The Puli is one of the most recognizable breeds in the world. Often known in America as, “The Rasta Dog,” the Puli is famous for its traditionally corded hair, which is said to resemble dreadlocks. Known as an obedient sheepdog in its homeland of Hungary, the Puli has become a rare pet around the world. Following Magyar language conventions, the plural form of Puli is Pulik.
Much of the history of the Puli has been shrouded in mystery. The breed originated in a time before written records of dog breeding and development were kept. The breed’s unique corded coat strongly suggests a relationship with the much larger Komondor of Hungary and possibly the Bergamasco of Italy. It is certain that the breed is native to Hungary, and has been kept by shepherds for many hundreds of years.
Hungary is the homeland of the Magyar people, and also to three ancient breeds of livestock herders and guardians, the Kuvasz, the Komondor, and the Puli. It has traditionally been believed that all three migrated into the region with the Magyars. However, recent studies have indicated that only the Kuvasz was originally a Magyar breed, and the Puli and the Komondor may have entered the region with a different group, known as the Cumans.
The lands that now comprise the nation of Hungary have long been subject to invasion and settlement by a variety of peoples, many of whom brought their dogs with them. In the waning days of the Roman Empire, a tribal confederation known as the Huns lived in the area. The Huns possessed a dog breed known as the Aftscharka. The Aftscharka has often been suggested as an ancestor for the Komondor, and possibly the Puli as well. However, there is essentially no historical or archaeological evidence to back this up.
The history of the Hungarian nation begins in the year 875 A.D. when King Arpad led the Magyar peoples into the Carpathian basin, the region that now compromises Hungary. The Magyar people settled and formed a powerful kingdom; that at one point contained a land area three times the size of modern Hungary. These people were skilled horsemen and herders, and brought their dogs with them to their new homeland. It is almost certain that the Kuvasz accompanied them, as skeletal remains of dogs which are almost identical to the modern Kuvasz have been found in Magyar archaeological sites from the 9th Century. It is also possible that the Komondor and the Puli accompanied them as well, although if that is the case, no evidence remains to support it.
Many early historians believed that Magyar came from Mesopotamia and were the descendants of the ancient Sumerians. However, modern linguistics has determined that the Magyar language belongs to the Uralic language family, which also counts Finnish, Estonian, and various languages of Western Russia as members. This would seem to place the homeland of the Magyars in what is now Western Russia. If the Puli did enter Hungary along with the Magyars, the breed most likely descended from the herding dogs used on the Russian Steppes.
Other, less numerous tribes settled in Hungary during the period of Magyar rule, each contributing to the genetics and culture of the Hungarian people and their livestock. The tribe believed to have had the greatest influence was the Cumans, known as Kuns in the Magyar language. The Cumans originally dwelt by the Yellow River in what is now China, and spoke a language which is related to Turkish. Some familiar with dogs shows have commented on the close similarities of the Puli and the Tibetan Terrier. The Cumans may have obtained the Tibetan Terrier or similar breeds while residing in China and developed them into herding dogs. These herding dogs may have been the ancestors of the modern Puli. It is possible that these early herding dogs developed the characteristic corded coat.
The great tracts of land that lie between Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia have a long and volatile history of violent migrations of peoples. Beginning in the 900’s, the forebears of the Mongols began to expand, and drove the Cumans from their homeland. Successive invasions by Mongols and other peoples drove the Cumans all the way to what is now European Russia, where they settled a vast area. Southern Russia and the Caucasus Mountains are home to a number of closely related livestock guardian breeds known as the Owtcharkas. These dogs are massive in size, and fiercely protective over their livestock and families. The Cumans, like the original Magyars, were skilled horsemen and many were nomadic herdsmen. These people likely heavily depended on their livestock herding and guarding dogs to survive. They may have obtained Owtcharkas from neighboring peoples, and developed their own livestock guardian dogs from them. These dogs would have then become the foundation stock for the Komondor, who may have been bred down in size to create the Puli. Although records have not been found, it is almost certain that the corded trait was present in both breeds when the Cumans still resided in Russia.
