Sámi herding reindeer with Swedish Lapphund-type dogs.

The term Scandinavia can encompass several different concepts. Geographically, it is a peninsula on the far northern end of the European continent. Linguistically, it includes the three Germanic-speaking countries of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, that also share a cultural heritage. However, parts of Finland are also on the Scandinavian peninsula and often Finland is included in the concept of Scandinavia. However, Finnish is a non-Germanic language, more closely related to the Uralic language spoken by the Sámi, an indigenous people that occupy the northern reaches of all the Scandinavian countries, excluding Denmark, and including Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia.

Most of the sheep found in Scandinavia are the Northern European short-tailed sheep, a group of breeds and landraces also found in the British Isles and the Baltic region. They are a hardy sheep, adapted to harsh environments. It is thought that they derive from the first sheep brought to Europe by early farmers in the Neolithic. The Soay sheep in Scotland are a remnant population of these early Neolithic sheep. By the Iron Age, these sheep had been replaced throughout northern and western Europe by a slightly larger, short-tailed sheep with a more uniform fleece. Examples of these Iron Age sheep are the Hebridean or St. Kilda, the Gotland, the Manx Loaghtan, the Spaelsau, and others.

The Vikings, Germanic people from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark raided, traded, and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia, and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the middle of the llth centuries. Most Vikings were farmers, even those who took part in raiding. Often, they would bring home their earnings and resume operating their farms before leaving again to go viking.

ScSweden1900-1920.jpgLeft, a group of Sámi people with their two spitz-type herding dogs. (Photo from between 1900 and 1920, and in the public domain.)

Scandinavia is home to spitz-type herding breeds. These dogs, while they resemble the collie in some ways, look very different in others. Their bodies are generally shorter with the tail curled over the back. They have a thick double coat that, as with all the Northern Breeds, allows them to accommodate the extreme environments in which they are required to work. While I could find no pointers to archaeological evidence showing transition stages between the wolf and the spitz-type dogs, skeletal remains suggest that it was likely that the ancestors of spitz-type dogs were bred back to wolves either by accident or by design. DNA testing shows that many spitz-types are genetically closer to wolves than other types of dogs are.

The Scandinavian dogs likely originated among the Sámi people who occupy the arctic regions of Scandinavia and have done so for at least 5,000 years. Archaeologists have traced a cultural continuity between stone-age peoples of the region and the Sámi. It is likely that dogs have accompanied the Sámi from archaic times, and both are indigenous to the region. The Sámi dogs are also related to the Spitz-dogs from Russian Siberia. They were first used as hunting dogs, and then as herders when reindeer were domesticated. Reindeer are not fully domesticated even now, roaming free on pasture land. They eat lichens, willows, birches, sedges, and grasses, and must follow the availability of food and avoid paracitic insects. Herders follow their herds on their natural migration, and only some reindeer are tamed for milking and for use as draft animals. Unlike other Arctic peoples, the Sámi did not use their dogs for draft, but used reindeer for that purpose instead. Studies have shown that during the Stone Age dogs were kept as pets, likely to help keep the home warm during the winter months.

For this article, I have considered five countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland), plus Greenland and the Faroe Islands, both belonging to Denmark, because they all have spitz-type herding dogs that are related. There are other Scandinavian islands in the Baltic and North Seas that have their own indigenous sheep and may have at one time had their own indigenous sheepdog, but I have not been able to find information on them. The Scandinavian dogs are likely to have influenced the collie breeds of Great Britain and Ireland, since many parts of Britain were heavily settled by Vikings, who brought their sheep and dogs with them wherever they went.


Norwegian Buhund

Sc21NorwegianBuhundsannseWi.jpgA wheaten or light tan Norwegian Buhund. (Photo by sannse, from Wikipedia where the copyright holder of this work published it under the following license: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.)

According to Linda Rorem, "The Norwegian Buhund or Norsk Buhund, a herding dog of the spitz group, is the farm dog of Norway. Bu in Norwegian means homestead or the mountain hut lived in by shepherds at the summer pastures, and hund of course means dog. Buhunds taken along by the Vikings on their travels and colonizing journeys over 1,000 years ago were the ancestors of the Iceland Dog and influenced the collie breeds....."

While excavating an ancient Viking ship, the Gokstad, in Norway, a Viking grave from about the year 900 was opened. Found among the grave goods were skeletons from six dogs of various sizes. Possibly they were ancestors of modern-day Buhunds. Archeologist believe that the Buhunds who protected farms and herded cattle and sheep for the Viking in life were expected to continue these duties in the afterlife.

Rorem says, "The Buhund is still used as a general-purpose farm dog in Norway, herding livestock and guarding property...As a farm dog, the Buhund is large enough to handle all types of livestock but small enough to be economical and easy to keep. Hardy and enduring, the Buhund must be agile, quick and sure-footed to work in the rugged terrain of its homeland. In Norway, the houses and farm buildings often are built on steep slopes, leaving the flat land for farming."

Sc22BlackBuhundKnytshallWik.jpgTwo black Norwegian Buhunds. (Photo from Wikipedia and in the Public Domain.)

Rorem quotes Lorraine Smart, an English breeder of Norwegian Buhunds as saying "In the spring the sheep are driven onto the mountains and looked after by just a handful of shepherds and their dogs. In the autumn when it is time to bring them down to the lower pastures all of the owners with their Buhunds congregate at a given point. They then send the dogs up the mountains (the dogs now work on their own initiative), to gather in and drive the sheep down to the large open space set aside. Time and again the dogs will go out and bring in, sometimes just one or two, sometimes twenty or thirty, sheep at a time. Now you can imagine, conditions are not conducive to sheep spotting; outcrops of rock, fallen boulders and hard springy gorse all combine to hide the sheep from the dog. So what does the dog do? He barks. This disturbs the sheep so that they move and are therefore very easily spotted and rounded up . . . during shearing the Buhund can and does work in the same way as the Kelpie. He walks over the backs of the sheep ... The Buhund also guards his flock. When brought down from the mountain, the sheep are not enclosed by fences, it is up to the Buhund to ensure than no sheep get out (day and night) and more importantly no marauders get into the flock. This guarding instinct can be very strong."

The Buhund is a medium-sized dog, about the size of the Border Collie or a little smaller. Females are a bit smaller than the males. Like all its spitz-type cousins, the Buhund is a squarish dog, short bodied, with the tail held curled over the back, and prick eared. In color, it comes in light tan to yellowish red, with or without dark tips and a mask, and black, with or without white markings. Rorem says that "[o]riginally wolf sable colors also were seen, as well as longer coats and more loosely curled tails, but these are now considered faults by show breeders."

The Norwegian Buhund is closely related to the Icelandic Sheepdog and the Jämthund or Norwegian Elkhound, a hunting dog, but then, all the Northern spitz breeds are cousins.


Icelandic Sheepdog

Above, "Reykjadals M—ri", an Icelandic Sheepdog, herding Icelandic sheep in Iceland.
(Photo by Brynhildur Inga Einarsd—ttir, courtesy of Jeannie Joy Hartnagle-Taylor)

Sc23-UlfurIceland(Wiki).jpgLeft, "Ulfer", an Icelandic Sheepdog. (Photo by Arni Einarsson, from Wikipedia where the copyright holder of this work published it under the following license: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.))

Iceland was first settles by Celtic monks, who may have left Iceland prior to the coming of the Norse settlers in the 9th century. The Norse settlers brought with them their sheep and dogs. According to some Linda Rorem, there may have been more than one type of Icelandic sheepdog, "ranging from a dog similar to the Norwegian Buhund to one resembling the Greenland Husky, but the most prevalent type of the earlier days is dominant in the modern Iceland Sheepdog and there has only been one type for a long time. The breed has undergone little change through the centuries."

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a medium-sized spitz-type dog, smaller than the Border Collie. It has a short thick coat that comes in shades of sable, red, tan, cream, and grey, with some white markings and sometimes black shadings. Tricolors are not unusual. Ears are erect.

Below right, "Paeja", an 18-month-old Icelandic Sheepdog belonging to Suzanne West. (Photo by Julie Poole, and reprinted with permission from Suzanne West.)


Herding was accomplished by men on foot or horseback rounding up the free-ranging sheep with dogs assisting by running down sheep that tried to escape much in the way of the Faroese sheepdogs, to whom they may be related. Nelson Annandale, writing in 1905, indicates that the dogs were not trained and were of less intelligence than the British dog, but according to Suzanne West, who raised working Border Collies for many years and now owns a working Icelandic Sheepdog, they are equal to the Border Collie in intelligence, not as "quirky" as the Border Collie, and are "very strong herder[s]". Annandale, much like Hogg on the Scottish sheepdog, said that "Dogs are an absolute necessity in Iceland; without them it would be impossible to gather the sheep or herd the ponies." In addition to herding sheep and ponies, the Icelandic Sheepdog was required as a guardian for the sheep and farm, and for hunting birds and foxes. It is unfortunate that today other breeds of dog outnumber the Icelandic Sheepdog in its own country, and the Border Collie is being used increasingly by sheep farmers as the Icelandic is not as useful for gathering and keeping the flock together.


If there was once a herding dog indigenous to Denmark, there is no indication that there is one today. Denmark has a guardian breed, the Broholmer, and a farmdog, the dansk/svensk gŒrdshund, similar to the Jack Russell terrier or a little bigger, which guards the farm from intuders (by barking) and catches vermin. There are some who even try to herd with this breed, which would be interesting if you could stand the constant, high-pitched barking. It appears that the Icelandic Sheepdog may be the most popular herding breed in Denmark today, followed by the Old English Sheepdog, and other herding breeds, including the Border Collie.


ScGreenlandSled-dogs-chain.jpgLeft, two Greenland sled dogs in Sisimiut, Greenland. They work only during the winter, and are chained during the summer. (Photo from Wikipedia by Algkalv and reprinted under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Greenland, the largest island in the world, lies between the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. It has a population of less than 57,000 (as of a 2012 estimate) and the Greenland ice sheet covers 81% of the island, although it is shrinking at an alarming rate. This is seen by some as advantageous to the Greenlanders, as less ice means more area for farming (if you don't count the rising seas). There are only about 50 sheep farms in Greenland today maintaining approximately 20,000 ewes, all in the southwest of Greenland. The sheep today are similar to the Icelandic sheep, but are crosses from numerous imports from Scotland, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands over the centuries since the Viking settlements in 960 AD. The sheep are housed in the winter, but in summer there may be a need for a herding dog. I have heard that it is illegal in Greenland to keep dogs other than the Greenland Dog, which is not a herding dog, but a draft animal and a hunting dog more closely related to the Siberian Husky or the Malamute, but I have seen nothing to corroborate this. I was told by Greenland Today magazine that "Greenland is the size of Western Europe [and from] south to north is as different [from each other] as Portugal and Norway...[and] sheep dogs [exist] below the polar circle."

I have been unable to find information on what type of herding dog is used in Greenland today, but in the many histories of the Shetland Sheepdog, the "now extinct Greenland Yakki" is mentioned as an ancestor. This dog, it was said, was "kept and bred by Greenland whalers". The exact same phrases about this dog have been repeated so many times, that one questions their validity. In fact, many things supposedly from Greenland were labeled "Yakki", including whaling songs, and the indigenous Inuit people, so it was likely a derogatory term.


Sc26-faroe_stamp_sheepdog.jpgSc26a-FaroeseSheepdog.jpgLeft, postage stamp from the Faroe Islands which pays tribute to the Faroese sheepdog.

Right, a Faroese sheepdog running down a sheep. (Photo source unknown.)

The Faroe Islands were first settled in the 6th century by Scottish and Irish monks speaking Goidelic (Gaelic) languages. They likely had their own sheep and possibly sheepdogs. Norsemen settled the islands ca. 850 and brought their Old Norse language which developed into modern Faroese, and likely their sheep and sheepdogs. It is thought that they were "Norse-Gaels" from communities in the Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney.

The Faroese sheepdog is descended from Norse dogs brought to the islands and bred with indigenous dogs (presuming that there were dogs kept by the monks) and other imported collie-types. Today they look similar to the Border Collie, but work very differently. The sheep have little flocking instinct and are free ranged. Dogs are used to chase down a sheep, catching it by the shoulder wool or foreleg and bringing it to the ground and holding it, similarly to how the original Shetland Sheepdogs must have worked. There may also be Border Collies working in the Faroes, or possibly the native dogs are being mistaken for Border Collies because of the close resemblance.


Swedish Lapphund

Sc27.-TheThreeBreedsLH-LH.jpgRight, the three breeds of Lapphund (l. to r.): Swedish Lapphund, Finnish Lapphund, and Lapponian Herder. (Photo courtesy of Per-Anders, and reprinted with permission.)

There are three Lapphund breeds today recognized by the FCI. All developed from hunting/herding dogs of the S‡mi. They are the Swedish Lapphund, the Finnish Lapphund and the Lapponian Herder. The Swedish Lapphund developed for hunting, and then for herding and guarding the reindeer flocks. S‡mi mythology states that the Lapphund obtained its job among the S‡mi people in exchange for kind treatment. It is also used in Sweden to herd sheep, though, like in other countries, the Border Collie is supplanting it in that role and even in its role as reindeer herder. The Swedish Lapphund is not even mentioned in many lists of herding breeds found on the Internet, and in fact is a rare breed today.

Sc28.-Svensk_lapphund.jpgLeft, a Swedish Lapphund. (Photo by Bjørn Roger Larsen, in the public domain.)

There are still large herds of reindeer in Sweden, and the Lapphund may still be used to move these herds, though it is more likely that the Lapponian Herder (below) is the dog of choice today. One dog and two men on snow mobiles are often all that is used to move a very large herd of reindeer over vast frozen, snow-covered lakes or plains. The herds stretch out over large areas, running. One of the snow mobiles rides along a flank of the herd, the other goes behind. The dog is in constant motion, running back and forth behind the herd, and sometimes along the other flank. It is also constantly barking. Every now and then a reindeer or group of reindeer breaks off and runs away from the herd. The dog turns them back. The men give whistle signals occasionally to the dog, but mostly it works on its own. There is a marvelous film of this on YouTube (see "The Real Tjacko", in resources, below).

The Swedish Lapphund is a medium-sized dog, slightly smaller than the Border Collie, with females slightly smaller than males. In color it is primarily black or dark brown, and some have white markings. It is shown in conformation and dog sports today, used as a service dog, and recognized by the FCI.


Above, a Lapponian Herder herding reindeer.
It can be seen from this photo that a bark is a necessary tool for a Lapponian Herder herding reindeer.
(All the photos of the Finnish dogs, both Lapponian Herders and Finnish Lapphunds,
are by Kaisa Hurme and were taken at a herding clinic in Finland.
They have been reprinted with kind permission.)

Lapponian Herder

SC31.KaisaHurme22.jpgLeft, a red Lapponian Herder moves in to cut a reindeer off.

The Lapponian Herder has been customarily used for herding reindeer and has essentially remained a herding dog. According to Liisa Sarakontu, "Traditionally, only males were used for working (nowadays both sexes [are used] but this has happened only very recently), and bitch keepers were rare. A bitch was used for as many litters as she could produce, and then the breeder either kept a daughter from the last litter or got a new bitch pup from another breeder. Bitches often had the same name for generations, most often some variation of Cikka, Ciiku, Tsikku, which means 'bitch' in Sámi dialects."

Sc29.KaisaHurme1.jpgRight, a black and tan Lapponian Herder.

Originally, these dogs were much more diverse in coat type, color, ear carriage and tail carriage. However, they caught the eye of the non-Sámi dog fanciers who began crossing them to standardize their looks. It has a medium-length thick double coat. It is a medium-sized dog, perhaps slightly larger than the Lapphund, with a longer, lankier body. Still it is a spitz-type dog, that sometimes carries its tail curled over its body, although the Finish Kennel Club standard calls for a non-curled tail. It has prick ears. It is one of the rarest breeds in the world, which is probably to its advantage, as we have all seen the often disagreable changes wrought by the Dog Fancy. The most common color is black, but grey and brown dogs exist, as well as the dilution of these colors (blue and fawn), all with or without tan and/or white markings. There also seem to be dogs of wolf coloring.

Sc33.KaisaHurme28.jpgSc32.KaisaHurme23.jpgLeft, a red and white Lapponian Herder. Note his "mask", making him look like a Siberian Husky, which is also a spitz breed and likely related to these herding spitz dogs.

Right, a black and tan Lapponian Herder.

The Lapponian Herder is a very adaptive dog, and remains a valuable working dog. Today you can still see them working in the far northern reaches of Finland. According to Ilari Karlsson of Hakkapelitta Kennel in Finland, "The breed has developed and... adapt[ed] to increasingly heavier demands. Nowadays, the dogs have to work with, and on, pickups, motor sledges, motorcycles and helicopters. This herding work in the vast and demanding arctic... with half-wild reindeers is [said] to be the hardest dog work in the world. As a young dog he is energetic and needs exercise and action. In his work the Lapponian Herder must bark at the reindeer in order to get them to move, but barking is never an end in itself. As vital [as] it is for a reindeer dog to bark it is as vital to be quiet when so needed or demanded....A good dog can handle a large herd of as many as a thousand reindeer, also in snowy areas, keeping them together and on the move [in] the desired direction."

Finnish Lapphund

Sc35.KaisaHurme18.jpgSc36.KaisaHurme26.jpgLeft, a tan or wheaten Finnish Lapphund at the same herding clinic as above.

A black Finnish Lapphund makes a spectacular turn at the same herding clinic. Note the difference in the coats of the Lapponian Herder and the Finnish Lapphund.

The Finnish Lapphund is the longhaired version of the Lapponian Herder. Many herders would not use this type because the snow stuck to the long coat making it difficult for the dogs to move comfortably. It was "rescued" by the Finnish Kennel Club to keep the type from going extinct and has been a very popular dog in Finland, both as a pet and a show dog, but is not well known outside of its native country, except perhaps in Sweden where I am told it is more popular than the Swedish Lapphund. It is a typical medium-sized spitz dog, very similar in size and shape to the Norwegian Buhund and the Swedish Lapphund, the size of a Border Collie, with the females slightly smaller. Breeders work to keep the diversity of colors, which may be black, black and tan, sable, red (tan), brown (red), grey and white. Some white markings are seen, and distinctive facial markings, like "spectacles" (a ring of lighter hair around the eyes) or a mask, though this is very rare. They have a long, thick double coat.

Thanks go to the following for their invaluable help:
Alberto Bertelli, Kaisa Hurme, Sinikka Kumpusalmi-Kankkunen, Linda Rorem, Liisa Sarakontu, and Suzanne West.

Copyright ©2014 by Carole L. Presberg


Annandale, Nelson. The Faroes and Iceland: Studies in Island Life, Henry Frowde, publisher, University of Oxford, 1905.

Danishnet: "Viking Farming" (www.danishnet.com/info.php/vikings/farming-152.html)

Greenland Today magazine Facebook page (www.facebook.com/greenlandtoday) from personal correspondence.

Karlsson, Ilari. "Lapponian Herder" (www.elisanet.fi/saana.karlsson/html/lapponian_herder/lapponian.htm)

Per-Anders. The Swedish Lapphund (www.scandes.com/illu/)

Rorem, Linda. "Herding With the Shetland Sheepdog: A Pursuit in Working with Natural Instincts and Abilities", Herding on the Web (http://sheltiehomepage.mcf.com/herdingwithshelties.html)

Rorem, Linda. "The Icelandic Sheepdog", originally in The Shepherd's Dogge magazine Vol. IX, No. 3, Fall 1996, and now online at Herding on the Web (www.herdingontheweb.com/iceland.htm)

Rorem, Linda. "The Norwegian Buhund", originally in The Shepherd's Dogge magazine, Vol. IX, No. 2, Summer 1996, and now online at Herding on the Web (www.herdingontheweb.com/buhund.htm)

Sarakontu, Liisa. From personal correspondence.

tjacko333: Film "The real tjacko", 2012. (www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wpbkto6Q2m4)

West, Suzanne. From personal correspondence.

Wikipedia: "Greenland" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenland)

Wikipedia: "Northern European short-tailed sheep" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_European_short-tailed_sheep)

Wikipedia: "Shetland Sheepdog (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shetland_Sheepdog)

Wikipedia: "Soay sheep" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soay_sheep)

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