Alaskan Klee Kai

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
 
Photo of adult Alaskan Klee Kai

The appearance the Alaskan Klee Kai (AKK) is that of a miniature Siberian Husky; indeed the name ‘Klee Kai’ means ‘little dog’. However, this little dog comes with his own unique character and is much more at home in front of a hearth than roughing it as a working dog.

First developed in the 1970s, the breed is relatively young and is still not recognised by all national Kennel Clubs. Bred as a companion dog, rather than a working animal, he is mix of loyal and loving to those he knows well, but anxious and standoffish to strangers. Although small in size, he does need plenty of exercise or you risk the AKK diverting energy into barking or destructive behaviour.

About & History

The very first AKK litter, born in Oklahoma, was a happy accident and the result of an unplanned mating between a Siberian Husky and an unknown father. This produced a litter of miniature puppies that looked like their mother in everything but size.

At that time, in another happy twist of fate, Linda Spurlin from Alaska happened to be visiting relatives in Oklahoma and saw the puppies. She was immediately taken with this small Siberian Husky-type and it set her thinking. Back in her native Alaska, Linda set her mind to how best to recreate these puppies, given that the breed of the original father wasn’t known. Her solution avoided the path of breeding together the smallest examples or ‘dwarves’ of the Siberian Husky, but instead outcrossing with smaller breeds.

Linda brought in blood from other small Spitz type breeds, such as the Schipperke and American Eskimo dog. This had the distinct advantage of avoiding unhealthy dwarfism genes, which can be accompanied by undesirable health traits, and introducing fresh genes that made for a healthier dog. The result is the Alaskan Klee Kai as we see it today.

Appearance

Alaskan Klee Kai Large Photo
Jean / Flickr.com

The appearance of the AKK can be described as looking at a Siberian Husky through the wrong end of binoculars. The markings, body shape, and coat are those of his larger relative, but on a much reduced scale. Along with almost wolf-like looks, the AKK has the distinctive eyebrows and mask colouration of the Husky, along with prick ears, and legs in good proportion to the body.

The AKK has a thick protective double coat, and three colour variations are accepted; these are white with the addition of red, grey, or black markings. He also has a thickly furred tail carried in a happy curl over his rump. The breed is sub-divided into three sizes: Toy, miniature, and standard, but in truth, there is only a difference of two inches in shoulder height across all three types.

Character & Temperament

The AKK is a clever dog but can be hard to train. Whilst he understands instruction and often excels at puppy school, as he matures the husky free-spirit often exerts itself. Couple this with a high prey-drive and you have a little dog that likes to roam and take off after squirrels and cats.

Another aspect of his temperament is a tendency to anxiety. This makes him nervous around strangers or in new situations, and prone to snappiness out of fear. This can be offset by proper socialisation as a puppy and careful handling through his adult life. But puppies that lack socialisation definitely need experienced owners.

The small size of the AKK can also make them feel vulnerable around children. If a child plays rough, again the Klee Kai may growl or snap out of self-defence, so supervision is advised at all times. As a breed, the AKK also has a strong prey-drive, making him a poor housemate for cats or other small mammals as they are liable to be chased.

Trainability

Photo of Alaskan Klee Kai puppy

On the one hand, the AKK is clever and food motivated, which makes him eager to please. But on the other, he is easily distracted, has a wanderlust, and loves chasing anything that moves. This makes for a dog that is highly trainable but doesn’t obey if something more interesting takes his attention. Thus, he’s not an ideal dog for the first time owner.

Another aspect of his training is socialisation. It’s important that this is ongoing through his adult life in order to prevent fear-related aggression. His owner must be prepared to build the dog’s self-confidence around strangers and in novel situations, by rewarding calm behaviour with treats and praise.

Health

Overall, the AKK is considered a healthy breed, however, there are problems to be alert for and responsible AKK breeders screen their dogs for a number of genetic diseases. For the best chance of buying a healthy pup, talk to the breeder about which problems they screen the parent dogs for and ask to see the accompanying certification.

