The Pumi one of eight dog breeds native to Hungary, it is considered to be a multi-purpose farm dog that was developed by crossing the native Puli with breeds imported from other European countries. Capable of performing many tasks, the Pumi is a competent sheep herder, cattle drover, vermin eradicator, and fearless protector of its owner’s home and family. According to Magyar grammatical conventions, the correct plural form of Pumi is Pumik. Although rare outside of Hungary, the Pumi is gaining a following in the United States and other nations. The Pumi is also known as the Hungarian Pumi.
The Pumi is an ancient breed developed in a time before written records were kept of dog breeding, so very little is known for sure about its ancestry. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that it was developed by breeders who were solely interested in a dog’s working ability rather than keeping pedigrees. However, among modern historians there is general agreement as to the story of the dog’s origin.
In 895 A.D., the Magyar people settled in the Carpathian Basin under the leadership of King Arpad. Although it is unclear exactly where their original homeland was, linguistic and historical evidence suggest that it was somewhere in modern day Russia, most likely between Finland and the Ural Mountains. The Magyars founded the Kingdom of Hungary which, despite a few periods of foreign occupation, has existed till the present day. The Magyars were accompanied by several breeds of dog, although there is some dispute as to which ones. It is almost universally agreed that they brought the Kuvasz, Magyar Agar, and Vizsla, as all three breeds are documented in the earliest Magyar historical and archaeological records. Many others believe that they also brought the very similar Komondor and Puli as well, both of which are famous for their corded coats. However, records verifying the existence of the Komondor and Puli in the region do not begin until several centuries later, and there is a growing acceptance that these breeds may have actually arrived in Hungary with the Cumans in the 1200’s.
The Cumans were originally a Turko-Mongolic tribe living in China, but were pushed across the steppes by subsequent barbarian hordes eventually finding asylum in Hungary. No matter who brought the Puli and Komondor to Hungary, there is essentially no evidence to suggest how these breeds were developed. They appear most similar to the ancient Italian Bergamasco, which was itself supposedly introduced to the Alpine Valleys from Persia or Eastern Europe. The existence of these three breeds may indicate that at one point a variety of corded-coat livestock herding and guarding breeds could be found in the Steppes. It has also been suggested that the Puli and/or Komondor were developed from the Tibetan Spaniel, and various types of Owtcharka, massive livestock guardian breeds native to the Caucasus Mountains; or the Aftscharka, the feared war dog of the Huns.
However and whenever the Puli was developed, the breed was present in Hungary since either the 800’s or the 1200’s. The Puli became the primary sheep herding dog of the Magyar people, responsible for keeping flocks together, moving them wherever they needed to go, and chasing down and rounding up those sheep which strayed. In other countries, the large number of predatory animals that existed at the time necessitated that sheepherding dogs also be capable of protecting their flocks from wolves, bears, and human marauders. This was unnecessary in Hungary, here the massive Komondor and Kuvasz were tasked with defending the flocks while herding duties fell to the smaller Puli; working in concert with each other, the breeds were allowed to specialize. As a result the Puli shrunk in size, one reason being that smaller dogs are more affordable to keep, and the more dogs a farmer can keep the greater the number of sheep he can raise; and because smaller dogs typically have more agility and stamina allowing them to work tirelessly while avoiding injury from recalcitrant stock.
For many centuries, Hungarian dog populations were relatively isolated. This isolation was exaggerated in 1541, when Hungary was divided into three portions, two of which were controlled by the Islamic Ottoman Empire. Over the next several centuries, the newly formed Austro-Hungarian Empire retook Hungary piece by piece. As a result of Austrian influence, Hungary was opened up to the rest of Europe to a greater extent than ever before. New trade routes and greater economic security meant that Magyar farmers were able to import herding breeds from all over Europe and a number of new breeds began to appear in Hungary. The Magyars preferred to cross these newly introduced dogs to the existing Puli rather than keep them pure. Why this was preferred is unclear. Perhaps not enough dogs arrived to establish healthy breeding populations, or perhaps Magyar farmers just preferred working with their faithful Pulik. It has long been a matter of debate as to which breeds arrived, and the full truth will likely never be known. However, most of the dogs probably arrived from German-speaking lands, with others imported from France, Italy, and possibly Spain and England as well.
