Finland's Five National Dog Breeds

Meet the five dog breeds native to Finland: the Finnish Hound, Finnish Spitz, Karelian Bear Dog, Finnish Lapphund and Lapponian Herder.

By Paula Heikkinen-Lehkonen | Posted: January 16, 2015 2 p.m. PST




Finnish Hound Breed
Finnish Hound. Photo by TEXTerri.

THE FINNISH HOUND was the most popular breed in Finland for a long time, but now because of urbanization, Retrievers and German Shepherds have taken the leading positions, although the Finnish Hound is still the most popular companion of the hunter. Really no one keeps them for any reason other than hunting, and no breeder sells the puppies merely as show dogs or pets.

Hunting hare and fox in Scandinavia is different from the traditional style in some other countries. We have never used large packs of hounds or horses. Hunting over here means that one man goes alone with one hound and a gun into the forest. Hunting has traditionally been an important part of the small farmer’s livelihood. Although nowadays no one needs to hunt to live. The idea is to use what you get, and that makes it justified. So it is absolutely out of the question that the dog tears the hare because it is meant to be eaten. And because of the cold climate, fur coats are no luxury products; they really are a necessity, and this was especially so in the past. So foxes are hunted because of the fur, and that’s why the dogs must not tear the valuable skin.

The Finnish Hound is a medium-sized tricolored hound, longer than it is tall. It is strong but not heavy, well balanced and short-haired. Unlike the many other hound breeds, the Finnish Hound never raises its tail above the horizontal line. Although the Swedish Hamilton Hound looks quite similar, these two breeds have different backgrounds. The Finnish Hound is somewhat longer cast and has a longer head. It is gentle in nature and calm at home, but its hunting instinct is very strong, and you can’t keep this breed loose in your yard, as it will disappear immediately when there is the interesting smell of a hare or fox.

Finnish Spitz Breed
Finnish Spitz. Photo by TEXTerri.

THE FINNISH SPITZ is the best known Finnish breed outside of Finland. It is a versatile hunting dog, mainly for small game like big birds, capercaillie and grouse, but also weasel and, in the old days, squirrel. Some lines have the ability to hunt elk, too. The Finnish Spitz was called "the barking bird dog” in the beginning, and that is telling of what it does. It barks at a bird that is sitting high up on a tree. The bird starts to watch the dog, and this allows the hunter to very quietly and carefully approach shooting distance. Because barking is its job, the Finnish Spitz barks when it is not necessary, and this may make it an unsuitable city or suburban dog. In the past, this breed also guarded its master’s house and warned by barking when strangers were coming. Debarking is not allowed in Finland.

The Finnish Spitz is always bright red in color; only very small white markings are tolerated on the toes and breast. The ears are erect, and the bushy tail is curled over the back. The Finnish Spitz is a primitive breed, very intelligent and sensitive. It is a so-called "one-man dog,” usually somewhat aloof with strangers, but of course it can be trained to behave well in the show ring.

Karelian Bear Dog Breed
Karelian Bear Dog. Photo by TEXTerri.

THE KARELIAN BEAR DOG is a tough guy for big game like bear and elk, very brave, and usually has a guarding instinct. In central Europe, they use this breed for wild boar. The Karelian Bear Dog, too, might be somewhat standoffish with strangers but is truly devoted to its own family. It is an impressive black-and-white Spitz-type dog, bigger and stronger than its red cousin. The Spitz-type dogs are typical for the northern part of Europe and Arctic areas. The Karelian Bear Dog is related to the Russian Laikas, and its origins are in that part of the country that now belongs to Russia.
The black color of the Bear Dog is not shiny jet black, but rather what we call "bear black,” with a somewhat brownish tone. The coat must be thick and double, weatherproof and not too long. A particular feature of the Karelian Bear Dog is that he can be born stumpy-tailed. So the length and carriage of the tail is not very important. The hind legs must be long with short hocks to allow the typical agile movement.

Finnish Lapphund Breed
Finnish Lapphund. Photo by TEXTerri.

FINNISH LAPPHUNDS AND LAPPONIAN HERDERS were developed in the northern part of Scandinavia, Lapland, where there are still indigenous nations of the Saamish people. Their traditional way of living is to keep semi-wild reindeer, which are herded and guarded by Lapphunds. In different parts of the arctic areas, slightly different types of dogs were developed for different tasks. They have developed into three different breeds: the Finnish Lapphund, the Swedish Lapphund and the Lapponian Herder. The Finnish Lapphund is almost square in proportions and has a longer coat, while the Lapponian Herder is longer than high and has a shorter coat. Both, however, are suited for outdoor life in cold and snow. They are modest and obedient dogs, and, while their traditional job is disappearing, they have gained popularity in various working trials, obedience and just as companions.

Lapponian Herder Breed
Lapponian Herder. Photo by TEXTerri.

The Finnish Lapphund can occur in various colors, unlike the Swedish counterpart, which is always self black. Usually the Lapphunds are black, sable or liver with tan or yellow markings, but they can also be red or cream, however not white, brindle nor parti-colored. Some white markings are allowed, though. The ears are either erect or the tips can be slightly folded. The bushy tail is carried curled over the back. The Lapponian Herder is black, gray or liver with tan or yellow markings and has erect ears. The tail should stay at the horizontal line or lower, never curled. These kinds of primitive breeds, which are developed in hard conditions, have great stamina. They are usually very healthy and reach a remarkable age.





From the January 2015 issue of Dogs in Review magazine. Subscribe to receive 12 months of Dogs in Review magazine, or call 1-888-738-2665 to purchase a single copy.


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