The West Siberian Laika and the Karelian Bear Dog: Small Farm Protectors

The West Siberian Laika and the Karelian Bear Dog originated among the Finnish people, centuries ago. Both breeds were used by natives and Russian settlers for hunting and watch dogs. They are labeled as primitive breeds, because their owners took minimal care of them. Dogs were allowed to mate free, unwanted pups were usually killed, and only the best utility dogs were fed better and preserved in times of food shortage. Characteristic local types of dogs were preserved only because they existed in relative isolation, with no other dogs ever imported. Their qualities for practical use were selected by people, but their appearance and physical endurance were formed chiefly by natural selection. They are still considered rare breeds in the United States.

The West Siberian Laika’s origins seem to be in the northern Uralian Mountains and West Siberia, chiefly in the Ob River Basin, although similar dogs were also found in many areas in East Siberia. These are middle to large size dogs, standing 23-25 inches, with bitches measuring 21-23 inches at withers. They have a double, straight hair which may be white, gray, red, or red and gray combined with white in variable proportions. Black dogs with symmetrical white or pale red patterns on the head, chest, legs, and abdomen also may occur. The muzzle is slightly longer or as long as the head from eye to occipital. A full set of large scissors bite teeth or close to straight bite teeth is typical. Prick ears and a tail curled over the back or on either side complete the typical appearance of this Nordic type dog. Females usually come in heat one time per year, approximately in February, and give birth to 3-7 pups per litter.

The Karelian Bear Dog was originally common in northern Europe from Finland to the Uralian Mountains. It is slightly smaller than the West Siberian Laika, 21-23 inches at withers. The Karelian Bear Dogs’ color varies from entirely black to pure white with all transitions of black with white spots. Their muzzle is shorter than the rest of the skull with a more distinct stop. Their tail is curled over the back on either side. These dogs have a full set of teeth with a scissor bite. Females come in heat twice per year and produce 5-9 puppies per litter.

There are no known genetic health problems among either breed. They become attached to their owners and are not particularly aggressive towards people. They have excellent temperament and deal well with children. Some individuals do not wag their tails when meeting strangers and may become rather protective against intruders.

Both breeds are bold hunters for small and large predators. They originally were used for hunting a wide variety of game – mainly small fur bearers like squirrel, marten, and sable – but the same dogs were also used to bring down moose and brown bear. A hunter usually traveled on foot or horseback for weeks, carrying his gun and a minimal amount of supplies. Given a minimum of food and rest, these breeds learned to save their energy searching for game within a short range (100-200 yards), chase it fast and silent, and bark only when the game is treed or stopped. These dogs are remarkably versatile and use different tactics specific to the circumstances and kind of game; even their barking style varies accordingly. The hunter can tell what kind of game the dog has found just by listening to the bark.

I know and like these dogs. I had West Siberian Laikas when I lived in Russia. I was a traveling zoologist, and lived and hunted with the native people (people of Mansi) in the Uralian Mountains. Four years ago, my son visited Russia and brought back a pair of West Siberian Laika pups for me.

Both breeds make great squirrel dogs. They have also proven to be particularly aggressive to predators like raccoons, opossums and bobcats, giving them potential as efficient protectors of farm animals. I have raised and trained one of my West Siberian Laika females and one Karelian Bear Dog to leave our cats and chickens alone.

The best time to start is when the puppy is 8-16 weeks old. The puppy should be allowed to run and play close to the chickens separated by a wire fence. The puppy should be supervised constantly and punished slightly but firmly for every attempt to chase or grab chickens. Let your pup be among chickens every day, and never allow it to chase them, even playfully. Very soon, chasing attempts will become rare and disappear. Even so, do not allow your pup to be free around chickens without strict supervision. It is very important not to allow your dog to kill and eat a chicken during the training. Usually by 6 months after birth, the puppy is very reliable and has no interest in chasing chickens.

When I lived in Russia, I had one Laika female which lived in peace with our muscovy ducks. She allowed ducks to walk in her dog house and lay their eggs there. It is interesting that dogs perfectly understand the difference between live chickens which are forbidden, and dead chickens or chicken meat as food. I occasionally feed my dogs cooked or raw chicken meat. They love it, but it does not change their behavior toward live chickens. It is a good idea not to give your dog a bone or other food which takes a long time to finish while chickens are walking around, because the dog may bite one simply protecting its meal.

My dogs do not run far from the house when turned loose, and are quite reliable with our free range chickens. Several times a week, I take them for a walk in the woods and prairies on my land and beyond to the lake, where they have fun treeing squirrels and catching rodents. I do not hunt now, but enjoy watching what they find and tree.

Usually, I turn one of my dogs loose at night, and another one during the day, when the chickens are walking free. The dogs always run to the woods, where they catch scents or suspicious sounds. Several times I have seen opossums and raccoons treed. The dogs do it, not because they love chickens, but because of their strong inherited drive to chase and catch predators. Every coon, fox, or bobcat approaching our house is quickly detected and chased away, treed, or killed. The dogs chase away coyotes as well, but this animal is too fast to be caught. When a predator retreats, the dogs will follow him for a while, still barking, and then return to the house. We lose only 2-3 chickens per year to predators, and my dogs only kill 1-2 coons caught per year.

The West Siberian Laika and the Karelian Bear Dog make excellent farm house dogs, because unlike most hounds, they are not inclined to chase deer, and do not follow game too far from the house. They are also useful with large predators such as bears or mountain lions. They are excellent at predator detection, and use bear dog techniques to fight. They alternate attacks and retreats, avoiding being grabbed, bite from behind, keeping the animal under stress and forcing it to eventually retreat. Two aggressive males do the best job on a large predator or wild boar. Less bold individuals can still be helpful, because they will bark at the animal from some distance to warn you, but never run to you for safety.

Written By: Vladimir Beregovoy
Published: “Small Farm Today” August 1995