The pagan Cumans fought many wars with essentially all neighboring nations, the Catholic Hungarians, the Orthodox Bulgarians, Russians, Georgians, and Armenians, and the Muslim Caliphates. However, they proved no match for the unified Mongol tribes under Genghis Khan and his descendants. In the early 13th Century the Cumans were conquered and absorbed into the vast Mongol Empire. Members of the Cuman royal family and thousands of loyal families sought refuge in the Kingdom of Hungary and were accepted by 1246 A.D. Although there were initially some problems, eventually the Cuman setters integrated into Magyar society. It is believed that they brought their livestock dogs, the Komondor and Puli, with them. Skeletons of dogs which are incredibly similar to those of the Komondor have been found in early Cuman burial sites in Hungary. Although such evidence does not exist for the Puli, the similarity of the two breeds makes it highly likely that they accompanied each other into Hungary. This similarity is especially noticeable in the rare white and cream colored Pulik.
The existence of two large livestock guardian breeds, the Kuvasz and the Komondor made it possible for the Puli to become a herding specialist. The larger breeds being tasked with the defense of the flocks against wolves, bears, and human thieves, while it was the responsibility of the Puli to move and herd the flock from one location to the next. A similar arrangement can be found in the Pyrenees Mountains where the Great Pyrenees was the protector and the Pyrenean Shepherd was the herder. There were advantages for shepherds in breeding a small herding dog. Small dogs are more agile and thus capable of the rapid movements necessary for precision herding. Small dogs are also less likely to be injured by the high kicks of livestock. Perhaps most importantly, small dogs are considerably less expensive to keep, meaning that a farmer can keep more of them.
Much of the development of the Puli is the result of its job as a herder. These dogs are highly intelligent and trainable, which is necessary to respond to complex commands. The corded hair of the Puli provides protection against the elements, and allows the dog to work comfortably in rain, wind, snow, intense heat, and freezing cold. The coat also gives the Puli substantial protection from the bites and scratches of other animals, allowing the dog to hold his own against a wolf, fox, or large dog; if necessary and until Komondor back up arrived. The dark coat colors which predominate among Pulik were favored as they allowed shepherds to easily tell the dark dogs from the white sheep. The Puli is also extremely energetic and athletic, allowing the breed to work at a high intensity level for many hours.
The Puli has been intensively and carefully bred for many centuries, although the careful keeping of records has only been introduced recently. Hungarian Shepherds took great care in which dogs they allowed to breed, paying extreme attention to performance, but also to appearance as well. High quality Pulik were prized among farmers. In fact, farmers often paid more than a full-year’s income for the best dogs. Dogs which were unsuccessful were commonly euthanized and by the 1800’s Puli breeding had become quite advanced. During this time, sheepherding dogs from the rest of Europe such as the Briard of France were introduced into Hungary. Although these breeds failed to become established, they never the less were introduced into the breeding lines of the Puli. This both diluted the pure nature of the Puli and created two new breeds; the Pumi and the Mudi. The Pumi is thought to be the result of crossing the Puli with the Briard and possibly terriers, while the Mudi is thought to be a Puli/Shepherd/Spitz mix.
The Puli became very popular throughout Hungary, which by this time was a part of a large multi-national state known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By the end of the 1800’s, the breed was probably the most numerous breed in the Hungary, and was certainly the most numerous of the native Hungarian breeds. However, the Puli never attained any level of popularity throughout the rest of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or the larger world.
Agricultural advances in Hungary, especially the conversion of land from sheep pasture to cropland would threaten the existence of the Puli. However, the breed was adapted to new uses. Many Hungarians began to keep these unique dogs as pets, while Hungarian police discovered that these highly intelligent and trainable animals made excellent crime-fighting dogs; however, many Puli fanciers still feared for the breed’s long-term survival. In the early 1900’s, careful organized breeding programs began to preserve the breed.
