Incredibly friendly, compassionate, and intelligent, Finnish Lapphunds are loving family dogs that relish companionship. The wolf-faced charmers—with origins north of the Arctic Circle as reindeer herders for indigenous Sami tribes—are acclimated to cold temperatures and are blessed with beautiful, robust double coats that require regular grooming, particularly during shedding season.
While Lappies are medium-sized dogs, their roots in the great outdoors make them less suitable for living in apartments and small quarters. The loyal companions aren't yet common household pets in the United States, but remain one of Finland's most popular dog breeds.
While the Finnish Lapphund is a medium-size herding breed, her voluminous coat makes her appear larger. The dogs stand between 16–21 inches tall and weigh between 33–53 pounds, making them smaller than other breeds in the Nordic or spitz group, including the Samoyed and Siberian husky, according to the Finnish Lapphund Club of America (FLCA).
Lappies are known for having straight, smooth, and sometimes wavy outer coats and soft, dense undercoats. They have floofy fringes or feathering on the back of their legs, underbelly, and tail (which curves over their backs). A native of Lapland—the largest and northernmost region of Finland known for its frigid, wintery climate—the Finnish Lapphund's dense coat provides vital protection in both cold and hot temperatures. The wolf-faced beauties are known for their cheerful, smiling expression and wide range of coloring, from black and tan to cream and white. Despite their size, they are muscular in build; and like a lot of other dog breeds, the males tend to be larger than females.
Because their coats are so thick and fluffy, the breed is prone to shedding—but daily or weekly home grooming with a brush or glove is all it takes to keep your pup looking her best (and your clothes and furniture fur-free). Additionally, Finnish Lapphund puppies have ultra-soft fur that requires a little extra maintenance, making the first months of their lives a prime time to establish good grooming habits.
Finnish Lapphunds have a gentle nature and are known to be loving and eager to please, making them wonderful family dogs that are responsive to the needs of children and seniors. "This breed is very sweet, affectionate, and well-natured," says Corinne Wigfall, BVM, BVS, veterinarian and spokesperson for SpiritDog Training.
While Lappies have a naturally kind personality, they can be independent and enjoy making their own decisions—traits driven by their instincts to fulfill their herding duties. After centuries of using their bark to be watchful reindeer guardians, it isn't uncommon for this breed to become vocal when they get excited during playtime or when they want attention. They will also alert you when a stranger approaches your home.
Because Finnish Lapphunds have a history of working in the vast outdoors, they do best in homes with large, fenced yards and are less-suited for apartments or other small living quarters. "This breed needs to have a home with access to a garden or yard that is secure and inescapable to avoid inappropriate wandering and herding of wildlife," Wigfall says. "They would best suit a rural home."
Their Arctic-friendly coats also mean the canines thrive in colder climates—and aren't comfortable in warm, stuffy homes, Wigfall says.
"In warmer climates, having access to air conditioning and the ability to have the doors open in the home is essential to keep them comfortable," she says. "It is recommended to only exercise them in the cooler parts of the day: the early morning and late evenings."
Due to their amiable nature, the Finnish Lapphund tends to cohabitate well with other dogs and cats in a home, particularly if they're introduced properly at an early age. But each pup is different and owners should take the proper steps when introducing any new canine or feline friends.
Lappies are social animals that rely greatly on the attention of family members—their "pack"—for happiness. As a result, they tend to suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for too long. Limited human interaction could cause them to bark or partake in undesirable behaviors. "These dogs do not do well if you ignore them," says Julie Burgess, CPDT-KA, a professional dog trainer for Senior Tail Waggers. "They want to be part of your family."
Depending on their age, the Finnish Lapphund requires moderate exercise, whether that's a long walk in the park or neighborhood or a two-hour romp in the yard with their owner or another dog. They also benefit greatly from (and excel at) agility training that stimulates their bodies and minds, such as obstacle course activities. You can help your athletic Lappy develop agility skills on your own or with the help of a professional trainer.
After centuries of living as herding dogs for indigenious Sami tribes in what's now northern Finland, these pups have a tendency to become distracted by wildlife, including small animals like squirrels and rabbits. Because of their alert nature, Lapphuds perform best on a leash on walks or in open spaces—and training them to come when called is essential. "A strong recall is needed given their instinct to herd and hunt when outdoors," Wigfall says.
Proper training is essential to taming the Finnish Lapphund's vocal and herding natures. Wigfall recommends short, consistent 10- to 20-minute sessions a few times a day, while Burgess recommends using positive reinforcement methods. "Finnish Lapphunds are easy to train because they're naturally submissive and eager to please," Burgess says. "Positive reinforcement means treats and/or praise for the behavior you want your dog to repeat. It's best to ignore unwanted acts because paying attention to your dog reinforces what you don't want them to do."
To perform at their best and live healthy lives, Finnish Lapphunds require the proper amount of high-quality dog food that's best for their age (puppy, adult, or senior) and size. Consult a veterinarian on how much to feed a Finnish Lapphund; the amount will depend on the individual dog's size, weight, age, exercise levels, and other factors. Because the breed also tends to have a slower metabolism, it is also important to ensure your Lappy maintains a healthy weight for her entire lifetime. This will help her thrive as a natural athlete, while avoiding hip and muscular issues.
Although Finnish Lapphunds don't have a "doggy odor," the dense nature of their double coat makes daily or weekly brushing important. Grooming is especially necessary during the shedding season, which typically takes place once or twice a year. However, Lappies should never be shaved, as it will reduce their temperature-control abilities to keep warm in the winter and cool during the summer.
Finnish Lapphund dogs have a lifespan typically between 12–15 years, but they are prone to hip dysplasia, a common condition in larger breeds caused by a hip deformity that results in joint looseness, leading to pain, mobility issues, and osteoarthritis. To prevent this, Burgess recommends watching your pup's weight. "Keeping them lean and fit will help minimize the effects of dysplasia because they won't be carrying extra weight and putting stress on their joints," Burgess says.
The roots of the original Finnish Lapphunds date back to ancient times when they were helper dogs of a tribe of semi-nomadic people called the Sami in Lapland, a vast region north of the Arctic Circle that then encompassed parts of Finland, Sweden, and Russia, according to the FLCA. Over hundreds of years, Sami tribes evolved into a non-nomadic culture that centered around keeping reindeer herds. This is when the Lappy transformed from hunter and protector dogs to reindeer herders.
In Finland, interest in saving the historic herders sparked around 1940. The first breed standard was accepted by the Finnish Kennel Club in 1945, where they were called the Lapponian shepherd dog. While there's no documentation, it's rumored the Finnish Lapphund came to the U.S. as pets of Finnish immigrants—but the first organized Lappy breeding program wasn't established stateside until 1987. The American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 2011.
- The Finnish Lapphund's toes are spread out and their feet and paw pads are cloaked in fur to act like a built-in snowshoe, allowing the dogs to move swiftly and gracefully through thick powder—signs that the breed has adapted to centuries of living in snowy climates.
- While the Finnish Lapphund is a popular breed in Finland and other Nordic countries, it's rare to find them in the U.S.
- Archeological digs in Lapland have revealed remains of Lapponian dogs that are estimated to date back to 7000 B.C., and there are old cave drawings depicting the canine, according to the FLCA.