Rules Of Rating Hunting Laikas In Russia On Squirrel, Marten, Sable, Capercaillie, Grouse And Pheasants

All Russian hunting Laikas originated from local aboriginal dogs of peoples of northeastern Europe and Siberia. For thousands of years, these dogs helped their masters to obtain valuable pelts and meat. Still as recently as the 12th and 13th Centuries, natives of Siberia, as well as Russians, paid their tribute to the Mongol (Yasak), a considerable part of which was valuable fur of sable and other animals. In the 15th Century, under Ivan the Terrible, Russians advanced eastward conquering Siberia. According to some accounts, at that time one good pelt of sable could bring enough money to buy a 50-acre farm. The first seaport through which Russians began their trade with England was Archangel and the entire trade commodity was fur. Most of the fur was obtained with the assistance of local aboriginal varieties of Laikas. Laikas were instrumental in the local economy. There were often limited food resources for raising dogs for hunting mainly because of the nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life of their owners.

Hunting Laikas are specialized for hunting, but within their hunting capacity, they are extremely versatile. The same dogs are expected to tree squirrels, sables and martens and also bay an aggressive brown bear or stop a giant moose. Dealing with such diverse kinds of game, a dog should use different styles of behavior. Squirrels or sables, if only injured after being shot, should be quickly killed by the Laika, but without their tearing and chewing on the precious pelts! Bears should be attacked viciously with hard biting, but avoid becoming caught and killed by such a powerful predator. A moose should be stopped by a playful style of jumping and crawling near him with mild barking, but without viciousness, which could unnecessarily frighten him so he would run too far away.

These dogs were used not for sport but for pragmatical purposes to obtain as much as possible high-quality furs to sell and meat for food. Therefore, there was no need for mindless bravery, chasing with voice, or unnecessarily bloody fighting with the game, or using grab and hold Terrier style tactics. The killing was done mainly by the hunter and the dog’s behavior is different with different kinds of game and changes even depending on the degree of resistance of animal and other circumstances. This was a rule of survival for both the dog and the hunter.

A valuable dog should stay alive to hunt again and again. Worthless dogs were eliminated by not feeding, abandonment, or just shot on the spot.

Since prehistoric times, it was a common tradition to feed dogs only during hunting season in the fall and winter. In spring and summer, dogs were forced to hunt for themselves or scavenge around human camps and villages. Veterinary help did not exist. Dogs bred by free mating. Local types of Laika were preserved simply by geographic isolation in places where they lived.

By the end of the 19th and early 20th Centuries, Russian settlers arrived in Ural and Siberia in ever increasing numbers and brought European breeds with them. Under conditions of free mating, in most populated areas local types of Laika began to disappear, but still could be found in most remote regions. Some Russian hunters, who wanted to just make quick money and go back home, castrated the best hunting males to keep them more obedient and available for hunting even when bitches in heat were around.

In 1930-1940, in Russia, the Russo-European Laika was officially recognized as a breed. During the same period of time, the Karelian Bear Dog became established for pure breeding in Finland. Both breeds are middle size dogs. Black with white spots is accepted as typical color of both breeds, but Russians allow entire color range to a pure white color. Even gray dogs still occur, but are considered less desirable at the dog show.

The Russo-European Laika and the Karelian Bear Dog originated from samples of aboriginal dogs of northeastern Europe. The West Siberian Laika, a middle to large size dog of gray, red white and gray, or red with white spots, originated from aboriginal dogs of Ural and West Siberia. The Russo-European and West Siberian Laikas were used almost exclusively for hunting. The East Siberian Laika became recognized as a breed at a later time. It is a medium to large sized dog with more robust body structure of various colors: gray, white, brown, black and either of the above combined with white.

The East Siberian Laika is used for both to pull sleds and for hunting. It is stronger and slightly slower than the Russo-European Laika and the West Siberian Laika. The Russo-European Laika and the Karelian Bear Dog are the most domesticated. They start treeing and mature early and, as do most domesticated dogs, their females have two heats per year. The two Siberian Laikas, on the average, start hunting and mature at a later time. Their females have one heat per year, as do most wild canines, and produce fewer puppies per litter.

Now Laikas are among the most popular hunting dogs in Russia. The Russo-European Laika, as well as the Karelian Bear Dog and the West Siberian Laika, are available in the USA and Canada. The East Siberian Laika was also imported into the USA, but so far there are no breeders of these dogs known in North America. Hunting styles of these three breeds are almost identical.

They all start treeing naturally, without special teaching, and their talents to hunt moose and bear are also inherited. Although every Laika is a versatile hunting dog, some of them show clear inherited preference for a particular kind of game. Thus, it is very common to hear among Russian hunters about a good moose or a good bear Laika, referring to a certain dog. Some Laikas are great to hunt a walking bear while others are preferred to hunt bear in his winter den. Some excellent moose dogs are not interested in hunting wild boar and some very good squirrel dogs do not work well on big game.

However, regular hunting may change the dog’s hunting behavior because Laikas learn on the job and become better adjusted to the master’s favorite game. In the past, when aboriginal dogs were not officially recognized breeds, not only typical hunting Laika type dogs were used by native people for different jobs. In 1960, when I traveled in Polar Ural, I saw typical Samoyed type dogs treeing grouse and squirrels and retrieving ducks very well. Siberian Laika and Karelian Bear like dogs were herding reindeer as well.

Laikas are rather pragmatic dogs. They use their scent, vision and hearing to detect game quickly. They often look in the tree crowns, the sky and around themselves and their ears and eyes are always alert. This is particularly important when the dog should chase a marten or sable trying to escape by running on tree crowns and bridges of fallen dead trees. The dog must track them as far as half a mile or longer, even if the animal does not touch the ground. There are no other breeds which could do this job.

It would take too much space to describe the hunting of different kinds of game with Laikas. Now, I will briefly describe rules of rating of hunting dogs of the three Laika breeds on squirrel, marten, sable, capercaillie and pheasants as it appears in recent Russian literature.

Squirrel, marten and sable are hunted for their pelts. Capercaillie, grouse and pheasants are hunted as food game. Trials of Laikas on these kinds of game are organized and conducted at any season of the year in natural habitats where wild animals are present. The following hunting qualities of dogs are evaluated and rated during trials.

  1. Scent, hearing and vision are evaluated as one package called in the Russian language “chutyo.” This is determined by the speed, precision and efficiency of detecting the game in the trial area. A dog may sniff tracks on the ground and stop and listen a second or two and then runs straight in one direction and in a moment the game is treed. At this time, the dog is barking and watching the game intensely.
  2. Speed of search is described as the speed of movement of a dog searching for game. The Russo-European Laika and West Siberian Laika use mainly a galloping gait and the East Siberian Laika use mainly a fast trot.
  3. Correctness of search, width and length of range and how thoroughly a dog’s search covers the hunting area, selectiveness of the search specifically of typical habitats of a particular game and the ability to detect a bird or a mammal in trees.
  4. Voice is evaluated by its strength, pleasant sound and highly bred quality of barking.
  5. Treeing style is evaluated by the behavior of the dog under the tree.
  6. Tracking includes chase of the mammal running away on the ground or tree crowns or of a bird flying away.
  7. Persistence of treeing of a mammal or a bird and the ability to find them after they have been temporarily lost.
  8. Obedience requires a dog to obey commands and signals of a hunter without hesitation and precisely.
  9. Treatment of game brought down. The dog should not tear or chew the game.

The following scale of maximal number of points is used to evaluate the dog’s performance:

Scent, hearing and vision (“chutyo”), 30 points; speed of search, 10; voice, 5; treeing style, 10; tracking, 15; persistence, 10; obedience, 5; treatment of shot game, 5. Total number of points, 100.


Performance			Diploma

     index		I		II		III

	             Degree Degree Degree

Total number

     of points          80	       70		60


Scent, hearing

     and vision

     ("chutyo")		26		23		20

Tracking		13		11		8

Treatment of

     shot animal	4		4		3


To earn a diploma a dog must be tried at least on two squirrels or two birds. Dogs tried on one squirrel or one bird are evaluated but the diploma is not awarded. On sable, marten or capercaillie, one trial is sufficient to award a diploma.

To be awarded a Degree I Diploma, a dog must show good performance at least on four animals; for a Degree II Diploma, three animals; and for the Degree III Diploma, good work on two animals is enough.

The total time a dog should spend during a trial is one hour. Time spent treeing, even at the empty tree, and movement to another habitat is excluded. Time allotted for a search is divided into two halves, 30 minutes each. Trials for Laikas are not conducted when the outside temperature is below minus four degrees Fahrenheit or above 86 degrees, torrential prolonged rain, wind faster than 30 miles per hour and snow cover deeper than ten inches. A dog may be evaluated by its work on two animals of the same species of game or two animals of different species. The kinds of game on which the dog has been tried are recorded in the diploma.

During the trials, two birds or two mammals are shot for testing the treatment of the shot game by the dogs. Shot animals are thrown under the tree immediately after the shooting to see the dog’s reaction.

Dogs which bark under empty trees three consecutive times are removed from further trials. Only one empty tree barking is allowed during the first five minutes of search. Squirrels found within a 45 to 75 foot range from the tree under which the dog barks are not counted, but the bark is not considered as empty. If the squirrel is found beyond 75 feet away from the tree barked, the bark is considered as empty. The treeing is successful if the dog is barking at the group of trees or a single tree with game for at least during one minute. Actually, the dog is willing to tree for a long time, up to 30 minutes or longer.

To find game, the hunter is allowed not more than 15 minutes from the moment when he approached the tree where his dog is barking. Dogs which did not start their search during the first 15 minutes are removed from trials. Dogs tearing and chewing game are evaluated, but diplomas are not awarded. Calling a barking dog away from the tree or any encouraging by the master is not permitted.

Evaluation is a rather complex task, because some dogs make many barks under empty trees but, at the same time, they actually find more squirrels or other game in a shorter time than other dogs and this must be taken into account by the judges. However, a number of points is subtracted if the Russo-European or West Siberian Laika is trotting or walking instead of galloping. The East Siberian Laika is allowed to use a fast trot.

Leaving large areas typical of the game unchecked, spending a long time in habitat not typical of the game, frequent check barks without detecting game animals or straight line search, lead to losses in number of points. Not purebred, unpleasant, weak or coarse voices are penalized. During treeing, if the dog remains too close to the tree trunk, does not move on the opposite side when the hunter comes up, often remains silent or jumps on the tree trunk and bites branches, it will lose a certain number of points for each of these faults. If the dog is losing the squirrel and cannot find it again on his own, he will lose up to 10-15 points.

Obedience is not the strongest quality of Laikas, but any behavior interfering with successful hunting is also penalized, but less severely than poor performance in the detecting and tracking the game. Some dogs seem to enjoy the treeing itself rather than the killing of slightly injured squirrel, allowing it to run back on the tree, which is also penalized.

Degree of diplomas awarded to a dog and kinds of game used in trials are recorded in pedigree documents. Only dogs which passed trials are given registration papers necessary for breeding. The best dogs for breeding are evaluated by a combined number of points given at the dog show for conformation and for working performance during trials. This allows for preservation both hunting quality and conformation among breeding stock Laikas. This also allows for a healthy genetic variation in the breed.

In the next paper, I will describe the rules for rating the work of hunting Laikas on moose, bear and wild boar in Russia.

I would like to thank Alex Schubert for editing this paper.
Written By: Vladimir Beregovoy
Published: “Full Cry” June 1997