Thyroid

The AKK is prone to an autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland, creating inflammation. Over time, the cycle of inflammation and production of scar tissue leads to a reduced amounts of thyroid hormone.

This underproduction of thyroid hormone is known as hypothyroidism. Symptoms include lack of energy, weight gain, and a poor coat. Whilst traditional hypothyroidism is often linked to middle or old age, unfortunately, this autoimmune mediated form often occurs in younger animals. Once the symptoms are recognised and a diagnosis made, treatment involves taking a thyroid supplement, which must be taken for life.

Liver Shunts

A liver shunt (more correctly called a porto-systemic shunt or PSS) occurs when a temporary blood vessel present in the foetus, remains open once the pup is born. This blood vessel ‘shunts’ the circulation so that is bypasses the liver. In turn, this denies the liver the chance to detoxify the blood and the pup shows toxic neurological signs (such as seizures, stupor, or coma) along with vomiting and diarrhoea.

Untreated liver shunts are life-threatening. Happily, there are options available, including corrective surgery, but they are expensive and not without risk.

Factor VII Deficiency

Factor VII is a vital blood clotting factor. Deficiency of Factor VII leads to uncontrolled bleeding after minor knocks or scrapes. This is a recessive gene, which means a dog can carry the coding for Factor VII deficiency but not become ill themselves. Thus, all responsible breeders carefully screen the parent dogs ahead of breeding from them.

Heart Disease

The AKK is a breed prone to congenital heart murmurs. Whilst not all murmurs lead to eventual heart disease and failure, it is advisable that adult dogs are screened and checked ahead of breeding.

Luxating Patella

In common with many small breeds, the AKK is linked to unstable or wobbly kneecaps. This can cause the back leg to lock out of position so the dog skips when walking. Mild cases may need nothing more than occasional pain relief and rest, but severe cases will need reconstructive surgery of the knee.

Cryptorchidism

This condition affects male dogs and refers to a retained testicle. Instead of having two testicles, both descended into the scrotum, one (or both) testicles is retained against the body wall or inside the abdomen.

Retained testicles are linked to two health problems: Testicular torsion and testicular cancer. It is therefore advisable that affected pups are neutered. Not only does castration eliminate the health complication, but it prevents the dog breeding and passing on genes for cryptorchidism.

Exercise and Activity Levels

True to his working dog heritage, the AKK needs plenty of exercise. A minimum of one hours active running and chasing per day is required. Once this need is met, he happily curls up on the sofa and becomes a couch potato for the remainder of the day.

However, when the requirement for physical exertion is not met, the dog vents his energy in other ways. He’ll become highly strung or anxious, and divert his frustration into barking, chewing, or other destructive behaviours.

Grooming

The Klee Kai has a thick coat that is part of his Spitz-type heritage. It has a longer outer layer of course hair with a softer, downy undercoat. Whilst he needs little by way of bathing or clipping, the AKK is a shedder. He sheds moderately all year round, interspersed with a twice yearly blow out.

Despite not needing to be groomed in the traditional sense, after each walk it’s a good idea to check his coat for twigs, burrs, and foreign objects. And, like all dogs, daily teeth cleaning is strongly advised.

Famous Alaskan Klee Kais

Explore the possibilities of this attractive breed by visiting #AlaskanKleeKai on Instagram or the Wonder World of Alaskan Klee Kai on Facebook.

Cross-Breeds

There is much controversy about the ethics of hybrid breeding the AKK. This is largely because the AKK itself is a hybrid (Siberian Husky with smaller Spitz type dogs) and arguably still needs work to perfect its temperament and eliminate a tendency to anxiety.

Many of the suggested outcrossing breeds, such as the American Eskimo dog (to make an Alaskamo), could undo work done making the AKK more adaptable and self-confident. Another suggested mix, the Shiba Inu, also has a reputation for being difficult with strangers, so again this hybrid could set back the character of the AKK.

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