A multi-purpose working dog native to Russia, the Samoyed was developed by the Samoyedic peoples as a necessary part of their survival in the far north of Siberia. Capable of pulling sleds, hunting, herding, and a variety of other tasks, this breed is famous for its solid white coat and its smiling expression. The Samoyed is also known as the Samoyede, the Samoyed Sled Dog, the Sami, the Sammy, the Smiley, and the Smiling Dog.
Due to their remote location of origin and primitive features, the Samoyed is thought to be one of the oldest breeds of dog; a theory that has recently seemingly been confirmed by modern genetic testing. Dogs of this type have probably accompanied the Samoyedic peoples of Siberia and their ancestors for many thousands of years. However, very little is known of their origins, except that the Samoyed was developed in a geographically isolated area by nomadic people who did not possess writing until very recently and that this occurred long before written records were kept of dog breeding. Most of what is now known about the Samoyed’s history has either been discovered by archaeologists or pieced together by using what is known about other similar breeds.
One of the truly ancient breeds, the history of the Samoyed begins with the domestication of the first dog. There is a substantial amount of debate among experts as to when, where, and how many times the dog was first domesticated. This debate will likely rage for some time because the majority of the remaining evidence is conflicting. Archaeological evidence of their domestication may go back as far 33,000 years, is quite strong at 14,000 years ago, and is certain by 7,000 years ago. Although, domestication may have actually began millennia earlier; genetic evidence suggests that the dog may have started to separate itself from the wolf as long as 100,000 years ago. Despite the disparity between the genetic and archaeological evidence, experts on both sides agree that the dog was the first species domesticated by man and that the separation from the wolf happened between 14,000 and 35,000 years ago.
For many years it was believed that the domestic dog was domesticated several different times in different places. Genetic evidence; however, has shown that all dogs probably descended from a small group of wolves domesticated in the Middle East, India, or China. Asiatic wolves, especially those of India, are not only much smaller than their more northerly cousins, but also less aggressive and more accepting of the presence of man. Tamed in a time before the advent of agriculture, or communal villages, these first dogs likely served as hunting accompaniments, camp guardians, beasts of burden, and companions to nomadic hunter-gatherers. At first, all dogs were probably very similar in appearance to the Australian Dingo and New Guinea Singing Dog, which to this day are only semi-domesticated.
From their original domestication in Asia, dogs would spread throughout the world and if the Dingo is counted as a domestic dog; dogs have reached every corner of the world settled by humans. The domestic dog quickly spread to Siberia where it would become an indispensable part of the lives of the local peoples. One archaeological find in Siberia dating to around 33,000 years ago included what some experts believe is a primitive or partially domesticated dog. Controversial in nature, some claim the remains are in fact those of a wolf; however, if the find is a dog, it could mean that the ancestors of the Samoyed have been present in Siberia for tens of thousands of years. Even if that animal was a wolf, the Samoyed’s ancestors have likely been present in Siberia for at least between 17,000 and 20,000 years, as similar dogs ore know to have accompanied the first Native Americans when they crossed the Bering Land Bridge to North America.
Siberia is an incredibly harsh and unforgiving place. It is well-below freezing for most of the year, and Siberian winters can be incredibly harsh. The earliest dogs, native to a more temperate or tropical Asian climate, could certainly not have survived in such a place. The fact, however, that dogs are the same species as wolves, and can freely interbreed with them would aid the dog in its survival by allowing dogs in more northerly climates such as Siberia to be crossed with the more cold tolerant Euro-Asiatic wolf. These crosses would result in the creation of a dog family known as the Spitzen; a family or classification of modern dog characterized by very long double-coats, prick ears, a decidedly wolf-like appearance and in many cases tails that curls over the back. There are literally dozens of breeds of Spitzen, such as the Akita Inu, Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Black Norwegian Elkhound, Chow Chow and East Siberian Laika to name a few. Additionally nearly all Spitzen are native to Northern Europe, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and North America. While it is unknown when the first Spitz was developed, evidence is very solid for an age of at least 3,000 B.C. and inconclusive up to 7,000 B.C.
