Russian dog breeds have a long history as working dogs, but their main job today is holding a special place in the hearts of their loved ones as beloved family pets.

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Despite its status as the largest country in the world, Russia is home to less than two percent of the world's population. Half the country is covered in forest, and more than half belongs to the Siberian region boasting freezing temperatures for most of the year. Russia's canine inhabitants historically were bred to withstand cold temperatures and harsh terrain, and many Russian dog breeds remain tough, hard workers today. But if the trademark smile of the Samoyed or teddy bear resemblance of the Caucasian shepherd are any indication, these pooches have a soft side, too, and are now pampered by pet parents around the world.

Samoyed

Adult Samoyed lays in snow during snowfall
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Hailing from Siberia, the Samoyed is named after the Samoyedic people who raised their dogs to defend them, as well as to herd and hunt animals. These dogs' thick, fluffy coats and signature smiling appearance make the dogs seem as if they're just begging to be cuddled, something the Samoyed is certainly no stranger to.

"Because Samoyeds and the Samoyedic people shared tents during the cold nights, this breed appreciates the bond with their owners," says Jerry Klein, DVM, chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Besides being adorable, their good-natured grins are also a reminder of the Russian climate the breed came from. Those upturned lips prevented drooling and subsequently discourage icicles from forming on their fur in the freezing temps.

Russian Toy

two Russian toy terriers
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Itty bitty and bouncing with playful energy, the Russian toy dog became a prestigious symbol of the Russian aristocracy. These pampered pooches were quite the socialites, brought along to stylish events with their owners as a status symbol, according to the Russian Toy Club of America.

The breed faced extinction during the World Wars as Russia switched focus to breeding working dogs for the military, but thankfully enough breeders remained devoted to these cuddly companions to give them staying power. Though these dogs are one of the rarer Russian dog breeds today, those acquainted with a Russian toy know how special the bond between owner and pet can be and are rewarded with a lap dog for life.

Borzoi

White borzoi dogs lay in snonw
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Previously named the "Russian wolfhound," these long-legged, long-haired sprinters were renamed "borzoi" for a Russian word meaning swift. Wolf hunting was a celebrated sport amongst the Russian aristocracy, and the bounding borzoi were bred to help with the hunt.

"The borzoi is a large sighthound, which has the build of a greyhound and has a long, silky coat," Klein says. "They are quiet and cat-like and fast, which made it easy for them to catch their prey during hunts."

Despite being naturally quick, the borzoi has a calm demeanor well-suited for a slower-paced lifestyle, though families should plan to provide plenty of exercise to these elegant pups—always on a leash or in a fenced-in yard to ensure these speedsters stay within reach.

Siberian Husky

group of siberian huskys pulling dog sled
With their thick double coats, Siberian huskies are winter-loving dogs. If you have a snow day, good luck getting your pup to come inside!
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No Russian dog is more recognizable than the Siberian husky, who ranks in the top 20 most popular dog breeds in the United States at number 16, according to the American Kennel Club. Bred to pull sleds across Russian terrain, these social dogs fit into family life just as naturally. Still, their storied history is celebrated today.

In the winder of 1925, musher Leonhard Seppala and others led a relay of Siberian huskies 674 miles in just five-and-a-half days over deadly terrain to deliver a life-saving serum for people suffering from a diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska. While many heroic huskies were instrumental to the relay, the lead dog in the final part of the journey, Balto, was singled out for special recognition. A statue of Balto currently stands in New York City's Central Park.

Russian Spaniel

Two Russian Spaniels posing in a forest
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Thought to share lineage with the English cocker spaniel and English springer spaniel, the Russian spaniel is a rarer breed naturally suited to hunting, especially as a bird dog in marshes, fields, or wooded areas, according to the Russian Spaniel Club. Easy to train, friendly, and low-maintenance, the Russian spaniel is a popular apartment companion in Russia. Though not officially recognized by the AKC, their prominence continues to grow overseas with the development of the Russian Spaniel Club in the United States and Canada in 2002.

Black Russian Terrier

Black Russian terrier jumping
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Don't let the terrier designation fool you—the black Russian terrier is defined as a working dog by the AKC, originally bred by the Soviet government for service in the military police. Weighing up to 130 pounds, these floofy pooches prefer their people over strangers and like to keep an eye on their family. Their history as a working breed makes them more likely to patrol the yard than claim a corner of the couch. And their super smarts will keep you looking for fun things the two of you can do together.

Caucasian Shepherd (Caucasian Ovcharka)

Caucasian shepherd dog outside in the snow
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Affectionately known as the "Russian bear dog," the Caucasian shepherd is aptly nicknamed for not only their resemblance to a teddy bear, but also for their history hunting bears in Russia.

Large but loving, the Caucasian shepherd is a gentle giant best suited for experienced dog owners. A devoted, doting dog breed, they are not likely to trust outsiders, and they don't do well left alone for long periods of time. With early training and socialization, these big-boned, big-hearted dogs can grow into a loving family pet.