Judging The Samoyed From A Breeder’s Perspective

Above Photo: Competitive Sledding Samoyeds. Picture taken from the article “Working Samoyed Program”, by the Samoyed Club of America. ShowSight Magazine, July 2014 Issue.

After thousands of years, the Samoyed today remains a natural Breed and reflects the characteristics of its ancient ancestors. It is one of the world’s oldest Breeds of dogs, as classified in 2004 using modern DNA testing. Dr. Sandra Olsen, the Curator and Head of Anthropology at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in PA stated that the earliest discovered proto-Samoyed remains date around the time of the Copper Age, taking the origin of the Samoyed Breed back more than 5000 years. Of all modern Breeds, the Samoyed is most nearly akin to the primitive dog.

In the vast frozen wasteland of the Russian tundra, the Nenets …also known as Samoyed people…made their home with their wonderful, aboriginal dogs, and here through the centuries the Samoyed dog “Cамое́дская соба́ка” bred true. The Nenets were a nomadic tribe who were hunters as well as reindeer herdsman. Their prized dogs could be counted upon to keep the large reindeer herds intact and to guard the herds from predators. The Nenets moved with the seasons and with the movement of their large herds, consisting of hundreds of reindeer, around the tundra. The herds migrated in a 600-700 mile migration pattern, in search of their favorite food, lichen (a type of moss). The reindeer were independent creatures, and it required very vigilant and alert dogs to keep the large herds intact!

The Breed was originally discovered on the tundra by British explorers, and appeared in white, black, brown and any combination of the above colors. It was the English who first chose to breed specifically for the white dogs, which resulted in the Samoyed found in today’s show ring. As breeders, we delight in seeing remnants of the Samoyed’s ancient ancestry in our litters, with the biscuit coloring being a throwback to the brown Samoyeds of
the past.

AKC has stated that judging conformation should be for the evaluation of breeding stock. That being said, the following is this breeder’s perspective on evaluating the Samoyed.

General Appearance: “The Samoyed should present a picture of beauty, alertness and strength, with agility, dignity and grace.” As the judge stands back and takes a first look at the lineup, the judge should be looking for a balanced animal. A balanced animal can set itself up four square without having its legs constantly reset. A balanced animal has bone that balances out its frame and is in proportion to its body size. The rear angulation and the front angulation should be in harmony with one another. The arch of the tail should balance out the arch of the neck. The back of the animal should not be too long but should be in proportion to its height…males should be just off square, with bitches allowed to be slightly longer. The length of leg should be approximately 55% of the animal’s height…if there is any question about the length of leg, then the coat should be pushed back at the elbow to see where the elbow ends….the Samoyed is a double-coated breed, so you often have to put your hands on the dogs to find what is underneath, as coat can be deceptive. As breeders, we prefer that you put your hands on the dog as opposed to standing back and trying to guess what’s underneath the coat! While you are at it, check the texture of the coat….it should be weather resistant, and the quality of the coat should be considered more than quantity, as this is a survival characteristic for the Samoyed on the frigid Russian tundra. The only acceptable colors for the breed are white (and there are many shades of white,) cream, biscuit or white and biscuit…any other color is a disqualifying fault. The coat should glisten with a silver sheen when the light hits it…this is caused by the silvertips on the ends of the coat, which is a beautiful and unique characteristic of our breed!

Do not expect this breed to stand in the lineup motionless like a Doberman or a Pointer…it is an active breed and is keenly aware of its surroundings! If a Samoyed hears an unusual noise, it will look to see what it is…sometimes insisting on facing in the opposite direction to get a better view! This is the nature of the Breed….they are alert, independent dogs that are full of action…genetically programed over thousands of year to herd and guard the Nenets reindeer on the Russian tundra and to serve as an all-purpose dog and companion for the Nenet people.

The Judges Exam: As you approach a Samoyed for the judge’s exam, please refrain from addressing it in an enthusiastic, high-pitched voice…especially a puppy or a young adult…as it is likely to leap straight up in the air in wild abandon to give you kisses! We work hard to train our Sammies to stand still with all four feet on the ground for the judge’s exam, and it takes very little encouragement for the younger ones to decide it’s party time!

Start the exam with the head. The ears should be thick, well-furred and mobile, which protects the ears from freezing on the tundra. The ears should be in proportion to the size of the head and the dog. If you think the ears look too long or too short, fold the tip of the ear towards the outside corner of the eye…the tip of the ear should end close to this point, if it is the correct size. Ears should be set well apart but positioned within the border of the outer edge of the head.

The head should form a wedge…it can be a narrow wedge or a wide wedge, depending on Breeder preference, and the stop should not be too abrupt, which enhances both the air flow and the wedge shape of the head. The skull should be broad, but not round, and form an equilateral triangle between the inner base of the ears and the central point of the stop. Eyes should be dark for preference, placed well apart and almond shaped with the lower lid slanting towards the base of the ear. This is a survival characteristic of the breed, and it is interesting to note that most creatures living on the tundra, both human and animal, have this almond shaped eye. Evolution has created this eye shape, as a round eye has been shown to cause snow blindness due to the many months of exposure to the sun’s glare on the arctic snow. Please note that blue eyes are a disqualifying fault in this breed!

The muzzle must be of medium length, neither course nor snipy, and must have sufficent underjaw to give depth to the muzzle. This is a survival characteristic. as the muzzle must be of sufficient length and depth to warm the frigid arctic air before it reaches the lungs. Nose should be black for preference, but a brown, liver or Dudley nose is not to be penalized. Teeth should snugly overlap in a scissor bite. Please Note: There is no disqualification or penalty for missing teeth in this Breed, so it is not necessary to count teeth or to open the mouth to look at the top and bottom dentition when checking the bite!

Lips should be black for preference and should curve up at the corners in a Sammy smile, even when the mouth is closed. Expression should consist in a “lighting up of the face” when alert or intent on anything. Ears should be erect and alert, eyes should sparkle and mouth should form the Sammy smile! There should not be droopy flews at the corners of the mouth.

Torso And Front End: From the head, move around to the side of the dog to examine the torso and front end. The neck should be of good length, strong and well-muscled. The neck should blend into the shoulder and topline with a graceful arch, and any other neck should be depreciated. An arched neck is thicker at the base and has stronger neck ligaments, which offers more power for the dog’s shoulder blades and front assembly. A ewe neck, for example, is concave on the neckline and lacks any indication of an arch. This type of neck has weaker neck ligaments and because of that weakness has less support for the shoulder blades and front leg muscles. The ewe neck abruptly joins the shoulders and back with no gentle arch, sometimes causing the head to hover back over the shoulder blades. This may be a good neck for a swan, but is not the most functional for a working dog.

The chest should be deep, with the ribs well sprung from the spine and tapering at the sides to allow movement of the shoulders and freedom for the front legs. The chest should be heart shaped and not barrel shaped. Perfect depth of the chest should be at the point of the elbow and the deepest part of the chest should be behind the forelegs, which provides more heart and lung room. As breeders, we also like to feel “elbow pockets,” which are indentions in the rib cage under the elbows that allow more freedom of movement for the front legs without causing the Samoyed to move out at the elbows.

Shoulders should be long and sloping with a layback of 45 degrees. Also check the upper arm, which should be approximately the same length as the shoulder blade. The withers separation, which indicates the lay-in of shoulder, should be 1–1 ½ inches wide, or two to three fingertips apart. This will need to be adjusted depending on the width of your fingers, so use a ruler to see how many of your fingers make 1–1 ½ inches and use this as a guide when judging. The lay-in of shoulder tends to influence how the dog will put its front feet on the ground when in motion, and generally a Samoyed whose shoulders are not laid-in towards the spinal column will not converge into a single track when moving.

Next, run your hand down the front chest, where you should be able to feel the prosternum. The legs should be parallel and straight to the pastern, and approximately 55 percent of the dog’s height at the withers. You will need to push the hair back on the chest at the elbow to determine the true length of leg, since this is a double-coated breed. Pasterns should be strong, sturdy and flexible with some spring for proper let-down of feet.

The feet are the dogs running gear and should be long and slightly flat…a hare foot with two elongated central toes. The foot should be slightly spread, but not splayed, with arched toes, thick and tough pads, and a protective growth of hair between the toes. Faults are feet that turn in or out, round or cat feet and splayed feet. You can check the foot pad when you get to the rear assembly by picking up a rear foot, and while you are there, check the bone by feeling the circumference of the rear hock.

Loin And Back: The withers form the highest part of the back. Run your hand down the back from the withers to the loin to make sure it is level and not roached or dipped. The loin is the distance between the last rib and the pelvis, and should be strong, slightly arched, and neither long nor short coupled. The croup must be full and slightly sloping to the tail root.

The tail should be loose and mobile and not tight over the back. This is a survival characteristic, as the Samoyed had to be able to curl up and bury its face and muzzle in its tail when asleep on the tundra to warm its breath and prevent freezing. The Samoyed should carry its tail up and over its back or side when alert and dropped when at rest. The tail should be profusely covered with long hair and the tailbone should terminate at approximately the point of the hock. If there is any question about the length of the tail, you can measure it by pulling it down to the hock…but as a courtesy to the exhibitor, make sure you put it back over the back when you are done. The judge should see the tail over the back once during
the judging.

Rear Assembly: Upper thighs should be well developed. Palpate the upper portion of the thigh behind the stifles to check the muscle mass. Stifles should be well bent…approximately 45 degrees to the ground. Hocks should be well developed and set at approximately 30 percent of the hip height. Straight stifles are objectionable; double jointed hocks or cow hocks are a fault. Cow hocks should only be determined after a dog has had the opportunity to move.

Once you have examined the dog, it is time to move it to confirm what you have felt with your hands!

Movement: The Samoyed should trot, not pace, and should move with a quick, well timed side gait! The gait should be free, balanced and vigorous with good reach in the front and equally good driving power in the rear. The back, or topline, should remain strong, firm and level, without a lot of up and down motion. If there is more reach than drive, or more drive than reach when viewed from the side, then it is not a balanced animal.

The Samoyed should single track on the down and back. Moving at a slow walk or trot, it will not single-track, but as speed increases, the legs gradually angle inward until the pads are finally falling on a line directly under the longitudinal center of the body. This results in an efficient, ground covering gait that can be maintained for hours. If you move a single tracking dog through water, it will leave one line of pawprints on the concrete, instead of two. This is not to be confused with crossing over, which is a fault. If you do not come from a Breed that single tracks, then you will need to familiarize yourself with this movement so that you can identify it when you see it in your ring.

Disposition: Intelligent, gentle, loyal, adaptable, alert, full of action, eager to serve, friendly but conservative, not distrustful or shy, not overly aggressive. Unprovoked aggressiveness is to be severely penalized. Good temperament is imperative in this Breed. Herding reindeer on the tundra required that the Samoyed be compatible working alongside other animals as well as humans, and we strive as Breeders to maintain this disposition in our breeding stock.

It takes a long time to learn to evaluate dogs and to train one’s hands on what to feel and where to feel it. Practice going over the dogs in a methodical fashion until you can do this quickly, and develop a routine where you can examine each dog in the same manner every time. Develop an eye for balanced and efficient movement so that you can spot correct movement when you see it. Learn to evaluate breeding stock!

Today, the Samoyed excels in many venues as an all-purpose breed, including the Conformation ring, Obedience, Agility, Weight Pull, Herding, Sledding, and other Performance Events. The Samoyed continues, as it has for thousands of years, to be a natural breed that combines the beauty of the past with the best hopes of the future! Help to maintain the integrity of this beautiful Breed! 

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