The year 2020 was known as the Year of the COVID lockdown. When AKC sent a request to the SCA asking for its participation in the AKC Working Breed Seminars being offered at the AKC/Royal Canin Show in December, our Judges Education Committee (JEC) was ready to take on the challenge! The topic assigned to our Committee was to define the Essence of the Samoyed Breed. I decided to toss the topic out to the SCA Judges Education Committee for discussion, and the entire committee quickly dove into a lively conversation on the topic!
“Essence” is a polysemic term used as a designation for the property or set of properties that make an entity or substance what it fundamentally is, and which it has by necessity and without which it loses its identity. So then, what makes up the Essence of the Samoyed Breed?
Our first most obvious element was the Breed Type, or the physical characteristics of the breed. The Samoyed is an Arctic breed that lived and thrived around the Arctic Circle where temperatures could plunge to -50 degrees during the long winter months. So the Samoyed had to be equipped to not only survive in these frigid temperatures, but to also work in these extreme conditions as well. Everything about the Breed Type for the Samoyed is designed for its survival and comfort within the Arctic Circle, where it lived for thousands of years before being discovered by outside explorers. Let’s examine a few of the key features that are an integral part of the Samoyed’s extreme weather gear, or Breed Type.
The Head: First and foremost, let me state that the Samoyed is not considered a “Head Breed.” However, the head contains many of the characteristics that enabled this breed to successfully survive and thrive in the extreme weather conditions of the Russian Arctic region, and these characteristics should be preserved, as they are part of the Essence of this Breed.
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, and be slightly rounded at the tips. Think about the exposed vascular areas of the body where a human might get frostbite; the ears, the fingertips, and the nose. Mother Nature, in all her wisdom, rounded the tips of the Samoyed’s ears and made them heavily furred and mobile to protect them from frostbite or freezing.
The head should form a wedge… the width of the wedge can vary, depending on breeder preference, and the stop should not be too abrupt, which enhances the aerodynamics of the dog when moving and also enhances 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 outer corner 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 from the many months of exposure to the sun’s glare on the Arctic snow. Please note that blue eyes are a disqualifying fault in
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. The nose should be black for preference, but a brown, liver or Dudley nose is not to be penalized. The teeth should snugly overlap in a scissors bite.
The 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 the mouth should form the “Sammy smile!” There should not be droopy flews at the corners of the mouth, as this would cause saliva to accumulate and freeze around the mouth on the Samoyed, causing discomfort to the dog while it is working. So, there is an important reason as to why the Samoyed evolved with a smile on its face… the upturned lipline served a functional purpose in the frigid Arctic region!
The Feet: Pasterns should be strong, sturdy, and flexible, with some spring for proper let-down of feet. The pasterns are the “shock absorbers” of the dog when moving, and they contribute to its endurance when working. The feet are the dog’s 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. The hare-shaped foot helped the Samoyed make quick turns when herding the reindeer on the tundra, much as a rabbit can quickly change directions in times of danger. Faults are feet that turn in or out, round or cat feet, and splayed feet. You can check the thickness of the foot pad when you get to the rear assembly by picking up a rear foot… and while you are there, check the bottom of the foot, which should be well-furred between the pads. The Polar Bear, another mammal of the Arctic, also has feet that are heavily furred around the pads. The heavily furred foot pads provide natural protection for the feet during the frigid Arctic winters, although in warmer climates the fur tends to form ice balls between the pads if left untrimmed.
The Coat: The Samoyed is a double-coated breed with a soft thick wool undercoat, which provides warmth for the body, and a longer and harsher hair growing through it to form the outer coat, which is weather-resistant, stands straight out from the body, and should be free of curl. The outer coat protects and shields the undercoat from snow, and with a good shake a Sammy can remove the snow from its body. A droopy coat is undesirable. The quality of the coat should be considered more than the quantity. The silver tips on the coat that causes the coat to glisten with a silver sheen is actually caused by the hair shaft turning clear on the ends of the outer coat, and it enhances the Teflon effect of the outer coat in the snow. The female does not usually carry as long a coat as most males and it is softer in texture. The Samoyed should be pure white, white and biscuit, cream or all biscuit. Any other color is a disqualification.
The Tail: The tail should be moderately long, with the tail bone terminating approximately at the hock when down. It should be profusely covered with long hair. The tail was important to the dog’s survival on the tundra as the dog would curl up in a ball when sleeping, with the tail covering its muzzle and nose, helping to warm its breath while asleep. The tail should be carried forward over the back or side when alert, and is sometimes dropped when at rest. The tail should be mobile and loose… not tight over the back. The arch of the tail should balance out the arch of the neck when the dog is alert and standing at attention. A double hook is a fault. A judge should see the tail over the back once when judging.
The second breed characteristic that our JEC felt was part of the Essence of the Breed was Temperament. The Samoyed was an Arctic breed that was expected to work off-lead on the vast Russian tundra, herding Reindeer. It had to have sufficient intelligence to make split-second, independent decisions. For this reason, it was also required to work in harmony with other animals and with man. At night, the dogs sometimes slept in the chooms, or tents, with the tribal people. If a dog was a troublemaker and could not get along with others, it was eliminated, probably ending up in the stew pot or being worn as a fur hat, as nothing was wasted by the tribal people on the tundra. The standard states that the Samoyed should be intelligent, gentle, loyal, adaptable, alert, full of action, eager to serve, friendly but conservative, not distrustful or shy, and not overly aggressive. Unprovoked aggressiveness is to be severely penalized. The dogs and people were co-dependent on one another for survival on the tundra. For this reason, the Breed Standard reflects the original Arctic explorers’ observations of the tribal people with their dogs in respect to Temperament.
The third and final element that the JEC felt characterized the Essence of the Breed was Structure. 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 while the dog is working. A ewe neck, for example, is positioned upright, perpendicular from the shoulder, 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. While this type of neckline might appear flashy in the show ring, it does not offer optimal functionality 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 for working on the tundra. As breeders, we also like to feel “elbow pockets,” which are slight 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.
The 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 – 1-1⁄2 inches wide, or two to three fingertips apart, depending on the width of your fingers. 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. The shoulder angles and lay-in of shoulder contribute to the dog’s endurance while working in the large open spaces of the tundra.
Next, run your hand down the front of the 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. Length of leg is important when working in the deep tundra snow. 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 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.
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 cowhocks are a fault. Cowhocks should only be determined after a dog has had the opportunity to move.
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. This affects endurance when working on an
The Samoyed should also 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 gait that can be maintained for hours. If you move a single-tracking dog through snow, it will leave one line of pawprints in the snow, instead of two.
So, to summarize, our SCA Judges Education Committee concluded that the Essence of the Samoyed Breed is three-fold: The essence of our breed consists of Type, Temperament, and Structure… all elements originally shaped by the environment and by evolution. Any two of these elements without the third would not constitute a good representation of the breed. A good representative of the breed must have all three elements. Like its ancestors, the Samoyed today is a versatile and diverse breed… if you strive to find the Essence of the Breed in your judging, or breeding program, you will be on the right path towards preserving the integrity of the Samoyed Breed for future generations