A Spitz-type originating in Finland, the Finnish Spitz (Finnish language: Suomenpystykorva) was initially developed to hunt a wide variety of game from as small as squirrels and other rodents, to animals as large and dangerous as bears and wild boar. This is by no means a fighting or attack breed, as its primary role in the hunt was to bark out the position of its quarry so that the hunter could then dispatch of it by rifle or bow. In its native country the breed still enjoys widespread use as a hunting companion, although its amiable nature and loyalty also make it suitable for life as a family pet.
Spitz type dog breeds are some of the oldest domesticated dogs in the world. Archaeological evidence in the form of skeletal remains, suggests that there were early ancestors of the Spitz type in existence nearly 5000 years ago. These early ancestors presumably mated with wolves, and over time produced the familiar Spitz type that exists today. Tests shows that the Spitz is the closest dog breed related genetically to wolves and is therefore one of the most ancient of breed types.
The Spitz type is thought to have originated in the colder climates of the Arctic, however, some 3000 years ago these ancient dogs began to journey south in search of a more moderate climate. They traveled into Europe, North America, Asia, Siberia, and Mongolia; even as far south as the northern parts of Africa. In Switzerland, remains were found from Spitz type dogs that dated back to roughly 2000 years ago.
Able to withstand harsh northern climates, Spitz type dogs were selectively bred for their abilities in assisting their human companions. The Spitz type was developed to excel at herding, hunting, and its own unique job of sled pulling. Through their natural abilities and the development of specific skills, the larger Spitz breeds would prove themselves well suited for the hunt of big game, like Moose and Bear; where as the smaller breeds would prove quite useful in hunting smaller game, like birds.
The Finnish Spitz’s specific history begins in Central Russia, thousands of years ago, with the people living in the area, called the Finno-Ugrian tribe. Different tribes inhabiting that area in ancient times would eventually migrate into other parts of the world. One such tribe, known as the proto-Finnic tribe took up a more permanent residence, surrounded by many majestic lakes and deeply wooded forests, in the most northern part of Europe. This area would later come to be known as Finland. The tribe remained isolated from the rest of the world for many years due to the remote location in which it chose to settle.
This tribe, as well as others, would interbreed their dogs with local dogs and bred them to enhance specific characteristics that were useful. The villages of ancient Finland were secluded and the dogs being bred there were rarely in contact with any other breeds. Therefore, the early Finnish Spitz type developed as a pure-bred dog with a strong hunting instinct, a priceless asset to the ancient hunter.
The Finnish Spitz remained pure and was bred to the strict standards of its hunting companions. Its job was as hunter, food gathering assistant, and household companion. In its frozen remoteness, the Finnish Spitz continued, untouched for centuries. That would all change in the 1870’s with a man called De La Martiniere. A French explorer, De La Martiniere is credited with the first documentation of the Finnish Spitz breed. Traveling as far north as the Muurmanni Coast, De La Martiniere described the dogs that he found in the area as “Deep Red dogs.”
By the 1880’s, great achievements had been made in transportation technology bringing many different people, and their dogs, together for the first time. The Finnish Spitz, admired for its beauty and hunting abilities, began to be mated with other dog breeds. The pure Finnish Spitz bloodline began to be quickly diluted with the blood of other breeds, so much so that a Spitz dog of pure Finnish blood became nearly extinct.
Fortunately for the Finnish Spitz, Forest Officer Hugo Sandberg and his hunting companion Hugo Ross had the good luck to observe a pure Finnish Spitz at work. So impressed by the breeds abilities was Sandberg that he determined to save the native breed of Finnish Spitz from almost certain extinction. To prevent the breed becoming simply a story of myth and legend, the two men acquired several members of the Finnish Spitz breed, and upon returning home began to develop a pure line over the next ten years.
Sandberg would be the first to create a formal breed standard to describe the ideal specimen of the Finnish Spitz type, although there is some evidence that a breed standard may have been established for the Finnish Spitz as early as 1812. In 1890, Sandberg would write an article about the Finnish Spitz, to be published in the magazine Sporten. The article succeeded in making the plight of the Finnish Spitz known to a greater audience, as well as showcasing the breed’s marvelous abilities as a hunter. The Finnish Spitz would as a result of Sandberg’s article, see a rise in popularity and awareness as a breed.
