The Finnish Spitz by David Cavill
The Finnish Spitz is one of the group of small hunting Spitz breeds and as the name implies was first bred selectively in Finland. It seems likely that the breed is descended from the small Central European Spitz type, an example of which was found along with evidence of Stone Age Man in Switzerland in 1861. The Finno-Ugrian peoples, who were the nomadic hunters, populating Central Europe at this time, began to move northwards, taking their dogs with them, several thousand years before the birth of Christ. In Finland, trapped among 60,000 lakes, the Finnish Spitz developed in its own way, as other varieties of the Spitz breeds developed in their own isolated corners of the Northern Hemisphere. In Finland the breed is called Suomenpystykorva which is something of a mouthful and which means 'Finnish prick-eared dog'. This was modified when the breed was first introduced to this country to Finsk Spets and then later anglicised to Finnish Spitz. Some enthusiasts have taken the name a step further and use 'Finkie' on the grounds that Finnish Spitz is not very memorable but I think I would rather forget 'Finnish Spitz' than remember 'Finkie' !
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, but primarily they are used for hunting. 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.
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. The very best dogs will sense the direction from which the hunter is coming and shift their position so that the bird turns its back on the gun. (This does not seem fair to me but anyone with a knowledge of the breed will confirm that it is quite in line with their temperament - they do not 'play fair' at any time!) 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 and in fact there are official barking competitions held in Scandinavia for the King of the Barkers.
The following story is almost certainly apocryphal because the best dogs are trained only to bark at particular game, but I have heard that lemmings are used to excite the dogs to bark in these competitions and, again, the breed's tendency to cheat has been revealed, as on more than one occasion the competition has been completely disrupted by the Finnish Spitz eating the lemming! In any event, the method of hunting does explain the 'don't call us we'll call you' attitude of many of the Spitz breeds. 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.
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 188o they were practically extinct, but two senior 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 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 Suomenpystykorva for registration. Hugo Sandberg himself judged the breed but was never a breeder as his senior position in the timber trade necessitated much travel. Hugo Roos was one of the first breeders and he spent many years and travelled hundreds of miles searching for and buying typical specimens. Most of the dogs used in the foundation of the breed were discovered in remote areas of the north and west of Finland. Between 1900 and 1910 the dogs were bred from which most Finnish Spitz in the world today can trace their ancestry. They were Veikko (D) SKK 951, Aili (B) SKK 952, their progeny Lulli Veikonpoika (D) SKK 1307 and Alli Veikontytar (B) SKK 1309, Ch. Natti SKK 1714 and Lippo (D) SKK 315. After 1910 beautiful dogs and good barkers were still discovered in the backwoods and wilds of Finland but most of these attempts to bring new blood into the breed were unsuccessful in the long run because the succeeding generation was seldom as good as the parents. 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 and was certainly intimately concerned with breeding those already mentioned either by finding the original dogs or by suggesting possible matings. He pioneered the breed until the 1920s. 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 1927 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 and later 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 know, they were never shown or bred from. Lady Kitty Ritson had also seen the breed in Finland and was already enthusiastic. With Mrs De La Poer Beresford, Lionel Taylor, Mrs and Miss Pink (later Mrs Piper) and Mrs Moulton she organised the Finnish Spitz Club and imported a number of dogs. 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) and Kiho Sievi by William Blackden and the Swedish Freidstahills Saila by Miss Matthews and Dorothy Rose, the breed improved dramatically. They were followed in 1959 by Tophunter Tommi and Tophunter Turre, imported by Shirley Simons (born in quarantine and later owned by Mrs Price) and Kiho Tipsa, imported by Mrs Price. With Una of Snowland (bred by Mrs A. Westcott, by Freidstahills Saila out of Kingmak japonica and later owned by Mrs Price), Tommi and Turre appear in almost every pedigree of our top winning dogs.
During the the 60s and 70s the breed was been dominated by Griselda Price. Her extensive breeding programme, based on her own Cullabine stock (which itself was founded largely on the 'of Tulcan' kennel of Lady Kitty Ritson) and Tommi, Turre, Una and Tipsa has produced dogs of the highest quality and quite worthy of being shown in Finland.
The breed has 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, particularly attractive, and are 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 are 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 it is important or necessary that they obey and they love the sound of their own voices. Barking is a habit as difficult to break, as 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 excess 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 wash 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 tail to head (paying particular care to comb out trousers, 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. They should need bathing very occasionally, and then only when they are quite out of coat. 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 love to lie in the snow or in a biting cold wind. They love the fire in the evenings, of course, but are certainly not lap dogs. They are not subject to any hereditary faults and are a remarkably healthy breed. You are unlikely to need a vet except for the usual booster inoculations. However, 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 of coarse, long hairs over the dense, woolly undercoat is longer on the tail and on the thighs and round the neck, forming 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 than the top coat and can be deep cream, but not 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 solid colour; it should be shaded and without clearly defined colour changes. The cheeks, under parts, tail, thighs and shoulder shadings can be lighter in colour - almost as light as the undercoat - but there should be very little white. A narrow strip up to 2 cm 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 old. Even then the colour can change during the dog's life. The first full, or puppy, coat is sometimes rather long and distorts the true outline of the dog, making it appear too low on the ground, and 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 and this means '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 be of eagerness and curiosity and a Finnish Spitz which is unhappy, sick or frightened (this last very seldom) 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 between the shoulder and 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 shoulders is 17 ½ - 19 ½ for dogs and 15 ½ 18 in. for bitches. In Finland dogs outside the limits are heavily penalised, but in Britain we tend to be more concerned that the proportions 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, catlike 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 comes full circle. Occasionally, a corkscrew tail is seen like that of the Norwegian Buhund 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 for all to see. They can also clearly indicate disgust, greed, pleasure, boredom and long-suffering patience. The 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 and 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 are 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 very firmly handled during puppy hood as their ability to take over the household is unsurpassed!