The Russo-European Laika, like the West Siberian Laika, Karelo-Finnish Laika and East Siberian Laika are part of a group of Russian dog breeds considered to be Spitz type. The term Spitz type as it is commonly used defines a type of dog that is characterized by thick, long and more often white fur, with pointed ears and muzzles and a tail that generally curls over the dogs back.
Although the exact origins of Spitz type dogs are unknown, it is believed that all dogs of this type present today originated in arctic regions. Genetic testing of Spitz type dogs has found that dogs in this group are the most closely related to wolves, and thus are presumed to be some of the oldest types of dogs. It is thus theorized that it was the ancestors of these Spitz type dogs that mated with wolves, and human selective breeding from that point lead us to the variety of dogs present in this category today.
In archeological sites in Central and Northern Europe, fossilized remains of dogs very similar to the Laika dating back some 10,000 years ago have been found. Since these early times and up until the early 20th Century, strong, medium sized Laikas with pointed muzzles and prick ears were widely distributed across the Taiga Forest zone of Northeastern Europe all the way from Finland and Karelia to the Ural Mountains in the west. The Laikas of this time were used for hunting all types of game both big and small and as watchdogs for their masters family and property.
As agriculture began to replace hunting as the primary means of sustainment for families in the region, the land was deforested and these hunting type Laika dogs were slowly replaced with other dogs more suited to this new world economy. Dogs that could guard or herd sheep, scent hounds, sight hounds and bird pointing dogs became the new favorite.
During the late 19th Century and through the early part of the 20th Century, the land in even some of the most remote regions of the Taiga forests was settled and stripped in favor of agriculture over hunting by hordes of settlers from the west and south that brought with them these new breeds of agriculturally suited dogs. From there uncontrolled interbreeding of these new breeds with the Native Laika dogs decimated the population and brought purebred Laikas to the point of near extinction. Laika traits can still be found in mixed breed dogs of these regions to present day.
As of 1930 there were only a few pure bred Laikas remaining in remote pockets of the Vyatka Province, Komi Republic, Perm Province and North Ural. However, the vast majority of these proud hunting dogs were no longer being utilized to fulfill their hunting roots, as they been relegated to simple peasant watchdogs that spent their entire life running loose near the house or living in a fenced yard behind the house.
Realizing that this breed was now on the brink of extinction old Russian hunters near Moscow and Leningrad that recalled the old ways of hunting and could remember this breeds exceptional hunting qualities began to purchase what few remaining purebred dogs could still be found. These dogs were then bred back with native Laika strains of different geographical regions to try and save the breed and rekindle its hunting instinct. In Russia, Laikas were generally named in reference to where they were found originally, such as the case with Karelian Laika, the Komi Laika, the Zyryan Laika, the Votyak Laika and the Archangelsk Laika strains referenced today. It was these Laikas the would become the foundation breeding stock for the development of the modern day Russo-European Laika. The benefit of this breeding program is that it brought genetic diversity and health back into the breed at the cost of small variations in appearance. Although all of these Laikas tended to look quite similar there was some variation as Laikas from certain geographic regions tended to differ in the length of the muzzle, size of the ears, whether the body was rangy or short and thickness and color of the coat.
Prior to the eruption of World War II, this breeding program resulted in quite a few small to medium sized similar Laikas being raised in the areas of Moscow and Leningrad by hunters. Originally there were very few black and white colored Russo-European Laikas as the predominant colors for the dogs of this time were red, redish grey or grey wolf with black and white being the rarity. According to records referencing the Moscow Dog of 1940, only three of the Russo-European Laikas shown featured the modern day black and white coat, while the majority featured the other more common coat colors.
The Russo-European Laika population was once again decimated with the start of World War II, more specifically with the 872 day Siege of Leningrad that started on September 8th 1941 when the cities last land connection was severed by the Germans and ended on January 27, 1944 when the Red Army broke the German line. This began one of the longest, and most destructive sieges in modern history and also one of the most costly in terms of loss of life. During the winter of 1941 and 1942, the survivors starved for food not only consumed all the Animals from the city zoo, but all the birds and rats followed soon after by household pets (Russo-European Laikas included). When these initial food sources were exhausted wallpaper paste made from potatoes was scraped from the walls, leather was boiled to produce an edible jelly, grass, weeds, pine needles and anything else edible was also consumed. Survivors were finally forced to resort to cannibalizing the dead in order to survive, there were even cases of individuals being murdered for their flesh. The combination of bitter cold and hunger faced by the survivors trapped in the siege was so great that the Leningrad police were forced to form a special anti cannibalism division with the city.
With the end of the siege the Russo-European Laika was nearly extinct once again. In order to save the breed surviving hunters living in Leningrad and surrounding provinces brought in new dogs from the Karelia and Arkhangelsk provinces to be bred with the few remaining Russo-European Laikas still in existence. Although the majority of these new dogs were wolf gray in color a new standard was adopted at this time that favored the white and black coloration over all others. This resulted in many dogs with excellent hunting instincts and physical attributes being eliminated from the breed in favor of those with the desired black and white coloration.
In 1944, in the Kalinin Province the All Union Research Institute for the Hunting Industry began a dedicated breeding program to reestablish the breed. The hunting ability of each potential breeding dog was thoroughly tested on squirrels prior to being allowed to mate, those that tested well were allowed to contribute their genes and those that did not were not. Further diversity was added to the breed by crossbreeding the lines of Russo-European Laikas found in Leningrad and Moscow. It was during this time that the breed was established as a purebred and the name Russo-European Laika was officially adopted and applied. By the 1960’s the majority of Russo-European Laikas were various proportions of black and white ranging from completely black to completely white.
The modern day Russo-European Laika still retains many of the physical traits of the native dogs of Karelia, Komi, Aarkhanglesk Province, Udmurtia and other parts of European Russia from which it is derived.
The Russo-European Laika is defined as a compact, lean muscular middle sized Spitz type dog. Males should measure between 21-23 inches at the withers, while females should be 19-22 inches, the weight is generally between 45 and 55 lbs with males being heavier than females. The musculature of the body should be well developed with broad chest. The head and tail should be carried high in an almost proud fashion a very typical trait of this breed. The hind legs should be positioned wide with fast mobile legs ready for action There is a slight slope to the body with the requirement being that there be a one inch drop between the tail base or sacrum in females from the shoulder and a one half inch drop for males. Any deviations from this standard would be considered a fault.
The coat of the Russo-European Laika is generally black with varying patches of white that can range from completely black to completely white. Any other colors such as wolf grey, red, or fawn are should be considered faults. The coat forms a ruff surrounding the head with straight course guard hair and a thick, dense woolly undercoat. The ruff on males will be is significantly more developed and pronounced than it is on females. The hair on the tail should be full with the hairs being longer than that of the body, especially the underside with no feathering.
The Russo-European Laika is a very intelligent, affectionate dog that bonds tightly with his master and master’s family. This breed is generally untrusting of strangers they may appear standoffish, aloof or reserved and generally don’t like to be petted by humans that are not members of their household. A territorial dog by nature, they will bark at strangers and act aggressively by raising their hackles and dashing in and out in an intimidating fashion if they feel it warranted, though they usually will not bite unless they feel threatened.
One of the most enduring traits of this breed is the bond that it forms with its master from a young age, once the dog has chosen a master that will be his master for life. Dogs that have been transferred or rehomed past 8 months of age, seem to never forget their original master and may try to escape or return to him.
The Russo-European Laika is also defined by its alert, excitable and seemingly anxious temperament which can lead to unwanted or excessive barking. The investigation of any disturbance or irregularity in their territory is generally met with barking, this includes strangers, strange dogs, strange or familiar vehicles, an odd sound, an eagle flying overhead, boredom etc.
This is a territorial breed of dog, that will display aggression towards strange dogs if they feel they are intruding. Dogs that have grown up in the same household since puppyhood will generally co-exist together once they properly establish the Alpha, Beta roles amongst themselves. The introduction of adult dogs of the same sex should be done with caution and with the expectation that a fight may erupt as they try to establish their roles within the pack, although some dogs females included may remain enemies for life. As with all Russian Laika’s their territorial nature combined with their size, strength, and muscular body mean that they are not only apt to get into a fight but are generally very good at it. Though unlike some breeds they are not known for killing other dogs and simply use fighting as a way to solve problems, generally stopping once the other dog submits or retreats.
As for their disposition toward domestic or wild animals Russo-European Laikas are enthusiastic hunters bred to be aggressive with large predators and skilled hunters for smaller game. The origin of this hunting dog is one of peasants and hunters that could not have a dog that would be a liability to their livelihood by constantly attacking farm animals. Thus this breed learns quickly and easily to ignore domestic animals such as cows and sheep, but smaller animals such as cats and rabbits may be too tempting for them to resist. Chickens and other poultry are generally safe as long as the dog is trained from puppyhood not to harm them.
Since the Russo-European Laika possess a thick double coat of fur, that consists of a thick, dense, soft undercoat and a coarse longer topcoat some grooming and ritual brushing is going to be required if you plan on letting them in the house. The undercoat will shed or “blow out” annually and for females this may happen twice a year. For dogs living in warmer climates there is a tendency to shed year-round. Caring for this breed will require that you put up with plenty of dog hair on the furniture and carpet, and floating through the air during these shedding sessions that can last three weeks or more. You can reduce the loose hair you find with regular brushing and grooming sessions during these times.
Russo-European Laikas are some of the healthiest dogs in the world. Currently there are no serious hereditary health problems known to be associated with them. However, minor abnormalities typical of all purebred dogs may occur among Russo-Siberian Laikas. Infrequent occurrences of umbilical hernia and monorchidism (the state of having only one testicle within the scrotum) have been seen among puppies.