Herding Reindeer in Finland

The Finnish Lapphund are an arctic spitz herding breed descendant from the harsh Lapland region of northern Finland, Sweden, Norway and Russia.  They were traditionally used as working dogs by Sami farmers in the care of their reindeer herds.

An ancient breed that have been used as working dogs by the Sami people for centuries, they are new as a recognised breed in the dog world, the first breed standard being written in 1945 and only being known by their current name since 1993. They are particularly new to Australia, with the first arriving in 1995.

They are a strikingly beautiful breed, of medium size, with a full coat which comes in a rainbow of colours, the most common being black with tan and/or white markings.  Gentle and intelligent, there is also something quite ancient and magical about them, and all who meet them should expect to be bewitched.


Ceepu, a reindeer herder from the Sami people in Lapland
© Unknown

A Lapponian Herder

A brown and tan Lapponian Herder (Fin Ch Lumiturpa Ceveri) with a Finnish Lapphund in the background
©  M Takanen

Peski Koira

Peski Koira, a Finnish Lapphund from Kennel Peski, credited with much of the early work in establishing the modern breed
© Unknown

Arctic spitz type dogs of the Finnish Lapphund type have been companions and working dogs of the Sami people in the region of Lapland across the north of Finland, Sweden and Norway for hundreds of years, with archeological digs finding skeletal remains of Lapponian Dogs dated from approx 7000 BC.  However they were only recognized as a breed from 1967.

It is thought that as the Sami culture evolved from nomadic hunter/gathers who followed and hunted the reindeer herds for food and clothing, to communities which farmed those same reindeer, the functionality of their working dogs evolved also from hunters to herders.  That history remains in the instinct of the Finnish Lapphund today, with many having strong hunting/searching/tracking skills.

Originally there was only one type of reindeer dog, however these had little uniformity in outward appearance, with working ability being far more important.  Hence there was a range of coat types and colours – with colours tending to be divided by region.

Over time, two general types of dogs appeared:  (1) a dog with a shorter coat and longer body who could trot across long distances and was used for the moving of herds, (2) a shorter bodied, longer coated breed which moved with the tail over its back, more suited for short, fast bursts of work, who tended to live at home with the women and children and be used for guarding and herding the reindeer left at home.

Invasions during World War II, and a distemper epidemic in Finland following the war almost totally wiped out all of these reindeer herding dogs. Several attempt to protect the breed commenced.  The Swedish had started these moves far earlier, selecting only solid black and solid dark brown dogs to develop the Swedish Lapphund.  While it is true that the Finnish and Swedish Lapphunds both descend from the reindeer herders of the Sami people, they have been bred separately as distinct breeds with a number of differences between them.

One of the earlier attempts to protect the breed involved a man-made creation believed to have included blood lines of the Karelian Bear Dogs crossed with the reindeer herders.  This type, the Kukonharjulainen, bore a strong resemblance to a Belgian Shepherd, but was a largely unsuccessful program, unused in many of the breeding programs.

In the 1950s the merging of the different Kennel Clubs in Finland into the Finnish Kennel Association, started the development of a lapponian herding breed. Over time, the differences between the shorter coat herder and the longer coat herder became recognized and a review was conducted in 1967 to separate these into the two breeds – the Lapponian Herder (Lapinporokoira) and the Lapphund (Lapinkoira).

Around about the same time, the Lapphund type started to lose favour with the Sami farmers with the shorter coated Herder being found more suitable for their changes in herding practices and a widespread use of skidoos.  Two early kennels, Peski and Poromiehen are credited with much of the work in the 1970s to establish the breed, purchasing a number of these longer coated dogs from the Sami people to further their breeding programs.

There were further revisions to the standards of these two breeds in 1975, and then in 1993 when the breed name changed to Finnish Lapphund (Suomenlapinkoira).  These revisions have further recognized the differences between the two breeds, which extend to body type and head shape as well as coat type.  There are no Lapponian Herders in Australia, and the breed is not yet recognised here.

One group of enthusiasts have been critical of a perceived increase in “showiness” or generic “spitziness” in type of the Finnish Lapphund breed, and have made some attempts to keep the Lapphund as a trotting breed along similar shape to the Herders.  These Finnish Lapphunds (Paimensukuinen Lapinkoira) came from selective breeding of 29 stem dogs, and while less uniform in type tend to be longer bodied with increased angulation, and sometimes less of a full coat.  There have been attempts to have these classified as a separate breed, but these attempts have been unsuccessful to date, and many of this line are used for out-crossing purposes within the “show lines”.

