Lapponian Herder

Catharine Hennessy
Dr Catharine Hennessy (DVM, North Carolina State University)
Photo of adult Lapponian Herder

The Lapponian Herder is a member of the Spitz family and was used originally and exclusively for reindeer herding and as a family companion for the Sami, the indigenous people of Lapland. Lapland is now divided into Finland and Sweden, and while these dogs are rare throughout much of the world, they are common in this region. These herding dogs are intelligent, loyal and can learn and adapt quickly.

Lapponian Herders are highly energetic and possess excellent stamina, although they tend to be docile in the home. They can be reserved towards strangers but will warm up quickly. They are protective of family members and bark readily, and as such, make excellent guard dogs. They require early and consistent training and daily exercise. Their life span is 10 to 14 years.

About & History

Use of dogs by the Sami in Lapland has been documented historically since B.C. times. Originally, dogs were companions for nomadic tribes and were likely similar to the Finnish Lapphund. The Sami maintained a subsistence lifestyle, using wild reindeer to supplement their berry gathering for nutrition and clothing. The dogs were protective of the tribes but did not participate in herding initially. Beginning in the 17th century, the herding of reindeer became central to the Sami lifestyle. This was in response to nation building in the region (Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia). The Sami were included in the tax base for these countries and needed to develop the ability to trade and produce income. Reindeer herding was greatly enhanced by herding dogs, and their use became central to the survival and lifestyle of the Sami people.

The original herding dogs gave rise to several breeds, including the Lapponian Herder, Finnish Lapphund, Swedish Lapphund, and the Norwegian Elkhound. After nearing extinction during World War II, breeders sought to save the Finnish herding dogs during the mid 1900s. The Lapponian Shepherd Dog was recognised by the Finnish Kennel Club in 1945 and included dogs with longer and shorter coats. The Lapponian Herder, regionally known as the Lapinporokoira, was recognised as a distinct, shorter-coated breed in 1966. The Finnish Lapphund, or Lapinkoira, was developed simultaneously as a longer-coated variety. The breed standards were revised and accepted by the FCI (Federation Cynologique Internationale) in 1999. These dogs are recognised by the United Kennel Club under a broader Herding category but are not recognised by the American Kennel Club (AKC). The breed was added to the Herding group of the AKC Foundation Stock Service Program in 2017 to facilitate record-keeping and encourage breed preservation for rare breeds not currently recognised by the AKC.


Lapponian Herder Large Photo
Berzerk from sv /

The Lapponian Herder is a medium-sized dog, slightly longer than the height at the withers. The head is somewhat elongated, with a moderately long, tapered muzzle, slightly shorter than the length of the skull itself. The gentle stop contains a marked furrow. The eyes are oval, set apart, usually dark in colour, and have an intelligent expression. The ears are triangular, pricked and set well apart. The lips are tight and a scissor bite is normal.

Every part of the Lapponian Herder’s body is strong and muscular, starting with the relatively thick neck, leading into a strong and muscular chest, back and loins. The chest is deep and thick, but not wide. The abdomen is only mildly tucked. The tail is full and held level or slightly high, with a slight curl. It is not held over the back like other Spitz-type dogs. The front and rear legs are muscular and straight, allowing for efficient movement. The thighs are strong and thick.

Lapponian Herders are typically 25 kg to 30 kg. Males are heavier and larger than females and are generally much more masculine in appearance. The difference in appearance between males and females should be obvious. Average height for males is 51 cm, while females are typically 46 cm. The dorsal coat colour ranges from black, dark grey or dark brown, with ventral colour and chest lighter. The lighter colour is typically included on the head to varying degrees. The coat is medium length, straight, erect and coarse. The undercoat is dense but finer than the outer coat. The coat is thicker on the neck, chest and thighs. The gait of the Lapponian Herder is strong and effortless. They trot freely and tirelessly, due to their development as herding dogs.

Character & Temperament

Lapponian Herders are very intelligent, due to centuries of selective breeding for herding abilities. They learn quickly and are loyal and eager to please. They are easy to train, with firm, consistent sessions beginning early in life. Despite their level of energy, they are calm and friendly and make excellent family pets. They bark readily and can be dominant towards other dogs. Lapponian Herders are natural guard dogs and will bark in alert, sometimes excessively. Upon initial introduction, these dogs are reserved towards strangers but will warm up quickly when no danger is perceived.

Lapponian Herders need consistent exercise. Without daily, vigorous activity, they can become destructive, or will bark excessively. They are not prone to separation anxiety.


Due to their intelligence and natural history as a herding breed, Lapponian Herders are quick to learn and easy to train. They have excellent recall and are eager to please when performing tasks. They benefit from early socialisation, including introduction to multiple dogs and different people. This will help minimise dominance behaviour towards other dogs and shyness around new people.


Lapponian Herders have a moderate life span of 10 to 14 years of age. Despite originating from an isolated geographic area, these dogs do not suffer from common, breed-related health issues. Even so, a few problems are noted.

Hip Dysplasia

As with all moderate sized dogs, arthritis can develop later in life in Lapponian Herders, specifically as a result of hip dysplasia. The hip joint can develop incorrectly in affected dogs, including a shallow acetabulum and flattened femoral head, leading to excessive joint mobility. This can cause arthritis later in life. Affected individuals should not be bred.

Eye Diseases

Many purebred dogs, such as the Lapponian Herder, are prone to developing ocular diseases, such as the following:


Cataracts can develop later in life in Lapponian Herders and are generally thought to be influenced by genetics. The problem is perpetuated since individuals are bred prior to the development of the condition.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

A genetic disease that leads to blindness and cannot be diagnosed early in the disease course. It has been recognised in Finnish herding dogs, including Lapponian Herders. A genetic screening test is available and breeding individuals should be screened.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Lapponian Herders are active and energetic. As such, they require vigorous, daily activity. Without regular activity, these dogs can get bored and even destructive. Thirty minutes of daily activity, including running and free playtime in a large garden or dog park is critical for their health and well-being. Daily walks are not sufficient exercise for this breed.

Many owners involve their Lapponian Herders in organised activities that engage their minds, as well as provide exercise. Enriching activities for this breed include: agility, flyball, herding events, rally, barn hunts, and even search and rescue. Proper exercise and mental stimulation help Lapponian Herders to be calm and docile family pets.


While Lapponian Herders have a thick, double coat, their grooming needs are minimal. The coat is short enough that mats are generally not a problem. They shed twice a year and brushing during shedding will minimise hair accumulation in the house. During other times of the year, occasional brushing is all that is required to keep the coat in good shape.

The thick, longer fur around the neck and thighs should be checked for briars after spending time outside. Bathing is only needed if outside activities cause dirt accumulation in the coat. The teeth should be brushed at least weekly, and the nails will need to be trimmed monthly or as needed depending upon wear due to activities.

Famous Lapponian Herders

Lapponian Herders were highly regarded by the Sami people that they served. However, none of these intelligent dogs have reached stardom. Due to their trainability, eagerness to please, and docile nature, this breed would make an excellent addition to movie sets in the future.


There are no recognised crossbreeds of Lapponian Herders, although cross-breeding has likely occurred in Scandinavia to preserve the herding ability of these dogs.

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