Dr. Emil Raitsis, a professor at the Hungarian University of Veterinary medicine began a program to reconstitute the Puli to its original form, before the addition of genes from other sheepherding dogs. Dr. Raitsis decided to work with Adolf Lendl. Lendl was the director of the Budapest Zoo. At the time, zoos had a broader focus than they do today and would regularly exhibit unusual domestic animals. A small part of the Budapest Zoo was remodeled to create a Puli kennel and exhibit. The resulting kennel was named Allatkert and provided the foundation stock for many other Hungarian breeding programs.
The first Puli standard was created in 1915, and the breed first appeared in a dog show in Budapest in 1923. During the early part of the 20th century, a large number of Hungarians began to emigrate to other countries, especially the United States. This process was accelerated following World War I, which had resulted in the majority of Hungarian territory being lost. Hungarians living abroad would become some of the first fanciers of the Puli outside of Hungary.
Puli fanciers wanted to popularize the breed, and to do so they realized that they would have to promote the Puli for purposes other than herding. They decided the the best way to do so would be to create a number of Puli varieties, each with a unique standard. By the end of the 1930’s, there were four different sizes of Puli: the Police Puli consisted of dogs over 19 inches tall at the shoulder, the Medium or Farmer’s Puli of dogs between 15.7 inches and 19.7 inches tall at the shoulder, the small Puli of dogs 11.8 and 15.7 inches tall at the shoulder, and the Dwarf, Miniature, or Toy Puli of dogs below 11 inches in height. The Puli, however, never obtained the necessary popularity to justify these distinctions and little more was accomplished than creating a sense of pride among Hungarians for owning a native Hungarian breed.
By the 1930’s, there was a growing interest in the Puli in the United States. Hungarian immigrants, pining for the things of home, wished to own a native Hungarian dog. Perhaps more importantly, the United States Government was seeking to reduce livestock losses from predators such as coyotes and the herding dogs tasked with defending them. In 1935, four Pulik were imported to Beltsville, Maryland as part of an experiment. Tests were conducted on these Pulik as well as other breeds to determine their abilities as herding dogs. Most breeds, some of which had never been used as herding dogs, scored between 12 and 15, while the Pulik scored between 75 and 85. These Puli were interbred with each other, as well as the German Shepherd Dog, Chow Chow, and possibly two Turkish dogs. The outbreak of World War II shifted the governments focus elsewhere and the dogs were auctioned off to professional breeders. These four dogs, along with a small number of Pulik which had been imported by other dog fanciers formed the foundation of the Puli breed in America. The Puli was first recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1936. The United Kennel Club (UKC) followed in 1948. The Puli Club of America Inc. (PCA), which is affiliated with the AKC, was established in 1951, to protect and promote the Puli breed.
World War II was devastating for the Magyar people and their native dog breeds. The country endured several years of virtual occupation Nazi forces, followed by another occupation by the Soviet Union. There was starvation and hardship across the country, and many Pulik perished as a result. Of the families who were able to keep their Pulik, very few were able to breed them. Both Nazi and Soviet troops made it a regular practice to kill Pulik, as these dogs were both likely to bark to warn their masters and to defend them with violence if necessary. Had the Puli not both reached great popularity in the years immediately prior to the war and possessed a large number of devoted and loving fanciers, it is very likely that the breed would have gone extinct.
