So You Think You Want A Samoyed?  

Artwork copyright 2005 by Annie Reid

  All About the Samoyed  

     Maybe you saw a drop-dead gorgeous white dog on the street. Or more likely, you saw the most adorable little puppy bouncing around. A little investigating told you that this was a Samoyed, an intelligent, even-tempered, friendly dog that is one of the most frequently recommended breeds for children. Sounds good, huh? Ask any Sammie owner and we’ll tell you our big white fuzzies are absolutely wonderful. Press a little more and we’ll admit that it takes a particular (some say peculiar) kind of person to be able to live with a Samoyed. Any of the books or magazine articles published recently will tell you the great things about Sams; here we intend to tell you some of the down sides of living with this particular breed.

     Having an intelligent dog seems like a great idea. They can learn all kinds of commands and even fun tricks. However, there is a difference between being intelligent and being biddable. An intelligent dog may or may not be teachable. It depends on how much he wants to cooperate with you—how biddable he is. Intelligent dogs also are easy bored or distracted. Once they have figured out what you want (and shown you they know), they don’t see any reason to prove it over and over again. Keeping them interested can be a big challenge. Another factor is the independent streak that most artic breeds have. A dog that disobeyed his owner’s commands, but saved his life (or herds in the case of the reindeer herding Samoyede people) was more highly prized than a dog that did everything he was told no matter the conditions. The tendency still exists today. After all, saving the family from a marauding squirrel is much more important than responding to the “come” command! Fortunately, most Sams want to please; the trick is finding the right motivation. Food is not always the best answer and while fear and force may get a response, it may not be the one you expect.

     The Samoyed was developed as a working dog: herding and guarding reindeer, carrying a pack, pulling a sledge, even accompanying his owner on a hunt. Today’s dog is still very active (some say hyper). He needs to be doing some ‘work,’ whether it’s as simple as playing with the kids, as strenuous as sledding or agility competitions, or something in between. A bored dog will make his own “work.” Unfortunately, it usually is something humans call destructive, such as chewing furniture, collecting belongings carefully in the middle of the living room, constant barking or howling, digging an escape route from the backyard or hassling the cat. Give him something to do, even if it’s just a long walk each day.

     That beautiful white coat is one reason many owners give up their Sams. Many people don’t realize the incredible amount of hair a shedding dog can leave all over the house and clothes. Frequent brushing and combing can keep it to a minimum, but you still need a high tolerance for ‘fur bunnies.’ While the ‘big shed’ may happen only once a year, most dogs will shed to some extent year round. A good lint brush, lint roller and heavy-duty vacuum are a necessity. Grooming is fairly easy once you learn the technique but does take time. How much depends on your dog’s coat type. A small female with a short coat may take only a half hour two or three times a week. A big male with a heavy coat may take a couple hours every other day. Baths are necessary for a pet Sam only a few (4) times a year, but plan on spending the whole afternoon when it is needed. Going to use a professional groomer? Keep in mind they usually charged based on the dog’s breed: a large heavy-coated breed won’t be cheap. And remember, you’ll still need to brush and comb in between visits to the groomer to avoid a matted coat.

     With one (maybe two) exceptions, Sams have very few health problems. Those they are prone to can be quite serious. The most common is Canine Hip Dysplasia. CHD is an inherited malformation of the hip joint. Found mostly in larger breeds, it has also occurred in the smaller breeds. It can vary from mild, causing arthritic symptoms in an older dog, to severe, causing a puppy or young dog to be unable to use his hindquarters. It is NOT caused by diet (although a poor diet can make it worse), and cannot be cured. A good breeder will have made sure that both parents are free of CHD by submitting hip x-rays to a certified organization before breeding, and will offer a guarantee with a puppy. A rescue dog cannot come with a guarantee, but modern veterinary medicine can do much to make a dysplastic dog comfortable enough to lead a normal life.

     Another inherited problem is Progressive Retinal Atrophy. This disease is a gradual (progressive) degeneration of the cells of the retina. The eventual result is blindness. It seems to be more common in some parts of the country, while other areas have had a few cases. Again, a good breeder will have had the parents’ eyes checked and the results evaluated by CERF, a group that gathers data on eye diseases. Again, a puppy should come with a guarantee. A rescue dog won’t; but remember that a dog doesn’t rely on his sight as much as humans do, and can live very happily without his sight with just a little understanding from his human family.

     A recently discovered genetic defect present in some Samoyeds, Siberians, and Malamutes causes impaired zinc absorption. The result is Zinc-Responsive Dermatosis, most often seen as a thin coat and scaly, crusty skin. While unsightly, it is easily treated with zinc sulfate supplements and high quality feed containing zinc. A similar (non-genetic) problem can result from feeding poor quality generic food.

     Diabetes and hypothyroidism are also present in our breed, but no one is quite sure how common they are. These diseases may be on the increase, or it may be a case of recognizing their presence more easily. Again, each of these diseases is fairly easily managed with your veterinarian’s help and is not a good reason to reject as dog as a pet.

     Are Samoyeds good with children? Well, yes, but. . . . They adore kids and will do almost anything to join a “pack” of them. They are gentle, but remember, this is a large VERY strong dog. Males especially don’t always realize how much stronger they are than their small human companions. A child should never be allowed to walk a Sam unsupervised; more than one has been dragged down the sidewalk as Snowball tries to grab that squirrel running for the next tree!

     By now you’re probably wondering why on earth anyone would ever want one of these animals anywhere nearby. If you are having second thoughts about sharing your life with one—good! Choosing the right breed (or maybe mixed breed) should take second, even third or fourth thoughts. Remember, not every breed is right for every person/family. Every breed has its’ faults. The trick is deciding which ones you can put up with or is the good points of the breed out weigh the bad. After all, what’s a little hair when you can get a big hug and a slurpy kiss at the slightest hint?!

-Gisela Hamlin-
(reprinted with permission)