THE WEST SIBERIAN LAIKA
Light built and fast Laikas of Voguls (Mansi people) have been well known to Russian hunters. Ancient Russian princes used big long-legged Laikas before invasion of Tataro-Mongols. Similar dogs have been used by native peoples and Russians of Ural and West Siberia long before they became registered as purebreds under the name the West Siberian Laika.
The West Siberian Laika was established by selective sampling of aboriginal dogs of Mansi (Voguls) and Hanty (Ostyak). Dogs of Mansi and Hanty attracted Russian hunters, because of their exceptional hunting ability, size, strength, endurance and extraordinary beauty. In 1920 to 1930, hunters of Sverdlovsk (Ekaterinburg), Moscow and some other cities raised dogs brought from North Ural and the Ob River basin. They bred them pure to the type and avoided crossings with Laikas of Karelian, Zyryan and other types. In the beginning, two groups of the West Siberian Laika were formed. The first group originated from a male named Grozny in Sverdlovsk. Grozny was born in 1930. He sired many outstanding dogs that were transferred to individual hunters and Government owned kennels. The Sverdlovsk group of purebred West Siberian Laikas remained very important before and after World War II. The second group of purebred West Siberian Laikas originated in period from 1920 to 1930, in Moscow. A Hanty type Laika male named Mishka was born in 1924 from dogs of Obdorsk. Other important dogs of West Siberian Laikas of Moscow were males Ulf and Ural, female Damka and some other dogs. By 1944, in Moscow, there were many excellent West Siberian Laikas, among which most outstanding dogs belonged to I. I. Vakhrushev. Dogs of his breeding became important in the formation of the breed in the entire Russia. Lines of his dogs can be traced in pedigrees of many West Siberian Laikas. From time to time new typical looking dogs without pedigrees were brought from remote provinces and used for breeding. In 40th and 50th, Government’s kennels played a very important role in the establishing of the West Siberian Laika as a purebred. Other groups of purebred West Siberian Laikas had been formed in Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod), Perm and Novosibirsk. During this period, E. I. Shereshevsky obtained most important dogs and used them for breeding. He was a leader of a team working in the Government’s Kennel of All-Union Research Institute for Hunting Industry. In 1944, a bitch named Panda and a dog named Borka were brought from Khanty-Mansi National Province. These dogs were not related to each other, but had a typical conformation of aboriginal West Siberian Laikas. They produced several puppies, which grew outstanding hunting dogs. Among them, Champion-Ayan was selected as the best. This male was highly rated and both field trials and dog shows in 1953 and 1954. Tayozhny was another not related male, which was bred with Panda. Champion-Ayan was mated with several not related to each other bitches and produced over 60 high quality puppies. Total number of puppies of the West Siberian Laika raised in this Kennel was about 400, including the first, the second, the third and the forth generations. Majority of these puppies was distributed among individual hunters of different provinces of Russia to create more sources of quality West Siberian Laikas. Shereshevsky describes his West Siberian Laikas as follows: “Body structure is strong; temperament is well-balanced, but live and alert; height at the shoulder 55-60 cm (22-24 inches); coat is well developed with thick undercoat. Body is well developed with deep and long chest. Head is very typical of the breed. Coat color is predominately gray with white, pure white and with spots. Appearance of dogs of the Borka-Panda strain of the West Siberian Laika is characterized by so-called “zverovatost” [a wolf-like look], a peculiar primitive similarity to wild ancestors that is characteristic of Laikas in general. The hunting reflex is strongly developed. Dogs are inclined to work on capercaillie and big game. Average four-five puppies per litter characterize fertility of bitches of this group. Majority of them comes in heat one time per year.” The West Siberian Laika includes both types the Mansi Laika and the Hanty Laika. There are West Siberian Laikas with a narrow elongate head, long muzzle and racy built and there are West Siberian Laikas with a shorter muzzle, broad occipital part of the head and compact and sturdy body. Using both types helps to maintain a healthy genetic diversity within the breed. The question is how one breed standard can support two slightly different types in one breed? It was possible, because choice of dogs for the breeding was based on their diligently tested hunting capabilities as well as on the conformation. Breeding stock dogs were scattered among small individual breeders and no one champion could sire too many puppies. Despite certain variations within the breed, the wild type of the West Siberian Laika is naturally constant, because majority of “wild” traits are dominant. From the very beginning, the breeding stock of the West Siberian Laika was based on many unrelated dogs with remarkably similar appearance and the breed rapidly consolidated as a breed with well recognizable most “wild” type of the hunting Laika of Russia.
By 1960, the West Siberian Laika became among most popular hunting dogs in the former Soviet Union. This breed attracted many dog lovers not only by its excellence as a hunting dog, but also because of its well balanced temperament and undistorted wild beauty. Russian hunting Laika experts preferred bigger dogs, because they intended the breed to be used under harsh conditions and difficult terrain of wild taiga forests. This resulted in increase of the size, some dogs were about 62-63 cm (about 25 inches) at the shoulder and some males were up to 68 cm (27 inches) at the shoulder. Too big dogs are often loose the agility necessary to outmaneuver wild animals, such as boar, moose or bear during the hunting. Although the breed was returned to a smaller size, it remains bigger than aboriginal dogs of Mansi and Hanty peoples. Besides, some Russian Laika lovers, who did not care about hunting abilities of their dogs, had some success at dog shows. However, this trend was stopped, when a new rule requiring all dogs to be rated at officially organized field trials was introduced. Only satisfactory rated dogs were accepted for registration with the permission to be used for breeding.
When the West Siberian Laika became established as a purebred, both Mansi Laika and Hanty Laika were used. Both have same size, hunting habits and coat color variation, but with a few slight differences. Males are 19-20 inches at the shoulder and females are 18-19 inches at the shoulder. Both Laikas have slightly elongate, nearly square body. The Mansi Laika is lighter built, with narrower chest and longer legs. The head is more elongate with a longer muzzle and ears are longer. The Hanty Laika is stockier built and slightly rangy. Its head is broader and themuzzle is slightly shorter. Ears are small and set further apart. The ruff of longer hair around the face, on the neck and shoulders is stronger developed than in the Mansi Laika.
Another similar looking Laika is the Uralian Laika. This dog has intermediate traits between Laikas of Mansi, Hanty and Zyryan. The Uralian Laika was also used in the development of the modern West Siberian Laika and by present time, it does not exist any more.
Coat of the West Siberian Laika is a double coat of harsh straight guard hairs and thick and soft undercoat. Guard hairs on the neck, around the head and shoulders are particularly long and stiff and together with very thick undercoat form a ruff framing the dog’s face. On the tail, the guard hairs and undercoat is also longer and thicker than on the rest of the body. In wintertime, in dogs living in countries with a cold climate, hairs are growing between toes. Although coat quality varies individually, dogs raised in countries with cold climate have a longer and thicker coat than dogs that live in warm and hot climate or kept most of the time inside.
Most common coat colors are wolf gray, red and pale red, black and white. Gray coat can be of various shades from almost white to very dark gray. The gray can be mixed with red producing brownish red color. Sable coats combining black and white or brown with red dogs is also common. Either coat color with white patches in different proportions is frequent among aboriginal dogs and is allowed by the breed standard. Pale red and white dogs may have brown noses.
Majority of females of the West Siberian Laika has one estrus per year, usually in February-March. Some females have their first estrus not fixed by a certain season. The first estrus can be at age of one to two and a half years. Russian experts do not recommend breeding Laikas until they are at least two years old. Number of puppies per litter varies from one to nine, but litters of three to seven puppies are most frequent. Females of the West Siberian Laika are godmothers and, if conditions permit, dig their own whelping dens and give birth to puppies and raise them without any assistance as soon as the food is available.
Attitude to humans
The West Siberian Laika is a very affectionate and devoted to the master dog. Majority of them barks at strangers approaching the house. The attitude to unfamiliar people varies individually and depending on the situation. Some dogs first bark and then wag their tails greeting the guest and allow to be petted. Many West Siberian Laikas are aloof with strange people, avoid hands and watch him suspiciously. Some dogs become protective over the master, his family and their property. There are many West Siberian Laikas accepting a new owner with difficulty and need time to adjust to a new place.
Attitude to other dogs
West Siberian Laikas start fighting each other when they are very little puppies playing with each other. By age of eight weeks, dominance hierarchy among littermates is still not quite established, but fights become less frequent. A fight may erupt at any time, because some pups challenge a dominant one. During adult life of dogs, younger dogs, especially males, would challenge older males and try to resolve their problems by fighting. Generally, dogs belonging to one household and raised together since puppy age live in peace with each other. However, relationships among males introduced to each other as adults may remain tense for their lifetime.
There are many reasons for a fight among dogs, but the West Siberian Laika does not fight just for fun or killing another dog. These dogs always fight, because of a certain reason. For example, defending their territory against the intruder dog of the same and sometimes even opposite sex. A young dog aggressively defending their own home territory would be reluctant to come up too close to another house where other older dogs live. However, frequently visited with the master places far away from home may become also protected like his or her own. Fights among dogs of the same household may take place over a favorite toy, unfinished food, female in heat etc. The West Siberian Laika is a good fighter, but it is a poor pit fighting dog, because it does not have desire of killing another dog, but only to establish the dominance or defend something important to the dog.
Attitude to domesticated and wild animals
West Siberian Laikas belonging to Mansi and Hanty often live in a close company of reindeer herds and they do not kill or attack them. In Russian villages and small towns, Laikas are well educated to ignore farm animals, such as cows, calves, pigs, goats and sheep. Small animals, such as cats, rabbits and poultry are most tempting. Laikas learn to leave alone cats living in the same household and ignore poultry. Rabbits seem irresistible to them and must be kept in sturdy enclosures. West Siberian Laikas learn to stay away from killing chickens, but even most reliable dogs may change to worse in a new place. With small animals, the training to inhibit attempts to kill works, but good results obtained in one situation should never be taken for granted in a new situation.
The West Siberian is very inquisitive to animals, wild game or not, and all dogs have a strong hunting desire. My own observations on the West Siberian Laika disprove a common view that a hunting dog tends to kill all kinds of animals. Hunting behavior of the West Siberian Laika is game specific and it serves rather to satisfy needs of a hunter than desire of the dog to get a quick meal.
The West Siberian Laika is primarily a hunting dog. Everyone who decides on a puppy of this breed should expect a full package of traits of a typical hunting Spitz. It is an emotional dog, very observant to habits of its master, his mood and often can foresee his intentions. It does not hesitate to express its strong feelings by barking and other noises. The West Siberian Laika likes and needs freedom for physical activity and he also needs to be closer to the master and his family. Some dogs enjoy quiet hours just laying nearby and watching the surrounding. During this time, the dog is alert and guarding. If a West Siberian Laika is used for hunting, it is a great potential to be happy dog, but its happiness is never complete, if it is not a favorite family dog. The West Siberian Laika is a poor kennel dog. If the dog is left alone locked up in a small backyard or in a pen, some dogs develop a habit to bark seemingly without a purpose. Permanently penned or fenced West Siberian Laikas attempt to dig under the fence or climb over it. Some dogs not trained to stay penned try to bite wires damaging their teeth. Once freed or turned loose such a dog will be hard to control. It will run too far, chase other animals and likely get into trouble. West Siberian Laikas kept well exercised, busy with hunting and contacts with other dogs, animals and people are content, obedient and never bark without a reason. Therefore, to make a happy dog and its owner, the right conditions of the environment for hunting plus time dedicated to the dog must be met.
All West Siberian Laikas are naturally protective against wild animals; especially predators and some dogs are protective against unfamiliar people acting suspiciously or violently.
A West Siberian Laika will make a good companion dog for a hiking trip. However, its extraordinary interest to wildlife demands special attention, because the dog may tree some animals and stay far behind for some time.
Mansi, Hanty and Russians use the same dogs for hunting and as alarm dogs. Some West Siberian Laikas work well driving reindeer herds. During any activity or training, hunting overrules everything else. Mansi never minds abandon his reindeer for a while, if his Laika finds a valuable game. Mansi and Hanty use reindeer and in some cases horse as a draft animal. A good hunting dog is never used to pull sleds. It would be like using a valuable sword to chop firewood. If needed, for sledding they use another kind sturdy built and bigger Laikas called sled Laikas. This is practiced mainly in polar tundra where reindeer has nothing to eat.
*Health: Aboriginal Laikas of Ural and West Siberia are among healthiest dogs in the world. There are no serious hereditary health problems are known among them. However, minor abnormalities typical of all pariah type dogs occur among West Siberian Laikas. These are the umbilical hernia and monorchidism occasionally seen among puppies.
*Preservation: In most remote from cities parts of North Ural and central and northern parts of West Siberia Laikas still live free life like in happy old times. Even there, identity of native Laikas become threatened with advance of industrial and urban development, because of importation of “civilized” breeds. Some hunters living in remote taiga regions should buy a registered purebred West Siberian Laika from breeders living in or near cities. At present, the West Siberian Laika is among most popular hunting dogs in Russia. The breed is present in all republics of the former Soviet Union, where total number of these dogs reached about 20,000. Majority of West Siberian Laikas belongs to hunters and hunters are their breeders. Despite wild beauty of the West Siberian Laika, luckily to the breed, it is not popular among dog show public of Russia. Like all Laika breeds, this dog looks too plain and it does not serve well as a status symbol or a sign of a well-to-do family. Puppies are sold cheap among hunters, but an adult dog proven well at hunting maybe sold at a high price to another hunter.
In 1960-1970, Russian diplomats and Russian Government officials occasionally imported West Siberian Laikas to the USA. These dogs lived their life as pets and have never been bred. In 1992, I imported a female named Shelma and a male named Alex and these dogs produced first litters in the USA. In 1995, I imported another male named Roketop-Chekhov. In 1996, I imported a female Polly and a male Vern. These five dogs formed the first breeding stock West Siberian Laikas in the USA. In the beginning, I registered them with the Federation of International Canines (FIC) and then with United Kennel Club (UKC). By present, total number of West Siberian Laikas in the USA and Canada is about 100 dogs. Majority of these dogs belongs to hunters and I hope that the breed will stay in this country because of its outstanding hunting qualities.