Samoyed

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

Best known for its distinctive smile, the Samoyed is a medium to large breed of herding dog that originated in Northern Siberia, probably thousands of years ago, to help the Samoyedic nomads of the region survive their harsh environment. Although it has been used as a working dog in various guises for most of its history, its cheerful and good-natured disposition means that it makes a great pet, affectionate and gentle with children, while retaining the energy and hardiness of a typical pastoral breed. Its temperament means it does not make a good guard dog, as it is likely to welcome, rather than rebuff, strangers.

The Samoyed’s spectacularly thick and abundant coat requires a lot of work, and owners should expect to have to vacuum regularly, especially in the springtime, when the dog sheds especially heavily. This is in addition to the daily brushing and regular bathing that are required to maintain the glossy and fluffy appearance. The breed is also highly energetic, having been bred for long treks in Arctic conditions, and needs at least two hours of walking per day, although this may be reduced if it is mixed with other activities, such as cart pulling or agility. Most individuals enjoy good health, although there are several medical conditions of note that occur, particularly diabetes mellitus, to which the breed is especially prone. The average life expectancy for a Samoyed is around 12–13 years.

About & History

The Samoyed is a basal breed, predating the development of most of the modern breeds with which we are familiar. It is a member of the Spitz family, and may share common ancestry with the Alaskan Malamute and Siberian Husky. These dogs were vital to the survival of the Nenet Samoyedic people of Northern Siberia, being tough enough to survive the local climate, while capable of working in a variety of roles. These included hunting and hauling cargo, as well as helping to herd the reindeer that these people farmed.

While some historians believe the Samoyed was also used as a food source, this seems to have occurred only rarely, and out of dire necessity, as the breed lived as a companion with its owners, and was valued as a source of warmth, being allowed to sleep among its human family. The thick double coat was, however, used for clothing, and even today certain enthusiasts believe wool spun from Samoyed hair to provide superior insulation to other wools.

The breed was used by many of the Arctic expeditions of the nineteenth century, being favoured by Ernest Shackleton and Fridtjof Nansen for their explorations, and suffering terrible hardship and loss of life along with their handlers. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Samoyed was gaining in popularity in the West, with aristocratic patrons including the Duke of Abruzzi and Queen Alexandra contributing to the refinement of the breed. Such a following ensured that the breed was quickly recognised by the Kennel Club in 1909, and today it ranks as the 65th most popular pedigree dog with the American Kennel Club.

Appearance

Samoyed Large Photo

"Cheerful" is the first word to come to mind when describing the appearance of the Samoyed, as it is best known for its habitual smile, with upturned corners of its mouth conveying its happy-go-lucky attitude to life. The breed has a strong, wedge-shaped head, flat between the ears, without an obvious stop before the broad muzzle. The nose, lips and eyelids should all be an unbroken black colour, and the teeth must meet in a clean scissor bite. The ears are small, triangular, and held erect. The dog’s eyes are almond shaped, set at an angle, and usually dark brown in colour. They are small in relation to the rest of the facial features, and usually somewhat recessed.

Though it may be disguised by the extremely thick coat, the Samoyed has the body of an athlete with a strong neck and back, and a well-sprung ribcage. The abdomen lacks a noticeable tuck. The breed is not long-limbed, but has very strong bone structure and unusually broad and flat paws, which have often been likened to snow shoes. The feet also have thick hair growth between the digits that prevents the build-up of snow and ice when walking over frozen terrain. Being a Spitz breed, the tail is set high, curled over the back, and held to one side, and is well-plumed with hair.

The coat is usually white in colour, although some cream or biscuit markings are allowed, and the outer primary hairs have silver tips, which are only noticeable on very close inspection. The outer coat is straight and medium-length, and sits out from the body, giving a ruffed appearance, while the undercoat is extremely dense and soft, and provides excellent insulation.

Male Samoyeds stand an average of 51–56 cm (20–22 in) tall at the withers, while females are 46–51 cm (18–20 in) in height. Weights vary in proportion to height, but average 28–38 kg (62–84 lb).

Character & Temperament

The breed’s happy disposition is its defining trait; it approaches strangers and family alike with good humour. It is a naturally gentle and affectionate dog, and enjoys the company of children, with whom it is usually very patient. It thrives on human contact, and will quickly become frustrated if expected to amuse itself for long periods of time.

Despite the thick coat and heavy shedding that comes with it, a Samoyed truly belongs indoors with its family. Samoyeds are extremely talkative with their yips, whines and barks forming the basis for a near-constant conversation. This is an energetic and watchful breed that will be alert to any sounds or movements outside, and with its tendency to bark, it can make a good watch dog, though it lacks the aggression to make it a true deterrent to determined intruders.

Trainability

Photo of Samoyed puppy

Samoyed puppies can be a little slow to housetrain, and so crate training can be very helpful. Providing a secure space within a large dog carrier or cage in the home gives the pup a place to call his own, somewhere to retreat for a rest, and an area to keep clean at night, thus accelerating the training process. As adults, they tend to be easily distracted, making training somewhat challenging, though they take very well to activities that tap into their instincts to herd or haul sleds. Even a well-trained Samoyed is unlikely to have very good recall, being more likely to pursue wildlife or follow a scent than to return on command, and so few can be trusted to exercise off-lead.

As for any dog, socialisation forms an important part of their training requirements, although sociability is something that should come naturally to most. Enrolling in puppy classes is a great way to introduce a young dog to other dogs and people on neutral ground, and can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of good behaviour. Because excessive vocalisation can be considered a nuisance in some adult Samoyeds, teaching pups to bark and “cease” on command can be useful in providing some level of control over this.

Health

As with any pedigree dog breed, the Samoyed is affected by a number of genetic and congenital problems. Although most dogs will not be affected, it is always wise when choosing a Samoyed puppy to pick one from a reputable breeder who can furnish certificates of health for both parents and pups.

  • Alopecia X – This cause of hair loss is more common in the Samoyed than in most other breeds. It is the result of the production of excess levels of sex hormones by the adrenal glands – two tiny structures located in front of the kidneys. Other symptoms are usually absent, and diagnosis relies on a combination of blood tests to rule out other hormonal imbalances, and often skin biopsies. Depending on the nature of the hormone disorder, it may be amenable to treatment with drugs used for other adrenal conditions.
  • Atrial Septal Defect – Though uncommon, pups may be born with an abnormal connection between the right and left atria of the heart, resulting in a so-called “hole in the heart”. This should be detected at an early age on veterinary examination, and is one of the conditions which pups should be certified free from.
  • Diabetes Mellitus – Far more common in this breed than most, diabetes is the result of inadequate levels of insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas in response to eating. This impaired secretion of insulin causes blood glucose levels to soar, while the body becomes unable to absorb this nutrient. Typical signs in middle-aged dogs include rapid weight loss, increased thirst, and urinary infections. Treatment involves regulating the dog’s diet, as well as regular administration of insulin injections.
  • Glaucoma – This is a major cause of blindness in older dogs, and is usually caused by impaired drainage of fluid produced within the eye. This leads to an increase in intraocular pressure, pain, and damage to the light-sensing tissues of the retina. Medical treatments are available, though these rarely preserve sight, and removal of the affected eye is often the most humane approach.
  • Haemolytic Anaemia – Due to an autoimmune process targeting red blood cells and leading to a dramatic loss of oxygen carrying capacity. Most often seen in young adult dogs, and can be the result of some immune trigger (e.g. severe bacterial infection); however, most cases have no discernible cause.
  • Haemophilia A – An inherited blood clotting disorder that may be carried by females, but is usually only clinically manifested in male dogs. Clinical signs relate to excess bleeding after relatively minor injuries.
  • Hip Dysplasia – A common cause of hind limb lameness in growing Samoyeds, and something for which all breeding animals should be screened. Incongruity in one or both hip joints develops between 5 and 14 months of age as a combination of genetic, nutritional, and environmental factors. Rapidly growing pups should be fed a good quality diet and not exercised excessively in order to minimise the chances of this problem developing.
  • Hypothyroidism – This is another condition caused by an imbalance in hormone levels – in this case a lack of thyroid hormone. The most common signs of hypothyroidism include lethargy, weight gain, and hair loss, which must be distinguished from Alopecia X, discussed above.
  • Pulmonic Stenosis – Narrowing of the large pulmonary artery where it exits the right side of the heart on its way to supplying the lungs with blood. This causes increased pressure within the heart, which may lead to overt signs of heart disease, including fluid retention, coughing and weakness. May be treated with intra-arterial balloon dilatation by a specialist cardiologist.
  • Samoyed Hereditary Glomerulopathy – Inherited disorder of the kidneys, in which males are much more severely affected than females, and rarely survive beyond one year of age.
  • Sulphonamide Sensitivity – The sulphonamides are a family of commonly used antibiotic drugs. Reactions to these drugs are common, and Samoyeds are one of the breeds most often affected. The nature of the reaction can vary, but may include skin eruptions, the development of dry eye and haemolytic anaemia.
  • von Willebrand’s Disease – A congenital disorder of platelets, tiny white blood cells involved in normal clotting functions. Signs are similar to those of haemophilia A, involving heavy bleeding after minor trauma.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Samoyeds have been developed over centuries for physically demanding work: it is only in relatively recent times that they have lived as pets. They therefore require a lot of exercise to satisfy their natural drives and prospective owners should allow at least two hours per day for walking or jogging with their dog. They also enjoy performing a job and will carry groceries in a doggy backpack or pull a cart as part of their daily routine. They should also be given access to a secure garden, as they do best when allowed a territory to patrol.

Grooming

It should not surprise anyone to learn that the thick, abundant coat demands a lot of care. Samoyeds should be brushed daily, particularly when going through a period of heavy moulting, and need bathing approximately every six weeks under normal circumstances. Without this routine care, the hair can become densely matted, which may necessitate a full-body shave, something that is likely to be very traumatic for the dog.

Famous Samoyeds

Some of the most famous Samoyeds throughout history have been those involved in Polar exploration

  • Kaifas and Suggen were the lead dogs in Fridtjof Nansen’s expedition.
  • Antarctic Buck was believed to be the first Samoyed introduced to the UK.

Cross-Breeds

Who could resist a fluffy Samoyed cross puppy? The following are the two most common mixes:

  • Golden Sammy – Cross between a Samoyed and Golden Retriever
  • Sammypoo – Cross between a Samoyed and Poodle

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