BREED HISTORY & GENERAL INFORMATION
The Finnish Lapphund is a small-medium, spitz herding dog. The Lappy is native to Finland and neighboring Sweden, Russia, and Norway. The Finnish Lapphund traces his ancestry back thousands of years to Sami reindeer herding dogs. He has been used for generations as a herding dog, light working dog, and family companion. Historically, the Lapland dogs with the longer coats herded reindeer in the winter and remained in the Sami camps with the women and children in the summer. The Finnish Lapphund was expected to interact well with the entire family and one of his duties was cuddling sick children (Karppinen).
The breed has become extremely popular in Finland as a companion animal. He is now becoming popular elsewhere in the world.
THE INTELLIGENT LAPPY
We believe that the Finnish Lapphund is one of the most intelligent breeds known to man. As the Finns say, the Finnish Lapphund is “clever enough to play dumb”. He is a “thinking dog” with a sense of humour. As a result they are medium level active but require mental and physical stimulation in order to be happy.
Many people think that their dog or dog breed is intelligent. Trust us, the Lappy is one smart cookie and here is just one example:
Our girl Ruska was thirsty and wanted a drink of water but there was no water in her bowl. However, there was a bottle of water on the counter. When I returned to the room she had the bottle of water off the counter, had placed it beside the bowl, and was in the processes of unscrewing the lid with her mouth. If only she had thumbs!
BUILT FOR A TRADITIONAL WORKING ROLE
Lappies are known for being cute, but they are not just a "pretty face". They are dogs who can still do what they were bred to do. Many superb examples of the breed can be found in Finland functioning in their traditional roles.
The Finnish Lapphund is used for working in a very harsh arctic climate. The structure and composition of the Lappy as we see it today was designed to make her functional in her environment. The harsh coat protects the dog from snow and mosquitoes -- essential in Lapland (and Canada). The domed head allows for effective respiration in cold arctic working conditions. The body type which is only slightly longer than square allows for equal weight distribution and effortless movement over rocks and through forest. Their single track movement is the most efficient use of energy for traveling through snow.
Finnish Lapphunds should be able to run well through the snow, over rocks, and through brush. A dog who is out of proportion by having extremely short legs or is too long will not be able to do this efficiently. A dog too light in bone (not substantial) relative to their size will not hold up to hard work. A dog with an incorrect coat would not be able to survive in a harsh arctic environment.
EARLY HISTORY AND HISTORICAL ROOTS
The Finnish Lapphund traces its ancestry back 10,000 years to primitive arctic spitz herding dogs used by the Sami people. It is now believed, based upon DNA research, that the Finnish Lapphund is one of ten Nordic breeds descended from wolf hybrid and arctic spitz crosses occurring 480-3,000 years ago (Klutsch et al.). The re-introduction of wolf hybrids was likely done to increase the hardiness of these arctic breeds.
The Finnish Lapphund is most closely related to the Lapponian Herder, Swedish Lapphund, and Nenets Herding Laika (Karppinen). He is also distantly related to the Samoyed.
The earliest written reference to the Lappish breeds was found in Olaus Magus’ book, History of the Northern Peoples (1555) (Tuominen and Karppinen).
MAINTAINING A FUNCTIONAL BREED
It is well documented that Finnish Lapphunds were working partners with the Sami people. In olden times they were among the few breeds permitted off leash in the cities (Karppinen). The original documented colour of the breed was black (Karppinen), which provided visibility in the snow and would not be mistaken for a wolf.
Historically, in one litter of Lapland reindeer herding dogs, one would find both long and short coated dogs resembling the modern day Finnish Lapphunds and Lapponian Herders. It was not until more recent times that the two breeds were separated and maintained as distinct.
The Finnish Lapphund had an open registry starting in the 1930’s, which has continued through to today. If a dog can pass an evaluation process, that dogs can be added to the gene pool with a special registration (Karppinen). Although new dogs have not been added in the manner since the 1990's, there is currently an effort by the Finnish Kennel Club and Lappalaiskoirat ry to evaluate the dogs of Sami farmers for inclusion into the special registry as either Finnish Lapphunds or Lapponian Herders. This will ensure continuation of the function of these amazing dogs.