The years after World War II also proved difficult for the Puli, and other Hungarian breeds. The Soviets believed that dog breeding was a wasteful hobby of the aristocracy that they so despised they put up barriers to its practice. Additionally, they were concerned with the nationalist sentiment and pride associated with the ownership of native Hungarian breeds such as the Puli. However, as a result of the Puli’s large prewar population and the breed’s comparatively small size, more Puli’s survived the war than the larger and less numerous Komondor or Kuvasz. The Puli’s small size and somewhat less protective nature also meant that the breed more readily adapted to the urbanized way of life found in post-war Hungary. Less than ten years after the conclusion of World War II, Puli populations were beginning to rebound. Numbers were still low, however, and the Hungarian club decided that the best way to ensure the breed’s long-term survival was to eliminate distinctions which were subject to rapid rises and falls in popularity. In 1959, the Police and Toy varieties of the Puli were eliminated from the standard and the Medium and Small varieties were combined, leaving only one Puli breed standard. By the end of the 1960’s, the population of Pulik was at pre-war numbers, and may have been slightly higher.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 led to thawed relations between Hungary and the West. Since that time, breeders in Hungary have worked closely with those around the world, especially those in the United States, Germany, Holland, Australia, and the United Kingdom. These collaborations are meant to protect and improve the Puli around the world. The Puli’s unique coat is earning admirers the world over and the breed’s population is still increasing globally.
As is the case with many modern dog breeds, few Pulik are currently used for their original purpose of herding sheep. Although a few of these dogs are employed as herders in Hungary and in the United States, the vast majority of modern Pulik are either show dogs or companion animals. The breed is fairly common in its native country, but remains uncommon elsewhere. In 2010, the breed ranked 145th out of 167 AKC recognized breeds in registration numbers. However, the unique appearance of the dog, along with its coat which resembles dreadlocks is beginning to command attention and gain the breed admirers. Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, owns a Puli named Beast.
There is perhaps no dog breed as instantly recognizable as the Puli. These are medium-sized dogs, with males ranging from 16 to 18 inches tall at the shoulders. The smaller females are typically between 14 and 16 inches tall at the shoulders. Although breed standards do not require specific weights, most Pulis weigh between 23 and 30 pounds.
The most distinctive feature of the Puli’s appearance is the breed’s unique coat. The Puli’s hair naturally forms cords which are said to resemble dreadlocks. These cords begin to form by nine months of age. Some owners choose to not have a corded dog, instead keeping their Pulik brushed. However, this must be decided when the dog is young, as the cording process cannot be stopped once the dog reaches a certain age, sometimes as young as 12 months. These cords will keep growing throughout the dog’s life, and by the time the breed is four or five years old almost reach the ground.
In America, the Puli is traditionally thought of as having a black coat. In fact, the majority of Pulik do have black coats. However, Pulik actually come in several different colors, including reddish-black, grayish, black, all shades of grey, cream, and all shades of white. Although almost all Pulik are solid in color, some cream-colored Pulik have a black mask on their face. White Pulik are often known as Roxies.
Most of the Puli’s other features are completely obscured by the long-corded coat. Underneath this fur is a muscular and athletic breed. The tail of the Puli is usually held in a curl over the back, creating a swirl pattern of cords. The Puli’s head is in proportion to the rest of the dog’s body, with a short muzzle, dark brown eyes, and pendant, v-shaped ears with rounded tips.
The Puli is known for being exceptionally loyal with its family. These dogs are extremely playful and active, and will remain so well-into advanced age. Most Pulik are not fawningly affectionate, and tend to be somewhat reserved. The Puli is generally regarded as being a poor dog around strangers. They are very protective of their families, and rarely tolerate strangers. Pulik which have not been properly trained often greet strangers with aggression, and have been known to attack. Additionally, Pulik have a reputation for being snappers and biters.
Although the Puli will generally be fine with children with which is has been properly socialized, the breed is probably not the best option for young children, as they are likely to pull on the breed’s cords which may result in a snapping Puli. Pulik can make very effective and devoted guard dogs, which will loyally protect their family from all intruders both human and animal. However, they should probably be placed in a different room when strangers are present. If you want a dog to take to neighborhood block parties, the Puli is most certainly not the breed for you. Proper socialization and training is very important, otherwise a Puli’s protective instincts may become a liability.