Also in 1890, the Finnish Kennel Club (FKC) was formed. As dog shows were becoming rather popular in England at this time, many neighboring European countries wanted have a national showcase for their own distinct breeds. The FKC’s goal with its first show was to collect information on Finnish bird dogs and Finnish hound breeds. Sandberg would continue to fight for the Finnish Spitz by urging the FKC to recognize, promote, and protect the native Spitz breed.
In 1892, the FKC accepted registrations for the Finnish Spitz, therefore making it a purebred variety; distinct and unique as a breed. In December of 1892, a show was organized especially for the Finnish Spitz in Oulu. A dog called “Kekki” was the winner in that show and was subsequently included in the FKC’s first stud book. Although reworked and not officially confirmed by the FKC until 1897, Sandberg’s very complete and thorough description of the Finnish Spitz, written for the Sporten article, was used in establishing the official breed standard.
Sandberg was not the only breed enthusiast, however. His friend Ross continued to develop the Finnish Spitz breed. He actively bred the Finnish Spitz for some thirty year, and he showed dogs and judged shows for many years after he discontinued breeding.
The Finnish Spitz would make its way to the British Isles in 1927, when Sir Edward Chichester imported a pair of Finnish Spitz. Chichester had been in Finland for a hunting/shooting outing and was greatly impressed by the Finnish Spitz’s talents. Upon bringing the dog into England, an immediate supporter and breed enthusiast was found in a Lady Kitty Ritson. She, like Chichester previously had the opportunity to observe the Finnish Spitz in its native land. Chichester remained a supporter of the breed, but because of other commitments was less active in establishing the breed in England as Ritson and other breed fancier were. Enamored with the breed, Ritson imported several Finnish Spitz dogs and along with other fanciers of the breed, began the Finnish Spitz Club. Lady Ritson is given credit for establishing the breed’s nickname “Finkie”, by which it is often referred to.
The Finnish Spitz Club was registered with the Kennel Club (KC) in 1934. These first few imported dogs successfully established a Finnish Spitz line in England, growing their number and popularity throughout Europe. In 1935 the Finnish Spitz was officially registered with the KC. The devastation of World War II (WWII) on the European population would however, take its toll on the business of dog breeding and the dog population established there. Many people were unable to maintain kennels or even feed their dogs, therefore the numbers fell. Finnish Spitze that were shown just after the war represented the breed poorly as their quality was lacking and inconsistent. The importation of two Finnish Spitze specimens, superior in breeding, would redirect the breed toward success. Tophunter Tommi and Tophunter Turre were brought to England, and thus produced the foundation of nearly every top winning Finnish Spitz’s pedigree for many years to follow.
In 1959, the first documentation of a Finnish Spitz making its way to America occurred. The breed did not gain the high status of popularity immediately, like it did in England. It was not until 1975 that a club for the breed would be established in America, the Finnish Spitz Club of America (FSCA). The breed standard held by the FSCA was based largely on the original breed standard of the FKC, and the breed would compete in the Miscellaneous Class in American competitions. The American Kennel Club, in 1988, finally honored the Finnish Spitz breed with formal recognition, and the breed was then able to compete with other dogs listed in the Non-Sporting Group at shows.
Today, the Finnish Spitz is ranked 158th on the AKC’s 2010 most popular dog breeds list, and in America and other countries is viewed as an ideal family companion. Although the Finnish Spitz has found much show popularity and success in many countries, in its homeland of Finland, it remains a loyal and trusted hunting companion. Mentioned in national songs throughout the country’s history, and even being included on a Finnish postage stamp in the 1980’s, the breed has maintained a firm establishment in Finland, where the FKC receives roughly 2000 registrations for the Finnish Spitz each year.
Resembling the wild creatures from which they genetically descend, the Spitz type dog is wolf-like in appearance. The Finnish Spitz more specifically resembles a fox in its coloring and characteristics. Thick fur, pointed ears and muzzle, as well as a tail that curls over its back are all characteristic of the Spitz type, and the Finnish Spitz adequately displays this distinctiveness of appearance.
The breed is square in shape being nearly equal in height at the withers to length from front to buttocks; lively, with a well balanced form. The males are notably more masculine in shape and appearance than the female; however, neither gender of the dog is overly showy in its features. The height at the withers of the Finnish Spitz male should be between 17 ½ to 20 inches, and 15 ½ to 18 inches for females. The average weight for the breed is 31 to 35 lbs.
