Business is up for 3Q and 4Q YOY. Though I have not been blogging, this is still a great thing. I am looking forward to the coming holiday season, to Winter and to Kitto’s first snow.
The family is helping with this post. We thought it’d be fun to interview ourselves and share what we’ve learned from Kitto about Alaskan Klee Kai. Kitto will be seven months old in a couple of weeks, and he has taught us a lot!
Q: Oh! He’s so cute! Is he a (mini-husky | pomski | miniature | husky)? Is he a puppy?
A: Kitto is an Alaskan Klee Kai. We call him our “Fun-size Husky” because his breed was created to be a super companion. He is our best buddy. He’s active and engaged with the family every day from when the first person wakes until the last person goes to bed.
Q: What is he like? How big will he get? Does he shed a lot?
A: He weighs 9 1/2 lbs at almost 7 months. He might make it to ten. He is 12″ tall at the shoulder, and sheds like a ten-pound Husky. We barely notice. He stays inside, is clean and smells clean even when wet. We bathe him once a month if he needs it.
Here’s another look for comparison, and a few reasons the Toy size AKK is perfect for us:
- Easily carried in one arm. He’s not intimidating to strangers (especially children).
- Fits easily into his SleepyPod (highly recommended) in the car. He’s a great traveler.
- Perfect size for sharing the couch, or for cuddling. He is unbelievably soft and shiny.
Q: My <relative | friend> wants a Husky so much, but doesn’t want a big one…
A: We are having GREAT fun raising Kitto. Part of the reason he is fun to interact with is because our family made raising him our shared hobby. Four of us teach him every day how to be a good boy. He goes with us everywhere, and is never left alone (not even during the day). He is our Family Dog.
Let’s talk about that.
We picked Kitto up from Jim and Marilyn Butler (Helderberg Huskies) under the best circumstances and raised him under ideal conditions. Kitto is my first puppy experience, but not my first dog experience.
We’d suggest that AKK are probably best suited to owners who have prior dog experience and have a good understanding of the AKK breed and huskies in general.
Some of Kitto’s Moods
“Wake-up Wrigglies” – On waking up from a nap, or when family comes home. Kitto will wriggle and push against our legs like a cat, tail wag exaggerated, ears down, with licks. Kitto will bark if we work him up, but we normally don’t because a well-behaved greeting is nicer and what we want for the long term.
“Take me with you” – When a family member is about to leave for an errand without him. Kitto will articulate (in creative whines or grumbles, like he’s trying to talk), and stay close to the person leaving (underfoot if he can be there). He may bark, or show frustration vocally. He can fall back on an old behavior and use his mouth to tug on pants or shoelaces or a finger (not biting, just tugging for attention) if he is overexcited.
“I felt so alone!” – Kitto has no reason to feel cage crazy like some videos we’ve seen of dogs left in crates on YouTube, but we include this issue here because AKK can feel separation anxiety and it can be addressed without too much effort.
We work best with Kitto on this when he doesn’t realize it. For instance, in the morning I leave Kitto in his kennel and go help Alyssa get to the bus stop for 15 or 30 minutes. Kitto doesn’t mind this because 1) he is sleepy and it’s a dark room, 2) I always turn the bathroom fan on so he can hear it and it sounds like when we shower (it also masks my leaving noises), and 3) I always come home afterwards and open his cage with, “Good morning, Kitto. Do you want to get up?” I don’t pressure him to go into or get out of the kennel, so he doesn’t feel like being in there is a big deal.
“I sit pretty so you’ll notice I am a good boy” – Kitto is smart. Really smart. AKK are not a breed to leave on the back porch without constant interaction with the family.
When Kitto sits like in the picture above, he is waiting for us to notice what he was just doing and recognize him by giving him a training treat. Alaskan Klee Kai are masters at understanding what their humans want and at obliging us in order to get rewarded with food they like.
“Tiny Wolf Plays Rough Now” – Kitto loves to engage us in rough play. He loves to wrestle, especially with hands/arms. When he’s in the mood, he doesn’t intend to be put off. This is a good time to ask if we’ve taken him for enough walks today, or played fetch enough, or done something else brain-engaging with him today. Ironically, Kitto will change his focus to any other activity we like to do together. Offers to rough play and requests do “do something with me now” (usually by opening his mouth and pulling at us with his teeth (no mouth pressure, just a pull)) typically mean that he is bored and it’s time to go be active.
Intended Training Examples
“Give kisses” (to hand held toward Kitto, palm down, loose fingers) – Kitto will nose the hand/fingers and may lick. This is a gentling behavior that teaches him not to use his open mouth, especially around strangers and children.
“Petpet” and “Skritches” – An offered flat hand and petting motion, usually given as a warning to Kitto that we are about to pet him and that reward is coming if he is gracious and polite. We started this when Kitto turned about 5 months and started to feel more like an individual. He’d say “no, please” with his open mouth (not biting), and this is an area we wanted to teach him to be extra gentle in. Humans want to overpet him, and he needs to be gracious in all circumstances.
“High five” trick turned into “Bells” – We got some bells on a rope for Kitto to hit to tell us he wanted to go outside. He does this more than we really want him to (not just for bathroom needs), but that’s OK. We don’t blame him for enjoying being outdoors and it gets us outside too.
Unintended Training Examples
Mouthing – We addressed mouthing when we realized we weren’t consistent enough with “no bite”. It was hard to explain the difference between play and not play. We started by rewarding Kitto for stopping using his mouth when we asked. What he learned was, “If I want a treat, I can get one by using my mouth, and then not using it when they ask.” We laughed and laughed when we realized what Kitto had learned.
Food – Kitto originally got to free feed on a variety of high-end dog food like Orijen Puppy and AllProvide. We used Wellness Core Air Dried Grain Free Natural (basically, turkey and chicken jerky) for training treats. As Kitto grew and started to lose his baby teeth, chewing annoyed him and he’d pick out his favorite with his nose and leave the other brands alone. When we’d feed him his non-favorites, his response would be to lay down and put his nose to the ground and look up at us with a “That’s yucky” stare.
We fed on a schedule. He responded by waiting us out.
We rewarded him for baby steps. He responded by taking a couple of mouthfuls, and waiting for a reward.
We rewarded randomly. He responded by pretending to eat. He’d take a mouthful and drop the kibble outside of the bowl.
“Drop It” – We rewarded Kitto for dropping things in his mouth, usually yucky things he’d pick up on a walk. He now brings a piece of bark into the house on his way in, and takes it to his place by the couch where he’ll sit with it in his mouth until we notice. And if we don’t notice, he’ll make a big deal of pretending to eat it until we clue in. And he isn’t making empty threats, either. I kid you not. This is serious dog commerce going on here.
Q: What are some of the personality traits you like most?
This could be a post by itself. We saved the best for last.
“All Husky, All The Time” – Kitto’s default personality includes many of our favorite Husky traits. If you’ve had the luck and good sense to live with a husky before, you already know why this default is important to us. The Alaskan Klee Kai is a fun-sized husky. They are beautiful, and graceful, and they are fun to imagine as tiny wolves.
Fun fact: Dogs are not wolves. AKK do not have wolf genes in them any more than any other dog does. Dogs and wolves are very close genetically, but people should not own wolves or wolf hybrids. Wolves belong in the wild where they can be wolves. Dogs belong with people.
“The Wolf Stare” – Kitto likes high-focus activity, but this is a dog I can take for a walk to the front lawn and sit there with and just watch the world go by, and we’ll both be happy. He will sit, sphinxlike, and watch everything that happens with alert ears. He’ll sniff the air. His body will tense when a car comes by too quickly. He’ll watch birds. He’ll chase any bug that gets close, and probably eat it. I have to warn him off of bees.
“Wolfy Environment Sense” – Kitto has that sixth sense some dogs have, and he often asks to go outside to investigate it at weird times, especially at night. Especially urgent, drop everything reasons to go outside at night (I can’t wait for Winter, can you?):
- Lightning bugs
- A plastic bag has blown onto the lawn
- A ne’er do well (an older teen on a skateboard, playing Pokémon Go)
- Humans can’t see or hear it? You can smell it, right? Wait, I’m not ready to go in!
“I am friendly and adaptable as long as I’m with you.” – Kitto loves to meet new people, and dogs too. New situations don’t threaten him or make him afraid. He’s not afraid of loud sound-effect noises, real fireworks, or kitchen noises (blender, coffee grinder, etc.). We are glad that we have worked so hard on socialization as it seems to make everything else we do with Kitto more fun and easier. If a new dog is aggressive, Kitto tells us by his body language and where he stands (near us, or behind us). He knows and appreciates that he gets to be a dog, but that he also doesn’t have to protect us all the time.
“Know me, Love me.” – Kitto initiates affection in ways that we learned as we’ve grown up with him.
- Wake-up Wrigglies. I mentioned that up above, but they’re awfully cool.
- Sitting next to us while working on a coveted toy. Trust is learned and earned.
- Leaning up, sleeping alongside us on the couch/bed. Kitto doesn’t much like being controlled (leashed). He tolerates it with limited grumbling. “Oh… Okay,” he’ll seem to say. Off leash, he will sit next to us on the couch in a different way than when he is leashed. He acts like, “I chose to sit here with you,” and it is charming. It is like other “pretty sit” offered behavior he does. He knows why we like it and how much we like it, and he does it because we like it (and will reward him too sometimes). His preference is to not be controlled, so we try not to make him feel like he is being “caught” except in play.
- Extra gentle with children and seniors. Kitto has learned through much repetition on outings that we expect him to use princely manners with new friends and with children and seniors. This is a work in progress, but great fun to watch him grow into this role and enjoy it.
“I like Toys as much as you do” – Kitto’s favorite toys are
- Nikki, a special-occasion stuffed husky toy that he wrestles. The horror! The horror!
- Around a dozen Enzadent sticks. We cut them to be about 8″ x 0.5″ so he can chew them while we hold them, a spit-covered noodle. Gross but bonding!
- Dragon, a stuffed toy. Flap-flap!
- Chewie, a rubber toy with shoelace-like appendages.
- A red ball made of ropes that we picked up at our local pet store.
- Trixie Chess, a game of levers and hidden treats.
- Any empty plastic water bottle (loose parts and labels removed first).
- Bob-A-Lot, a food dispenser toy. Kitto will often prefer to eat from “Bob” than from his bowl or by hand. He likes the extra interaction. This isn’t a noisy toy, but it does result in dog food strewn over a 6 foot area.
- The empty plastic water bottle from above, with kibble in the bottom. Noisy and results in food everywhere but we have laminate so cleanup isn’t an issue.
- Human hands and fingers. See Nikki above.
Surprisingly, Kitto is not overinterested in chasing balls or discs. When someone has them at the dog park he might be tempted to chase along, to try to hold the item before the other dogs. He’s more interested in playing chase than playing with the item.
Q: It’s a little husky right? How much exercise does he need?
A: The Good news is that he needs the same exercise we do. We can keep up with him, but the family has become more physically active because of him.
- Kitto gets walked for a couple of blocks or more, daily. That’s only 1/4 – 1/2 mile, at sedentary human speeds. Safe, low-impact healthy exercise for everyone! We are all losing weight and eating better as a result (because why waste the exercise?).
- We search out dog-friendly events like our local Speck’s pet store’s anniversary party, and go to them for fun.
- There were a handful of Chihuahuas present at this event, in cool slings and homemade carriers. Kitto was well-behaved but his normal intense self, with little woofs and Klee Kai “I want to PLAY!” articulations. I don’t know Chihuahuas well enough to read them but we didn’t have enough room for them all to play together anyway, so we said hello from ten feet and went to play in the store. Thanks, Specks! It was a nice event to come to and a good excuse to get out on a rainy day!
- We met a full-size Poodle, a beautiful dog with a new haircut and bright eyes and shiny fur.
- We met a large dog of indeterminate breed that lunged on its great heavy harness as its large male owner brought it into the store.
Large dog, large heavy harness, strong owner + lunging = probably just a common dog/owner relationship, and even most untrained dogs are friendly. But we don’t know what they’ll do, and we don’t trust Kitto the bite-sized husky to their Kitto-sized teeth. Exit politely, stage left!
We recommend ALL dog owners train their dogs to American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen level. All dogs should be respectful, friendly, and well-mannered. Then they’ll be welcome everywhere!
This is a good point to end on.
Q: Where is Kitto in training?
A: He’s completed puppy class, which is for socialization, NOT for training, but it IS where every dog should start before 14 or so weeks of age (ask your vet for advice here).
We are informally using Training the Best Dog Ever: A Five-Week Program Using The Power Of Positive Reinforcement as a guide. Kitto has mastered some tasks that I thought nearly impossible for any dog without professional training. His level is “Will do anything for food. Will do offered behaviors without food, in hopes of food. If food is not involved, will perform without food, if he feels like it, and will expect that food will be forthcoming.”
Mastered to holding a position for 30 seconds to one minute:
- Cookie Sit-Stay, Down-Stay. Usually, will offer Down-Stay because it is more comfortable. Cookie can be touching his foot, or a few feet away on ground/obstacle.
- Cookie Sit-Stay, Down-Stay with distance, distraction. Handler can walk away out of sight, talking or not, 20 – 30 feet. For this to work, Kitto still needs to expect that the Handler is coming back and that this is part of the game. This is early stage stuff, not mastery, but it’s still really cool for a dog 6 months old.
Q: What’s next for Kitto?
A: We’re considering obedience classes. However, I have a lead on a recommended retired private trainer who I’d like to contact for an in-home evaluation. I have the sense that Kitto will do best this way. Private lessons don’t have to be more expensive than group classes, and it might be about the same if progress per dollar is the measuring stick. I like the accountability of one-to-one training too. It’s worth investigating.
Q: Good grief. You guys are nuts. It’s just a dog.
A: We’ve never actually gotten this question, but it’s a fair comment that sometimes goes unspoken. We like to think of “a Family Dog” as a high concept, well-trained, respectful, gentle family member, a dog that is included in life’s events because it is the Family Dog, not excluded because it is the family dog. We want to inspire people think of their dogs as more than “just dogs,” and to encourage them to train their dogs to AKC Canine Good Citizen standards.