The Finnish Lapphund is a breed of Spitz-type dog native to the Northern parts of Finland. Although the Finnish Lapphund was first standardized in the mid-20th Century, it is a very old breed whose ancestry almost certainly goes back thousands of years. The Finnish Lapphund was traditionally kept by the Sami (Also spelled Saami) Peoples, who bred these dogs since time immemorial. The semi-nomadic Sami have used the Finnish Lapphund as a hunting dog, herding dog, and livestock guardian; although in recent centuries the breed has been used primarily to herd reindeer. The Finnish Lapphund is very popular as a companion dog in Finland, where it regularly ranks in the top ten most popular dog breeds, but is very rare outside of Scandinavia. The Finnish Lapphund is also known as the Lapinkoira, Suomenlapinkoira, and the Finnish Samihund.
Almost nothing is known about the origins of the Finnish Lapphund. This breed was first developed hundreds of years before literacy entered the region of its origins, and in any case it was exclusively kept by semi-nomadic peoples. All that is clear is that the Finnish Lapphund was already being kept by the Sami people when they first entered the historical record and that it is closely related to a number of other breeds of Scandinavian and Russian Spitz-type dogs. Historically, the Sami people were known as Lapps or Lapplanders, hence the breed’s name which means Finnish Lapp Dog, but these terms are now considered obsolete, derogatory, and somewhat offensive.
Although there is a great deal of debate, it is now generally agreed that dogs were first domesticated from the wolf sometime between 40,000 and 14,000 years ago. Genetic studies have shown that all dogs are descended from either one or two small groups of wolves which were first tamed somewhere in Asia, most likely the Middle East, India, Tibet, or China. The wolves of Southern Asia and Tibet are considerably smaller than their more northerly cousins, and are also less aggressive and more comfortable in the presence of humans. Their descendants, the first dogs, were probably identical in appearance and temperament to the Dingo of Australia and the Carolina Dog of the United States. These early dogs accompanied nomadic bands of hunter-gatherers, serving as hunting aides, camp guardians, sources of food and fur, and companion animals. Dogs proved so useful that they quickly spread across the entire world, eventually coming to reside everywhere that humans did with the exceptions of a few remote islands.
Although the dog (and for that matter the wolf) is one of the most adaptable of all animal species, the first dogs were ill-suited to life in the Northernmost parts of Europe and Asia. Bred to survive in tropical climates, these dogs could not handle the frigid temperatures found in the region. The region’s human inhabitants began to cross their dogs with the various subspecies of Wolf found across Northern Eurasia, wolves that were larger, fiercer, longer-coated, and more thickly furred than those found elsewhere. The result of these crosses were the Spitzen, quite possibly the first distinct dog type. Spitzen served the same roles as their Dingo-like ancestors, only in a much colder environment. Some evidence from Siberia suggests that Spitz-type dogs may have already been developed 30,000 years ago, but this is highly disputed. Because much of Scandinavia was impossible for humans to settle during the Ice Ages, many theorists think that Spitz-type dogs accompanied the region’s first human inhabitants, although that is also disputed. Archaeological digs from Norway dating to around 4,000 B.C. do show that Spitzen have been present in Northern Scandinavia for at least 6,000 years.
The Sami people are the northernmost indigenous people of Europe. Historically, the Sami inhabited a large area of tundra and forest which is now divided between Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. The Sami were the last of Europe’s hunter-gatherers, and many tribes did not fully embrace agriculture until well after 1,000 A.D. They used the ancestors of the Finnish Lapphund to hunt reindeer, bear, moose (known in Europe as elk), and other large mammals, as well as to guard their semi-permanent settlements. Gradually, the Sami began to herd the reindeer which they had previously hunted. Wolves exhibit natural herding behaviors such as driving, nipping, and circling when hunting, which are useful for surrounding herds and separating out the weakest members to attack. These behaviors are still very present in the domestic dog, including the ancestors of the Finnish Lapphund. Sami breeders began to emphasize these traits in their dogs so that they could more effectively help with reindeer herding. The result was a highly intelligent and trainable dog which was capable of herding livestock in some of the coldest and most challenging environments on Earth.
Although the Sami have had very close relationships with the Norse and Finno-Estonian peoples to the south for thousands of years, they largely maintained their traditional ways of life until the 16th and 17th Centuries. In fact, the Sami were the last significant pagan population found in Europe, and many Sami were not Christianized until well after the Protestant Revolution. This isolation meant that the Finnish Lapphund was kept almost entirely purebred until well into the modern era. Even though Sami lands have been officially occupied by foreign powers for centuries, they have been so undesirable for settlement that most Sami were still living as semi-nomadic reindeer herders until well into the 20th Century, and they continued to breed Finnish Lapphunds exclusively as working herding dogs. However, change eventually comes to even the most isolated regions. By the 1930’s, technology such as snowmobiles and railroads had come to the region, allowing for much greater contact with the outside world. Foreign dogs began to arrive in Sami territory, dogs which brought diseases along with them. Almost entirely isolated from other canine populations, the Finnish Lapphund had no immunity to conditions such as distemper and a series of major outbreaks broke out. These dogs were dying at such a great rate that many experts feared that that all of the Sami’s dogs would die out entirely.
Luckily for the Finnish Lapphund, Swedish and Finnish dog breeders both became very interested in standardizing the herding dogs of the Sami (then still referred to as Lapps) in the 1930’s. Prior to that point, the Finnish Lapphund was incredibly variable in appearance, although most breed members shared a number of traits. Breeders began to scour Sami lands in both countries searching for the best surviving specimens of these dogs. At the time, there were a number of Finnish kennel clubs in operation, several of which developed their own breeding programs for the Sami dogs. Swedish breeders preferred the solidly black colored Sami dogs, eventually giving rise to the Swedish Lapphund. On group of Finnish breeders preferred the shorter-coated Sami dogs, which some claimed were actually the result of crossing Finnish Lapphunds with Karelian Bear Dogs. Another group of Finnish breeders preferred the longer-haired Sami dogs. In 1960, the various Finnish canine organizations merged into a single club, the Finnish Kennel Club. They decided to create a single unified standard for the Finnish Lapphund, calling the breed Lapinkoira, which is Finnish for Lapp Dog. However, by 1966 it was apparent that the two different coat varieties of the Lapinkoira should be formally separated. The following year, the short coated dogs were officially declared a distinct breed which became known as the Lapponian Herder or Lapinporokoira.
In 1975, the Finnish Lapphund’s standard was changed in order to comply with Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) standards. The standard was once again revised in 1993 for similar reasons. In 1993, the breed’s name was officially changed to the Suomenlapinkoira or Finnish Lapphund in order to better distinguish it from the Swedish Lapphund. Finnish efforts to standardize the Finnish Lapphund have greatly increased the breed’s popularity in its homeland. The Finnish Lapphund has become one of the most enduringly popular breeds in Finland for the past several decades, regularly ranking among the top ten most frequently registered breeds with the Finnish Kennel Club. The Finnish Lapphund is very well regarded in Scandinavia for its excellent temperament, high degree of trainability, and ability to thrive in even the coldest climates found in the region. In fact, according to Finnish law, the Finnish Lapphund is one of only two dog breeds which are legal to keep outside in a kennel. As the Finnish Lapphund has become increasingly popular as a family companion and show dog, it has become increasingly unpopular as a working dog. Changes in reindeer herding methods among the Sami and Finns have caused the shorter-coated Lapponian Herder to become much more popular as a working dog. Although a few Finnish Lapphunds are still used as working herding dogs, the vast majority of the breed’s population are now family companions and show dogs.
The first Finnish Lapphunds to arrive in the United States probably came in the 1960’s along with Scandinavian immigrants. The breed did not become established in the United States until the 1980’s. In 1988, the first known American litter of Finnish Lapphunds was born. In 1994, the United Kennel Club (UKC) granted full recognition to the Finnish Lapphund as a member of the Northern Group. By the end of the 1990’s, there were enough Finnish Lapphund fanciers in the United States that the Finnish Lapphund Club of America (FLCA) was founded to promote and protect the breed in that country. The FLCA’s major goal was to have the Finnish Lapphund achieve full recognition with the American Kennel Club (AKC). In 2001, the Finnish Lapphund was officially entered into the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service (AKC-FSS), the first step towards full AKC recognition. In 2011, the FLCA reached its goal when the AKC granted full recognition to the Finnish Lapphund as a member of the Herding Group and the FLCA was declared the breed’s official parent club. Currently, the Finnish Lapphund remains a very rare breed in the United States, but its numbers are increasing. Although the Finnish Lapphund’s popularity in the United States will probably always be limited by the fact that it has difficulty adapting to the warm climates found across much of that country, its future looks bright in more northerly states.
The Finnish Lapphund is very similar in appearance to other Spitz-type dogs, but still maintains a distinctive appearance. The Finnish Lapphund is a medium-sized breed. Most males stand between 18 and 21 inches tall at the shoulder, and most females stand between 16 to 19 inches. Although weight is heavily influenced by height, build, and condition, most males weigh between 33 and 53 pounds, and most females weigh between 28 and 48 pounds. The Finnish Lapphund is slightly longer from chest to rump than it is tall from floor to shoulder, with an ideal ration of 11 inches long for every 10 inches tall. The Finnish Lapphund’s body is almost entirely obscured by the dog’s coat, but underneath is a muscular and sturdily constructed breed. This breed should be relatively thick, but never stocky. The tail of the Finnish Lapphund is usually carried low when the dog is at rest and over the back when the dog is in motion, either straight or in a curl.
The head and face of the Finnish Lapphund are both wolf-like and friendly. The skull of the Finnish Lapphund is quite broad, ideally at least as wide as it is long. The skull should be square in proportion, with its depth being the same as its length and width. The muzzle is quite long, but should be slightly shorter than the length of the skull. The muzzle of this breed is rather broad when compared to other Spitzen, and tapers only modestly from base to tip. The head and muzzle are more distinct on the Finnish Lapphund than most Spitzen, and this breed has a pronounced stop. The nose and lips of the Finnish Lapphund are ideally solid black, although dark brown is acceptable on brown-colored dogs. The ears of this breed are medium-in-size, triangular-in-shape, and have slightly rounded tips. Finnish Lapphunds may either have totally erect ears or erect ears with drooping tips, but never fully drop ears. The eyes of the Finnish Lapphund should match the color of the dog’s coat, although yellow or blue eyes are never acceptable. The overall expression of most breed members is a combination of power, mischievousness, and softness.
Like most Nordic breeds, the Finnish Lapphund has a double coat. The undercoat is soft, very dense, and plentiful. The outer coat is straight, long, very harsh, and water repellant. The undercoat is so dense that it actually forces the outer coat to stand erect. The hair on the face and fronts of the legs is shorter than that on the rest of the body. The hair on the neck is longer and forms a pronounced mane, especially on males. The coat may be slightly wavy, especially on young dogs, which is acceptable as long as it is sufficiently harsh. The Finnish Lapphund may be found in any color or combination of colors. However, each dog must have a single color which covers the entire body (any combination of colors found on the same individual hair is considered a single color). Any secondary color or colors must be limited to the head, neck, chest, underbelly, legs, and tail. Occasionally a Finnish Lapphund will be born in an alternative color, such as having secondary markings on the body. Such dogs are penalized in the show ring and should not be bred, but otherwise make just as excellent pets as other Finnish Lapphunds.
The Finnish Lapphund has a temperament which is somewhere between that of a typical Spitzen and a typical herding breed. The Finnish Lapphund forms very close bonds with its family, to whom it is intensely devoted. Separation anxiety has been known to occur in this breed, although not with the frequency seen in some others. This breed tends to be variable when it comes to affection level, with some individuals being very fawning and others more reserved. Unlike many Spitzen, the Finnish Lapphund is usually not a one-person dog. This is a dog which forms equally strong bonds with all members of a family. Finnish Lapphunds have a nearly legendary reputation with children, and when properly trained and socialized, this breed almost always does very well with them. Finnish Lapphunds are not only very gentle with children, but very playful and affectionate as well. Many breed members seem to actively seek out children to play with, and more than a few of these dogs have become a child’s best friend.
When properly trained and socialized, most Finnish Lapphunds are very friendly and engaging with strangers. In fact, exuberant and inappropriate greeting is probably a more common behavioral issue with these dogs than human aggression. Finnish Lapphunds are extremely alert and very vocal, making them excellent and highly reliable watchdogs. This breed would make a very poor choice as a guard dog, however, as most breed members would warmly welcome an intruder before they would ever show them aggression.
Although usually very good natured with people, Finnish Lapphunds often develop aggression issues with other animals. The Finnish Lapphund is not an exceptionally dog aggressive breed, and most of these dogs will be fine with other dogs if properly trained and socialized. However, dog aggression issues are known to occur in this breed. In particular, male Finnish Lapphunds tend to be quite aggressive towards other male dogs, and many fanciers advise keeping male Finnish Lapphunds with only female dogs. When raised alongside other species such as cats and horses, most breed members will be fine with those individual animals. Owners should always remember that these dogs have a very strong herding instinct and will probably try to herd other creatures, whether they want to be herded or not. Additionally, some Finnish Lapphunds exhibit fairly strong predatory drives and may attempt to attack and kill non-canine animals.
The Finnish Lapphund is an extremely intelligent breed and is regarded as possibly the easiest of all Spitzen to train. This breed usually learns quickly and is quite obedient. Finnish Lapphunds have been very successful at the highest levels of almost every canine sport in which they have been entered, including agility, obedience, and Frisbee. Outside of those tasks which require extreme strength or aggression, there is probably nothing that any breed can learn that a Finnish Lapphund cannot. That being said, Finnish Lapphunds may not be the easiest breed to train. Some breed members can be stubborn, and a few are quite obstinate. Although this breed is very capable and willing to work for a novice handler, inexperienced trainers may find it easier to work with a breed such as Labrador Retriever or Miniature Poodle. This breed is known to be extremely food motivated so training techniques which emphasize food rewards are the most successful.
Bred to follow herds of reindeer for hundreds of miles over some of the most challenging terrain on Earth, the Finnish Lapphund is a very energetic breed. These dogs require an absolute minimum of 1 hour of vigorous physical activity every day, but more (several hours more) would be preferable. The Finnish Lapphund makes an excellent jogging or bicycling companion, but truly craves an opportunity to run around freely in a safely enclosed area. Finnish Lapphunds which are not provided proper outlets for their energy will almost certainly develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, hyper activity, excessive barking, over excitability, and nervousness. Although now primarily kept as a companion animal, the Finnish Lapphund is still a working dog at heart. These dogs are happiest when provided a job to do, and truly require some form of mental stimulation to keep happy and sane. Many owners find that agility, competitive obedience, and herding training greatly benefit these dogs. The high activity level of the Finnish Lapphund is actually highly desirable for many active families who enjoy cold weather activities. The Finnish Lapphund is physically capable of going on any adventure no matter how extreme, and this breed absolutely loves long hikes in the mountains, ski trips, or running alongside snowmobiles for hours on end.
Potential owners need to be aware of the Finnish Lapphund’s tendency to bark. Although the Finnish Lapphund is usually significantly less vocal than many other Spitzen, this dog still barks a great deal more than most breeds. With proper training and exercise, this breed’s barking can usually be kept under control, but cannot be eliminated entirely. Finnish Lapphunds kept in close quarters are quite likely to cause noise complaints. When combined with the breed’s very high exercise requirements, the barking of the Finnish Lapphund means that this breed adapts poorly to apartment life, and these dogs truly require large yards, preferably with acreage.
The coat of the Finnish Lapphund may be quite long, but it does not require excessive maintenance. Unless owners want their dogs shaved to keep them comfortably in hot temperatures, the Finnish Lapphund does not require professional grooming. All that this breed needs is to be thoroughly brushed every two to three days, with owners carefully working out any potential mats or tangles. This breed should only be bathed when absolutely necessary. Finnish Lapphunds do shed, and they shed very heavily. This breed sheds a substantial amount all year long, but becomes an intensely heavy shedder once or twice a year when the seasons change and it entirely replaces its undercoat.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted on the Finnish Lapphund outside of Finland, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements on the breed’s health outside of its homeland. In general, the Finnish Lapphund is considered an extremely healthy breed, with very few documented cases of health problems. The three most common serious health issues seen in the Finnish Lapphund are progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), cataracts, and hip dysplasia, although all three occur in lower rates in the breed than most purebred dogs. The Finnish Lapphund is well-known for having a long lifespan. In Finland, their life expectancy is between 13 and 14 years, and it appears that similar ages are usually reached by breed members elsewhere. This breed is one of the largest dogs to routinely reach very advanced ages, and many Finnish Lapphunds in Finland reach 16 or 17.
Because skeletal and visual problems may occur in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
A full list of health problems which have been identified in the Finnish Lapphund and closely related breeds would have to include: