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In my “Breed of the Week” posts, I’ve often gone into great detail about the history, grooming requirements and personalities of various dog breeds, but I haven’t often talked much about whether a particular breed is exactly right for you or your family.
I’d like to rectify that now. I’ll start with the Samoyed, and in other posts I’ll talk more about other breeds that are good family dogs, or better suited to couples or singletons.
Now, the Samoyed. Who hasn’t seen pictures of adorably fluffy, white, blue-eyed Samoyed puppies? And having seen those pics, who hasn’t wanted one? But is a Samoyed puppy really right for you, or for your family?
Let’s talk about the breed. Too many puppies end up in homes that just don’t fit, so before you decide on a Samoyed puppy, there are things to consider.
Samoyeds were intended originally for tough work in the Arctic – they were bred to herd reindeer and other animals, haul heavy sledges, hunt, and serve as companions for people who were hardy enough to brave the weather of northwestern Siberia, where the Samoyede people lived. As you can imagine, a dog that tough is very strong-willed and independent. That said, though, if a Samoyed is raised right, he can be a gentle, devoted family pet.
Just Look at That Smile!
I’ve heard people say that dogs don’t really smile – when they drop their lower jaw and pull the upper lip back from their teeth, they’re just panting. But I have so many “dog friends” who insist that this isn’t the truth. My friend Neila, who breeds Rottweilers, swears that there’s such a thing as a “Rottie smile” that might scare the living daylights out of you if you didn’t know it for what it is – an expression of pure joy and welcoming that actually looks as though the dog would like to savage you at the drop of a hat. My buddy Al has a Saint Bernard, and he says that when a Saint drops his head forward and lets his mouth go slack, that’s a smile. And my dog park pal Debbie says that when a Beagle pulls his teeth up over his upper lip, that’s a smile.
Samoyed owners also claim that the breed smiles. It’s a little upturn at the corners of the mouth – very slight, almost indiscernible, but a smile nonetheless. If a Samoyed (or “Sammy,” as breed aficionados like to say) does that, then he’s smiling at you. Sammy owners will tell you that this expression means that the dog is happy and loves his humans.
The Samoyed’s Bond With People
It’s not surprising that these dogs have such an affinity for humans, because they were always closely associated with the Samoyede people, who raised them literally thousands of years ago in Siberia. The dogs were used for work, as previously stated, but also formed a strong bond with their people, protecting them from other animals that might do them harm. They also slept with their humans at night, keeping them warm against the elements.
This is a legacy that has lasted to the modern day, with today’s Samoyed being a loyal, intelligent dog. However, as I just mentioned, it’s worth noting that often a Samoyed will choose one person to bond with, and others in the family might not matter all that much to him. For this reason, if you are considering a Samoyed puppy for your family, you should first consider the possibility that he will bond hard and fast to one human. That’s not to say that he’ll be hostile to others – he won’t. But if your Samoyed puppy decides, for instance, that Mom is “the one,” entreaties from children who want to play with the dog might go unheeded when mom is in the room. When you come home from an outing to the mall, of course any dog is going to greet you as if you’ve been gone forever, but with a Samoyed, it might be something along the lines of “Hi kids, where’s Mom? Going to find Mom now!” If you want a true “family” dog, the Samoyed might not be for you. However, this trait makes the Samoyed an ideal choice for singletons.
Now, let’s talk some more about these adorable Samoyed puppies, and the amazing adults that they become. There are ups and downs with owning a Sammy.
In addition to the Sammy’s dazzling smile, one of his most distinctive traits is his thick, white coat. In winter, it’s so thick that you can hardly see his skin. Which is nice, until spring comes and he starts to shed. A Sammy will shed so vigorously that he actually produces a wool-like material that weavers prize and turn into hats, gloves, scarves, and other clothing!
This means that the Sammy’s coat isn’t easy to groom. You have to be really vigilant to make sure that it doesn’t mat or tangle, and of course it also means that you’re going to have dog hair all over the place. So before you buy that sweet little Samoyed puppy, make sure that you’re okay with all the shedding you’re going to get from your adult Samoyed!
Some dog breeds are more vocal than others. My friend Neila, who breeds Rottweilers, maintains that they bark when a leaf falls, and that they “purr” when they’re being petted – a noise that is often misinterpreted as a growl. Debbie’s Beagle, Chuck, emits a distinctive “Barooooooo” when he’s excited. I’ve never met a Sammy, but I’m given to understand that they bellow when they’re pleased. Or displeased. Or just feel like bellowing!
The lesson here, obviously, is that the kind of noise doesn’t really matter. If you don’t want a noisy dog, reconsider the idea of a Samoyed puppy. If you live in an isolated area, it probably won’t be a problem, but if you have to worry about neighbors, a Sammy might be just a bit too vocal.
I don’t know all that many Sammy owners, but those I do know tell me that the “voice” can be problematic. They also tell me that these dogs are easily bored. They don’t react well to repetitive training – they always want to be learning something new. So if you’re the type of person who thinks that a training session is “sit,” “stay,” “stand,” “lie down,” rinse and repeat, your dog is going to get very bored very fast, and will let you know that he’s bored by becoming destructive. If it looks as though your Sammy is going in that direction, consider enrolling him in agility training or another activity that will challenge his fine brain.
To understand you Samoyed puppy, you need to know a bit about where he came from. As previously mentioned, Sammies are working dogs – trained to hunt, herd and haul, but also to snuggle up with their humans at the end of the day. It was this bond of work and affection that led to the breed we know today, that is possessed of such love and loyalty.
At the close of the 19th century, Samoyed dogs came out of Siberia to accompany humans on polar expeditions. During the course of these expeditions, these dogs, and their humans, endured nearly incomprehensible hardships. Only the strongest humans and dogs made it.
Anyone who has ever read anything about Queen Victoria knows how much she loved dogs. She was an enthusiast of many breeds, including the Samoyed, and many Samoyed puppies that we know today actually found their origins in her kennels. Thanks to her efforts, the first breed standard was adopted in 1909 in England.
A Samoyed puppy will typically grow to be a large dog, with males standing on average 22 inches at the shoulder, and females about 20 inches. Dogs of either sex typically weigh between 50 and 60 pounds.
I know that this doesn’t really tell you much about the breed appearance, so if you’d like to see more, there’s a great book about Samoyeds on Amazon. I think it’s definitely worth a look for anyone who loves the breed or is curious about it.
A Samoyed puppy will usually be gentle, smart and loyal, and these traits will carry through to adulthood. Samoyeds are usually affectionate with kids, and happy to be part of the household. However, as previously mentioned, they can often bond so hard and fast to one person that other family members might feel left out.
Given that a Samoyed puppy is so interested in being with people, the worst thing you can do with a puppy is tie him outside in the yard. These dogs are not meant to be alone – if you leave a Samoyed puppy or adult by himself, he will be heartbroken. He is loyal and sociable, and more than anything, he want to be with his humans.
The Sammy also needs a lot of exercise. He wants to go for long runs, and will be prone to try to be “off leash” if possible. Once off leash, it can be hard to call him back, as he has a strong prey drive and will want to go after other small animals. In other words, keep him on leash and away from your neighbor’s cat!
Choosing a Samoyed Puppy
Most of what I’m going to tell you here applies to all puppies – they should all be properly socialized and trained. But because the Sammy has such a strong prey drive, it’s that much more important with this breed. You should never take a Samoyed puppy that is under 10 weeks old. Some breeds need to be with the mother and the litter for longer than others, and the Sammy is definitely one of those breeds. Sure, you could take one at 8 weeks, and it might turn out okay, but most reputable breeders will not let a Sammy go before 10 weeks.
When choosing a Samoyed puppy, always make sure that you can meet the mother – at least. If you can meet the father as well, that’s even better. I’m saying this because the puppies are usually going to turn out like the parents – if one parent is sweet and gentle, and it looks like your Samoyed puppy takes on that parent’s characteristics, that’s wonderful. If a parent seems standoffish or aggressive, you also have to worry about those traits being passed on. As the twig is bent, so grows the tree, right?
So you HAVE to meet the mother. Not just because you want to learn about her temperament, but because you have to be sure that she’s even THERE.
What do I mean by that?
Well, what I mean is that if you can’t meet the mother, there’s something very wrong. A good breeder is going to expect that you will meet the mother, and even insist on it. If you can’t meet the mother, there’s a really good chance that you Samoyed puppy is coming from a puppy mill. And for more information on puppy mills, see my post, 5 Reasons Why Puppy Mills Must Be Stopped.
Finding a Good Breeder
When you’re looking for a Samoyed puppy, the most important thing is to find a good breeder. Oddly enough, that might not necessarily mean an AKC breeder. As I’ve suggested in previous posts like How to Get the Right Dog From the Right Breeder, finding a good puppy doesn’t necessarily mean “Hey, he’s got papers!” It can mean that the puppy came from someone who is not an AKC member, but who nonetheless cares very much about the breed and about matching good people with good dogs.
The main thing to be concerned about when buying a Samoyed puppy is to be sure that you find a reputable breeder who will verify the health of both parents, and show you health clearances for conditions that are specific to the breed. In Samoyeds, that means that you should be sure that your Samoyed puppy’s parents are free of hip dysplasia, von Willebrand’s disease and hypothyroidism.
If you are considering a Samoyed puppy, you should also know that Samoyeds are not well suited to living in apartments. They are working dogs, and they need a lot of room to play. They also need a lot of mental stimulation – a bored Samoyed is a bad Samoyed, so make sure to challenge him with lots of activity and training. Remember, too, that a Samoyed has a very high prey drive, which means that you should keep him on leash any time that he is anywhere near other, smaller dogs that he might want to… well, um… KILL.
A happy Samoyed puppy will grow up to be a happy adult Samoyed, and in order to make that happen, you will need to be sure that he is constantly challenged. A bored Samoyed puppy will not turn into a good adult. He will be likely to dig, chew, or even cause trouble for other animals. So keep him active and socialize him to other people and animals early on. If you’re not up to it, perhaps you should consider another breed that won’t challenge you quite so much.
Remember, that cute little ball of fluff that you love so much right now is going to grow up to be a big, powerful dog. And what’s cute today can be a menace tomorrow, if not properly trained. So before you go “Aw, isn’t he just adorable, and I just have to take him home” remember that he will grow up, and the kind of canine citizen he will be is going to be up to you.
If you think you’re ready for a Sammy, that’s great! Just be sure that you are. Too many Samoyed puppies end up in shelters because of people who had good intentions, but just weren’t equal to the challenges associated with the breed. Make sure that you are, and if you are, then congratulations! You’re in for years of a wonderfully loving relationship with an outstanding dog.