Finnish Lapphund

Stuart Fitzgerald
Dr Stuart Fitzgerald (MVB MANZCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Finnish Lapphund

This beautiful member of the Spitz family has long worked the frozen expanses of Scandinavia as a reindeer herder, but with the decline in demand for its services due to advances in technology, it is now more often found as a pet. The Finnish Lapphund is a very popular breed in Nordic countries, and although it is still rare in other parts of the world, it is gaining traction because of its many appealing characteristics. Its innate submissiveness to humans makes it suitable for even very inexperienced dog owners, and its affable nature allows it to fit into many different home environments.

However, it is a highly energetic dog, needing lots of exercise. This, along with the fact that it sheds heavily, means it is not an ideal choice for an apartment. While it does need human company for most of the day, it is one of only two breeds that Finnish owners are legally permitted to keep outdoors in the extreme cold, and it can easily adapt to spending some time outside the house in a securely fenced garden. But be warned – it is also known as a barker, and if ignored for any length of time it will object loudly and persistently. The Finnish Lapphund is a very healthy breed, and most individuals have a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years.

About & History

The Sami people indigenous to Scandinavia and neighbouring areas of Russia developed several dog breeds from the ancient Spitzes that originated in central Europe over many centuries, with the Finnish and Swedish Lapphunds being the most important. Both dogs were originally used for hunting, but their uses evolved over time as the Sami became more involved in reindeer farming as a sustainable way of life. The Finnish Lapphund proved to be particularly adept in the role of reindeer herder, and it remains by far the more popular of these two Lapphund breeds today.

This is despite a dramatic decline in demand for herding dogs, as farmers in the region have relied on snowmobiles, rather than dogs, to keep their herds in check over the past several decades. Although the Finns developed a breed standard and regulated the breeding of Lapphunds as early as the 1940s, it was only in the late 1980s that the breed was introduced to the United Kingdom and United States, and it remained relatively unknown until recently. However, the number of Finnish Lapphunds being registered with the Kennel Club each year is increasing noticeably, and if the breed’s popularity in the Nordic states is anything to go by, it is likely to become a far more familiar sight in this country in the years to come.

Appearance

Finnish Lapphund Large Photo

The Finnish Lapphund is an attractive, solidly built Spitz, of small to medium size, with an extremely thick fluffy coat. Its personality and intelligence are clearly seen in its cheerful facial expression. There are marked gender differences, with males looking far more masculine and less refined than female Lapphunds. The triangular ears are set high and well apart across the slightly convex skull, and they may be either fully or semi-erect, with rounded tips. The Lapphund’s dark eyes are oval-shaped and medium in size, neither recessed nor protruding. The muzzle is broad and strong, and barely tapers along its length.

The breed has the thick, short neck and strong back that are typical of the Spitz family. The withers are not prominent, and cannot be seen because of the thick hair that overlies them. Its chest is deep and long, extending well back, but it is not broad or well-sprung, and the line of the abdomen is relatively flat, with little tuck. The tail is set high, profusely covered in hair, and typically carried in a curl over the back, although it can hang down at rest. The Lapphund’s limbs are straight and powerful, with strong boning and large paws with well-developed interdigital webbing to allow them act like snowshoes. The breed has an effortless, energetic gait, and has the ability to accelerate to a gallop in an instant.

The stand-off coat consists of an outer layer of long, harsh hairs with a dense, soft undercoat. A mane is formed around the neck, a feature that is much more pronounced in males. The coat can be any colour, with some unusual facial markings sometimes being seen; for example, some Finnish Lapphunds have distinct “spectacles” that form around the eyes. However, one colour should predominate, with secondary colours being seen around the perineum and limbs, as well as the face. Males are typically 46 to 52 cm in height, and weigh 18 to 24 kg, while females measure 41 to 47 cm and weigh 16 to 22 kg.

Character & Temperament

The Finnish Lapphund is an energetic and very intelligent breed, always alert and curious. Though it is an extremely friendly dog, it is quick to bark at anything unfamiliar, and thus makes a good watch dog. This barking was probably helpful in the breed’s history in allowing herders to distinguish their dogs from wolves.

It can have an independent streak, but is not stubborn or headstrong, instead being very submissive to its owners. Lapphunds are great with children, and are gentle and clever enough to be good company for the elderly. They mix well with other dogs, but do have a reasonably strong prey drive, and should be watched closely when exposed to cats or other small animals.

Trainability

Photo of Finnish Lapphund puppy

The Finnish Lapphund is often described as a “soft” breed. This is not meant in any derogatory way, but rather to imply that it is responsive to instruction and correction. It is relatively easy to train and eager to please, and these traits combine with its athleticism to make it ideally suited to obedience, agility, or other competitive activities.

Health

There are few significant health problems seen in the Finnish Lapphund. Although most are screened for hip and elbow dysplasia through radiographic scoring, there is not an increased incidence of these joint problems in the breed. Those conditions that are recognised as an issue are as follows:

  • Cataract – The formation of opaque bodies in the lens of the eye, seen in some Lapphunds at a relatively young age. This is suspected to be a hereditary disorder, with many affected individuals already having been used for breeding before signs appear. If severe, these cataracts can cause visual impairment.
  • Glycogen storage disease – A rare condition in which excessive deposits of carbohydrate build up in various tissues within the body. Genetically afflicted dogs begin to show a range of neurological or muscular signs from adolescence. The condition is progressive and terminal.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy – Common cause of blindness, seen in many breeds. A genetic test is now available that detects many carriers of the condition, and this should be applied to all Lapphunds being considered for breeding.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Lapphund is a great companion for anyone that lives an outdoor, active lifestyle, as it is tireless, enthusiastic, and impervious to cold, though it does need to be protected from overheating in warm weather. For centuries, it was used for round-the-clock herding, and it will happily spend hours exercising with an owner who enjoys hiking, cycling, or running. Without a minimum of an hour of vigorous activity every day, this is a breed that has the potential to become very restless, noisy, and destructive.

Grooming

Finnish Lapphunds have extremely heavy coats, but are not difficult to groom. The nature of the coarse hair is such that it is resistant to knotting, so a single weekly brushing session should be more than enough to keep most Lapphunds looking their best. Likewise, the coat is slow to become dirty or smelly, and should rarely be washed, as it can take several days to fully dry. The downside to all of this is that the Finnish Lapphund sheds heavily year-round, especially if it spends time indoors. This may be hard for a house-proud owner to live with. The hard-wearing nails need to be clipped every few weeks, and Lapphund pups should be introduced to daily tooth brushing as early as possible to ensure a good dental hygiene routine can be established for life.

Famous Finnish Lapphunds

Despite its good looks, charming personality, and undeniable charisma, the Finnish Lapphund hasn’t yet hit the big time, and has neither become famous in its own right nor found itself owned by any human celebrities.

Cross-Breeds

Although the Finnish Lapphund is such a common breed in its homeland that it is almost certainly used for cross-breeding, Lapphund hybrids are not commonly seen in the rest of the world.

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