Finnish Spitz - the national dog of Finland
Finnish Spitz are one of the group of small hunting Spitz breeds and as the name implies was first bred selectively in Finland. In that country, trapped among 60,000 lakes, the Finnish Spitz developed in its own way, as other varieties of the Spitz breeds developed in their particular isolated corners of the Northern Hemisphere.
Really A Gun Dog
In Finland the breed is called Suomen-pystyykorva - which is something of a mouthful and which actually means 'Finnish prick-eared dog'. This was modified to 'Finsk Spets' when the breed was first introduced to this country, and then later anglicised to 'Finnish Spitz'.
Although placed in the Hound Group in Britain, the Finnish Spitz is really a gun dog combining the specialised attributes of Setter, Pointer and Retriever and the Finns have used the Finnish Spitz for centuries for hunting. They are kept as guard dogs too as they can be very vocal if encouraged. Today few Finnish Spitz are seen in the towns but plenty live in villages and isolated hamlets and farms. The working nature of the breed is emphasised by the fact that, like many breeds in Scandinavia, Finnish Spitz may not qualify for the title of Champion without a working or trials certificate. Even clearer evidence is obtained if registrations are examined. Finnish Spitz are used primarily to hunt a large game-bird called the capercaillie, the numbers of which fluctuate over a period of years, so sometimes there are fewer available for hunting: during these lean years the number of registrations of Finnish Spitz drops quite sharply.
Follow until the bird settles
The nature of the hunt with Finnish Spitz is distinctive. The dog is trained to range ahead of the hunter until it finds its quarry, which it will follow until the bird settles in a tree. The dog then attracts the bird's attention by running backwards and forwards, swaying its tail. The bird is lulled into a false sense of security by the movements of the dog which then begins to draw the hunter's attention by barking, softly at first, but gradually getting louder, until it is a clear, ringing tone which carries an enormous distance. The hunter approaches, any sound being drowned by the noise of the dog, until he is in a position to take an accurate shot at the bird. Should the bird move off before the hunter is in position, the dog will stop barking and begin to track again until the bird settles. The method is similar to that used with the Elkhound and several similar Spitz breeds. In fact there are official barking competitions held in Scandinavia for the King of the Barkers.
Finnish Spitz have not only been used for hunting birds; they have also tackled elk and even bears - remarkable feats for dogs of this size.
Diluted With Blood From Other Breeds
As transport improved and people and dogs were able to move from one place to another more easily, the original Finnish Spitz type began to be diluted with blood from other breeds, simply because there was no one who saw any reason to prevent misalliances. By 1880 they were practically extinct, but two Finnish foresters - Hugo Sandberg and Hugo Roos - realised the seriousness of the position and set about saving the breed. In 1890 - Hugo Sandberg wrote an article in a magazine called Sporten which drew attention to the particular and practical qualities of the Finnish Spitz as a hunting dog. He wrote a carefully worded description on which the Breed Standard was eventually based, and urged the Finnish Kennel Club to take steps to preserve and encourage the national breed. In 1892 the Finnish Kennel Club accepted the Suomenpystykorva for registration. Hugo Roos actively bred for thirty years and showed and judged for longer than that. He was largely responsible for gathering together the foundation dogs. He pioneered the breed until the 1920's. Finnish Spitz are now very well established in Finland so that nearly 2,000 are registered annually with the Finnish Kennel Club compared with a total of 637 between 1890 and 1930.
In 1920 Sir Edward Chichester visited Finland on a shooting and hunting expedition and was so attracted by the breed that he imported a brace to England followed later by an unrelated stud dog. I understand that there may have been one or two brought to Britain prior to this date but, as far as I am aware, they were neither shown nor bred from.
Lady Kitty Ritson, of the Tulchan affix, had also seen the breed in its homeland and was already enthusiastic. With Mrs de la Poer Beresford (Whiteway), Lionel Taylor (Hello), Mrs & Miss Pink, later to become Mrs Pips (Sarumcote), and Mrs Moulton (Boydon), she organised the Finnish Spitz Club which was first registered with the Kennel Club in 1934 and also imported a number of dogs. Incidentally, the aforementioned Lionel Taylor was the father of Mrs June Minns who still judges the breed and exhibited them until recently. Sir Edward himself was an enthusiastic supporter of the breed although circumstances did not allow him to become as deeply involved as he would have liked.
The dogs imported during the first few years established the breed, but the Second World War proved disastrous. The quality of the dogs shown in 1946 and 1947 was very poor but with the importation of Mountjay Peter (later owned by Dorothy Rose of the Wildings affix) and Kiho Seivi by William Blackden (Mountjay), and the Swedish Friedstahills Saila by Miss Matthews (Timberland) and Dorothy Rose, the breed improved dramatically. They were followed in 1959 by Tophunter Tommi and Tophunter Turre, imported by Shirley Simons and which were born in quarantine and later owned by Mrs Price, and Kiho Tipsa who was imported by Mrs Price. With Una of Snowland (bred by Mrs A Westcott, by Friedstahill Saila out of Kingmak Japonica and later owned by Mrs Price), Tommi and Turre appeared in almost every pedigree of our top winning dogs until the early 1970's.
In recent years the bitch with the greatest influence has been the imported Ch Urheilu-Pennan Pipsa of Toveri who, during the last few years, has been in the pedigree of virtually every C.C. winning Finnish Spitz and is now established as the top brood bitch in the breed for all time.
Very Suitable Family Pet
The breed as always appealed to a small number of enthusiasts, rather than having wide popular appeal and it is difficult to know why this should be so.
Finnish Spitz are smaller than many of the Spitz breeds. They are particularly attractive and make a very suitable family pet. There seems to be a break-even point at which a breed becomes self-sufficient. Once the 250 registrations a year mark has been passed, enough people own the breed to keep it established. However, no doubt breeders will keep trying to break the magic barrier, but it is particularly difficult with this breed as their litters are rather small. The usual number in a litter is three or four, and although five and (very rarely) six are sometimes recorded, three is a perfectly respectable litter and many breeders become quite resigned to litters of two.
Finnish Spitz are lively, energetic, healthy and independent. They are temperamentally typical of the Spitz breeds in that they love company but do not need it, will do just as you ask until the time is important or necessary that they obey, and they love the sound of their own voices. Barking is a habit which is difficult to break, but it is annoying to both owners and neighbours, so it is very important to establish that it is not tolerated under any circumstances. In Finland working dogs are taught to bark just at the capercaillie, and to ignore any other game, so they can be prevented from making excessive noise, but your Finnish Spitz will take great pains to convince you that his barking is both natural and necessary.
They are an exceptionally clean breed, even for a Spitz, and it is delightful to watch them washing themselves, and each other, until their coats shine after meals and walks. They need remarkably little grooming except when they are moulting, and a good brush each week from head to tail (paying particular attention to combing out trouser, ruff and tail) is ample. The hair, when the coat does drop, is not sticky and will brush or vacuum up very easily, but regular daily combing during moulting is the most sensible answer. As with all dogs, and coated breeds in particular, never allow them to remain wet for any length of time and use a hair dryer after rubbing down if necessary. This is very important as Finnish Spitz like to be out of doors in all weathers and like nothing better than to lie in the snow or in a cold wind. They love the fire in the evenings of course, but are certainly not lap dogs. They are very inquisitive and exceptionally independent as puppies, and can get into all sorts of scrapes if the garden is not safely fenced.
The Finnish Spitz coat is typical of the Spitz breeds, the outer coat being of coarse, long hairs, over the dense woolly undercoat. It is longer on the tail, on the thighs and around the neck where it forms a ruff. The outer coat should stand off half erect and be quite straight. The colour must be red (anything from a near gold to dark chestnut), the important quality being its clarity. There must be no trace of 'muddiness' or dullness in the coat, which should be bright and really sparkle in the sun. The undercoat is always lighter in colour than the top coat and can be as light as a deep cream colour, but never actually white. Puppies and young adults often have black-tipped hairs which usually disappear as the dog gets older. The coat should not really give the impression of a solid colour; it should be shaded and without clearly defined colour changes. The cheek, underpart, tail, thigh and shoulder shading can be lighter in colour - almost as light as the undercoat, but there should be very little white. A narrow strip up to 2 centimetres wide is allowable on the chest and white tips are acceptable - but not admired - on the feet. It is very difficult to tell the final depth of colour from the puppies. They are born dark grey, grey or fawn, with a good deal of black and, apart from any white markings, colour cannot really be assessed until about four months of age. Even then the colour can change during the dog's life.
Alert and Courageous
The first full, or puppy, coat is sometimes rather long and distorts the true outline of the dog, making it appear too low to the ground. Future coats may be a little lighter or darker. By the second coat, the colour has usually stabilised and at this stage there should be very few black-tipped hairs and no patches of black hair. Eyes should be dark brown, and noses and lips jet black. The breed is sometimes affectionately known as 'piki nokka' in Finland - this meaning 'pitch-black nose'.
An essential characteristic of the Finnish Spitz is liveliness. They should be alert and courageous but this is tempered with caution. The whole attitude of the dog should of eagerness and curiosity and a Finnish Spitz which is unhappy, sick or frightened is a sorry sight. They are exceptionally intelligent, learn very quickly but get bored if they are required to do the same thing over and over again. For this reason Finnish Spitz have little potential as obedience dogs and, although it is possible to train them at the lower levels, it is very hard work and there is little reward.
The outline of the breed is square, although bitches are forgiven if they are slightly long, and the dog should have plenty of air space beneath the body consistent with a deep chest. Dogs are often seen with the chest taking up half or even more of the distance from the shoulder to the ground, and this is quite wrong. The correct proportion is 4:9 in a dog that is of the correct overall conformation. The height at the shoulder is seventeen and a half to nineteen and three quarter inches for dogs and fifteen and a half to eighteen inches for a bitch. In Finland dogs outside the limits are heavily penalised, but in Britain we tend to be more concerned that the proportions and balance are correct, even if the dog is slightly over or under size. The neck is shorter than in some of the other Spitz breeds because Finnish Spitz are used to point upwards when they are working and for the same reasons the shoulders and hocks are comparatively straight. They should be light on their round, cat-like feet and have strong, straight legs. The tail has been called the 'Crown of the Finnish Spitz'. It should curl forward immediately from the root, and continue in a tight curve until the tail turns and lies along the thigh with the tip pointing to the back. The tail should not hang straight down, neither should it curve so much that it becomes a full circle. Occasionally a corkscrew-tail, like that of a Norwegian Buhund, is seen but this is not considered acceptable in Finnish Spitz. A short tail or one which is not set high enough never looks comfortable.
The expression of a Finnish Spitz is most important. Sometimes the darker markings on the muzzle and forehead give the impression of a decided scowl and, although I do not find it attractive, this is not really a fault. Most dogs have a considerable range of expressions. When relaxed they can look most gentle and kind, and when alert their intelligence and eagerness are plain to see. They can also clearly indicate disgust, greed, pleasure, boredom and long-suffering patience. Their almond eyes which should be set slanting slightly upwards from the inner corner to the outer, should be dark or hazel brown. Occasionally yellow eyes are seen, even in Finland and these do not look at all attractive. The head should be a typical Spitz wedge-shape with a pronounced stop and the mouth should have a scissor bite. Ears should be small, very mobile, triangular and pointed.
It is important that dogs can be distinguished from bitches at a distance and equally the dog's head should be essentially masculine; the bitch's obviously feminine. How the Spitz breeds manage to express their gender so clearly has always puzzled me, but there is no doubt that the most typical examples of each breed really do behave and look of their sex. This is especially true of Finnish Spitz and is part of their appeal for me.
Finnish Spitz are superb house dogs and guards. They are excellent with children and marvellous pets and companions. They are small enough to fit comfortably into a modern house but have the personality, character and temperament of a large dog. However, they must be gently but firmly handled during puppyhood as their ability to take over a household is quite unsurpassed.
For more information please contact any member of the Finnish Spitz Club committee on the Club and committee page
Copies of The Finnish Spitz Breed Standard Explained by Antti Aarnio, Chairman of the Finnish Spitz Club in Finland, and translated into English by Angela are available, price £6 or €10. Also available is Finnish Spitz - a cultural history of the breed, also by Angela Cavill (Hardback, 320pp in full colour £35. +p&p) Please contact Angela on firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in buying either of these publications.
Angela Cavill with Ch Urheilu-Pennan Pipsa of Toveri
Lady Kitty Ritson with some of her Finnish Spitz
Griselda Price with some of her many dogs