From these crosses, two distinct varieties emerged; the Mudi and the Pumi. The Mudi is obviously Spitz-like, and it is almost universally agreed that that breed is the result of crossing Pulik with German Spitzen, and perhaps a few other breeds such as the German Pinscher and the ancestors of the German Shepherd Dog. The Pumi is somewhat more of a mystery as it does not closely resemble any other herding breeds. It is likely that the Pumi is not a simple cross between the Puli and another breed, but rather Pulik crossed with several, perhaps dozens of other dogs. The most commonly suggested breeds that may have gone into the ancestry of the Pumi are Rough-Coated British Terriers, the Germano-Dutch Keeshond, the German Wolfspitz, the Pomeranian, the ancestors of the German, Dutch, and Belgian Shepherd Dogs, and the French Briard. Although less commonly mentioned, other breeds which may have been used include the Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier, the Beauceron, and various breeds of Griffon. In the opinion of this author, the most likely breeds are actually the Schnauzer and the Poodle. Both of these dogs were very common throughout German-speaking lands, both have very similar coats to the Pumi, and both were traditionally used as farm dogs. In fact, there was once a variety of Poodle known as the Sheep Poedel. It is unclear exactly when the Pumi was developed, and in fact the process probably was not a single event but rather a decades long series of crosses. The breed may have begun to appear in the 1600’s, but certainly did in the 1700’s. Beginning in 1760, Merino Sheep were imported into Hungary transforming the Hungarian sheep herding industry, much as it would that of Australia and New Zealand 50 years later. The Pumi was traditionally associated with the Merino Sheep, and it may have been bred with Spanish herding dogs such as the Pyrenean Sheepdog, Basque Sheepdog, and Catalonian Sheepdog, that almost certainly accompanied the first imported Merino Sheep.
The first written use of the word Pumi appears in 1801. The word was used to describe sheepdogs in general, implying that Pumik were already well-established at that point. Throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries, Hungarian farmers did not clearly distinguish between the Mudi, Pumi, and Puli, and all were regularly interbred. Although the three names usually implied the specific variety, all could be used to describe any sheepdog. Like the Puli, the Pumi worked in concert with the Komondor and the Kuvasz, although by the time that the Pumi was developed the role of the Kuvasz had primarily shifted to use as an urban personal protection dog rather than a livestock guardian. The Pumi was responsible for most of the same tasks as its predecessor the Puli, such as herding, driving, and property protection. Pumi were primarily responsible for working with sheep, but also worked with cattle, pigs, and other livestock. The Pumi was also apparently a very common and proficient ratter, able to quickly and thoroughly rid a farm of rodents. This tendency may be strong evidence of Terrier or Schnauzer ancestry. Unusually for a herding dog, the Pumi was also used for hunting. The Pumi’s specialty was wild boar, among the most dangerous of all European game. Over the ensuing decades, the Pumi gradually became a more common sight in towns and more densely populated areas while the Puli was more limited to remote areas.
In the late 1800’s, there was a resurgence of Hungarian nationalism, and the ancient Puli became favored by a number of canine organizations and was promoted in status to work as a police dog and companion animal as well as a herding dog. In the 1900’s, the Hungarian veterinarian Emil Raitsis sought to standardize all three breeds of Hungarian herding dog, and worked to separate the Mudi, Pumi, and Puli from each other. Organized breeding efforts were initiated, which continued despite the loss of nearly two-thirds of Hungarian territory after World War I. By 1921, a separate written standard was created specifically for the Pumi, and by 1923 Pumik were beginning to appear in dog shows. The Puli’s unique appearance made it the far more popular breed in dog shows, and also attracted it a great deal of international attention. The Pumi, on the other hand, remained almost entirely a working dog and was essentially unknown outside of Hungary. Because Pumi were primarily working dogs, and their breeders were almost entirely interested in working ability, the standard was kept somewhat looser than was the case with other breeds. Until recently, there actually existed a means to register a Pumi of completely unknown parentage that had been bred as a working dog and met breed standards, known as a Class B Registration or a Class B Pedigree. As a small working dog, found primarily in small towns and rural areas, the Pumi was not as affected by the devastation of World War II as the Komondor, Puli, Kuvasz, and Vizsla. Because it was both a useful working dog and not quite as associated with Hungarian nationalism as those other breeds, the Pumi also did not suffer as much as a result of Communist occupation.
In 1966, the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI) granted full recognition to the Pumi. Seven years later, some of the first Pumik known to leave Hungary were imported into Finland. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Pumik began to arrive in other European countries such as Sweden, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. In the early 1990’s, the first Pumik were imported to the United States. The breed was imported primarily by those looking for a rare and unique pet, but some were imported by farmers and ranchers looking for a working herding dog. In 1996, the United Kennel Club (UKC) became the first of two major United States kennel clubs to grant full recognition to the Pumi as a member of the Herding Dog Group. The UKC did not create its own standard, but only slightly altered the FCI standard. Pumi numbers in the United States continued to grow slowly as a result of breeding and imports, and the Hungarian Pumi Club of America (HPCA) was founded to promote and protect the breed in the United States. The HPCA’s primary goal was to get the Pumi full recognition with the American Kennel Club. To a great extent their efforts paid off and in 2004, the breed was accepted into the AKC’s Foundation Stock Service Program (AKC-FSS), the first step towards full recognition with that organization and the HPCA was selected as the breed’s official AKC parent club. In 2011, the Pumi took the next step towards full recognition when the breed officially entered the Miscellaneous Class. Pumik are now able to compete in almost every AKC event that a full member of the Herding Group is allowed to, but not conformation events. Within the next few years, the Pumi will likely become a full member of the Herding Group.
In Hungary, the Pumi is a relatively common sight, and is perhaps the most common working herding dog in that country. Outside of Hungary, the breed is probably most popular in Finland and Sweden, where it is one of the most popular agility dogs, regularly competing for championships at the highest levels. In the United States, Pumik most Puli are primarily show dogs and companion animals, although a number of them also compete in agility and obedience trials. A few American Pumik are working herding dogs, but it does not seem that it will become especially popular as a working dog. The breed remains rare in the United States but numbers are growing, and it is hoped that the Pumi will eventually become well-established there.
The Pumi possesses a very distinctive appearance, and looks like a rustic, sheep herding, Terrier or Schnauzer. The Pumi is a small to medium-sized dog. Males stand an average of 16 to 18½ inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 22 to 33 pounds. Females stand an average of 15 to 17½ inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 17 and 28 pounds. The Pumi has a very square build, and should be almost exactly as long from chest to rump as it is tall from floor to shoulder. Many Pumik have front legs that are noticeably longer than their back legs, resulting in a downwards sloping back. Much of the Pumi’s body is obscured by its coat, but underneath is a very athletic and muscular dog. Pumik tend to be on the lean side, but should never appear thin or fragile. The Pumi’s chest is relatively but not exceptionally deep. The tail of the Pumi is of medium length and usually held high and in a circle over the back.
The head and face of the Pumi look somewhat on the smallish side for the body of the dog, but this is more the result of the hair looking so big than anything else. The head of this breed is relatively flat but slightly domed, and transitions fairly smoothly into the muzzle. The moderately sized muzzle is roughly one-half the length of the skull, but is somewhat wide. The muzzle tapers slightly towards the end and ends in a blunt, black nose. The average-sized, round eyes are dark brown in color, and should never be obscured by coat. The ears are v-shaped and set high on the head. The ears stand straight erect, but the top third folds down and forwards, giving the breed unique and expressive ears. Some Pumik are born with fully erect ears, fully folding ears, or even mismatched ears. These dogs are ineligible in the show ring but make equally acceptable working dogs and companion animals. The overall expression of most Pumik is lively, intelligent, intense, and vaguely predatory.
The coat of the Pumi is what primarily distinguishes the breed from other Hungarian herding dogs. According to the UKC/FCI standard, “The wavy or curly coat is one and one half to three inches long. The coat is always tufted and shaggy, never smooth nor corded. It is dense and double, with a strong, but not coarse, topcoat and a soft under coat. There is wiry hair, of medium length, on the ears that grows upward. The eyes and foreface are free of long hair. The body coat should be prepared by hand. Scissoring of the face and legs is allowed, but the entire body coat should not be trimmed with scissors.” The Pumi also has thick and longer wiry hair on its tail that stands straight off, and facial hair that often forms a small beard and mustache. Pumik are solidly colored dogs which may be found in black, white, grey, and fawn. Fawn dogs may range in color pale cream to red. Many, but not all, Pumi have a small white mark on their chests that should not exceed one inch in width at the widest and/or white lines on their toes. Any color may have black, white, or grey hairs interspersed throughout their coats as long as they do not alter the solid color appearance. Grey Pumik are born black and then fade with age. Occasionally differently coated or colored Pumik are born, such dogs are ineligible in the show ring and should not be bred but otherwise make equally acceptable pets or working dogs.
The Pumi has a temperament typical of a herding breed, but is often somewhat more strong-tempered than other members of that group. The Pumi is very devoted to its family, with whom it forms very strong bonds. In general Pumik want to be around their families at all times, and can suffer from separation anxiety. The Pumi can be kept outside in temperate climates, but would prefer to live indoors where it can be with its family. This breed is generally quite affectionate with its family, but are not always fawningly so. Pumik tend to be slightly more challenging and dominant than many other herding dogs and may not be the ideal choice for a first time dog owner.
Bred not only as a herding breed but also as a protection animal, the Pumi is naturally suspicious of strangers. This dog does not enjoy being in the presence of new people, making socialization extremely important. Proper socialization will turn most Pumik into accepting and polite (if loud) dogs, although they will probably always remain aloof and uninterested. Pumik that have not been introduced to a large number of people from a young age do not learn how to properly distinguish the good people from the bad, and their protective instincts take over. This breed has a tendency towards shyness and suspicion, either of which can occasionally lead to aggression. Highly alert, protective, and extremely vocal, Pumik make excellent watchdogs that will always (and sometimes excessively) alert their owners to the approach of a visitor. Although quite small, the Pumi also makes a very effective guard dog that will challenge uninvited intruders and even use force to drive them away if the dog deems it necessary.
Pumik have a generally good reputation with children. Breed members that have been raised with children are generally very fond of them, and are often quite playful and protective. Although generally tolerant, most Pumik are not willing to take the amount of rough play that a breed such as a Labrador Retriever or American Pit Bull Terrier would which may cause some problems. As is the case with all breeds, a Pumi that has not been socialized with children may be somewhat unpredictable with them. All Pumik, no matter how well trained, have a strong urge to chase running animals and to bark at them and nip at their heels. This urge can be mostly controlled with training, but it cannot be eliminated entirely.
Pumi have a mixed reputation with other animals. This breed is not known for having major issues with other dogs, but some individual breed members do. Pumi are generally very accepting and fond of dogs that they know well, but are considerably less so with strange dogs. All forms of dog aggression are seen in Pumik, but the breed is most susceptible to dominance, territorial, and same-sex aggression. Careful and regular socialization from a young age is very important for a Pumi’s adult interactions with other dogs. Although bred as a herding dog, the Pumi was also used as a ratter. This breed has a fairly high prey drive, and many are driven to pursue and occasionally attack small animals. Most Pumik can be socialized to accept any animal cat-sized or larger, but some are never entirely trustworthy around them.
The Pumi is an extremely trainable dog. This breed is both highly intelligent and very motivated to please. Pumik can probably be trained to do anything that any breed could with the exception of tasks that require immense strength, and this breed excels at the highest levels of virtually every canine competition. It is generally agreed that the Pumi is very easy to train and learns both very quickly and very well. However, Pumik can cause training difficulties. This dog is more dominant and challenging than most other herding dogs, and a Pumi will probably not obey someone that they see as lower than themselves on the pecking order. For that reason it is imperative that Pumi owners maintain a position of dominance at all times. Additionally, this highly intelligent breed bores quickly, and may refuse to perform repetitive tasks after a certain amount of time.
The Pumi is a highly energetic dog, and has very high exercise requirement. This is a breed that needs a substantial amount of vigorous daily exercise, an hour at the very minimum but preferably more. Although some Pumik would be satisfied with a long daily walk, most greatly prefer to run, and this breed makes an excellent jogging companion. Pumik do best when provided a regular opportunity to run freely in a safely enclosed area, and it is almost impossible to keep this dog in an apartment or even a close-quarters suburb (although it has been done successfully). Working dogs through and through, Pumik are extremely intelligent and driven, and most absolutely crave a job that stimulates their minds such as herding, competitive obedience, or agility. The truth is that the average family is probably going to be very hard pressed to meet the needs of a Pumi, but it is absolutely imperative that Pumi owners provide the exercise and stimulation that they require; otherwise this breed will almost certainly develop behavioral issues such as destructiveness, excessive barking, hyper activity, extreme excitability, nervousness, and aggression. The high energy level of the Pumi actually is extremely desirable to many owners. Those looking for a obedience, agility, flyball, or Frisbee dog will probably be delighted by a Pumi, and this breed is hardy and capable enough to go on virtually any adventure no matter how extreme.
Potential Pumi owners need to be aware of one breed trait. Pumik are some of the most vocal of all dogs. This breed herds primarily with its voice, and Pumik work by barking repeatedly at the animals that they are attempting to move around. As a result, they bark a great deal, almost constantly. Training and stimulation can greatly reduce a Pumi’s barking, but even the least vocal Pumi barks much more than most other dogs. Pumik that are untrained or bored often bark virtually non-stop for hours at a time and this breed can certainly result in noise complaints.
The Pumi has substantial coat care requirements, but not extreme ones. This breed needs a regular and thorough brushing, and potential mats must be carefully brushed out before they develop. Most Pumik also need an occasional trimming. Owners may choose to do this themselves, but many choose to have their dogs professionally groomed. Keeping a Pumi in show coat requires extra work and some specialized training, which most Pumi breeders will be able to provide.
Because so few Pumik live outside of Hungary, health information about the breed is fairly sparse. However, this breed seems to be in relatively good health, especially compared to most modern breeds. The Pumi was almost exclusively bred as a working dog until the 1970’s, and any genetic defects would have been quickly eliminated from breeding lines. The Pumi appears to have a long life expectancy for a breed of this size, between 12 and 14 years, and it is not unheard of for a Pumi to reach the age of 19. This does not mean that the Pumi is immune from genetically inherited disorders, but it does mean that the breed seems to suffer from fewer of them and at lower rates than many other dogs.
The most common health problem found in Pumik appears to be hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is caused by a malformation of the hip joint. This malformation causes the leg bone to connect to the hip improperly, which is exaggerated when the dog is in motion. Symptoms develop as the dog ages, including discomfort, pain, arthritis, difficulty moving, and even lameness in extreme cases. Hip dysplasia is caused by genetics, but the timing and severity of its onset may be influenced by environmental factors. There are no universally accepted cures for hip dysplasia, although there are treatments available for most of its symptoms, most of which are long-term and expensive. A very similar but rarer condition also affects the elbows of dogs, known as elbow dysplasia.
Recently, American Pumi breeders have discovered that their dogs may contain the gene for degenerative myelopathy, or DM. DM is very similar to ALS in humans, and is caused by the degeneration of the spinal cord, resulting in nerve and movement malfunction. Usually first appearing between the age of 7 and 14, the first symptom of DM is most commonly the loss of coordination in the hind limbs. Over time other symptoms develop, including discomfort, pain, arthritis, difficulty walking, paralysis, and incontinence. The rate of progression is highly variable, with some dogs being completely paralyzed in a matter of two or three months and others living relatively comfortably for more than three years. There is no cure for DM nor is there a treatment that will slow its progression. The inevitable result of DM is euthanasia, but when that becomes necessary varies tremendously between dogs. Luckily, there is a genetic test for DM and Pumi breeders are beginning to test their dogs in an attempt to eliminate the condition from breeding lines.
Because skeletal and visual problems are known to occur in Pumik (especially hip dysplasia), 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 it tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring.
A full list of health problems experienced by the Pumi would have to include:
Luxating Patella/Patellar Luxation
Primary Lens Luxation/PLL