The Samoyed Breed

The Samoyed is a natural breed – one of the oldest known to man, having shared the lives of the nomadic Samoyede tribe of North West Siberia for perhaps thousands of years.

The demands of the unforgiving arctic environment dictated a hardy, versatile, hard-working dog, capable of not only survival but also considerable endurance in the harshest of conditions, sometimes on a virtual starvation diet. This all-purpose dog was used primarily for herding reindeer, but also for hauling sleds, hunting polar bears, and anything else that cropped up – the Samoyed had to earn his keep, but at the end of the day, he was a member of the family – he shared their companionship, played with the children and helped to keep them warm at night.

These characteristics made the Samoyed very popular with the early polar explorers. Indeed, it has been “claimed” that a Samoyed, Roald Amundsen’s lead dog was the first non-native to reach the South Pole.

The Samoyed is a medium-size dog with a thick white coat and a big, permanent smile on his face that reflects the happy-go-lucky nature of the breed. Beautiful, graceful, affectionate and fun-loving, the Samoyed has been called the dog that carries in its face and heart the spirit of Christmas the whole year through.

Surprisingly, that glamorous coat stays fairly clean and requires far less grooming than most people expect. Weekly brushing is usually enough and mud sheds easily when dry. Little bathing is required and there is none of the “doggy odour” often found in other breeds. As a side benefit of the thick white coat, the Samoyed readily adapts to climate extremes – both cold and hot. However, the coat will eventually “blow” – once or twice a year the undercoat sheds in a spectacular way requiring many hours work with a stripping comb.

The Samoyed has often been accused of being wilful and stubborn, and certainly is easily bored and distracted. However, his original environment demanded a very intelligent breed with an independent nature. He is easy to train, but dislikes repetition. He thinks for himself, and “if you keep throwing that ball away, you obviously don’t want it!” If not kept entertained, the Samoyed will entertain himself – he enjoys chewing and delights in “gardening”.

Many Samoyeds are barkers, which makes them great as watchdogs, but as guard dogs, they are often found lacking – they will bark when a stranger approaches, but then show him where to find the silverware.

View the ANKC Samoyed Standard.

..permanent smile on his face that reflects the happy-go-lucky nature of the breed.

The Working Samoyed

The Samoyed has only been known in the Western World for a little over 100 years. Samoyeds were used by early polar explorers in both the Arctic and Antarctic. They were appreciated for their qualities of intelligence, endurance and adaptability which made them an excellent choice for the job of hauling sleds. These valiant dogs endured terrible hardships serving man in his quest for the poles. Tales of heroic polar exploits have led to the modern perception that the Samoyed is nothing more than a sled dog.

The reality is quite different. The breed is named after a remnant of one of the earliest tribes of Central Asia. After many thousands of years of migration, the people we now call the Samoyedes, along with their faithful dogs, eventually settled in the vast arctic regions of North Western Siberia and Northern Russia more than 2,000 years ago.

Somewhere along the way, they learned to domesticate the wild caribou that they had previously hunted – the animal we now know as the reindeer. In the bleak Arctic tundra, their former agricultural skills were of no use and the tribe regressed to a primitive lifestyle revolving around their reindeer. The deer supplied most of the essentials of life. As well as providing a source of food, their hides were used for clothing, shelter, beds and rugs. Vast herds of reindeer were required to support this lifestyle.

Despite domestication, the reindeer and the Samoyede people still needed to travel the traditional migration routes in search of the main food source for the herds, a lichen known as Reindeer Moss. Vast tracts of land were grazed and the people had to move camp often. The biannual treks – north to the tundras for summer, and south to the forests for winter – could easily cover 1,000 kilometers or more. It would not have been possible for men on foot to control and muster the herds without the Samoyed Dog.

The dogs were sometimes used for draught work, particularly for hauling small boats along river banks when the annual thaw created an immense network of rivers and streams. Generally, however, with the pulling power of herds of reindeer at their disposal, the people used the deer for the job of hauling their possessions. A dog able to herd deer would be wasted in harness, and in any case, the original mobile home, a structure of wood and reindeer hide, known as a choom, was far too heavy for a dog team. The dogs herded, guarded, fought off wolves, caught fish and hunted bears. They occasionally hauled, but reindeer did this more efficiently.

..intelligence, endurance and adaptability.

Working Events
The Samoyed Club of SA encourages its members to participate in activities that prove that the breed of today maintains the qualities so cherished in the past. Several of our number are actively engaged in herding, sled dog racing, weight-pull competition and pack hiking. The club runs an awards program to recognise working achievements, and hires out a Christmas sled as a fundraiser.

Despite the popular perception of a sled dog, breed aficionados have long known of its innate herding abilities. Contemporary anecdotal evidence of the Samoyed’s herding heritage is abundant. There are numerous accounts of incidents where a Samoyed escape artist is eventually found rounding up the neighbour’s sheep. Samoyeds are “loose-eyed” herding dogs similar to Collies, Australian Shepherds, Shelties, Belgians etc., relying on body language and bark to control the stock. They exhibit a variety of different styles when working stock – some work very close, even shouldering or chesting the stock, while others work at a distance relying more on barking. They tend to prefer actual work to competition work, relishing the greater variety of tasks.

Although the first recorded sheep dog trial was held in 1873, herding competition for “the dog fancy” seems to have started in the USA in the 1980’s, and Samoyeds were there at the start. In 1992, Samoyeds were the first breed outside the Herding Group to be admitted to AKC herding competition. They have been eligible for competition with the American Herding Breed Assoc. since its inception in 1986, and for even longer with the Australian Shepherd Club of America.

Following a 2005 submission by the Samoyed Club of SA, the breed is now accepted for herding competition in Australia, and several dogs have competed successfully since then, nationwide. ANKC-affiliated herding groups and clubs hold training sessions and herding trials in most states of Australia through the cooler months of the year.

The first open (all breeds) sled dog race in South Australia was held in 1996, and the Samoyed breed was represented – all previous events had been restricted to Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. Samoyeds have competed in sled dog racing events regularly since then. Since 2005, the Samoyed Club has held an annual open event, the “White Flash Bash”, which is included on the national sled dog racing calendar.

OK, there’s a slight technical problem – no snow! So instead of sleds, we use scooters for one and 2 dog teams, and 3-wheeled gigs for larger teams. In recent years, a new event has been introduced to encourage newcomers to get started in the sport – bikejoring – where the musher rides a bike instead of a scooter.

Racing is held in the winter months in the pine forests of Mount Crawford and Kuitpo. In deference to our climate, race distances are fairly short – from about 2 to 8 km, depending on the size of the team and the experience of the musher.

Weight Pull Competition
The Club held its first Weight Pull competition in 2002 – the first open competition in the state – again, all previous events had been restricted to Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies. A number of Samoyeds have qualified for working awards in the Weight Pull discipline, and in Adelaide, several dogs have pulled loads over 500kg and the state record for the breed is currently 700kg.

Competitions are subdivided into several weight classes so that dogs compete against other dogs of similar size.

A 4-wheeled cart is used to carry the weights and the pulling surface is generally carpet over concrete or bitumen, although pulls can also be held on a “natural” surface. Dogs wear a special harness which is attached to the cart via a tug line. The competition starts with an empty cart (about 120 kg). At the completion of each round, weight is added to the cart. A successful pull requires the loaded cart to be pulled a distance of 5m within 60 seconds, and allows the dog to progress to subsequent rounds. In each weight class, the winner is the dog that successfully pulls the greatest weight. In the event of a tie, the fastest time wins.