The West Siberian Laika, like the East Siberian Laika and Russo European Laika are 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 thick, long and more often white fur, with pointed ears and muzzles and a tail that generally curls over the dogs back.
Although the exact origins 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 thus 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.
In more recent times humans have again mated Spitz type dogs with wolves in order to achieve dogs with a wolf like appearance such as the Alaskan Malamute.
The West Siberian Laika is a courageous highly versatile and intelligent working dog used for hunting game and unlike other Russian hunting dogs including the East Siberian Laika and Russo European Laika, this breed can specialize on one type of game only. This specialization is the main reason that this breed has survived and remains one of the most popular hunting dogs in Russia to this day.
In nineteenth century Russia it was important for a hunting dog to have the ability to be trained to focus on the game with the most valuable fur. The money derived from the pelt of a single silver-black sable could support a family of four for a year. Consequently, a hunting dog with this ability to focus solely on a certain species while ignoring all others could be the determining factor as to whether the hunter and his family had money for food or not.
The original breeding process that resulted in the West Siberian Laika being the only breed of Laika with this pro selective hunting ability was the result of selective sampling from primitive dogs of the Mansi(Voguls) and Hanty (Ostyak) strains. These two strains attracted Russian Hunters due to their exceptional hunting ability, size, strength, endurance and extraordinary beauty. This initial two strain selection process was combined with killing or keeping dogs that worked on every type of game out of the breeding process.
This ability to specialize on one type of game and hunt it to perfection combined with their versatility is really what makes the West Siberian Laika so unique. The intelligence and versatility of the West Siberian Laika provides us with a dog that when properly trained can use this selective ability to hunt everything from small animals such as pine martin, squirrels or sable up to big game such as wild boars, bear and moose, it is even versatile enough to be trained for to hunt birds such as pheasants, capercaillies and waterfowl.
During the 1960’s, Russian diplomats and Government officials occasionally imported West Siberian Laikas to the USA where these dogs were not bred and lived their life as pets.
In 1992, A Biologist, graduate of Penn State University and Russian born Immigrant residing in Oklahoma named Vladimir Beregovoy imported a female named Shelma and a male named Alex which produced the first West Siberian Laika litters in the USA. In 1995, he imported another male named Roketop-Chekhov and in 1996, he imported a female named Polly and a male named Vern. These five dogs formed the first breeding stock of West Siberian Laikas within the United States. He initially registered them with the Federation of International Canines (FIC) a questionable registry that has been touted as being associated with the breeders of puppy mill dogs. Then finally with the United Kennel Club (UKC) a respected dog registry. Mr. Beregovoy reported that at present, total number of West Siberian Laikas in the USA and Canada is about 100 dogs. The Majority of these dogs belongs to hunters in the Northern United States, Alaska and Canada.
The original breeding process of using selective sampling from both the Mansi(Voguls) and Hanty (Ostyak) strains of primitive dog resulted in a West Siberian Laika where features of either strain may be predominantly visible within a specific dog. In both variations the size, hunting habits and coat color variations are basically the same with a few exceptions. In both strains the Males will be 19-20 inches at the shoulder and females 18-19 inches at the shoulder with both variations having a slightly elongate, almost squarish body. The Mansi strain of West Siberian Laika will have a slightly lighter build, with narrower chest and longer legs. The head will be more elongated with a longer muzzle and ears. Both varieties will weigh between 40-60 lbs with males generally being heavier.
The Hanty strain of West Siberian Laika will be stockier in build with a slightly rangy appearance. The head is broader than the Mansi strain with smaller ears set far apart and a slightly shorter muzzle. The Guard hairs on the neck and shoulders surrounding the face, will be more prominent than in the Mansi Laika.
The Coat of the West Siberian Laika is a double coat of harsh straight guard hairs with a thick, soft undercoat. The Guard hairs, around the head and shoulders are particularly long and stiff and with a very thick undercoat that tend to form a rough framing of the dog's face. The hair of on the tail is also longer and thicker than that of the rest of the body giving it a full look.
The most common colors are black and white, wolf gray and red or pale red, the gray coat can vary from an almost white to nearly black variety. There may also be a mixing of gray with red to produce a brownish red coat. Sable coats that combine black and white or brown are also common. Coats with white patches in different proportions are also allowed by the breed standard as is pale red and white dogs with brown noses.
The West Siberian Laika is primarily a hunting dog. Those thinking about purchasing one should understand this and expect the full package of traits present in a typical hunting Spitz. This is an emotional dog that is not only extremely affectionate and devoted to his master but very observant of his masters habits, and mood and can often foresee his intentions.
The West Siberian Laika does not like to be left alone or locked up in a small backyard or or pen, this will cause them stress and they may bark constantly. Those that find themselves more permanently penned or fenced up will attempt to dig under the fence, climb over it or otherwise try to escape. They may also develop destructive habits such as biting or chewing on the fence wires damaging their teeth.
This is a breed of dog that needs a lot of physical activity and freedom to be happy, he is a natural born hunter.
The West Siberian Laika can be very protective of his master, his family and his property. When guests come to the house the typical West Siberian Laika will bark and with their masters approval allow them in, they will remain aloof with the strange people, avoiding their hands and watching them suspiciously. This attitude towards unfamiliar people may vary with individuals and depend on the situation and what the dog is sensing from his master and could vary from simply acting suspiciously to being violent.
West Siberian Laikas may have a tendency to fight with other dogs if they have not been raised together in the same household. However relationships with other adult male dogs should be made with caution. Laikas do not fight for fun, or just to kill another dog, it most often deals with territory or dominance related issues. Fights among dogs of the same household are likely to take place over a favorite toy, some unfinished food, a favorite resting spot etc. Although The West Siberian Laika is a good fighter, it makes for a poor choice as a pit fighting dog, because there is no desire from the West Siberian Laika to kill another dog, but only to establish its dominance or defend something that is of importance to it.
With other Animals Laikas can be taught to ignore farm animals, such as cows, calves, pigs, goats and sheep. However, small animals, such as cats, rabbits and poultry may will overly tempting. Laikas have been taught to leave alone cats living in the same household alone and to ignore poultry but much of this will depend upon the individual personality of the dog. Rabbits on the other hand seem irresistible to them and must be kept in sturdy enclosures. West Siberian Laikas may be taught to stay away from killing chickens, but even most well taught and reliable dogs may change for worse when presented with a new situation or when in a new place. While training designed to inhibit the West Siberian Laikas attempts to kill small animals generally works. You should keep in mind that good results obtained in one situation or one location should never be taken for granted in a new situation or location.
It is the nature of the West Siberian to be very inquisitive of all animals, wild game or not, and all dogs of this breed have a strong desire to hunt. However the West Siberian Laika is not a hunting dog that tends to kill all kinds of animals as hunting behavior is more game specific and the dog serves rather to satisfy needs of than hunter to fulfill the desire for quick meal.
Since the West Siberian 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 your West Siberian Laika 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.
West Siberian 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 West Siberian Laikas. Infrequent occurrences of umbilical hernia and monorchidism (the state of having only one testicle within the scrotum) have been seen among puppies.