West Siberian Laika

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult West Siberian Laika

The West Siberian Laika is a Spitz breed native to Russia that naturally developed over many hundreds of years to meet the needs of the local tribes. Used for hunting a variety of prey, such as sables and squirrels, even today they are best suited to a working lifestyle.

Medium in size, the muscular West Siberian Laika closely resembles their ancestor, the wolf, though can be distinguished easily by the bushy tail that curves over their back. This dog tends to form strong bonds with its family but is often suspicious of strangers and can take a long time to warm up to any new additions to the household. While fights are known to occur between male dogs, they can get along well with animals that they have been housed with since young.

About & History

There are a handful of ‘Laika’ breeds described by the FCI: The Russian European Laika, the East Siberian Laika and, the most popular, the West Siberian Laika. The Karelo-Finish Laika is often grouped with the aforementioned dogs, though is not recognised by the FCI as of yet. Laika dogs are all Spitz type dogs from Russia that have been traditionally used to hunt. The Russian word Laika derives from the word to bark – the means by which the Laika dogs announce they have found an animal on a hunt. Many westerners recognise the word Laika as the name of the first dog in space, however, the ‘astronaut’ Laika was, in fact, a crossbreed.

The first standard describing the breed dates back to the early 20th century, but there is no doubt whatsoever that the West Siberian Laika has been in existence for far more than a hundred years. Given their appearance, it will come as no surprise that they are closely related to the wolf. A truly ancient dog, they have been worked alongside human hunters for many centuries. Each ethnic group within the vast expanse of land that is Russia would have had a type of Laika dog, though these would have been landrace breeds – not bred for a specific aesthetic purpose.

The West Siberian Laika is best known for hunting the sable, a small Russian carnivore with valuable fur. However, it can also be trained to hunt a variety of animals, including larger prey, such as boars and bears. It was not until after the Second World War that people began to classify the various Laika dogs into the groups that we recognise today. Few international exports of the breed have been made, and there are estimated to be only around 100 West Siberian Laika dogs within the USA and Canada. The breed is recognised by the UKC within their Northern Breed group.

Appearance

West Siberian Laika Large Photo

The West Siberian Laika differs from the East Siberian Laika by being lighter and of a narrower build. Typically, females will measure between 50cm and 58cm at the withers, while males will reach heights of 56 to 61cm. A mature dog will weigh between 18 and 27kg.

Their wolf-like head is wedge-shaped with a long and narrow muzzle. Their brown eyes are noticeably deep-set, and their ears must stand erect on top of their head, though ear size itself is variable. Their muscular limbs support a lean body that should be longer than it is tall. While tail carriage can vary from individual to individual, the tail should be covered with thick fur and curved over the back in the typical Spitz fashion. This distinctive tail carriage is an easy way for someone to distinguish a grey West Siberian Laika from a grey wolf, when they are seen approaching from a distance.

Their plush double coat keeps them warm in the winter, the soft and dense undercoat allowing them to tolerate low temperatures when outside for hours on end. Their fur tends to be grey, with shades ranging from white to black, though red varieties of the West Siberian Laika also exist.

Character & Temperament

A working dog by nature, an inexperienced owner seeking a house pet should probably opt for a different breed. While often affectionate and loyal towards those they trust, the West Siberian Laika is known for being very protective of their people and their property. Most breed members will warn away intruders with their barking, but there is the potential for aggression towards humans and animals if their warning barks are not heeded.

Dog on dog aggression can become a real issue, particularly if a new male dog is added to the pack and the pack members feel the need to change the ‘pecking order’. Animals that have been raised together should have few issues getting along.

A West Siberian Laika kept in a garden without an outlet for their abundant energy, or a means by which to express their natural behaviour, is a recipe for disaster. They will often be hyper and unruly, digging and barking incessantly in an attempt to curb their frustration. The key to successfully owning a West Siberian Laika is to keep them sufficiently occupied; a task which is most often achieved by hunting with them regularly and providing them with plenty of exercise and other activities to keep their brains engaged on a daily basis.

Trainability

Photo of West Siberian Laika puppy

When training outdoors, if a hunting opportunity arises, the West Siberian Laika will find it very hard to ignore the urge to give chase. Similarly, if this dog does not feel like performing a task or decides that they know a better way of doing it, they will tend to listen to themselves rather than their trainer. This independent streak can make them a challenging breed to train, however, they are an intelligent dog that is keen to please; particularly if treats are involved in the process!

While certainly not the easiest dog in the world to work with, experienced trainers who are consistent and use diverse training methods, can get good results with even the most wilful West Siberian Laika.

Health

Given the lack of inbreeding in their history, and the fact that only the strongest and hardiest of the breed would have survived over time in the harsh Russian climate, the West Siberian Laika dogs are heralded as being some of the healthiest dogs in the world. They tend to live to about 12 to 14 years old and enjoy good health while doing so. Two congenital conditions have been reported in the breed, and due to the fact that they are inherited diseases, affected animals should not be bred from. These conditions include:

Cryptorchidism

This is the technical term for the failure of one or both of the testicles to reach the scrotum. The offending testicle will typically be hiding away in the inguinal canal, or even within the abdomen. This condition is most likely to be picked up at a puppy’s first vaccination and is not something that should cause them any discomfort.

While some may think it best to ‘leave things where nature intended’, it is actually strongly recommended that the undescended testicle is surgically removed, as it is proven to be at a high risk of becoming cancerous during the dog’s lifetime.

Umbilical Hernia

Owners may notice an umbilical hernia in their puppy when they first get it, although, depending on the size of the hernia, they are not always obvious and may require a professional to diagnose them. A hernia occurs when there is a break in the muscle wall, and an umbilical hernia occurs in the region of the belly button.

Defects can range from a small, reducible, pea-sized hernia containing fat to a significantly large hernia that contains organs and is visibly very obvious. Unless the hernia is very small, the treatment of choice is usually surgical correction of the defect.

Exercise and Activity Levels

If at all possible, the West Siberian Laika should be brought along on hikes, jogs and hunting trips, allowing it to burn off energy at any opportunity. Care must be taken when out and about if the dog is allowed off the lead as they have very strong hunting instincts and are likely to chase after any small prey around if given half the chance.

Grooming

The West Siberian Laika is known to shed its fur quite profusely and should be brushed outdoors each day to reduce the amount of shedding within the home.

Famous West Siberian Laikas

Alica is a stunning West Siberian Laika on Instagram that has thousands of followers tuning in to her adventures.

Cross-Breeds

There are no well established West Siberian Laika cross-breed at this moment in time.

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