anecdotal: I've personally known only two dogs who have killed cats. One was a Husky, the other an Akita. The Husky killed a cat it had lived with for years. I love dogs and these were both relatively well behaved, but probably not well trained. Best of luck.

That actually happened to my family--our husky killed our cat, with whom he'd lived in relative harmony for four years or so. I believe to this day that he didn't realize who she was. She was an indoor-only cat all her life until one day she pushed out a screen in our greenhouse and got out into the yard. He was territorial and his instinct kicked in, and we didn't get there in time.

So, in light of that: is the cat indoor-only? Indoor/outdoor? What kind of outdoor set-up do they have for the dog (i.e., free run in fenced yard? Tie-out?)? If the cat goes outdoors at all, I'd recommend a tie-out (not necessarily to be used at all times that the dog is out but definitely at times the cat is also out). If the cat is indoor/outdoor, it'd probably be good to demonstrate that to the dog right off, while the dog is under control, so that he at least gets a sense of what that particular cat looks like moving, and that it has a right to be in its own yard.
posted by dlugoczaj at 12:05 PM on July 18, 2012

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