The weatherproof Finnish Lapphund is a tough and substantial reindeer herder from north of the Arctic Circle. This remarkably empathetic breed is among the friendliest of all dogs once he’s satisfied that you aren’t a reindeer rustler.
Finnish Lapphunds, with their luscious coat, sweet spitz-like face, and profusely coated tail that curves over the back, are instantly recognizable as Nordic dogs. Lappies stand about 20 inches at the shoulder and are surprisingly muscular and substantial for their inches. Quick and agile, they move effortlessly and can go from a trot to a full gallop in a second flat. Lappies are friendly and submissive companions, though a bit wary of strangers. They crave companionship and will be miserable when neglected. A distinctive breed trait is a strong ‘startle reflex,’ the result of centuries spent ducking the antlers of ornery reindeer. Despite their propensity for shedding and barking, Lappies are popular pets in their homeland.
Lapland is a region north of the Arctic Circle that takes in parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and northwestern Russia. It is named for the Sami, or Lapp, people, who have sparsely inhabited the region for several thousand years.
In ancient times, the Sami developed a profusely coated spitz-type dog (the “Lapps’ dog,” or Lapphund) used for hunting reindeer over expanses of barren tundra. Sami history is often obscure, but a few centuries ago they shifted from hunter-gathering to full-scale nomadism. The Sami became reindeer herders, moving large herds in search of pasture land.
One authority tells us, “The Sami lived in tents or turf huts and migrated with their herds in units of five or six families, supplementing their diet along the way by hunting and fishing.” As Sami society evolved, the Lapphund evolved with it. Like their masters, they went from hunting reindeer to herding them, while retaining their duties as hunting dogs, guarders, and close companions to their humans. (Lapphunds are among the Arctic breeds that spent thousands of years huddled together for warmth with their humans and other dogs on ferociously cold nights. This is one way of explaining the innate sociability of these dogs.)
Unlike the adorable cartoon characters who pull Santa’s sleigh every December, actual reindeer are stubborn, cantankerous beasts whose antlers can do serious damage. Controlling reindeer requires dogs of great courage, quickness, and intelligence, qualities that still define the Lapphund.
Reindeer herding was the bedrock of Sami society until very recently. Lapland is still home to several hundred thousand reindeer, and though modernity has encroached upon traditional reindeer territory, it is still possible to see the Finnish Lapphund, and its sister breed, the Swedish Lapphund, moving herds across the vast frozen north.
Finnish Lapphunds are generally healthy dogs, but there are a few conditions the breed is prone to. Two of these are elbow and hip dysplasia, both of which can be detected with X-rays. Also present in some Lappies is progressive retinal atrophy, which causes vision loss. Responsible breeders check their breeding stock for conditions that can affect the breed. As with all breeds, a Lappy’s ears should be checked regularly for signs of infection, and the teeth should be brushed often.
Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
- Hip Evaluation
- Elbow Evaluation
- Patella Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Evaluation
- PRA Optigen DNA Test
- Pompe’s Disease DNA Test
- Degenerative Myelopathy DNA Test
The Finnish Lapphund has a double coat: a smooth outer coat over a soft, dense undercoat. Weekly brushing and daily during shedding season will help to remove dirt and loose hair and keep the dog looking his best. Lappies don’t have a doggie odor, so an occasional bath is usually sufficient. Lappies should never be shaved, as it reduces their ability to keep cool in warm weather and warm in cold weather. As with all breeds, the nails should be trimmed regularly, as overly long nails can be painful to the dog and cause problems walking and running.
Finnish Lapphunds are calm dogs with moderate exercise requirements. A long, brisk walk every day is usually enough to keep the breed healthy and happy. Lappies tend not to exercise themselves, but a half-hour play session with their owner and a ball, or with another dog, can also satisfy their exercise needs. This is herding breed, so many Lappies enjoy participating in herding trials. Other canine sports in which they can excel include agility, obedience, rally, and tracking.
Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended. Gently exposing the puppy to a wide variety of people, places, and situations between the ages of about 7 weeks and 4 months helps to ensure that the Lappy grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion. Like other herding breeds, the Finnish Lapphund is intelligent and quick to learn, but they also tend to be independent or even strong-willed. As a pack dog, the Lappy wants to be with his family, and undesirable behaviors can result if he is regularly left alone for long periods of time.
A high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) will have all the nutrients the Finnish Lapphund needs. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Give table scraps sparingly, if at all, especially avoiding cooked bones. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.