East Siberian Laika

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult East Siberian Laika

If you’ve never heard of the East Siberian Laika, then the word to latch onto is “Siberian”. This is because the Laika has a passing resemblance to a leggy Siberian Husky, which is another breed similarly adapted to the same harsh climate.

The Laika dog can be divided into four different types: the Karelo-Finnish, Russo-European, West Siberian, and East Siberian. Of these dogs, the latter, the East Siberian Lakia, is the largest and was originally bred as a working dog to pull sledges, drove livestock, hunt, and protect homesteads in harsh, deep-frozen conditions.

As with many working breeds, the East Siberian Laika is energetic, territorial, and extremely protective when his home is threatened. However, he is also loyal and loving to his family, and makes a good companion for the experienced handler, when given plenty of exercise.

About & History

It’s thought Chinese and Japanese immigrants brought with them the Spitz-type dogs that form one branch of the Laika’s family tree, although exactly how old the breed is and how far back their ancestors go is unclear as no records were made at the time. Indeed, take a look at the East Siberian Laika and it’s not hard to imagine that in some small way their wild ancestor, the wolf, still lurks beneath that thick coat of fur.

However, we do know those earlier Laikas varied a lot in appearance with a diversity of different head proportions, ear size, and tail carriage. Indeed, there was even quite a variation in the size of the adult dogs. To some extent this diversity is still to be found in the breed as we see it today. Within the four Laika types, one of the factors that differentiate the East Siberian Laika is his size, and although not a huge dog, he does stand up as the tallest of the Laika types.

So, why was the breed developed? In the extreme Siberian cold, the Laika, with wolf ancestry contributing to his hardiness, was a rugged character with a thick coat that could cope with the freezing climate. They were invaluable as draft animals to pull sledges when deep snow made tracks impassable for other means of transport, but their talents didn’t end there. The East Siberian Laika also had an independent nature that made them good herders and drovers, whilst the protective instinct of the wolf made the Laika fiercely protective of those he was loyal to.

In 1947, the East Siberia was recognised as a separate breed, but is not officially recognised by the UK or US Kennel Clubs.


East Siberian Laika Large Photo

Think of a dog with looks that are part Spitz, part Husky, and part wolf and you’ll be pretty close to the appearance of an East Siberian Laika. He’s perhaps lighter and longer in the leg than a Husky, but with the same thick coat, prick ears, and alert expression. Indeed, the breed is described as having a square outer silhouette, when speaking of the leg height and back length of the dog.

Interestingly, the head shape can vary depending on the region the dog hales from. Some have a long, almost pointed muzzle reminiscent of a rough collie, whilst others are much blockier, like a husky. However, regardless of head shape, the Laika has triangular prick ears and his tail is carried in a curl over his back.

There is no mistaking that thick coat means business in cold weather, with courser outer hairs and a thick soft undercoat that traps the air to keep him warm. The hair is generally short on his head, transitioning down to a thicker ruff of fur around his neck and shoulders, and then a full coat over his body.

The breed comes in a range of colours including:

  • Black
  • Black and tan
  • Black and white
  • Brown
  • Grey
  • Grizzle
  • Red

Character & Temperament

To understand the temperament of the East Siberian Laika it helps to think about the work he was expected to do. As a working dog, the Laika was trained as a draft animal, to hunt and protect, and to act as a guard dog. These skills all require a certain amount of being able to think for himself and, indeed, independence is one of the Laika’s qualities. This can step over into being stubborn at times and not looking to their owner for guidance.

Other traits born of their working roots include being territorial and intolerant of other animals. It turns out that if you breed a dog to guard, he’s then less willing to accept other dogs or pets onto his patch because of a strong prey drive. This leads to conflict and aggression towards other animals, and indeed the Laika might be best as a lone pet.

On the plus side, when treated sympathetically and handled using reward-based methods, the Laika can be calm, even tempered, and good with children. Of course, to achieve this panacea, it is vital to start with a pup and social him well, providing plenty of positive experiences that build his confidence and teach him the right way to behave.


There is good news when it comes to the East Siberian Laika and training. Not only is this a smart breed, but he’s also eager to please. This gives the owner an advantage when training him, as praise and rewards are a powerful motivator to the Laika who has bonded with his master or mistress.

However, no-one can afford to rest on their laurels when it comes to the Laika, as those bossy and independent traits will show through, unless he receives consistent guidance and training, with high standards of behaviour expected at all times.


The East Siberian Laika is considered a healthy breed, due largely to the harsh conditions in his native lands, which means weak dogs would simply not survive. He can, however, suffer with health problems that can afflict any dog and it’s essential to feed a good quality diet, along with regular vaccination and deworming.

Being an active breed, the Laika may suffer injuries, such as cuts or lacerations, along with traumatic bone injuries or ruptured ligaments due to over-exertion. Other conditions linked to the breed include:


A normal male dog should have two testicles that descend into the scrotum. When one testicle doesn’t fully descend and remains either within the abdomen or in the groin, this is known as monorchidism. The retained testicle is exposed to body temperature (rather than the cooler environment of the scrotum) and can predispose to testicular cancer. In addition, retained testicles can twist, causing strangulation to the blood supply and serious illness. Ideally, monorchid dogs should be neutered and not bred from in order to prevent the trait from being passed down to the next generation.

Umbilical Hernias

The doggie equivalent of the belly button is the umbilicus, and represents where the puppy’s placenta was attached. Unfortunately, in some pups, there is a small gap in the body wall at the umbilicus, which fails to seal closed. Whilst small hernias are unlikely to cause a problem, large hernias carry the risk of a piece of bowel passing the hole and becoming tapped, which can be potentially life-threatening. All pups should be checked for the presence of a hernia, and advice obtained from a vet about whether corrective surgery is required or not.

Hip / Elbow Dysplasia

Poor anatomy of the hip or elbows joints can lead to pain and inflammation. In a young dog, this may show itself as lameness, limping, or reluctance to exercise. In the longer term, it can lead to early arthritis and impact the dog’s quality of life. Ideally, all parent dogs should be screened for the presence of hip or elbow dysplasia. Then, only dogs that are given the all-clear should be bred from.

Exercise and Activity Levels

It’s no surprise that a dog bred for sledging and droving is going to have high energy levels. The Laika runs true to form and needs at least an hour’s vigorous exercise every day. In addition, he also needs a yard or fenced space in which to run around and expend energy.

But don’t forget the Laika is an intelligent dog, so he also needs mental exercise, as well as physical. Daily training sessions will stimulate his mind, along with using puzzle feeders and playing with him. Not to do so risks boredom, which could end in unwelcome digging, chewing, or barking behaviours.


That thick Spitz-type double coat takes quite a bit of care or you risk disappearing under lots of shed hair. Daily brushing is advisable, in order to keep shed under control, or, alternatively, adopt the hands-off approach with no grooming, which causes the undercoat to felt together in a shell. However, the latter is not desirable if the dog lives anywhere other than permafrost, as he will become too hot in summer.

Famous East Siberian Laikas

One location to discover Laika love is by exploring #Laika on Instagram.


The Laika is somewhat of a rarity outside his native lands, and therefore not been used for hybrid breeding. Interestingly, in Siberia, some Laika have been breed with wolves to recreate a more wolf-like dog. However, the latter are not suitable as family pets or companion dogs and there numbers are limited.

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