Northern Herding Breeds

Perhaps the most familiar of the Nordic breeds is one that is no longer generally thought of as a herding dog. The Samoyed, well known as a sled dog, originated in Siberia with the Nentsy or Samoyed, a nomadic tribe that has been a reindeer culture for generations. The Sami, as the breed is affectionately called, is treasured for his versatility as a shepherd, a sled dog and guardian.

The Samoyed stands 19–23 inches (48–58 cm) tall and weighs 35–65 pounds (16–29 kg). Legend has it that the Samoyed’s coat was bleached white by the Arctic sun and that the hair was tipped with an icy sheen. The harsh outer coat is straight, and the abundant woolly undercoat can be spun into yarn. The long tail is carried low or curled over the back.

Nenet Herding Laika – Courtesy

A close relative of the Samoyed, the Nenet Herding Laika, also known as the Reindeer Herding Laika or Russian Samoyed Laika, was also developed by the ancient Nentsy people of Northern Siberia. They are slightly smaller than the Samoyed, standing about 18 inches (46 cm) tall and weighing 40–55 pounds (18–25 kg). The long outer coat stands off from the body and in addition to solid white can be gray, tan, black, or piebald. The typical Spitz ears are set farther apart, and the tail is carried high, curled over the back or to one side.

Finnish Lapphund (top), Swedish Lapphund (lower left) and the Lapponian Herder –

The Lapphunds, which also originated as reindeer herders and share ancestry with the Samoyed, acquired their name from their place of origin. Lapland covers Finland, Norway, Sweden, and part of Russia. Finnish Lapphunds, Lapponian Reindeer Herders, and Swedish Lapphunds are similar in type. The Finnish breeders have a fondness for patterned coats, but the focus is more on structure, temperament, and working ability. This is a small dog, weighing in at 44–47 pounds (20–21 kg) and 16–21 inches (42–53 cm) tall. Their color is mainly black, brown, gray, or parti-colored, with or without shadings or markings. In some predominantly dark dogs, distinct facial markings (lighter-colored hair) give the appearance that the dog is wearing glasses. The Swedish variety is about the same size as the Finnish but is mainly solid black or dark colored.

Lapponian Reindeer Herder –

Until the 1950s Finnish Lapphunds and Lapponian Reindeer Herders (also known as Lapland Reindeer Dog) were considered the same breed. At the end of WWII, as the Germans were driven out of Finland, Lapponian Reindeer Herders were almost destroyed. They were preserved by crossing Finnish Lapphunds with several breeds, including Australian Kelpies, which they now resemble. Consequently, they are a true intermediate between the Nordic and herding breeds, closer to the Nordic type, though they carry their tail in a relaxed loose curve and sport a longer, less-tapered head with a slightly longer upright ear. They come in different shades of black, brown, and gray, with tan or gray markings on the face, eyebrows, lower parts of the body, and legs. A small white spot on neck, legs, paws, or chest is permissible, but white should not predominate.

Kyons Sweet Britta Bu, a young Norwegian Buhund – Photo by Margaret Cameron

In addition to the reindeer herders, there are several types of farm dogs, The Norwegian Buhund, Icelandic Sheepdog and the Swedish Vallhund:

The Buhund, which means farm or stock dog, is thought to be the forebear of the herding dogs that the Vikings or Norsemen took to Iceland and Shetland. The Buhund is a hardy breed that is perfectly suited for the rainy coast of Norway. Standing 15–18.5 inches tall (38–47 cm) and weighing 26 to 40 pounds (12–18 kg). Their coats can be a wheaten color, with or without dark-tipped hairs and a black mask; bronzed black (a mix of black and red); red; or wolf color. They sometimes have small white markings.

Töfra Hólmfríður Hrifla working a trio of native Icelandic sheep, one of the world’s oldest and purest breeds – Photo by Brynhildur Inga Einarsdóttir

The slightly larger Icelandic Sheepdog stands 16–20 inches (41–51 cm) and weighs 25–35 pounds (11–16 kg). It is closely related to the Norwegian Buhund, but coat colors tend to be black with tan markings; piebald; or shades of tan, reddish brown, and gray with lighter shading.

To learn about herding breeds from around the world, their temperaments, working styles and how to train them please refer to the book Stockdog Savvy (Alpine Publications) by Jeanne Joy Hartnagle-Taylor and Ty Taylor:

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