From: "Hunting dogs" nr. 1 –
By: Vladimir Lobatschov
Translation: Anna van den Dungen-Beloglazova in cooperation with Ellen Gerritsen ©
The West Siberian Laika is one of the most popular and spread hunting dogs in Russia. It is one of the few primitive Russian breeds, and therefore Russia’s pride. Its natural beauty is not the only reason for its popularity, but also its excellent working skills, its universality, its endurance and its adaptability to the many various natural circumstances.
It is sometimes said that these dogs from northern regions do not feel comfortable in urban districts or in warm climates, but this is not the fact. It is likely to think that this breed has
adapted to the heavy land climate. Their thick, dense and wolf-like under coat makes it easy for Laikas to cope with this climate and its weather conditions. It is a fact that, in spite of their
coat structure, Laikas can also be found in warm areas like Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kirgizia and Mongolia) and even closer to the equator, in Africa.
Nowadays, the West Siberian Laika is nearly spread all over the world, they can also be found in the rest of Europe and America. More than other breeds, this breed has a wolf-like appearance. There are almost no signs of domestication: deformation of skul
and skeleton, reduction of head, brains and teeth and loss or decrease of natural qualities, like scent. All these facts have been confirmed by researcher C. Karitin (1968). He also mentions the West Siberian Laika’s well-developed scent, a quality that is mainly seen in dogs that live in areas where they are regularly used for hunting. Until now, this breed has an unchanged large number of morphotypes and a large potential of genetic base material.
Although the West Siberian Laika is widely spread all over Russia’s nature zones nowadays, they originally come from the taiga regions in northern Russia, just like the other Laika breeds. In these regions, these dogs have been accompanying the local inhabitants, like hunters, shepherds and nomads, already for a very long time. This can be told by the many different sub-types (or rather: ecotype, morphotype, territorial or ethnographical type). Especially a century ago, when importing other breeds to local people was limited and interbreeding with imported breeds did not take place. Even nowadays, aboriginal litters out of pure local dogs can be found in some Siberian areas.
As a breed, the West Siberian Laika was created by hunters and cynologists not very long ago. Mainly two types were used: the Mansijski Laikas, originally from the taiga and forest regions in the North Ural and West Siberia, and the Chantejski Laikas, from the eastern taiga areas along the Ob River.
A severe and hard natural selection on the dogs’ hunting skills during many centuries, was of important influence in the development of the Laika breed. The following qualities are a result of that: development of strong scent, vision and hearing, ability to survive, speed while searching for and chasing wild game, a clear and strong voice, ability to work independently, persistent, tenacious, a strong perseverance and agility while hunting.
Remarkable fact is that, however Laikas show aggressive behaviour towards wild game, they are very friendly towards people, moreover most Laikas have well-developed guarding skills and are very devoted to the master.
A hard selection took place in the taiga, where circumstances were often difficult and finding food for people and their animals was not easy all the time. Therefore, dogs that did not work the way they should were useless and were eliminated. Professional hunters have always valued the good
Laikas and protected their dogs from interbreeding with other breeds (metisation). There have been many conflicts, though. Until recently, very good working dogs, mainly good stud males en their aboriginal litters, were very well protected and often even kept secret. This way, development (evolution) of the regional ecotypes (sub-types), did not take place in domestic circumstances and kennels, but outside, in the wilderness. Due to these heavy taiga circumstances during the autumn and winter, a hard natural selection took place on hunting and survival skills. Extreme circumstances like these, that cannot be survived by every dog, have stimulated the development of genetical important qualities that have not been changed so far. Laikas are capable to track wild game almost without any special training, furthermore they do not have to be taught how to locate the master in the forest and how to use their hearing and scent.
Compared to other breeds, Laikas digest their food much better, recover more quickly after an exertion and have less problems being without food for a certain period, in times of scarcity. They are able to adapt very well, not only to the severe circumstances in winter, but also to humidity, hard wind and heat.
The first breed descriptions of aboriginal Laikas, were made between 1880 and 1930. One of the classifications is made by a Russian nobleman who described 10 different sub-breeds in 1896, mainly based on ethnical features. Among these were also the important Mansijski and Chantejski Laiki. He wrote: “There are as many Laika types as there are different people living in the North”. The exteriors of these different sub-breeds differed a lot. At the end of the 19th century, the Laika population had decreased for some time. Reason for this was the discovery of the northern regions and as a result, the changes in the way of life and the domestic situation of people living with Laiki. Another reason was interbreeding Laiki with other breeds.
The first breed standards of the different Laika types (like Zirjanski, Karelski, Vogulski (Mansijski), Astiatskoy (Chantejski) and Votjatskoy) were established at the first cynological meeting in 1925, by cynologists under the leadership of
Vahrushev. The standards of the Vogulski (Mansijski) and the Astiatskoy (Chantejski) Laiki were most similar to the modern West Siberian Laika. These standards were made with one specific dog as an example and therefore they were not very clear and incomplete. In the course of time, it became obvious that thorough research of aboriginal Laikas, regarding a detailed description and important measures, was necessary.
The first large dog show for hunting dogs, representing all Soviet Republics, was organized in 1928. A lot of Laiki participated, mainly from the Ural. In the 30’s, a Laika association was founded. Chairman was a well-known zoologist and specialist in genetics, professor S. Bogolubski. After that, other cynologists like Vahrushev, Pupishen and Fedosov succeeded. At the cynological meeting of all Soviet Republics in 1939, 5 modern standards were established: Finokarelski, Karelski, Komi (Zirjanski), Chantejski (Astiatskoy) en Mansijski (Vogulski) Laikas.
In the years that followed, 65 Governmental kennels for hunting dogs were founded, 17 of which only for breeding Laikas. Main reason was that hunting furred animals was one of the most important export sectors, and this foreign trade meant foreign currency.
The new standards and breed classifications for Laikas, that remained unchanged since then, were suggested by Shereshevski in 1947. He was employed by the Russian Institute
of Hunting Science and Research. The basis for this classification was a geographical one. It was assumed that interbreeding between local sub-types took place within larger geographical areas. In spite of a lot of criticism from some cynologists, the classification became effective in 1952, however, the classifications of the Karelo-Finnish, the Russian-Juwish (Russka Jevrejska) and the West Siberian Laika were introduced a few years later, in 1954.
The West Siberian Laika is a medium-sized dog (male 55-62 cm, bitch 51-58 cm) with a strong and dry constitution and a balanced and lively character. Ratio between length of body and height at withers in males 103-107, in bitches 104-108.
Dry and wedge shaped head, seen from the top, it has the shape of a equilateral triangle. Length of muzzle is equal to the skull or slightly shorter. Gradual stop, cheek bones not very pronounced.
The eyes are dark brown in colour, slanting.
Pricked ears, triangular shaped.
Deep chest, reaching the elbows.
Broad loins, slightly arched.
The tail is carried in a characteristic curl, either in a strong ring tail, or loose, leaning on the buttocks.
Thick coat with hard and straight top coat and a dense and soft under coat. On the head and ears short, but longer on the neck and withers, forming a collar on the neck and a beard on the cheek bones.
The colour is grey, grey and white, pale, red-grey or with patches. Black and black and white are not very common.
With this decision, however, the new Laika breeds were only announced. In fact, organized breeding and considerate selection started not until the 50’s, continued until the 70’s and is still continued at some points. Until now, the West Siberian Laika has kept its wide range in colours and shades, as well as in the construction of the head and body and in other aspects. Still, this breed’s general features are enriched with those of imported dogs. The value of the genetical basis has led to a large number of types and the preservation of the different sub-types and blood lines. Nevertheless, in spite of the large scale of types and a complicated history, it is one breed with a strong and strict basis of inherited fixed external features, energy and behaviour.
During a long period, the Mansijski and Chantejski Laikas from the North Ural and Ob regions, that were used for breeding the ultimate West Siberian Laika breed, were responsible for the harmonic bone structure; heavier than that from Laikas of the Zirjanski and Karelian types regarding their shape and unique working skills. These dogs are strong, mostly balanced, and capable of working in the fur sector in the taiga continuously during some days.
In the past, each dog preferred different game, like hunting different kinds of birds or mammals. Some of them were excellent bear, wild boar
or moose hunters, others were good at hunting furred animals (sable, squirrel) and some dogs preferred hunting water birds or forest birds. But generally, this breed was and is distinguished by its strong universality. Sometimes the hunter’s preference for certain kinds of hunting resulted in the fact that the dog was able to develop in working with this specific kind of game like mink, bear or marten. In other words: dividing the West Siberian Laika into furred animal or large game specialists cannot be done very precisely. Although dogs from certain blood lines prefer water or display aggressive behaviour towards wild game, many dogs do possess a potentially extensive talent for hunting.
One of the breed’s first ancestors was Grozny, a male, born in 1930 and owned by the Sverdlovsk association. His blood is spread amongst many lines.
Breeding of West Siberian Laikas started in Moscow since 1920. At that time, there was a well-known Chantejskaja male, called Misjka, owned by a hunting association. Also following mentioned dogs from Varushev’s kennel, were of important influence: Ulf owned by Peterson, Ural and Dymka owned by Sirov, Urchala owned by Vahrushev, Ojra owned by Smarov, Burka-Dymka owned by Sarichev and Djoebara owned by Vahrushev and others.
Most of the modern West Siberian Laikas are known because of their very active, playful and lively nature and also because of their speed and calm and balanced behaviour. Dogs of this breed take less risks, are less fanatic, more tempered and do not become exited as easily as the Russian-European Laikas, not to mention the Karelo-Finnish Laikas. There are West Siberian Laikas that do get exited very easily, however, but these are exceptions. Particularity in the West Siberian Laika’s field work is that they are real stayers, other than the Russian-European Laikas, that can be seen as sprinters. West Siberian Laikas have more perseverance which is very important for hunting furred animals and other game.
Originally, the West Siberian Laika is known as a hunting dog used for furred animals and still, almost half of the peltry is obtained by using Laikas. These dogs can be distinguished because of their well-developed and broad searching skills and scent and their loud and melodious voice, indicating that some wild game has
been found. Some Laikas are capable of finding sable or marten by a track that is already a few hours old. The best Laikas keep a close eye on game that is trying to move or hide for hours, waiting until the hunter shows up.
Nowadays, many dogs are used for hunting mink or polecats professionally. A lot of dogs have succeeded in learning this specialized work in the tight and difficultly accessible vegetation along the riverbanks. West Siberian Laikas are also capable of baying raccoon and badger and sometimes the smaller dogs work in holes or can at least indicate the location.
In the Caucasus and the area east of it, Laikas are used for hunting raccoons that have acclimatized here. In Europe, Laikas are popular for hunting marmots, in the South of Russia and Western Europe, Laikas are used for hunting marten and deer and also lynx. Actually, almost any mammal, small or large, may become a potential prey.
For hundreds of years, Laikas were used for hunting. There is no other breed that can cope with the Laika when tracking, chasing and baying is concerned. Both with individual hunting and with driving, the Laika is hard to beat. With the help of Laikas, bear dens can be found in winter time and even bears and wounded animals can be traced in autumn. Working as a couple, experienced and trained Laikas are very well capable of stopping a bear on the run, so that the hunter gets the possibility to approach the animal. Also, Laikas are often used for hunting wild boar, some dogs even manage to hold wild boar. Laikas are irreplaceable during hunting in autumn, when tracking boar is difficult because of the fact that the tracks are not visible. In densely populated regions, Laikas are used in the fields to hunt moose, but also in northern Russia, in regions where hunting is a professional sector, moose hunting is practised individually with the help of Laikas.
Many hunters often use their own Laikas for hunting ducks. The dogs are not only used for finding ducks in the tight vegetation, but they even manage to catch them by chasing. Wounded animals are retrieved and sometimes the dogs even dive for the prey. Some non-professional hunters may even be more successful without a gun, but with a Laika, than hunters using guns.
A nice experience is hunting hazel grouse, black grouse and wood grouse in autumn. In southern regions, Laikas are used for hunting pheasants and other birds. Among the West Siberian Laikas, there are many ‘’bird specialists”. Dogs from some blood lines mainly like water and diving for ducks. It is common knowledge that the passion for water is genetically inherited. However, almost all Laikas can be thought how to work in the water.
From generation to generation, both the aggression towards game and the confidence in and kindness towards humans has developed more and more. Therefore, Laikas behave well at home and are pleasant companions in situations with many people, like during hunting, but also in the city. Sometimes, Laikas are even kept as a family dog only.
Although Laikas are very communicable, some problems may arise during raising and training. About the questions regarding these matters, a lot of literature can be found together with all the experience gained by specialists, owners and hunters. There are many remarkable qualities of character, one of these, is the breed’s strong independence. This quality somehow never gets sufficient attention and will be explained
further. It requires a sensible way of raising the dog and a not too strict and extensive training. It is likely that the reason for this might be this breed’s level of domestication and human treatment. Often it is noticed that well-trained dogs do not work as well as less trained ones. It is not difficult to teach a dog a lot of commands, to keep the dog under control and to make him obey, but this is not necessary, however, because it has a negative effect on hunting, tracking and baying. In other words: the hunting behaviour deteriorates. Therefore, dogs of this breed need to know a few basic commands only.
Most West Siberian Laika owners are good hunters. Each year they obtain fur and meat with their dogs and this way, the most important domestic problems are solved.
A lot of enthusiastic hobbyists and specialists/cylogists from almost all parts of Russia had and still have contributed to perfect the breed. From Moscow: M. Dimitrieva-Sulima, I. Vahrushev, P. Beljaev, P. Pupishev, A. Fedosov, A. Tsjumakov, A. and S. Vojlatsjnikov, M. Sergeev, B. Shnigin, N. Mishanov, N. Kislov, I. Ikonopistsev and many others. During the 60’s and 70’s, V. Grigoriev has played an
important part in developing the breed. He was chairman of the Laika section in Moscow during a long period. L. Ushakova also was of important influence regarding the breed’s development. She was responsible for the breeding policy, such as finding suitable combinations. Thanks to these people, this breed has reached its present high level.