Both the Finnish Lapphund and the Lapponian Breeder breed registers are still open, allowing for unregistered “natural” dogs direct from Lapland to go through an evaluation process to become registered.  The incidence of this happening for the Finnish Lapphund breed has now reduced considerably.

Fjallfarmens Ummiko "Tarka" & Miavig Brandy NCream "Pennja"

Brown and Tan (Fjällfarmens Ummiko & Miavig Brandy NCream)
© P Francis

Staalon Jaspis

Wolf Sable (Staalon Jaspis)
© M Kultamaa

Fidelis Sanansaattaja

Cream (Fidelis Sanansaattaja)
© E Niemi

The Finnish Lapphund is a medium sized, compact dog, strong when compared to its size and sturdy to look at.  They range in size from 41 to 52cm at the withers, the females being the smaller.

They have a broad and relatively short head, with a smiling, soft and humble expression, and a distinct stop.  The expression of the Finnish Lapphund is very important.  They have small, broad based ears, which are almost always pricked, but may be tipped or odd with one tipped and one pricked.  The ears of the Finnish Lapphund should never be dropped.

They have a thick, harsh double coat.  The outer guard coat is long and coarse, and the undercoat soft and dense. Males in particular have an abundant mane or ruff.

All coat colours are permitted as long as the primary colour is dominant.  Black with lighter coloured markings on the legs, feet, neck, tail, face and chest is the most common – with the lighter coloured “eyebrows” being a particular feature.  Some Lapphunds also have a ring of lighter coloured coat around the eyes, which is considered quite desirable.

Various shades of browns and wolf sables also occur, again with the lighter colour markings.  These markings are by no means essential, however, so they can range from solid coloured Lapphunds with no markings at all; to indistinct markings on the legs, chin and chest; to spectacularly clear markings with solid white chest.  Another very rare, but acceptable marking is a solid white ruff, similar to a border collie.  Sables, solid whites or cream Finnish Lapphunds are also seen.  Blues or lilacs are also acceptable, of various shades, again with or without markings.  Effectively the only colours not permitted are brindles, saddle-backs or piebalds.

A particular feature of the Finnish Lapphund is the difference between the appearance of the males and females.  At first glance you should usually be able to tell whether a Lapphund is male or female, with the boys looking masculine and the girls feminine.  The males also have a bigger coat, particularly around the ruff.  And although there is a cross-over in acceptable sizes (males ranging from 46cm to 52cm with 49cm being the ideal, and females ranging from 41 cm to 47cm with 44cm being the ideal), the females are generally noticeably smaller.

For the main the Finnish Lapphund is a slow maturing breed.  In Finland, it is not uncommon for those entered in the Veteran class to take out top-honours in breed judging, and peak time is often 4 to 5 years of age.  Coming into adolescence it is normal for a Finnish Lapphund to go through quite an ugly patch - leggy, out of proportion, with hardly any coat and “all head”.  As a general rule, if the puppy was beautifully put-together, this adolescence is merely a glitch and a by about 18 months to 2 years you should be able to see the beautiful Lapphund emerging from the cocoon.

Another feature to be aware of is that their most natural gait is a gallop, not a trot, so unlike other working breeds have a relatively slow trot in the show ring without the reach of some other breeds.

Finnish Lapphund with Pups

An adult male Finnish Lapphund (Aus Ch Theldaroy Im Not Wild HIT) playing with two puppies
© J Lincoln

Finnish Lapphund with Child

Two adult male Lappies, Ch Theldaroy Im Not Wild HIT and my Ch Theldaroy Best Treasure with a young toddler
© V Brotto

Swimming with Friends

One of the Armahani boys, all grown up, loving his "baby brother"
© J Lincoln

The Finnish Lapphund is a very friendly breed, fond of people, yet remarkably soft and gentle.  They are naturally submissive with people, humble, cooperative, intelligent, curious and very quick learners.  However, many of them will still harbor a typical-spitz independence and strong-will.  Like in appearance, males and females vary in temperament with (in the main) females being softer and more submissive than the males. 

Trainability varies, but many are highly successful in a variety of dog sports, and are well suited to most of them, with a strong nose and amazing natural “cat-like” agility.  They compete in obedience, agility, herding, tracking and searching trials.  They have also been used as search and rescue dogs and as assistance dogs.  In Finland, they are able to be tested for their instinct to still work reindeer.  Most agree that they learn very quickly, but as perhaps a sign of their intelligence will think before going into action - an important point to be aware of if you are training a Finnish Lapphund.  They are also not a breed to cope well with corrections, and can “tune out” if things get too tough or harsh, so a gentle approach works best.

Their hunting instinct is generally still strong, so while with appropriate training they can be let on off-lead walks, they do need to be watched carefully, lest their nose or eyes lead them off on an adventure.

As a soft and gentle breed they are particularly good with young children, and are a perfect family dog when they are made an important part of the family.  They are not (as most breeds aren’t) a dog that can be left and forgotten in the backyard.  They are an energetic breed, that will love to be involved in all of their family’s activities, but still remain composed and adaptable to most lifestyles.

Most Finnish Lapphunds love and get on very well with other dogs, loving nothing better than a good play and the opportunity to meet and interact with friends.  I have noticed that they tend to be a breed with a strong sense of appropriate “dog manners”, but will respond to bad manners from others with clear, non-aggressive signals.  Like all dogs, however, some entire males can have a mixed opinion of other entire males, and can exchange a few heated comments if a challenge is made.

They are a breed that will bark, given a reason to do so, but are not generally problematic barkers.  It is important to remember that, in their natural environment, their voices are used when they herd reindeer.  However, the amount that they bark varies considerably amongst individuals, with some hardly ever making a sound.  Generally they will bark at the presence of wildlife (a possum in a tree works well at our house).  Some also can develop a habit of barking to express frustration or boredom (and this can be high pitched and annoying) so need to be trained carefully to avoid this habit developing.  They are expected to bark in their traditional work, so are a breed that can use their voice when excited in play or surrounded by aroused activity.

The Finnish Lapphund is a breed unlike any other, and will immediately win you over.  They are lovely and easy to live with, and capture hearts where-ever they go.

Sulyka Sisko

The first Finnish Lapphund in Australia - Aus Ch Sulyka Sisko (Imp UK) "Finn"
© Unknown

Brambleway Litter

The first Finnish Lapphund litter born in Australia - Brambleway Anjuska, Aku & Aslakka
© Cabel Photography

The first Finnish Lapphund in Australia arrived in 1995.  This was Sulyka Sisko “Finn” (Sulyka Lecibsin Niila x Lecibsin Loru), a black, tan and white girl imported from the UK by Brambleway Kennels in Canberra.  She was followed a couple of years later by a brown male Staalon Kolumbus (Multi Ch Hiekkaniemen Iivari x Staalon Tinttarella) from Finland.

Breeding of this pair was unsuccessful, and in 2000 Lecibsin Heissulivei “Lily” (Lecibsin Tino x Lecibsin Hurja Hilta), another black and tan girl, arrived from Finland.  The first litter was born at Brambleway Kennels to Lily and Kolumbus in April 2001 – one black and tan boy and two brown and tan girls.

Two more imports from Finland followed in 2001, a black, tan and white boy Staalon Bestseller “Finn” (Fin Ch Kello Reijo x Fin Ch Staalon Silba) and a black, tan and white girl Tositouhun Eve Example “Mishka” (Fin Ch Suursaaren Huura x Tositouhun Arlene), both imported by Theldaroy Kennels in Queensland.  This pair had two litters, one at the end of 2001 and one in early 2003, both of three girls and four boys, including the first domino lappies.  During this time, Lily and Kolumbus also had another litter of four pups.

The year 2003 also saw a litter of six puppies born at Miavig Kennels in NSW, the first from Australian born parents, Ch Brambleway Aku “Aku” and Ch Theldaroy Wild Wild Ways “Chey”, as well as the arrival of the sixth import, a black and tan female Viksalan Jiella “Macey” (Jäkäläkummun Lemminkainen x Fin Ch Viksalan Agga) from Finland by Articmal Kennels in Victoria.

Things were then very quiet until the end of 2004.  However, from then until the present day there has been a significant increase in numbers. 

Click HERE to see information about Finnish Lapphunds born in and imported to Australia.

We are all looking forward to a very successful future for the Finnish Lapphund breed in Australia.