Norrbottenspets

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
 
Photo of adult Norrbottenspets

The Norrbottenspets (also known as the Norrbottenspitz or Nordic Spitz) is a medium-sized dog, whose origins date back to the 17th century. He is one of a multitude of delightful dogs unjustly overlooked by pet owners in the past, leading to depleted numbers and a risk of the breed dying out. However, the charm, energy, and loyalty of this fun dog have led to recent resurgence in popularity and numbers.

The Norrbottenspets is a dog from the Spitz family, which is evident in his physical appearance and that trademark curly tail. Originally a hunting dog, what the Norrbottenspets lacks in size he makes up for in energy. Despite his working origins, this breed is considered gentle with children and credited with getting on well with other pets. However, if he has a fault, it’s a noisy one – barking. The Norrbottenspets loves the sound of his own voice and will bark at the slightest provocation.

About & History

Officially the Norrbottenspets comes from Sweden; however, this is hotly debated by the Norwegians. The latter argue that the earliest ancestors of the Norrbottenspets came from Norway and therefore they should claim the breed.

However, the counter argument by the Swedes is that in the 17th century the Norwegians rejected white blotched dogs similar to the Norrbottenspets because of their markings. The Swedes then adopted these ‘rejects’ to develop the Nordic Spitz. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the argument, it is clear the breed has a long history.

Working as an enthusiastic hunting dog, the Norrbottenspets was mainly owned by people in the rural community. With modernisation and the rise of city living, the need for a hunting dog reduced and numbers of Norrbottenspets dwindled. The breeds lowest point was in the 1940s and 50s when so few pups were being registered that the Swedish Kennel Club closed the stud book to Norrbottenspets.

But somehow, sufficient dogs of this type survived through to the 1960s when a concerted effort by breeders led to the reestablishment of the breed under a new standard. In the present day, around 100 Norrbottenspets pups are registered each year in Sweden.

Appearance

Norrbottenspets Large Photo
Klorinth / Wikipedia.org

The Norrbottenspets is a Spitz-type dog and has their characteristic foxy face, prick ears, and, of course, that bushy, curly tail that rests on his rump. He is a small but well-muscled dog, made for endurance as a result of his working heritage.

His head has a fox-like muzzle, prick eyes, black nose, and a pair of brown, almond-shaped eyes. He is of medium size, weighing in at an average of 10-15 kg, with a short dense, double coat. Indeed, his coat despite its thickness should lie flat along the body, with fur that stands away from the body being considered a major fault. That aside, he’s expected to have slightly longer fur around the neck to form a ruff, along with feathered ‘trousers’ and a bushy tail.

The Norrbottenspets is mainly a white dog with red patches, which form a mask over the sides of the face and the ears. The overall impression being of an alert, intelligent little dog that could hold his own in cold weather.

Character & Temperament

The Norrbottenspets has an enviable reputation for being a working dog that can be trusted to be gentle with children and other pets. Given that many other working breeds tend to be highly protective or easily given to aggression, this is both an unusual and welcome trait. However, as with all dogs, this good nature depends on being well socialised as a puppy and treated with respect as an adult.

This tolerance of children makes him a good family dog, but his character plaudits don’t end there. He’s a dog that dislikes being alone and loves the company of people. He’s at his happiest when included as part of a family group, and kept pleasantly tired from plenty of exercise and play. The Norrbottenspets can even get on with other pets, provided he was introduced to them as a youngster and grew up in their presence.

His general character is considered ‘easy going’, which means he’s not a dog given to extremes of anxiety or bossiness. Instead, he longs to be treated fairly, encouraged with reward-based training, and allowed to be his loving, loyal self. That said, he can be an independent thinking soul (it goes back to his hunting days) and a tad on the wilful side with regards to training.

Oh, yes, and his one fault is barking. When bored, a Norrbottenspets thoughts turn to telling everyone how unhappy he is. Either that, or he’ll stand watch over the street and bark at every passer-by, bird, and dust mote that crosses his field of view.

Trainability

Sometimes independence is a good thing. This is true of many working dogs where they need to make instant decisions without their owner right by their side. This side of the Norrbottenspets heritage means he can be a little too free-thinking for modern standards, and can be challenging to train.

This doesn’t mean he’s downright naughty, but more that he has his own idea of what works and what doesn’t. The prospective pet parent to a Norrbottenspets needs to be aware of this and prepared to put in the effort to train using reward-based methods, with patience and commitment.

Health

The Norrbottenspets is considered a healthy breed with relatively few genetic health disorders associated with the name. However, as the numbers start to recover, ongoing genetic screening is starting to pinpoint upcoming problems, such as Progressive Cerebellar Ataxia.

Progressive Early-Onset Cerebellar Ataxia

Forward thinking by responsible breeders has led to close monitoring of this resurgent breed’s health. It has become evident that small numbers of the breed are prone to a genetic condition affecting the brain that leads to poor coordination.

Affected dogs have difficult co-ordinating their limbs and may stagger around as if drunk. There is no known treatment, and dogs can deteriorate to the point where they are not able to feed themselves or take themselves out to toilet.

Breeders who have the long term best interests of the Norrbottenspets at heart are now screening the parent dogs’ DNA ahead of breeding, in order to nip this condition in the bud.

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

Healthy joints are shaped so that there’s minimum rubbing or friction between bone ends. A dog with hip or elbow dysplasia has poorly shaped joints that aren’t able to move freely, which causes inflammation, leading to pain and lameness.

Over time, the long term inflammation encourages the development of early arthritis, which can be extremely debilitating, and is especially distressing when the dog is still young. Whilst mild cases can be managed with pain relieving medication, the more serious cases may need reconstructive surgery, such as hip or elbow replacements.

In an ideal world, the parents would be screened prior to breeding, and only those breeding stock with healthy joints used to take the breed forward to the next generation.

Exercise and Activity Levels

An energetic fellow, the Norrbottenspets will be unhappy with the life of a couch potato. He needs regular daily exercise, preferably off lead running free and burning energy in a game of fetch or chase. Be warned, a Norrbottenspets who isn’t given an adequate outlet for exercise is going to create his own entertainment, which could be chewing, digging, barking, or generally being disruptive or having destructive behaviour.

The Norrbottenspets also likes an outlet for his mental energy, so consider using puzzle feeders to amuse him, offering plenty of opportunity for play, and challenges, such as obedience training. Indeed, the perfect occupation for a pet Norrbottenspets is a group activity, such as agility, where he gets to showcase his awesome powers of reasoning and his athleticism.

Grooming

That short, double coat requires nothing by way of professional dog grooming attention. A regular weekly brush with a slicker or pin brush will capture his shed hair and help keep the coat tangle free. The exception being twice a year (in the spring and autumn) when he undergoes a full moult. This is a very heavy shed when it will pay you to up the frequency of brushing to daily (and groom him outdoors to minimise the hair drifts indoors.)

Other attention from which he’ll benefit includes daily tooth brushing, keeping a check on the length of his claws, and trimming the fur between his toes should it grow too long. He doesn’t even need regular bathing, unless that is, he rolls in something unmentionable and smells offensively bad.

Famous Norrbottenspets

For all things Norrbottenspets, check out Pinterest and, for a special club for ‘barking bird dogs’, such as the Norrbottenspets, visit ssf-riks.se

Cross-Breeds

The Norrbottenspets is one of a select number of breeds where efforts are concentrated on keeping the bloodlines pure, rather than outcrossing. The main focus is on increasing existing numbers of the breed, after levels fell dangerously low in the 1950s and 60s.

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