The head of the Finnish Spitz is longer than it is wide and is clean-cut. Medium sized, with a slightly arched forehead, but mainly flat between the ears; it is longer from the occipital area to the end of the nose. The stop is moderately pronounced and the muzzle is slender. The nose and lips are black; the lips are closed tight and slim. The Finnish Spitz has strong jaws with teeth that display a rectangular scissors bite.
The Finnish Spitz’s dark eyes are eager and alert. Almond in shape and brown in color with black rims, they are medium-sized with a moderate slant, with the outer corners tilted up. The expression is fox-like and vivacious. The ears are set high and erect. They are small, forward facing, and display a sharp point; very mobile.
The muscular neck is mid-length and well set, leading into strong shoulders and straight front legs. A straight topline gives way to a deep chest with well-sprung ribs and an upwardly drawn belly. The loin is short with strong, straight hindquarters. The tail of the Finnish Spitz is fluffy and curled; held at the base on the level of the topline, it curves heartily over the loin and is held at the thigh. The feet display well arched toes and are round and compact. Thick skinned and well cushioned pads are a characteristic of the feet.
The Finnish Spitz is a dog breed raised in harsh northern climates, and its coat is well-suited for such conditions. The breed possesses a dense double-coat. Soft, short hair makes up the insulating undercoat while longer, harsh guard hairs make up the outer coat. The hair found on the head, and front of the legs is shorter and grows close to the body. The remaining hair is longer and semi-erect. On males, there is the display of a “ruff”, stiffer hair on the shoulders and neck. The hair on the tail and back of the thighs will also be longer and quite thick.
The most unique physical characteristic of the Finnish Spitz breed is its red coat. The coat on the back may appear darker than other areas of fur, and the undercoat will be much lighter, making the Finnish Spitz appear to “glow”. Thin white markings on the chest are allowed in moderation. Overall, the Finnish Spitz has an expressive and clever look, a fox-like and lively hunter in both appearance and attitude.
Originally bred to be a skilled hunting companion, the Finnish Spitz has a unique style that distinguishes it from other hunting types. Since ancient times, the Finnish Spitz was taught to run ahead of the hunting party to search for prey. Upon locating said prey, the breed was trained to bark in such a way as to alert the hunters of prey found in the area, or to which direction the prey had fled. If the game is lost, the Finnish Spitz would discontinue its barking until it was able to relocate the animal. The Finnish Spitz uses a method of hunting that begins with gentle barking so as not to unsettle the game. The barking will become more incessant and louder, drowning out any noise the hunter may make while approaching the game. This gives the prey a false sense of safety, thus the hunter is able to approach close enough to shoot its prey.
This barking became a distinctive trait in the Finnish Spitz, and in their native Finland, the Finnish Spitz is known as the “Barking Bird Dog”. The breed was bred to enhance their barking abilities, and in Finland, on occasion the Finnish Spitz even competes in barking competitions. In the field, where the Finnish Spitz is still mainly used in its homeland, the breed is a superb hunting companion with a skill that is most prized. In a residential setting, however, this barking can become a nuisance. The Finnish Spitz barks often and it barks loud, making it a good watchdog, however it does not possess guard dog instincts as a breed.
To control this barking, training for the Finnish Spitz should begin early and should include adequate training on the proper use of its barking instincts, and commands to get the dog to stop barking when necessary. Barking can also be a way the dog expresses dominance in a pack, so an owner should never let the Finnish Spitz bark at them. The Finnish Spitz easily understands pack order, and needs to be taught that the owner is “top-dog”. If a Finnish Spitz believes it’s self to be at the top of the pack hierarchy, timidity or passivity in its owner will produce poor behavior such as demanding attention and affection, as well as domineering, protective, or aggressive behavior.
The Finnish Spitz is intelligent and clever, but calm and assertive training is necessary to successfully teach this breed the expected behavior and attitude. Stanley Coren, in his book The Intelligence of Dogs, notes that the Finnish Spitz is of “Average Working/Obedience Intelligence”, meaning the dog will understand new commands in 25 to 40 repetitions and will obey a first command 50% of the time or more. The Finnish Spitz is of an independent nature, but the breed is easily trainable; although it will not respond well to discipline or harsh treatment. The Finnish Spitz, being a strong-willed breed, requires steady leadership and consistent correction in order to learn what is expected of it.
Patience is necessary when training the Finnish Spitz. The breed is slow to mature, requiring that training sessions for the Finnish Spitz be short in length, creative, and full of positivity and gentle reinforcement. The breed has a tendency to become bored easily and quickly, therefoer once the Finnish Spitz has successfully completed basic obedience training, advanced agility training should begin, in order to keep the dog’s mind stimulated, as well as its body.
