The Karelo-Finnish Laika is the smallest of the four Russian Laikas. Like the West Siberian Laika, Russo-European Laika, and East Siberian Laika; the Karelo-Finnish Laika is part of a group of Russian dog breeds considered to be Spitz type. The term Spitz type as it is commonly used defines a type of dog that is characterized by its thick, long and more often white fur, pointed ears and muzzles and a tail that generally curls over the dogs back.
Although the exact origin of Spitz type dogs are unknown, it is believed that all dogs of this type present today originated in arctic regions. Genetic testing of Spitz type dogs has found that dogs in this group are the most closely related to wolves and thus are presumed to be some of the oldest types of dogs. It is also theorized that it was the ancestors of these Spitz type dogs that mated with wolves and human selective breeding from that point lead us to the variety of dogs present in this category today.
Originally the hunting dog of peasants in Poland, Finland, Karelia and Northwestern Russia this small red-coated Laika is an excellent independent hunting dog for grouse, squirrel and other small game. It is a versatile and eager hunting breed that prefers hot tracks. The Karelo-Finnish Laika has even been known to bay wild boar and/or aggressively attack bears, although using them for bigger game is not practical due to their small size.
The Karelo-Finnish Laika originates from Finish ancestry, starting out as the Finish Bird Laika, Suomenpistikorva, or what is presently known as the Finish Spitz. In 1917 Finland which had previously been ceded to Russia in 1809 gained its independence as a result of the Russian Revolution which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. A civil war between the Finnish Red Guards (which consisted of the remaining Russian garrisons still present in Finland) and the White Guard (a Finish militia force) ensued on Finnish soil and a few months later the "Whites" eventually gained the upper hand. In 1920, as a result of the Treaty of Tartu, the border separating Russia and Finland was officially confirmed, with Finland now claiming North and South Karelia and Russia forming its portion of Karelia into the Karelian Autonomous Republic of the Soviet Union (ASSR) in 1923.
With all of this hostility and the division of Karelia the breed was also split. Finnish breeders continued the pure line of Laika that would later become the Finish Spitz. While on the Russian side, the Karelain branch, being subject to uncontrolled interbreeding with other types of hunting dogs almost lead to the breeds demise in Russia. During the 1930’s a government run Kennel near Medvezhyegorsk, in Russian controlled Karelia began a breeding program designed to bring the breed back. This was to be accomplished by importing pure versions of the Finish Spitz, to be breed with the remaining pure bred Laika specimens that could be found in Russia. This initial breeding program was later augmented by a larger Laika breeding program in Leningrad and Moscow where the breed was called the Finno-Karelian Laika.
Prior to the eruption of World War II, this breeding program resulted in quite a few small red-coated Laikas being raised in the areas of Moscow and Leningrad by hunters. However, the Karelo-Finnish Laika population was once again decimated with the start of World War II. More specifically with the 872 day Siege of Leningrad that started on September 8th 1941 when the cities last land connection was severed by the Germans and ended on January 27, 1944 when the Red Army broke the German line. This began one of the longest, and most destructive sieges in modern history and also one of the most costly in terms of loss of life. During the winter of 1941 and 1942, the survivors starved for food, not only consumed all the animals from the city zoo, but all the birds and rats that could be found, followed soon after by household pets (Karelo-Finnish Laikas included). When these initial food sources were exhausted wallpaper paste made from potatoes was scraped from the walls, leather was boiled to produce an edible jelly, grass, weeds, pine needles and anything else edible was also consumed. Survivors were finally forced to resort to cannibalizing the dead in order to survive. There were even reported cases of individuals being murdered for their flesh. The combination of bitter cold and hunger faced by the survivors trapped in the siege was so great that the Leningrad police were forced to form a special anti cannibalism division with the city.
With the end of the siege the Karelo-Finnish Laika was nearly extinct once again. With only 24 registered dogs remaining in Petrozavodsk, the capital of the Russian controlled Republic of Karelia as of 1951. Further hurting the breed was a rabies outbreak in the area that resulted in nearly two thirds of these 24 remaining dogs being either lost or destroyed as well.
In 1953, Russian scientists from Leningrad imported two males and one female Finnish Spitz from Finland and crossed them with what few remaining red-coated small Spitzes could still be found in southern Karelia and the northern provinces of eastern Russia. The local dogs used for breeding with the imported Finish Spitzes had to first prove good at hunting before being allowed into the breeding process. It was at this time that the name was changed from the Finno-Karelian Laika to the Karelo-Finnish Laika and officially recognized. An identical breeding program was later instituted in Moscow and by 1970, there were around 200 Karelo-Finnish Laikas in Moscow alone, showing that the breed was beginning to make a recovery.
Although the Finish Spitz and the Karelo-Finnish Laika are closely related, and share numerous physical similarities, the difference lies with each breeds hunting instinct. The Finnish Spitz which is more pure in comparison to the Karelo-Finnish Laika, was raised for generations not for hunting, but as a show dog which served to weaken its hunting instincts by eliminating any dogs that did not fit the desired show conformation standards regardless of their hunting abilities.
In contrast, the Russians, in developing the Karelo-Finnish Laika placed the highest emphasis on hunting ability and durability in trying to create a versatile, portable hunting dog capable of working in harsh climates and a dog that also possessed the beauty of the Finnish Spitz. Although the Russians did a good job in mirroring much of the Finish Spitz in their recreation of the Karelo-Finnish Laika some physical dissimilarities do exist between the two such as the presence of white markings on the chest, and the slightly shorter hair of the Karelo-Finish Laika.
Today their wolf-like appearance, endurance, health, intelligence and ability to survive unforgiving conditions with only minimal care make them particularly attractive to many hunters who value primitive dogs. They feel that in order to preserve the valuable wild qualities of Russian Laikas, they should be kept as natural as possible.
The Karelo-Finnish Laika is the smallest Laika used for hunting in Russia, with males measuring 17-19 inches at the shoulder and females 16-18 inches with a weight for both of 25-30lbs. Males will appear to be more squarely built while females will tend to appear more lankily built.
The coat of the Karelo-Finnish Laika consists of a course straight outer coat with a soft, dense thick undercoat that is generally shorter than that of a Finnish Spitz. The only acceptable color is red or some variation of it, with light red being undesirable. The inside of the ears, cheeks, chin, lower chest, abdomen, thighs and underside of the tail should be lighter in comparison to the rest of the body. A white stripe or longitudinal mark is permitted across the forehead, as well as white spotting on the lower part of the chest and tip of the tail only.
The Karelo-Finish Laika is an eager, excitable and energetic Laika, with a tendency to bark for even the slightest of reasons. A loyal and affectionate family dog, they are aloof and mistrustful of strangers, and can be protective of their master and their masters property. The natural alertness of this breed and its excitable nature combine to make them excellent alarm dogs.
This is a dog that should be treated with patience, as it easily offended and very sensitive to the moods of its master. This breed reacts negatively to physical correction, by becoming mistrustful of the owner or showing resentment and refusing to come when called, a condition that may last a few days or a lifetime depending on the personality of the individual dog and the level of physical correction that was applied.
A natural hunter with excellent hearing the Karelo-Finnish Laika excels at hunting small game such as birds and squirrels. Of small stature, this breed is not generally a threat to larger farm animals and learns quickly to ignore them and live in peace.
Unlike other Russian Laikas the Karelo-Finish Laika is not a natural fighter, and will live well with other adult dogs in the home, although it will act territorial and aggressive toward strange dogs roaming near the home. The intelligence of this breed and lack of dog aggression translates into a breed that will not start fights when it meets dogs away from home, such as at a city park or other place where you are likely to find people with their dogs.
The attractive appearance and lively, friendly, alert temperament of Karelo-Finnish Laikas make them excellent and interesting family pets.
Since the Karelo-Finnish Laika possess a thick double coat of fur, that consists of a thick, dense, soft undercoat and a coarse longer topcoat some grooming and ritual brushing is going to be required if you plan on letting them in the house. The undercoat will shed or “blow out” annually and for females this may happen twice a year. For dogs living in warmer climates there is a tendency to shed year-round. Caring for this breed will require that you put up with plenty of dog hair on the furniture and carpet, and floating through the air during these shedding sessions that can last three weeks or more. You can reduce the loose hair you find with regular brushing and grooming sessions during these times.
Karelo-Finnish Laikas are some of the healthiest dogs in the world. Currently there are no serious hereditary health problems known to be associated with them. However, minor abnormalities typical of all purebred dogs may occur among Karelo-Finish Laikas. Infrequent occurrences of umbilical hernia and monorchidism (the state of having only one testicle within the scrotum) have been seen among puppies.