FINNISH LAPPHUNDS AS HERDING DOGS
The Finnish Lapphund has a unique style of herding specialized for reindeer. The Lappies herd by jumping up and down, and barking at the reindeer until they move in the desired direction. The Finnish Lapphund is ideally suited in body type and temperament for droving reindeer out of the woods. The Lapponian Herder with their more elongated body type was favoured for long distance herding.
As a result, the Finnish Lapphund is not an "ankle biter", nor do they primarily stare to herd. They are built to herd feisty, intelligent, and unpredictable animals. There are Lappies worldwide participating in herding trials involving reindeer, ducks, and sheep. They are quite flexible and can be trained to herd many types of animals. Many are also very good at herding humans! (Trust us, we have daily first hand experience.)
In Finland, reindeer herders allow their reindeer to be in the forest, free range, in the warm summer months. Even today, the Lappies still play a role in bringing them home. Although many Lappies have been replaced by snowmobiles, there is currently a movement to decrease the use of snowmobiles again. Snowmobiles are noisy, and can spook the reindeer in a way in which dogs do not.
After visiting Lapland we have an intimate understanding of why the Lappies are "built" the way they are. Every aspect of the Lappy speaks to their original environment, function, and history.
HIGHLY VALUED IN THE SAMI FAMILY
Sami families considered their dogs to be one of their most important assets. In the 1930’s, the value of a well trained, adult Lapland type dog was about 1300 Euro in modern currency (Karppinen) or 3000-4000 marks (Tuominen).
There are many colourful stories of early Finnish Lapphund breeders negotiating with Sami reindeer farmers for purchase of a special dog for the gene pool (Karppinen). Those in the breed today owe much gratitude to those who were willing to form relationships with Sami farmers and collaborate on adding more dogs to the gene pool.
It is very important to note that Lappies not only worked with Sami people, but also lived with them as valued family members. They are a people-centred breed, much more so than many other spitz breeds. The fact that they crave human attention and praise has given them a special role as both workers and family members. Temperament that make them well suited within a family is extremely important in this breed.
BECOMING A PEDIGREE BREED
The Finnish Lapphund and Lapponian Herder were shown as one breed in the first Finnish Kennel club show in 1891 (Karppinen), a status which did not change until after World War II. In the early part of the 20th century, the main interest in Finland was in preserving and cataloging the Finnish Spitz (Karppinen).
The Finnish Lapphund risked extinction in World War II. The breed was revived by surviving Lappish dogs living in remote Nordic villages after the war. Efforts were made in 1960’s to differentiate between the Finnish Lapphund and Lapponian Herder. In 1967, the breed was registered as the “Lapphund” (Lappalaiskoirat ry). In 1993, the breed name was changed to the "Finnish Lapphund" (Lappalaiskoirat ry) to highlight the importance of this traditional breed to Finns.
FINNISH LAPPHUNDS TODAY
Today there are about 10,000 living Finnish Lapphunds in Finland, with between 1,000-1,300 born each year. The breed is consistently in the top ten popular breeds in Finland, where the Lappy's most common role is that of a family companion or hobby dog. Outside Finland, populations of the breed can be found in robust numbers in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark (Karppinen). The breed is vibrant and healthy in many countries.
We have about 300 Finnish Lapphunds living in Canada today and about 600-700 living in the United States. The breed is very much still in development in North America. The first Finnish Lapphunds were imported to the United States in 1987 and to Canada in the 1990's. The fact that they are not yet a popular breed in Canada is related to the small numbers of dogs and breeders. We hope and believe that the breed will thrive here in Canada as the Canadian landscape is perfect for this breed.
Bearspaw Finnish Lapphunds is proud to play a role in the foundation of the breed in Canada. Our foundation stock is almost entirely Finnish in origin, and dogs imported directly by us. We are actively importing Finnish DNA, in order to expand the gene pool here in Canada. We seek to ensure the breeding of healthy dogs who well represent Finnish Lapphunds.
1. Karppinen, Sanna. Dogs of Lapland: cheerfully present. The Lapphund Club of Finland (Lappalaiskoirat ry). Kirjakaari Publishing. 2012. Electronic version through Issuu.
2. Klutcsh et al. "Regional occurrence, high frequency but low diversity of mitochondrial DNA haplogroup d1 suggests a recent dog-wolf hybridization in Scandinavia." Anim Genet. 2011 Feb;42(1):100-3.
3. Tuominen, Lasse. Poromiehen koira. Suomen Pystykorvajärjestö- Finska Spetsklubben R.Y. 1970.
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