Bred to be a hunter, with excellent stamina and endurance, the Finnish Spitz is no lazy couch potato. The breed loves to run and enjoys cold climates and playing in the snow. The Finnish Spitz requires vigorous exercise and should be given adequate time to play. Because of its medium size, the Finnish Spitz may seem to be a good fit for apartment or condo dwellers, however if the breed is kept in a small space, the owner must commit to a very active lifestyle to satisfy the dog’s physical and mental needs.
The Finnish Spitz is a social breed and is sensitive to separation. It may form separation anxiety, and therefore should be allowed plenty of time in the home with its loving family. If the dog becomes bored, anxious, or lonely, bad behavior may quickly follow. Actions like excessive barking and destructive behavior are often seen in a Finnish Spitz that is not properly stimulated. To stave of boredom and anxiety, the Finnish Spitz should be exercised several hours a day, and is only recommended for very active families. The Finnish Spitz, as a breed, adores children and will be content to play in the yard with them for hours. Recommended family activities for the Finnish Spitz breed are long walks, hikes, biking, and just about any active pursuit.
The Finnish Spitz is a hunting breed, and as such it is likely to roam and take off running after perceived prey. Because of their natural chasing instinct, a fenced yard is recommended for the Finnish Spitz and a leash when away from home. The breed is extremely independent and will often ignore calls to return once it is onto a scent, and it is likely that the dog may “take off” on an adventure whenever the mood strikes it. The Finnish Spitz does well in dog parks as it is a confined area where it can socialize, explore, and simply run about.
The Finnish Spitz makes an excellent family companion. They are loving and affectionate, and despite their independent streak, the Finnish Spitz will often emotionally attach themselves to loving family members. The breed is intensely loyal to its loved ones and enjoys being included in the lives of its family and in their activities. With a happy, cheerful, and easy-going nature, the Finnish Spitz makes a devoted and gentle companion for children, as its tendency when irritated is to simply remove itself from the situation by walking away.
The well-adjusted Finnish Spitz will be conservative, but trusted around strangers and unfamiliar dogs, as well as other animals. In order to prevent this conservative and cautious nature from becoming suspicion and shyness, the Finnish Spitz should be socialized early and introduced to as many new people, places, things, and other animals as possible when it is young. The breed tends to dislike being handled or “examined” by unknown individuals, including the veterinarian, and this early exposure may help their discomfort when meeting new people. Birds may be seen as prey to the Finnish Spitz, as is its nature as a “Bird Dog”.
The show standard for grooming requires that the coat of the Finnish Spitz not be groomed at all (except around the pads of the feet) so the dog may be displayed in its natural state. It is a beautiful dog with a full and lovely coat. Relatively low-maintenance to care for, the Finnish Spitz’s medium length coat should be brushed regularly. The breed sheds heavily and seasonally. During heavy shedding periods, the Finnish Spitz’s coat should be brushed daily to remove the loose dead hairs.
The coat is basically self-cleaning and can be brushed free of dirt and debris. The dog should be bathed roughly 3 or 4 times per year. As with all dog breeds, careful attention should be paid to the dog’s eyes and ears when grooming to maintain its health and appearance. The nails should be trimmed regularly. The whiskers of the Finnish Spitz should remain intact, never trimmed.
Although a generally healthy breed with a lengthy lifespan of 12 to 14 years, the Finnish Spitz like all purebred dogs has specific health conditions that are found among its members. Included in these conditions are the ones most commonly occurring in the breed types; for the Finnish Spitz breed, that includes Canine Hip Dysplasia (CHD), Patellar Luxation, and Epilepsy.
CHD is a genetic condition in which there is abnormal formation within the hip socket. It is common among large-breed dogs and working dogs. Depending on the severity, CHD can lead to arthritis in the hip or varying degrees of lameness.
Patellar Luxation is another health concern associated with the Finnish Spitz. The condition is a dislocation of the knee-cap, and is passed onto the affected individual genetically. The condition can be very mild or completely debilitating, and is often not seen in the dog until it gets older.
Epilepsy is a seizure disorder in dogs and is not a specific disorder itself, but rather a collection of disorders and diseases that can cause seizures in a dog.
Other health issues that are associated with the Finnish Spitz to varying degrees are: