Once a Pumi, Always a Pumi

Photos by Catskill Pumi Kennel and Jozsef Tari

DISCLAIMER: The Pumi Is Not For Everyone

Pumik are attractive, whimsical creatures. With their “cute ears and funny look” they are real attention getters. It is a breed with an (almost) unbreakable spirit, burning loyalty, and unparalleled work ethic. However, these chivalrous attributes come with a restless, mischievous and vocal terrier type personality. Most Pumik are not the social butterfly types. They don’t do well in small urban dog runs, kenneling outdoor, and going on long road shows with handlers in the company of two dozen other dogs where they might be crated for most of the day. They need their handler’s personal attention in the home and on the road. Most importantly, they need daily physical and mental exercise. Pumik don’t take a rain check easily.

It is a breed that often generates drama and emotion. If the Pumi was a literary genre, it would belong to tragicomedy. Because of space restrictions, I am not able to explain the overseas palace intrigues, conflicts, revenges, the flawed heroes and a tragic suicide.

“Canis familiaris ovilis villous terrarius Raitsitsi” aka Pumi is a Hungarian terrier type herding dog. It originates from the Puli, various continental European herding dogs and terriers reaching back to the 18th century. The Pumi has served as an all around farm dog; provided a broad spectrum of vermin control from fighting wild boars on the crop fields to catching mice in the barn. He also served as watch dog and most importantly as a herding dog.

This medium size, low maintenance dog from the western part of Hungary, was agile enough to escort the legendary Hungarian Gray Cattle over 800 miles across half of Europe on foot to German slaughter houses yet gentle enough to move a flock of geese back and forth between the common pasture and the barn in its village.

Fast forward two hundred years to the 1950s, soon after the devastation of the second world war. Just barely recovering from virtual extinction, the Pumi suddenly found itself unemployed, as small farms across Hungary were systematically eliminated and replaced by large modern agricultural cooperatives.

In the following two to three decades, a small number of devoted breeders whom I will call “Progressives” cooperated to pick up the breed’s cause. The obvious solution was to compromise by choosing urban popularization of the Pumi. They soon realized, however, that they were fighting an uphill battle because of the Pumi’s somewhat unattractive appearance. Source: “Mi Lesz Veled Pumi?”—What Is Your Fate Pumi?—a discussion about the breed. A Kutya (1984) (Hungarian Canine Magazine).

Apart from the fundamental goal of establishing a distinctly different looking dog from the Puli, the primary concern of breeders and shepherds has been the preservation of the Pumi’s herding ability. Consequently, the aesthetics of the individual dogs was mostly ignored. As late as the 1970s, many of the Pumik were scruffy looking, so to speak, and came in all sizes, hair types, shapes and colors.

To increase the popularity of the breed, around the 1960s the focus turned toward a more aesthetic and more marketable dog within a defined standard. In their search for the ideal Pumi, breeders selected for uniform height, a square body and a not cording, rather curly type coats. The Puli type, longer haired and round headed Pumik, along with the taller, longer Pumik with “Shinka” type hair that is slightly wavy, covering less of the face and legs, and overall shorter on the body fell out of favor. This despite the fact that based on practical observations of shepherds, Pumik with the latter phenotypical appearance have proven to be more agile and better suited for herding than the curly haired Pumik. (Source: Mihaly Meszaros in “Current Issues of Pumi Breeding”—A Kutya (1993). The cooperation paid off and within two decades the result was a much more attractive dog with a relatively well preserved herding instinct.

Even though, life behind the iron curtain has improved through political normalization and relative economic prosperity, the “feel good era” that has impacted almost every aspect of society did not reflect on dog fanciers, especially Pumi breeders in Hungary. During the democratic transition in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a new informal group whom I will call the “Nativists” emerged. Utilizing the “Open Stud Book” status of the breed, they have sought out the offspring of Pumik from specific lines from the countryside whose registrations lapsed decades ago. These included the offspring of well known Pumik from the past with incomplete pedigrees. These “new” dogs have been introduced to the mainstream gene pool through a carefully designed and controlled program. (The Hungarian Open Stud book has relevance for Pumik imported to the US which, in order to be eligible for AKC registration, must have a minimum three-generation complete(!) pedigree from the dog’s country of origin. It is not a hypothetical situation: there has been at least one known case where the AKC has revoked a registration previously issued for a Pumi with incomplete pedigree.)

“Nativists” have emphasized and lobbied for a higher genetic and phenotypical diversity along with improved working ability and largely ignoring aesthetic uniformity. Some of the more extreme members of this group also opposed exporting the Pumi, because of their conviction even as recently as early 2012 that it is an unfinished breed.

By 2013-14 dialogue between the two opposing Hungarian Pumi “parties” came to a complete halt and the status quo has been frozen since then. Besides their ideological differences about the breed, another cause of the schism that harks back to the 1990s, is a well intentioned but poorly executed government reform of livestock preservation and regulation of small animal breeding. This included purebred dog breeding with a broader oversight of Hungarian breeds.

In protest against the new Pumi Klub rules and government involvement, the “progressives” began to boycott the other group’s dog shows by organizing their own events. Some members went further by registering their Hungarian born litters or some individual dogs in other European countries and in one extreme case, a Hungarian born Pumi litter was falsely registered as US born in violation of Hungarian and FCI dog registration laws and AKC’s provenance rules. After an investigation, the AKC revoked the registration of the entire litter.

The Pumi has gone through its first phase of growing pain relatively smoothly while in the Miscellaneous class here in the US. The parent club has offered substantive public education events. Most Pumi owners knew each other and many have trialled their dogs in various disciplines that helped them to have a greater understanding of the breed. Some of these people went into breeding. They were largely supportive of each other, relatively well versed, in the different lines and different types of the breed and could navigate the bureaucratic maze of the European Pumi world. There have been group trips to Europe by these early
breeders to learn about the Pumi (in conjunction with the Bratislava European Dog Show in 2012 and a year later the Hungarian World Dog Show).

When the Pumi was accepted into the Herding Group in 2016, interest in the breed immediately increased. However, at that time there were only a handful of breeders and a relatively small number of Pumik (300+). Entries in conformation nationwide were rare and the number of entries low. In the absence of substantive English language literature about the Pumi and an updated public education program to satisfy the demand, those newly interested in the breed have chosen to turn to Europe, especially Hungary, with no or little understanding of the breed.

The number of Pumik in the US including domestically bred puppies and imported dogs has more than doubled in the last three years. Unfortunately, a disturbing import pattern has emerged. The “Mail Order Pumik” from overseas have started arriving in increased numbers, sometimes bundled in various combinations of two for one price discounts, pregnant bitches etc. Sadly, some of these dogs have gone to inexperienced hands or to people with outright ill intentions. As a result, the breed is experiencing a temporary setback. Pumi pups have started to show up in shelters in various parts of the country. Puppies and adult Pumik are advertised for free, sometimes with no registrations. When evaluating these events, of course we need to make a clear division between puppy mills and those who started, perhaps with good intentions, but with poor preparation relying only on their previous experience with other breeds.

We cannot emphasize enough that the state of the Pumi is far from a crisis and the “Pumi market” for lack of a better term will simply readjust after shedding the white noise. However, we think that a coordinated effort should be undertaken through education to further safe guard the breed from inexperienced hands and worse, from puppy mills. We also highly recommend to everyone interested in the breed, to take the Pumi for a “test drive” before getting into breeding because the Pumi is not
for everyone.

Only collaboration, due diligence and a clear and honest objective can give this breed a realistic chance to thrive in the US.  *because of editorial limitations, some issues might not have been explained in detail. Please contact the authors with any question.

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