Labrador Husky

Catharine Hennessy
Dr Catharine Hennessy (DVM, North Carolina State University)
 
Photo of adult Labrador Husky
Melissaputt / Wikipedia.org

The Labrador Husky is a Spitz-type dog that was developed in Canada as a sled and companion dog, but its exact origin is unknown. While its name suggests a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Siberian Husky, this dog is a distinct, rare breed and is similar to other sled dogs in the Spitz family.

Due to its breeding as a working dog in the far northern regions of North America, Labrador Huskies are intelligent, friendly and confident dogs that require exercise and mental engagement to prevent boredom. They shed copiously and continuously, which should be considered prior to welcoming this breed into the home. These dogs have a moderate life span of 10 to 13 years.

About & History

In order to best understand the history of the Labrador Husky, an explanation of the people that these dogs live alongside and serve is necessary. The Thule Inuit people developed along the coast of Alaska sometime after 200 B.C. These people migrated east across Canada, along with their dogs, and occupied the Labrador region by 1300 A.D. The Dorset people originally inhabited this region, but due in part to their lack of canine use for travel, hunting, and companionship, they were driven to extinction by the Inuit. The Inuit brought Husky dogs with them (likely similar to the Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute), and over time, bred these dogs with wolves to improve their strength and endurance. As these people became indigenous to the Labrador region, this breed developed independently from the aforementioned Spitz dogs, and became distinct.

The Labrador Huskies were (and still are in some areas) used for transportation as sled dogs. Prior to the advent of the snowmobile, sleds were the only viable means of transportation across large swaths of land. The dogs contributed to the hunting success of the Inuit people, allowing them to travel further and hunt in a wider geographical range. In addition, the dogs helped keep their human companions warm in encampments. After the snowmobile was invented, these dogs were not needed as sled dogs, except in sled races, but have been utilised as companions and as search-and-rescue canines. In addition, due to their intelligence, they have also been used in bomb or narcotic detection.

Appearance

Labrador Husky Large Photo
Melissaputt / Wikipedia.org

Labrador Husky dogs are large in size, solid and strong. They are built like other Spitz type dogs, and have a long muzzle and a round head. The head and face are reminiscent of their wolf ancestry. The eyes are oval and close together, and the ears are relatively small, triangular, pricked and set high on the head. The muzzle is markedly narrow, giving these dogs a wolf-like appearance.

Labrador Huskies have a medium length neck, straight back, and long, straight legs that are strong and powerful. The feet are webbed, which helps with snow travel. The chest is wide and deep to accommodate lung capacity needed for endurance work. The chest leads to a noticeable tuck. The tail is partially curled over the back, similar to other Spitz dogs, and is covered with the same dense coat as the rest of the body. Labrador Huskies have a thick, double coat that helps with warmth during outdoor activity in the cold and long Labrador winters.

These dogs range in size from 51 to 71 cm in height and 27 to 45 kg in weight. Male and female dogs are similar in size and appearance. Coat colours range from solid black and solid white to black and white combined with red or grey. These dogs are strong runners, and appear to move with little effort across the snow. There are no official breed standards, as these magnificent creatures are not recognised by any of the major kennel clubs – likely due to their scarcity, relative isolation, and individual variety.

Character & Temperament

Labrador Huskies were bred for endurance in a cold climate, which offers insight into their behaviour. They are quite intelligent and social, eager to please and gentle. Since the breed was developed to work as a pack, these dogs need regular exercise, and do best when part of an active and present family, or with at least one other dog that is similar in size. Their owners need to be strong leaders. They generally do not display signs of separation anxiety, but may be mischievous when left alone.

Labrador Husky dogs are not always excellent watchdogs, as they rarely bark. Their vocabulary typically consists of a variety of howls. They are not generally protective, so are not likely to be bothered when strangers are present. Their gentle nature makes them great companions for well-behaved young children, but should be introduced early in life to small dogs and cats, as prey drive may cause them to give chase.

Trainability

Photo of Labrador Husky puppy
Melissaputt / Wikipedia.org

Labrador Huskies are easy to train due to their intelligence and affability. Their recall is excellent. However, due to their breeding and development as pack work animals, they need strong leadership from all owners in the house, including firm commands with positive reinforcement.

Early in training, sessions should be frequent, but relatively short. For best results, focus on positive and fun training methods. Boredom can lead to mischievous and destructive behaviours (such as digging, chewing, and filching food from counters, pantries and even refrigerators).

Health

Labrador Huskies typically live for 10 to 13 years and are generally healthy. Some breed-related problems have been noted, as listed below.

Hip Dysplasia

This condition has been noted in Labrador Huskies. It is characterised by a series of bony malformations in the hips that can be recognised radiographically. Affected individuals are predisposed to developing arthritis later in life, which can be crippling. The breeding of affected dogs and bitches is strongly discouraged, and recommended screening by an expert can help predict this.

Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus (GDV), or Bloat

Like all deep chested dogs, GDV can occur in Labrador Huskies. This is a potentially fatal condition that is usually associated with rapid ingestion of a large meal, although can occur spontaneously. The stomach expands with food and gas (dilatation), pinching off the esophagus, which prevents gas from being released orally. The stomach continues to expand, putting pressure on abdominal organs, the diaphragm and lungs, and slowing blood return to the heart, leading to shock. In some cases, the stomach can rotate into an abnormal position (volvulus), requiring immediate surgery. This can be fatal if early intervention is not pursued.

Prevention is the best approach, including feeding multiple small meals and using special food bowls that slow eating. Alternately, a gastropexy can be performed, which is a surgical procedure where the wall of the stomach is attached to the body wall, preventing rotation. This is usually performed when the individual is young, often at the time of spay or neuter, and can prevent volvulus. However, this does not prevent dilatation and the other preventive measures listed should still be considered.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This neurologic disease has been noted in Labrador Huskies, and affected individuals are considered to be genetically predisposed. It is characterised by a progressive degeneration of spinal cord tissue in the thoracic spinal region, leading to loss of hind limb function. The degeneration of tissue interrupts message transmission from the brain to the hind limbs, and over a course of years, the lack of neural input to the hind limbs leads to muscle atrophy and inability to walk.

There is no effective treatment. In addition, there is no way to diagnose this condition – other than by excluding other potential causes of symptoms. Since it is progressive and generally appears later in life, affected individuals may have already been bred. Until there is a reliable and accessible genetic screening test for the disease, we will continue to see it in affected breeds.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Labrador Huskies need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation. If bored or neglected, these dogs will find some way to entertain themselves (which is often harmful to the household or yard). Daily, vigorous walks are considered minimum, and should be supplemented with opportunities to run and play off the leash.

These dogs can excel in agility, which provides excellent mental and physical stimulation. In addition, search and rescue training can be considered for dogs with the appropriate temperament.

Grooming

Due to their double coat, Labrador Huskies shed continuously, and particularly heavily twice a year. As such, they require brushing at least once a week. Additionally, the household should be vacuumed often, including air intake filters for appliances and HVAC systems. Bathing is not commonly needed, unless the pet is allowed to swim. Regular brushing, if introduced early in life, can be a great opportunity for bonding. It should not be viewed as optional, though.

Famous Labrador Huskies

There are no famous examples of Labrador Huskies, although there may be celebrated individuals that have saved lives as search-and-rescue dogs.

Cross-Breeds

During breed development, these dogs were commonly cross-bred with wolves and other Canadian dog breeds. However, there are no currently recognised cross-breeds of the Labrador Husky.

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