Spitzen are incredibly well-adapted to life in Arctic and Subarctic climates. These dogs are capable of withstanding incredibly cold temperatures that would quickly kill a person. Siberian Huskies for example can work and live safely in temperatures as low as 75 degrees Fahrenheit below zero. Not only are Spitzen exceptionally cold tolerant, they are a rugged type capable of traveling great distances across the snow using their keen noses to find food. Spitzen would quickly become an absolutely indispensible part of life for man living in these harsh and unforgiving northern regions. They would find use transporting supplies and possessions across great distances, guarding camps from predators and marauders, and helping their masters hunt. The first ancestors of the Samoyed were probably used primarily for these purposes. There are large portions of the world that would probably be uninhabitable if it were not for dogs.
At some point, sleds were developed and dogs were bred to pull them in teams. This would allow for much faster movement across vast stretches of Arctic terrain. Because dogs eat meat, they can survive in places where others beasts of burden such as horses or oxen would starve to death. Until the end of the 1800’s, in the majority of cold desolate landscapes sled dogs were the only means of traveling other than walking. After the invention of the sled, the ancestors of the Samoyed began to be selected primarily for their sled pulling ability, but also for the tasks they had performed for millennia. Another major change came to the arctic with the semi-domestication of the reindeer. Sometime after agriculture began in the Middle East, the nomadic tribes of Scandinavia and Siberia began to herd reindeer. These herds are managed by a complex set of cultural and agricultural traditions. It was around this time that the Samoyed’s ancestors acquired yet another primary job, reindeer herding. Siberian peoples used their dogs to drive the reindeer either on migrations or to a specific spot, as well as to collect stragglers or wanderers.
Although often thought of as a wasteland, Siberia is actually home to a large number of distinct ethnic groups. These identities probably shifted greatly over time with the constant movements of peoples. The most major recent movement was that of the Russians who began to colonize Siberia from the 1500’s to the 1800’s. Early Russian colonists were both unaware of and insensitive to these differences and tended to lump many different distinct peoples into one massive cultural identity. These groupings were often made on the basis of language without any consideration paid to actual cultural identification. One such created group was the Samoyedes, made up of several different ethnicities who spoke a group of closely related languages, which became known as the Samoyedic languages. Because the term Samoyede is now considered a slur, either Samoyedic Peoples or Samoyedic Speakers are preferred. Primarily native to north-central Siberia, the Samoyedic peoples include such groups as the Nenets, Enets, Nganasan, and Selkup. These people all kept very similar dogs, multi-purpose animals which pulled sleds, herded reindeer, went hunting, and provided personal protection. The dogs of the Samoyedic Peoples were considerably less harshly tempered and more trainable than most other Spitz breeds, likely as a result of their having been bred originally for use as herding dogs. The Nenets in particular are famed reindeer herders and greatly valued the herding abilities of this breed. These dogs were long-coated, wolf-like, and came in a variety of colors, especially white, black, and brown. The Samoyedic Peoples greatly treasured their dogs and were almost constantly in their company. The Russians began to call these dogs Samoyedes after their owners.
The Samoyede dogs first came to the attention of the outside world in the late 1800’s. The Age of Exploration was at its close and some of the last unexplored places on Earth were the Polar Regions. At that time, technology had not yet advanced to the point where manmade machines could tolerate the frigid cold and dog sleds were needed on many expeditions. Most European explorers greatly preferred the Samoyed for this purpose. There were several reasons for this. One is that at the time, Western Europeans were probably more familiar with the Samoyede than any other sled dog. Although parts of Europe, especially Scandinavia, would be well-suited for sled dogs, reindeer sleds had taken their place centuries earlier and those breeds had been converted into pure reindeer herders. This left the Samoyede the closest sled dog to Western Europe. Because the Samoyede was bred as a herder, it has a less harsh and more trainable nature than is common among sled dogs. This made it preferable to Europeans who were unaccustomed to working with sled dogs. Finally, the Samoyede has long been considered one of the most beautiful of all dog breeds and appealed to the upper-class sensibilities of many explorers.
Most early expeditions acquired their dogs directly from Siberia; as these dogs were considered to be the hardiest and most skilled sled dogs. As most records of which ethnic group provided the dogs have been lost, it is assumed that Samoyede dogs were procured from many different Samoyedic Peoples and possibly some neighboring groups as well. Samoyede dogs played important roles on almost all of the major exploratory missions to the Poles from 1870 until 1915. Some of the famous explorers who brought along Samoyedes included Abruzzi, Amundson, Jackson-Harmsworth, Nansen, and Shackleton. The Samoyede’s greatest admirer was probably Fridtjof Nansen, who led a series of expeditions across Greenland and to the North Pole. Nansen believed that Arctic exploration would be completely impossible without Samoyedes. On at least one expedition he planned to feed the weakest dogs to the strongest as they died. This was a common practice among the Samoyede Peoples, who cannot waste meat or any other resource. Nansen did survive that expedition, but without most of his dogs. Perhaps the most famous Samoyede of all was ‘Etah’, the lead dog for Roald Amundson’s expedition to the South Pole. Etah led the sled dog team when Amundson’s team became the first humans to set foot on the South Pole.
The fame brought to the Samoyede as a result of the Polar expeditions caught the attention of a number of fanciers, especially the royal families of the United Kingdom and Russia. These new found fanciers began to purchase those dogs that returned with the explorers, or were given them as gifts. They were initially attracted to the breed because of its great beauty and novelty, but quickly found that the breed made an affectionate and loyal companion. The first record of Samoyedes in the United Kingdom comes from 1889, when Robert Scott returned with a pack after an expedition. Both Czar Alexander III of Russia and Queen Alexandra of England owned Samoyedes. As the breed became better known in English speaking countries the second ‘e’ was dropped from the name. In England, breeders began to standardize the Samoyed, and began to develop the modern breed. One of the primary changes they made was to eliminate black and brown from the coats, leaving only white, cream, and biscuit. The most prominent early English breeder was Ms. Clara Killborn-Scott. Because not many Samoyeds were brought back to England, and because the English greatly favored certain dogs, the vast majority of modern Samoyeds can trace their ancestry back to 12 dogs of which ‘Kara See’ was the most famous and influential.
The first Samoyeds began to arrive in the United States from Russia and England in the first years of the 20th Century. The American Kennel Club (AKC) granted the breed full recognition as a member of the Working Group in 1906. The first dog registered with the AKC was a Russian Champion named Moustan of Argenteau. Moustan was born in St. Petersburg and was initially owned by the Grand Duke Nicholas, one of the Czar’s brothers. Americans initially bred the Samoyed almost equally for appearance and working ability. In 1927, the United Kennel Club (UKC) also granted full recognition to the Samoyed. The most influential early American breeder was Ms. Helen Harris of Merion, Pennsylvania. Mr. Helen Harris founded Snowland Kennels in the 1930’s using Siberian Nansen of Farmingham, a son of Kara See, as her founding dog. Snowland Kennel became so influential to all later American breeding of Samoyeds that its name is now protected by both the AKC and the Samoyed Club of America (SCA) which was founded to promote and protect the Samoyed breed. Also in the 1930’s, Agnes Mason acquired Nianya of Snowland from Ms. Harris. Ms. Mason used Nianya to found White Way Kennels in California. Ms. Mason used dogs from Snowland Kennel, as well as other prominent American kennels and dogs imported from Europe. Ms. Mason was a skilled sled dog worker as well as a breeder, and many of her dogs were sled dogs as well as conformation competitors. Many of her dogs were trained for rescue missions, and some were even trained to parachute into remote areas. Some White Way Samoyeds served in World War II.
After the War, Ms. Mason bred what was considered her finest dog, Rex of White Way. Rex was one of the last famous sled dogs. He participated in a number of famous rescues, including a plane crash in 1949 and a train rescue in 1952. Rex won a competition for weight pulling; he was the strongest dog per pound in the world at the time, able to pull more than 1570 pounds. Rex was a regular competitor in races and at public events such as rodeos. Eventually he earned the nickname Blizzard King, because he was capable of finding a trail in even the most difficult conditions. Rex was essentially unbeatable as a lead dog in races involving other Samoyeds and was considered the best purebred sled dog of his time. The only dogs that were said to be Rex’s equals were mixed breeds, what would now probably be known as Alaskan Huskies. In honor of Rex and other White Way dogs, that Kennel name is also protected by the AKC and SCA.
World War I put a temporary stop to most Polar expeditions, and by the war’s end the Samoyed’s position as the primary dog of Arctic exploration had been eclipsed. One reason is that the Samoyed was being bred for appearance to the extent that some of its working ability had been lost. Another was that Europeans explorers were now familiar with other sled dog breeds especially the Greenland Dog, most of which were pure sled dogs (their only purpose was to be a sled dog). Many of these breeds were significantly faster and stronger than the Samoyed. Perhaps the greatest reason for the Samoyeds decline as a sled dog was the growing influence of American explorers. American explorers greatly favored those breeds which were native to Alaska and which they were more familiar, primarily the Siberian Husky, the Alaskan Husky, the Alaskan Malamute, and the Chinook. Although many breeders continued to breed working Samoyed’s, most were used by hobbyists rather than serious mushers. Gradually, the Samoyed was bred primarily for companionship and appearance, with some breeders paying attention to working ability as well.
American Samoyeds likely retain a substantial amount of working ability. Many owners still take this breed skiing and hiking in the mountains, and to occasionally pull a sled or cart. However, a serious musher would probably not select a Samoyed as a sled dog. As is the case with most modern breeds, the Samoyed of today is almost exclusively a companion animal and show dog, tasks at which this beautiful and affectionate dog excels. The Samoyed has never been particularly numerous in the United States, and significantly lags behind the more famous Siberian Husky and Alaskan Malamute in popularity. However, there are a number of devoted fanciers in the United States and the breed’s population is quite secure in that country. Most Samoyed fanciers are probably quite comfortable with the breed’s status, popular enough to maintain a sizable genetic pool but not so popular as to attract too many disreputable breeders out to make a buck. In 2010, the Samoyed ranked 72nd out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. Although it is possible the Samoyed may one day regain its status as a premier sled dog, for the foreseeable future the breed will probably remain primarily a companion animal.
The Samoyed is much beloved for its beautiful appearance, especially its long white coat and facial expression which seems to be in a permanent smile. The Samoyed is similar in appearance to other Spitzen, and looks like a transitional form between the companion Spitzen of Western Europe and the sled dogs of Siberia and North America. The Samoyed is a medium-sized breed. Males typically stand between 21 and 32½ inches tall and the shoulder and weigh between 45 to 65 pounds. Females typically stand between 19 to 21 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 35 and 50 pounds. Most of the Samoyed’s body is obscured by its long hair, but underneath is an athletic and powerful body. The Samoyed is a well proportioned dog that is only about 5% longer than it is tall. As a working sled dog, the Samoyed should not have any exaggerated features that would prevent it from doing its job. This breed in very sturdily built, almost to the point of being thick. The coat does make this breed look much thicker than it actually is however. A Samoyed should be very well-muscled for its size. The tail of the Samoyed is of medium length and is typically carried in a loose curl above the back. When a Samoyed is at rest the tail may be held between the legs.
The head and face of the Samoyed are proportional to the body, but look small due to the large amount of fur on the rest of the body. The skull and muzzle form a wedge and look somewhat wolf-like. The muzzle itself is wide and powerful, but only of average length. The lips of a Samoyed are perhaps the breed’s most important characteristic. The lips are black and tightly fitting. The lips have a slight upwards curl at the back of the mouth, making it look like the breed is always smiling. This is known as the “Samoyed Smile” and is often most noticeable when the breed has its mouth slightly open. This is the reason this breed is sometimes known as the Smiley or the Smiling Dog. The eyes of this breed are very important as well, as they make the smiling expression more noticeable. The eyes are average in size, dark brown in color, and almond shaped. These eyes are also set obliquely and far apart. The ears of the Samoyed are medium in size, triangular in shape, and stand firmly erect. The expressive ears of the Samoyed are often said to be very wolf-like. The expression of a Samoyed is one of happiness and friendliness.
Although the breed’s smile might be more famous, it is its coat which is most immediately noticeable. This breed has a great deal of hair. The Samoyed is a double coated breed, with a soft, dense, and thick undercoat and a long, harsh outer coat. The outer coat should be graded more on its protective ability than its appearance. The outer coat is long, straight, and dense and stands straight out from the body. The coats of males are often longer and harsher than those of females. The hair around the neck usually forms a distinctive ruff that is more noticeable on males. The hair on the head, face, and fronts of the legs is shorter than the rest of the body while the hair on the tail, brisket, neck, and backs of the legs is longer. The Samoyed only comes in four colors: solid white, solid cream, solid biscuit, and white and biscuit. White and biscuit dogs are primarily white, with patches of biscuit that are more similar to shading than markings.
The Samoyed is known for its extremely good nature. These dogs are often described as being light-hearted and merry. Samoyed’s are a very affectionate breed. Unlike most other Spitzen, many Samoyeds are fawningly affectionate. This is a breed that will make very close friends with every member of a family, as well as regular guests. Although this breed is very devoted and loving, it does have an independent nature. Most Samoyeds enjoy doing their own thing and will not usually be underfoot. Samoyeds are not especially prone to separation anxiety when compared to most breeds, but are somewhat more so than the average Spitz. When properly socialized, the average Samoyed is very friendly with strangers. While some Samoyeds are polite and welcoming, many are very excited to see any new person, whom they regard as potential friends.
Training is very important for this breed as they are very likely to become inappropriate greeters, jumping on and licking guests. Samoyeds are very vocal and make good watchdogs. However, their bark is more of an excited request for their owner to open the door to let someone new play with them than it is a warning. This breed would make a very poor guard dog as most Samoyeds would welcome a robber in with a wagging tail than rather than show any aggression. Samoyeds are known for being very good with children. This breed is very gentle and affectionate with children, and often forms very close bonds with them. Most Samoyeds love the extra attention and playtime that children provide. One potential problem that may develop is with the herding instinct of this breed. Many Samoyeds will try to herd children instinctively. This breed does not often herd by nipping which reduces the potential problem, and this behavior can be trained out.
Samoyeds are generally good with other dogs. This breed was bred to work in teams with dozens of other dogs. As a result, the average Samoyed makes a good companion for other dogs, and most Samoyeds would greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one other canine. This breed is not known for having dominance, territorial, or possessiveness issues. Although not particularly dominant, this breed is a natural leader and will often take charge of groups of other dogs. This may cause some problems with especially dominant dogs. The Samoyed has a gentle nature and thus is more suited as a companion for small dogs than most other breeds of its size.
Samoyeds are average with non-canine animals. They have an average prey drive. When socialized, Samoyeds will generally get along with whatever non-canine animals share their home. When trained, this breed is not exceptionally likely to bother a household cat. When Samoyeds are not socialized with other animals, they tend to chase and even attack them, just as is the case with any other breed. Samoyeds have a natural herding instinct and will attempt to herd any non-canine in their lives (and sometimes other canines as well). This breed will attempt to round up horses, sheep, ducks, guinea pigs, and even cats. Unless trained out or controlled, this may cause headaches for some owners.
The Samoyed is an intelligent and trainable breed. These dogs are generally willing to please and quite capable of learning. Most experts believe that the Samoyed is one of the most trainable of all Spitzen, and possibly the most trainable of all larger Spitzen. This breed has competed very successfully at a number of canine events, and is an especially gifted herder and sled dog. If you are accustomed to working with breeds such as the Siberian Husky or Chow Chow, you will likely be very surprised by how easy it is to train a Samoyed. However, this is definitely not the easiest breed to train and if you are accustomed to training Labrador Retrievers or German Shepherd Dogs you will likely become very frustrated. Samoyeds do have an independent nature and may decide that they have no interest in learning something. This is not the outright willfulness found in most Spitzen, but rather a refusal based on disinterest. With extra time and effort, a Samoyed will learn most of what its owner attempts to teach it, but they will not always obey. This breed is very often a selective listener. Although the Samoyed is not a dog that will regularly challenge for dominance, they are definitely more likely to listen to someone that they respect. Samoyeds tend to be sensitive and definitely respond best to training methods that emphasize positive reinforcement and treats. With time and effort, most Samoyeds will become well-trained dogs. If you are looking for an excellently trained dog that will always obey your every command, a Samoyed is probably not the ideal breed for you.