Pulik will generally get along with dogs which they have been properly socialized with. However, most Pulik tend to be aggressive and dominant with dogs of the same sex. Most Pulik are extremely wary of strange dogs and will generally attempt to drive them from their territory. Pulik that have not been properly trained or socialized are likely to resort to violence in order to defend their territory or personal space from other dogs.
The Pulik has been bred as a herding dog for many centuries. As a result they will generally accepts livestock as members of their flock and defend them. However, these dogs also have a strong guarding instinct, and will often attempt to drive off other animals. Many Pulik will resort to outright aggression and violence to do so. While a Puli can be properly trained and socialized to live with small animals, this is not the most advisable breed to keep with them. In particular, cats often resent the herding and dominance shown to them by Pulik.
The Pulik is a highly intelligent breed, usually ranking at the very top of the most intelligent dog breeds in the world. If begun early enough, the breed responds well to training and has been very successful at agility and obedience trials. These dogs are capable of advanced maneuvering of sheep. However, these dogs also tend to be considerably more dominant and independent than most herding breeds. Most dog breeds become more difficult to train as they age, but this is especially so in the Puli. If Puli training is not begun early enough, these dogs can become extremely difficult and almost impossible to train. Additionally, these intelligent dogs are known for being extremely manipulative. They will quickly figure out how to get you to do what they want you to.
The Puli is a very energetic and athletic dog. These dogs were bred to work at high speeds and intensity for many hours on end. They will continue to be so for most of their lives. A seven or eight year old Puli is not going to be much less playful than a two or three year old. As a result, this breed needs a great deal of exercise. These dogs are almost as active indoors as outdoors. If you are looking for a couch potato, you should look elsewhere. The Puli is small enough that it can adapt to an urban environment, must the breed must get sufficient exercise. A Puli which has become bored is likely to take its frustration out in other ways. These dogs may become destructive, and are very likely to become vocal. Some bored Puli’s may become nervous, extremely excitable, and potentially even aggressive.
One aspect of the Puli which may cause problems for some owners is the breed’s voice. Puli’s were bred to alert their masters of the approach of any potential threat. Additionally, as a sheep herder, the Puli would often bark to move sheep. The Puli is a very vocal dog. They will alert their owners to whatever they see, hear, or smell. In an apartment or suburban home, Pulis’ barking may result in noise complaints. Bored Puli’s may bark for hours on end.
The Puli has very high, and very unique grooming requirements. The Puli’s coat begins to cord naturally at the age of approximately nine months. However, the cords can matt and become painful if not regularly separated. This process is relatively simple, but can be time consuming, especially for longer cords. As the Puli remains a particularly rare breed, most dog groomers are unlikely to have ever encountered one.
This means that many owners will be responsible for the grooming of the own dogs. Pulik are sometimes shaved to reduce the amount of grooming required. Some owners decide to prevent their dog’s fur from cording, choosing the brushed look. To maintain this look, dogs must be regularly and thoroughly brushed. However, there comes a point in the cording process when it can no longer be stopped. This point varies from dog to dog, with some reaching the point by one year of age.
Pulik which have the traditional cords have special bathing requirements. The cords must all be thoroughly soaked. This process can take up to a half hour. Perhaps more importantly, these dogs are very difficult to dry. They must be crated for up to 24 hours with fans on. If these dogs are not properly dried, they may get mildew in their fur.
The Puli is a generally health breed. This breed regularly lives to ages of between 10 and 15. They have been primarily bred as a herding dog for many centuries. Hungarian shepherds have long been careful and dedicated breeders of these dogs. Any genetic health disorders would have been eliminated. This does not mean that the Puli is immune from disease or health problems. What it does mean is that there are no genetic health problems that are more common among Pulik than other breeds.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF), particularly of you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysphasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
Health problems which have been found in the Puli breed include: