The Finnish Hound is a breed of scenthound native to Finland. This breed is famous across Scandinavia for its keen sense of smell, determination, beautiful bay, and ability to handle the rough terrain and frigid climate of its homeland. The Finnish Hound is the most popular breed of working dog in Finland, and one of the most popular in Sweden, but it is essentially unknown elsewhere in the world. Rarely seen in the show ring or as a companion animal, the Finnish Hound remains almost exclusively a working hunting dog. The Finnish Hound is also known as the Finnish Scenthound, Finnish Bracke, Finsk Stovare, and Suomenajokoira.
The Finnish Hound is of somewhat uncertain ancestry. The breed’s forebears were developed before written records were kept of dog breeding, so little is known for sure about them. However, much can be pieced together. By the end of the 18th Century, there were a number of distinct types of dogs residing in what is now Finland, which at the time was still a part of Sweden. These dogs were primarily of two types, Spitz-type dogs that had probably been present in the country since it was first settled by humans many thousands of years ago and Western European Scenthound-type dogs that had likely been introduced starting in the Middle Ages.
The Spitz-type dogs of Finland had likely originally been developed by crossing the first domestic dogs, medium-sized, primitive dogs very similar to the modern Dingo and Carolina Dog, with the larger, thicker-coated wolves of Northern Europe and Asia. These breeds were generally multipurpose dogs, capable of hunting, herding, sled pulling, and guarding. Although these dogs performed a number of tasks very well, they generally did not perform any one task to the degree which specialized breeds are capable. The first Spitzen to enter Finland likely entered the country with the first bands of nomadic hunter-gatherers that settled the country after the end of the last Ice Age, around 9,000 B.C.
No one is really sure how the Scenthounds were first developed, but they were very common across France, Germany, the Low Countries, and the British Isles since the dawn of recorded history in those regions. These dogs were extremely popular throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance, when hunting with packs of hounds was the favorite and most popular pastime of the Western European nobility. These dogs traditionally were used in large packs of several dozen animals which were followed by hunters on horseback. The favored quarry of scenthounds varied from region to region but deer, boar, and wolves were generally preferred until these species either became very rare or extinct entirely. Although a few individual breeds had other uses, most scenthounds were exclusively used as hunting dogs. Although these dogs were generally not capable of herding, guarding, or other tasks, they were extremely talented hunters with exceptional noses, extreme determination, and excellent problem-solving abilities. Scenthounds were probably introduced to Finland as a result of maritime trade with other parts of Western Europe. These dogs were most likely brought by the Swedish nobility who wanted to use them in the same manner as was customary elsewhere. Many soldier returning from foreign conflicts also brought Western hunting dogs with them as well. Because so few individual dogs arrived in Finland, they were all bred together resulting in a number of distinct local mixed-breed varieties. Although a few British, French, and Russian Hounds probably made their way to Finland, most of the dogs imported came from Sweden and Germany. Most German hounds are of a slightly different type than is common in Britain, France, and America, a type commonly referred to as Brackes. These scenthounds became popular with Finnish hunters, although they never entirely replaced the pre-existing Spitzen.
For most of history, different varieties of scenthounds were regularly crossed with each other, and almost every single province across Europe had its own distinct type. This began to change in the late 1700’s in England. English Foxhound breeders began to keep studbooks of their dogs in order to maintain breeding records and keep their dogs as pure as possible. This later led to the foundation of kennel clubs and dog shows. The resulting purebred English Foxhounds proved so successful and desirable that similar attempts were made to a number of breeds across Europe. In Finland, which by then had been annexed by the Russian Empire, hunters began to organize breeding programs specifically for their scenthounds. They began to carefully breed the scenthounds which were already present in the country, and also added a number of local Spitzen to their breeding lines as well. Scenthounds from across Europe were imported to improve local lineages, but North German, Swiss, and Swedish dogs were generally preferred due to their natural resistance to the cold. The resulting animals were generally similar to other Bracke-type dogs, although considerably better adapted to the harsh climate and treacherous terrain found across Finland. Although Finnish breeders very carefully bred their hounds and generally kept them pure, they kept them almost exclusively as working dogs and cared little for dog shows or kennel clubs. In 1889, the Suomen Kennelliitto (Finnish Kennel Club) was founded. One of the primary goals of the club was to develop a standardized breed of purebred scenthound unique to Finland. Scenthound breeders became much more interested in registering their dogs and began to pay even more attention to pedigree and purity than they had previously. One of the leaders of these efforts was a blacksmith named Tammelin, who was known to experiment with a number of crosses, especially with Swedish, German, Swiss, and English breeds. These dogs became known locally as Suomenojokoira, which loosely translates to Finnish Hound or Finnish Bracke. Finnish Hounds were so ideally suited for working in their homeland that they quickly replaced most other scenthound breeds in the country. These dogs also proved very popular in both Sweden and Russia.
For many decades, the efforts to develop the Finnish Hound were hampered by the ongoing political and military struggle in the country, which won its independence from the Russia in the aftermath of World War I. By 1932, however, an official standard for the breed was drawn up and it was given full recognition with the Finnish Kennel Club. Shortly thereafter, the Federation Cynologique Internationale (F.C.I.) also granted full recognition to the breed. Recognition proved to be highly beneficial to the Finnish Hound which saw its population steadily increase throughout the 20th Century. The Finnish Hound quickly became the most popular breed of hunting dog in Finland, and eventually almost entirely replaced all others. The Finnish Hound has also proven to be extremely popular in Sweden, where it has become either the most popular hunting breed or the second most popular after the Drever. The Finnish Hound is highly valued not only for its great skill as a hunter, but also its versatility. Although most commonly used to hunt fox and rabbit, but the breed is regularly used on a wide variety of species including lynx and moose (known in Finland as Elk). Unlike most Nordic breeds which have become extremely rare, the population of the Finnish Hound is quite stable. There are currently around 5,000 Finnish Hound registrations every year, of which about 80% come from Finland and nearly all the rest from Sweden. According to Finnish Kennel Club registration statistics, the Finnish Hound is currently the third most popular breed in Finland, behind only the Labrador Retriever and the German Shepherd Dog. The Finnish Hound is currently considered either the most popular Nordic (Scandinavian) dog breed or the second most popular after the Norwegian Elkhound depending on which source is used.
As is the case with many breeds, the appearance of the Finnish Hound has evolved over time. As late as 1893, light brown dogs with white markings were preferred. By 1913, tricolor had become the most popular. When the first official standard was adopted in 1932, the standard had become quite specific, with a red-brown coat, white markings, and a black mantle.
In Scandinavia, the Finnish Hound has proven to be enduring popular and its future in its homeland is very secure. The breed benefits not only from a sizable population but a number of very dedicated and devoted fanciers. Outside of Finland and Sweden, however, the breed is essentially unknown. Although in recent years a few individual breed members have been exported elsewhere, the Finnish Hound has yet to become established outside of its homeland and neighboring countries. It is unclear whether any Finnish Hound’s have been exported to the United States (and indeed it seems very unlikely that any have), but the United Kennel Club (UKC) became the first major English-language kennel club to grant full recognition to the breed in 1996. The Finnish Hound is also recognized by a number of rare breed registries in the United States such as Kennel Club USA. The Finnish Hound is not currently recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) nor will this likely change in the foreseeable future.
Unlike most modern breeds, the Finnish Hound remains almost exclusively a working dog. Although increasing numbers of breed members are being kept primarily for companionship, the vast majority of these dogs are either working or retired hunting dogs. Finnish Hound breeders put an absolute premium on hunting ability, and few of these dogs are entered into the show ring or canine competitions that do not involve scent trailing.
The Finnish Hound’s appearance is very similar to other Western European scenthound breeds, but the breed is one of the most unique-looking members of that group. The Finnish Hound is a medium to medium-large breed. Most males stand between 21½ and 24 inches tall at the shoulder, and most females stand between 20½ and 23 inches. Although weight is heavily influenced by height, gender, and build, the average Finnish Hound weighs between 45 and 55 pounds. Finnish Hounds are usually slightly longer from chest to rump than they are tall from floor to shoulder, but this trait is not overly exaggerated. The Finnish Hound is a working breed first and foremost, and should always appear as such. This breed should be very muscular and look very athletic. The tail of the Finnish Hound is long and tapering. It should always be carried low rather than above the line of the back.
The head of the Finnish Hound is proportionate to the size of the dog and slightly domed. The forehead of this breed is slightly convex. The head and muzzle are distinct, but still blend in together very smoothly. The muzzle itself is quite long, at least as long as the rest of the skull, but not quite as long as is the case with many scenthounds. The muzzle is moderately deep and tapers slightly. The lips of this breed are relatively long, but should not be pendulous. The nose of the Finnish Hound is large and should always be black in color. The ears of the Finnish Hound are moderately long, but to a lesser extent than many scenthounds. The ears should hang down close to the sides of the head. The eyes of the Finnish Hound are medium-in-size and dark brown in color. The overall expression of most Finnish Hounds is calm, relaxed, and pleading.
The Finnish Hound has a double coat. The breed’s undercoat is short, dense, and soft while the outer coat is medium-short to medium in length, straight, dense, and quite harsh. There is only one acceptable coloration for the Finnish Hound, tricolor. Finnish Hounds should ideally have reddish brown coats with white markings and a solid black saddle-shaped marking on their backs. This black marking tends to be much larger on the Finnish Hound than on many closely related breeds, and often extends well down the dog’s sides, legs, and neck. The white markings are most commonly found on the legs, chest, and belly. Occasionally, a Finnish Hound will be born with alternate markings, most commonly brown and white without any black. Such dogs are ineligible in the show ring and should probably not be bred, but otherwise make just as excellent companions or hunting dogs as any other breed members.
Because the Finnish Hound is very rarely kept as anything other than a working hunting dog, it is very difficult to make any generalizations about its temperament outside of such an environment. However, all reports would indicate that this breed is very similar in temperament to other scenthounds. This breed is known for its calm and steady temperament, and most breed members are very stable unless on the trail when they become very excited. The Finnish Hound is known for being a very affectionate breed, often fawningly so. This is a dog that absolutely craves companionship at all times (either human or canine), and many will experience severe separation anxiety when left alone for long periods. When properly trained and socialized, most breed members are very good with children with whom they are exceptionally tolerant and gentle. This breed needed to work with strange hunters on a regular basis and human aggression was not tolerated by breeders. When socialized, most of these dogs are very friendly and welcoming, although some do exhibit shyness. Some (but not all) breed members make good watchdogs, but this breed lacks the aggression to make an effective guard dog.
The Finnish Hound was bred to hunt in packs with up to several dozen other dogs and to live alongside them in kennels. Any dog aggression would be completely unacceptable in such an environment and when properly trained and socialized most Finnish Hounds are very good with other dogs. In fact, this is a breed that craves canine companionship, and most of these dogs would greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one (and preferably several) other dogs. Although generally very good with humans and other dogs, the Finnish Hound usually shows very high levels of aggression towards non-canine animals. Bred as a hunting dog for countless generations, Finnish Hounds will pursue, attack, and potentially kill other animals. These dogs will often bring their owners home “presents” of dead animals when left alone in a yard for any length of time, and all small pets should be kept away from these dogs at all times. Most Finnish Hounds will eventually come to leave individual cats with which they have been raised, but some are never entirely trustworthy around them.
Said to be natural and instinctive hunters, Finnish Hounds take up hunting very quickly and with very little training. This breed is also known to take to socialization and basic manner quite easily. However, any other training can be very challenging with this breed. The same traits that make the Finnish Hound such an excellent hunter such as determination, stubbornness, and very high drive, also make this breed highly resistant to training. Most Finnish Hounds are very stubborn, and many are outright willful. This breed responds better to rewards-based methods than any other, but no amount of treats will convince a Finnish hound to do something that it truly does not want to. None of this means that the Finnish Hound is impossible to train, but it does mean that owners will have to invest a considerably larger amount of time, effort, and patience training these dogs than most other breeds and that the end results may not be as great as desired.
There is one training area where Finnish Hounds present a very high level of difficulty, calling them back. These dogs will follow their noses anywhere, and once on the scent they seem immune to any distractions. A Finnish Hound on the trail will usually either completely ignore or not even hear calls for it to return, and for this reason should be kept on a leash at all times when outside of a safely enclosed area.
These dogs were bred to trail game for countless hours across some of the most challenging and treacherous terrain in Europe. As one might expect of such an animal, Finnish Hounds are quite energetic and have substantial exercise requirements. Breed members should receive an absolute minimum of an hour of vigorous physical activity every day, and more would likely be better. This breed makes an excellent jogging companion but truly craves the opportunity to run freely in a safely enclosed area. Finnish Hounds which are not provided sufficient activity are very likely to develop behavioral problems such as destructiveness, excessive barking, hyperactivity, over excitability, and nervousness. All that being said, once Finnish Hounds have received sufficient exercise they tend to be very calm and relaxed in the house and will spend hours lazing about.
Potential owners of Finnish Hounds need to be aware of the breed’s voice. These dogs were bred to loudly bay when on the trail so that hunters could still follow them even if they went out of sight. These dogs both sound off much more frequently than other breeds and are much louder when they do. Training and exercise can greatly reduce a Finnish Hound’s barking, but they cannot eliminate it entirely. When kept in close quarters, these dogs are quite likely to cause noise complaints. When the loudness of the Finnish Hound is combined with its substantial exercise requirements the result is a dog that adapts very poorly to apartment life. Finnish Hounds truly require a sizable yard, preferably one with acreage.
The Finnish Hound is a very low maintenance breed. These dogs should never require professional grooming, only a weekly brushing. Finnish Hounds do shed, and they shed a very great deal. This is a dog that will not only cover furniture, carpets, and clothing with hair, but that will do so all year long. Finnish Hound owners do have to regularly and carefully clean their dogs’ ears. Otherwise, dirt, grime, water, and other particles can become trapped in them and cause irritations and/or infections.
It does not appear that any health studies have been conducted on the Finnish Hound which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements on the breed’s health. Most fanciers seem to believe that this breed is in excellent health, and that it suffers from very few health problems. This dog has likely benefitted both from being spared commercial (puppy-mill) and backyard breeding practices and from being bred almost exclusively as a working dog. This does not mean that the Finnish Hound is immune from genetically inherited health conditions, but it does mean that these dogs tend to suffer from far fewer of them than most purebred dogs.
There is one very serious health condition which is a major concern for the Finnish Hound, cerebellar ataxia. Cerebellar ataxia is a very complex condition which is the result of brain lesions. These lesions cause the dog to be unable to coordinate its balance, gait, eye movements, and extremities. The lesions can be on either side or the brain or both, and the movement difficulties on the dog are on the same side(s) of the body as the lesion(s). Although there are many causes of cerebellar ataxia, the one responsible for the disease in the Finnish Hound is a single mutation of the gene SEL1L. No one is sure of the exact frequency of cerebellar ataxia in the Finnish Hound, but it is quite common in the breed. In fact, it is hoped that cerebellar ataxia studies on the Finnish Hound will one day lead to improved health for both other dogs and human beings. Veterinarians are already working on a genetic test which will allow Finnish Hound breeders to test their stock and hopefully eliminate the disease from the breed in the future. Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for cerebellar ataxia, and there is no humane option other than euthanasia. In the Finnish Hound, cerebellar ataxia first appears at around two months of age, and affected puppies should be put to sleep shortly thereafter.
Although skeletal and visual problems are not thought to be major problems in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
Even though health studies have not been conducted on the Finnish Hound, they have been for a number of closely related and similar breeds. Based on those studies, the Finnish Hound may be susceptible to the following health problems: