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With a striking red-gold coat and white markings on his chest, plus perky triangular ears and a brisk, lively trot, the Finnish spitz looks to be a fox's doppelgänger. But unlike his distant woodland cousin, this decidedly cute domesticated dog is outgoing (not shy like a fox) and has a plumed tail rather than a bushy one.
Finnish spitz dogs are lively and loyal, and they make great family pets because they are sweet-natured and enthusiastic playmates. While these dogs are the national dog of—you guessed it—Finland, they are a somewhat rare breed in the United States.
Before bringing home a Finnish spitz puppy, know that they were historically bred to be hunting dogs, where they would bark loudly (and incessantly) to alert their humans to nearby birds.
"Small in stature but large in personality, these dogs are very talkative and will bark, howl, and chat to their family and anyone else that will listen," says Colleen Demling-Riley, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA, CDBC, dog behaviorist with Dogtopia. "They are intelligent, high energy, and love to be with their families."
Finnish spitz are on the small side of medium-sized dogs, with males weighing between 25–33 pounds and female dogs weighing between 20–28 pounds. These pups have square, well-balanced, and muscular bodies, according to the Finnish Spitz Club of America (FSCA). Males stand 17.5–20 inches tall, while females are slightly smaller at 15.5–18 inches.
"As with other spitz dogs, this cute canine has a fox-like head, plush coat and tail that curls sweetly over its back," says Linda Simon, MVB, MRCVS, consulting veterinarian at FiveBarks.
The Finnish spitz's double coat is longest and most dense on the plume of his tail and back of his thighs, according to the FSCA. The undercoat is short, soft, and thick, while the outer guard hairs are long and harsh. For the most part, these dogs are wash-and-wear and don't require too much grooming, except for brushing every few days. They blow their coats a couple of times a year.
His coat color can be various shades of golden red, running the spectrum from a pale honey color to a deep auburn. The dog's undercoat is paler, and the shading effect gives him an almost magical glow. Finnish spitz dogs often have white markings on the tips of their toes and striping their chests, and baby Finnish spitz dogs are born with black hairs that disappear within a couple of years.
Other defining characteristics include a black nose and thin, tight black lips. And, of course, an adorable fox-like expression!
In a few words, the Finnish spitz temperament is active, friendly, and faithful.
"Spitz dogs are known for being clever and independent as well as loyal to those in their immediate circle," Simon says. "Indeed, the Finnish spitz ticks all of these boxes."
Though they tend to be cautious around strangers, the Finish spitz can click right into family life and are ready to play and cuddle.
"They are great family dogs and do well with kids as well as other dogs and cats in the home," Demling-Riley says. "Since they were bred to hunt, they are not the best match for a family that has small pets such as birds or hamsters."
Of course, as with all dogs, it's important to supervise children and your Finnish spitz when they're playing.
The Finnish spitz tends to do best with active dog owners due to his exercise needs, and he'll need an owner who's committed to training and socialization, says Jen Jones, a professional dog trainer and behavior specialist who runs Your Dog Advisor.
Because these pups are talkers, they're probably not a good fit for apartment life, Demling-Riley says. Some precautions will need to be put in place if your spitz is living in suburbia, too.
"They love running in an enclosed yard, but the fence line should be away from high-traffic areas since these pups will bark at anything that passes," Demling-Riley says.
Although Finnish spitz dogs have an independent streak, Demling-Riley says, they want to be with their family and don't do well when left alone outside or separated from their people for long periods of time.
The Finnish spitz will feel most at home with a family that has time to exercise them regularly (we're talking up to two hours a day!) as they are naturally hunting dogs bred to run and work all day long, says Megan Conrad, BVMS, a licensed veterinarian with Hello Ralphie.
In addition to two to three walks a day, Finnish spitz dogs will also need mental stimulation, including puzzle toys or some at-home play sessions, Conrad says.
The Finnish spitz sheds heavily twice a year, but in general his coat requires minimal upkeep.
"Brushing the pup a couple times a week and bathing when dirty is all that is needed," Demling-Riley says.
As with all dogs, make sure you're trimming your Finnish spitz's nails about once a month. Also, as part of your regular care routine, incorporate daily tooth brushing and occasional ear cleanings.
While grooming a Finnish spitz is pretty easy, his exercise routine requires much more investment—let's just say you'll have no problem logging 10,000 steps a day with this dog as your companion. The Finnish spitz has lots of energy and needs at least 60–90 minutes of exercise a day, but Demling-Riley says he'll always be up for more.
An intelligent breed, Finnish spitz dogs are quick learners. They are loyal dogs who love praise from their human parents, so use lots of positive reinforcement as you relay good manners and teach new commands. Arm yourself with treats and be generous with those head pats as you lead short, but frequent, training sessions.
As a typically healthy breed, Conrad says, the Finnish spitz life expectancy is 13–15 years. However, there are a few health problems these fox-like cuties can be prone to, including luxating patella, or dislocated kneecap.
A common sign of a luxating patella is a change in your dog's stride as he may hop on his leg or stretch it out to get the kneecap back in place. Depending on its severity, your pet could need surgery.
Finnish spitz dogs may also be prone to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and epilepsy, Conrad says. Responsible Finnish spitz breeders screen dogs for these issues prior to breeding.
Finnish spitz dogs can be prone to weight gain, too.
"Carefully watch their food intake and use low-calorie treats so they don't become overweight," Demling-Riley says
In dogs, obesity can lead to orthopedic diseases. Obesity can also contribute to or complicate other canine health conditions, including kidney disease, cancer, diabetes mellitus, and heart disease.
When migrants from central Russia arrived in what's now known as Finland roughly 3,000 years ago, it's believed they brought their spitz-type dogs with them. These dogs have a history of working as all-purpose hunters. In fact, the early Finnish spitz was such a skilled hunter that he was capable of tackling huge, tenacious animals like elk and even bears, according to the FSC.
Over the years, the Finnish spitz developed a particular specialty in bird hunting. The dog would attract the attention of birds by running backwards and forwards, swaying his tail, his bark getting louder and louder. The ringing tone of the dog's bark could carry enormous distances, drawing hunters' attention and distracting the birds as the hunters approached, according to the FSC.
By 1880, though, the Finnish spitz had been bred with so many other breeds it was nearly extinct. But two admirers of the breed, Hugo Sandberg and Hugo Roos, went on a mission to save the dogs. Sandberg wrote a breed description for the dog and urged the Finnish Kennel Club to preserve the dogs and consider them to be the national dog breed—a title the dogs were awarded in 1979.
In 1960, the Finnish spitz arrived in the United States. The American Kennel Club recognized the pups in 1991.
- The Finnish spitz is the national dog of Finland. But in Finland the breed is called Suomen-pystyykorva, which translates to "Finnish prick-eared dog."
- Finnish spitz are known for their beautiful red coats. But Finnish spitz puppies are born with lots of black hairs, especially on their tails, that disappear over time.
- Finland has a barking competition every year that the Finnish spitz competes in. The dogs have been recorded barking up to 160 times a minute, according to the AKC. But to be crowned champs, the competitors must prove they can bark while hunting.
- At first glance, a Finnish spitz might be confused with a Shiba Inu. And while both are spitz breeds, there are some ways you can differentiate the breeds. Shibas are smaller than Finnish spitz dogs, and the Japanese dogs' ears are more rounded. And though both dogs have red coats, Shiba Inus can also be cream, black, or white.