The Samoyed has a relatively high exercise requirement, but not an excessively high one. A committed family of average activity should be able to meet the needs of this dog without too much difficulty. This breed needs vigorous physical exercise on a daily basis. A couple of potty walks will definitely not satisfy a Samoyed. This breed needs a long daily walk, and preferably a jog. The Samoyed loves to run around in a safely enclosed area. This breed is capable of going for as long as its owners are, but doesn’t need to be in constant motion. It is absolutely imperative that the Samoyed gets the exercise it needs otherwise they have a tendency to become destructive and extremely vocal. Samoyeds absolutely love the cold weather, and are happiest when they are playing in the snow. This breed would gladly run through snow for hours. While Samoyeds don’t crave a job as some breeds do, they greatly enjoy having a task such as pulling a sled or running through an agility course. Samoyeds do enjoy an occasional canine game such as fetch, but have a tendency to play and explore on their own. Owners must be very careful when exercising a Samoyed in high temperatures as the breed is very sensitive to the heat.
Like most Spitzen, Samoyeds have an urge to roam. They also have a tendency to chase moving objects. Although not as infamous an escape artist as some breeds, the Samoyed does have a tendency to get out and go places. Owners must be very careful to make sure that any enclosure which contains a Samoyed is very secure.
Samoyeds are known for being a very vocal breed. The barks of many Samoyeds, especially females, are very high pitched and shrill. If you don’t like the sound of a Samoyed’s bark, you should not acquire one as you will be hearing it a great deal. Proper training and exercise will greatly reduce how much a Samoyed barks, but this will never be a quiet dog. Samoyeds which are not properly trained or exercised can and will bark for hours on end without stopping.
The Samoyed has extensive grooming requirements. This breed needs a thorough brushing on an almost daily basis. Each brushing can take quite awhile due to the breed’s long, thick coat. Mats and tangles must be carefully worked out before they cause the dog discomfort. This coat must be bathed on a regular basis as well, which can be quite time consuming. Expect each Samoyed to take several hours of coat care every week. Most owners choose to take their Samoyeds to the groomers to get trimmed, especially during the summer months.
Samoyeds are heavy, heavy shedders. This breed sheds almost constantly, and owners often see large clumps of fur falling from their dogs. If you own a Samoyed, your clothes, carpets, and furniture will get covered with dog hair. This shedding is heavy all year round, but twice a year when the seasons change it becomes much, much worse. During a Samoyed’s seasonal shedding they will leave hair wherever they walk, and it is very easy to tell wherever they lay down. If you or a family member cannot stand the thought of cleaning up dog hair, this is definitely not the ideal breed.
The Samoyed is regarded as being of average health. This breed was bred primarily as a working dog for many centuries, and any health defects would not be tolerated. Additionally, the harsh conditions of Siberia eliminated the weakest dogs. However, the modern day Samoyed has a relatively small gene pool (although not nearly as small as some other breeds) and some health conditions have become common in the breed. The Samoyed has a life expectancy of between 12 and 15 years, quite long for a dog of this size. The SCA is determined to work with veterinarians and its breeders to locate and eliminate Samoyed health problems from breeding lines.
Hip dysplasia is by far the most common health problem found in Samoyeds. Hip dysplasia is one of the most common health problems in all domestic dogs, particularly larger breeds. Hip dysplasia is caused by a malformation of the hip joint. This malformation causes the leg bone to connect improperly. Over time, arthritis and pain develop, and the dog often has difficulty walking. In extreme cases, hip dysplasia can even lead to lameness. Hip dysplasia is genetic in nature, but environmental factors can influence the timing and severity of its onset. There is no cure for hip dysplasia, but there is some promising work being done on preventative treatments.
Although rare, Samoyeds suffer from a unique genetic disorder known as Samoyed hereditary glomerulopathy. Studies of this disease have been used as a model for studies of human hereditary nephritis which it closely resembles. Samoyed hereditary glomerulopathy is a kidney disease that affects the Samoyed breed. The disease is connected to the sex chromosome, meaning that it affects males worse than females. The condition usually first appears between 2 and three months of age. Females typically exhibit mild symptoms, but males waste away quickly and often pass away quickly.
The Samoyed was bred to survive in some of the coldest climates on Earth. This breed is exceptionally well-adapted to frigid environments. However, they do equally poorly in hot climates. Unless they have been shaved, the Samoyed overheats more quickly and at lower temperatures than other dogs. Owners must be very careful when allowing their Samoyeds outside in hot temperatures.
A full list of health problems experienced by the Samoyed would have to include: