Originally posted Nov 23, 2017. Updated Jan 20, 2022.
I’ve been training my two primitive dogs (a Finnish Spitz and a Finnish Lapphund) for a couple of years now. We have had many successes and failures. We’ve had frustration and tears of joy. Just this past week, my little Finkie (short for Finnish Spitz), Ama, achieved her first obedience title (Rally Novice). [Update: this is ancient history now. We are no longer attending classes or participating in dog sports.]I have absolutely no qualifications in dog training. I have, however, owned a number of Finkies over the years, so that does tend to make one a bit cunning to their ways and how to work
around with them.
But first, here is a little background on the marvellous Finkie.
The Finnish Spitz is the National Dog of Finland. It is an ancient breed and is one of only four Arctic breeds descended from the now extinct Asian Taymyr wolf of North Asia. Most dog breeds are descended from the gray wolf. The Finnish Spitz is fox-like in appearance. In Finland, they are bred for hunting and so live mostly in the countryside, rather than cities and towns. The Finnish Kennel Club estimates the population of Finnish Spitz to be approximately 6000. In Australia, where I live, there numbers are few.
The breed purpose – hunting – explains much about the character of the dog. This is described best by Angela and David Cavill, international ambassadors for the breed (I have marked text in Bold for emphasis). I have added additional commentary in square brackets.
“An essential characteristic of the Finnish Spitz is liveliness… They are exceptionally intelligent, learn very quickly but get bored if they are required to do the same thing over and over again. For this reason, Finnish Spitz have little potential as obedience dogs and although it is possible to train them at the lower levels, it is very hard work and there is little reward… their ability to take over the household is unsurpassed!”
“The nature of the hunt with Finnish Spitz is distinctive. The dog is trained to range ahead of the hunter until it finds its quarry, which it will follow until the bird settles in a tree. [This is code for it won’t come back while on the hunt, and in its own mind, it is always on the hunt.] The dog then attracts the bird’s attention by running backwards and forwards swaying its tail. The bird is lulled into a false sense of security by the movements of the dog which then begins to draw the hunter’s attention by barking, softly at first, but gradually getting louder, until it is a clear, ringing tone which carries an enormous distance. The hunter approaches, any sound being drowned by the noise of the dog, until he is in a position to take an accurate shot at the bird. The very best dogs will sense the direction from which the hunter is coming and shift their position so that the bird turns its back on the gun. (This does not seem fair to me but anyone with a knowledge of the breed will confirm that it is quite in line with their temperament – they do not ‘play fair’ at any time!) Should the bird move off before the hunter is in position, the dog will stop barking and begin to track again until the bird settles.”
“There are official barking competitions held in Scandinavia for the King of the Barkers [Finnish Spitz can bark as many as 160 times per minute]… I have heard that lemmings are used to excite the dogs to bark in these competitions and, again, the breed’s tendency to cheat has been revealed, as on more than one occasion the competition has been completely disrupted by the Finnish Spitz eating the lemming! [Oh dear, I don’t think I approve of that.] In any event, the method of hunting does explain the ‘don’t call us we’ll call you’ attitude of many of the Spitz breeds. Finnish Spitz have not only been used for hunting birds they have also tackled elk and even bears – remarkable feats for dogs of this size.”
And so it is thus with Ama – bossy, noisy, willful, a wild spirit, with a mind of her own.
I have it on good authority that training methods have come a long way in the last 20 years. Breeds that couldn’t/wouldn’t be trained by the heel-and-jerk methods are now regarded as trainable. In Australia, a Finkie has achieved several agility titles, up to and including Agility Dog Excellent and Jumping Dog Excellent, as well as Companion Dog (Novice Obedience). While in America, a Finkie has achieved her Rally Excellent obedience title (probably higher by now) as well as many other sporting titles. So it can be done, and will be done. Yes, it is hard work but it is worth it.
About the feature photo:
This is an old photo of our first Finnish Spitz, Fiksu, and my youngest son. Fiksu means clever in Finnish.