Information about the Norrbottenspets

The Norbottenspets is a breed of dog of the spitz type. It is an ancient breed whose original purpose was a farm and hunting dog but has recently became more popular as a companion dog. The Norrbottenspets is used to hunt wood grouse, black grouse, capercaillie and hazel grouse, but also fox, marten and raccoon dog. Some individual are also effective with mammals as large as moose and grizzly bear. Before norrbottenspetz was used in hunting squirrel, when squirrel fur was valuable in the beginning of 20th century and earlier.

The breed originated in Norrbotten, Sweden and Lappland/Kainuuland, Finland, and have been documented as early as the 17th century. Sweden and Finland argue about the true home of the Norrbottenspets, but clearly the dog has spent much time in both countries. The dogs were mainly used as hunting companions. By the end of World War I, the Norbottenspets came close to extinction. Due to the very small number of norrbottens, Sweden closed its studbook in 1948. Although some dogs were preserved, they were in a non-Swedish speaking area and in the far north as a farm dog and companion. Enthusiasts sought out the few remaining dogs and started a successful breeding program between the 1950s and early 1960s. FCI confirmed a new breed standard in 1966 and the official name was confirmed as Norrbottenspets. In 1967 the Swedish Kennel Club accepted the breed for registration and a new standard was written. Finland accepted the standard and began registering dogs in 1973. In Finland these dogs are called Pohjanpystykorva. Immigrant farmers have given the dog an even longer name, Norbottens-skollandehund. There is a great effort in Finland to ensure the health of these fox-like hunting dogs and breeding is highly controlled. Healthy animals, that are only distantly related, are being bred with careful consideration of breeding consultants to create a strong background. Sweden has also had a dramatic impact on the preservation of this breed through strict breeding practices.

The Norrbottenspets should be a light spitz dog, yet powerful in appearance. There should be lightness and power reflected in the dog. Males are noticeably more masculine than females, who are smaller and of lighter build. It should give the impression of being alert, spritely, and intelligent. In proportions the Norrbottenspets is slightly taller than long – fit for the original use as a hunter. The tail should curl over the back and rest on the hips.

The Norrbottenspets is a physical mixture of endurance, speed, and strength. The ribcage has elements of both speed and strength. Viewed from the front the ribcage is oval and relatively deep, half from height. The ribcage is also relatively long with well-developed last ribs. The arched neck, distinguishable withers and slightly slanting croup makes the lines of the body very speedy. The underline has only a slight tuck up, which with the long ribcage reflects endurance.

Viewing the legs one can see both elements of speed and endurance. The relatively slanting shoulder blades, long upper arms and strong back angulations reflect endurance. The upper thigh forms a nearly 90 degree angle with the pelvis. Small, tight paws belong to an endurance trotter, but relatively long hocks add to the speed in gallop, especially in the start.

Although rare, bobtails do occur naturally, as in the Finnish Spitz and Karelian Bear Dog. This is an automatic disqualification for the showring for the Finnish Spitz and the Norrbottenspets, but not the Karelian. The hunting dog does not need a tail to be very efficient.

The coat is hard, straight, dense, and lies close to the body. It must always have a double coat (although after a coat loss, the undercoat can be rather sparse), and the under-coat is softer than the outer-coat. The ground colour is white, with yellowish red or reddish brown markings. Also, markings of other colours are permitted. The ideal amount of white varies from 30% to nearly 100%, but in extreme cases it should have colour at least on the ears and a small spot near the base of the tail. The more coloured dogs must have a broken saddle(white crossing completely over the shoulders) with the white clearly dominant. Symmetry is not essential in facial colouring, nor is any pattern more correct than another. White on both ears, however, is highly correlated with deafness and is not desirable. Ticking(small spots of 0.25-1.0 cm) is allowed, as is a dark face. There is a gene that is dominant that leads to the dark coloured mask on the face. Often, the mask is accompanied by dark tipping of the guard hairs. For a show dog, symmetrical color can be preferred, but structure and the original purpose are always the most important.

Piebald colouring is normally a result of a single gene mutation. Usually a dog that has two copies of the mutated gene is piebald, and a single copy of the gene results in an Irish type spotting. Generally, two copies of the non-mutated gene produces dogs of a solid colour, although a small amount of white is seen. There are a few dogs that do not follow the normal inheritance patterns. The Norrbottenspets is one that does not(data collected by the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon Canada, fall 2008). Another one is the Icelandic Sheepdog. There are a range of piebald colours – blond to red to darker brown. It is the form of the colouring that is important.

The difference in size among the Scandinavian Hunting Breeds (Karelian Bear Dog, Finnish Spitz, and Norrbottenspets) promoted by the Finnish Spitz Club (SPJ) is distinct. The Norrbottenspets is clearly the smallest, without being toy breed-like. The standard calls for “a small and light spitz-dog”. There is overlap in size between the Finnish Spitz and the Norrbottenspets.

The Canadian Kennel Club does not disqualify based on standard, but ideal height at the withers: Males- 45 cm (17.7″), Females- 42 cm (16.5″). Although the standard does not note this, variation of +/- 2 cm (0.8″) is considered acceptable based on the home standards of Finland and Sweden. The Swedish and Finnish standards indicate that males over 47 cm and females over 44 cm should be disqualified.

The weight is approximately 11 to 15 kg (24 to 33 lb) for males, and 8 to 12 kg (18 to 27 lb) for females. Weight is not mentioned in the standard.

Gait must show smooth, even movements with great drive, covering the ground well. The top-line must stay firm. Legs must be parallel in action. The ears may be back during gaiting. Good strength, balance, co-ordination and agility is needed when working on rough terrain or crossing waterways. A heavy dog would not live long in the woods. Working fitness is of high value, a large, lethargic dog is to be penalized. It is noteworthy that dogs may gain fat in the winter for warmth along with their heavier coat, but this should not impair their agility or endurance.

When hunting the dogs use sight, scent, and sound unlike most hounds which tend to specialize as sight or scent hunters. The Norrbottenspets is released into a wooded area where it uses all its senses to find game. Once found the dog will flush the game and begin the chase. The dog will chase the game until it is cornered, treed, or stops. The dog then attempts to hold the game in that location by barking and continuous movement. This barking can be up to 120 barks per minute. In hunting trials the dog is required to bark at 100 barks per minute or faster. The purpose of this rapid barking is to confuse the game and cover any sounds made by the approaching hunter. This allows the hunter to find the game and get close to the game without it knowing the hunter is there.

The Norrbottenspets fanciers have been very interested in registering dogs. In Finland, there are about 1200 Norrbottenspets currently living, as of 2008. Canada and the United States have approximately 300 living dogs, as of 2008. Sweden has approximately 1000 dogs, as of 2008. Finland’s breeding program has used breeding consultants and computer programs to determine inbreeding coefficients to keep the risk of genetic diseases low given the small population.(Numbers collected by the Finnish Spitz Club, Finland.)