Questions we've been asked through the years, and our responses
Here are some short answers to some of the e-mail inquiries Shadow-Wood Sams has received from people who own or are interesting in owning a Samoyed along with Patti's e-mailed responses: (some responses have been tweaked to reflect new information since the question was first answered)
I HAVE A MALE/FEMALE PURE-BRED SAMOYED. HOW CAN I FIND SOMEONE TO BREED HIM/HER TO? Your best bet is to find your local Samoyed club and attend its matches and shows so that people can get to know you and your dog/bitch. Having a successful show dog is the best and quickest route to generating interest in off spring of your dog. Your dog will be expected to meet some important criteria to be of interest to another breeder. Here is a brief list of what those of us in dogs consider the bare minimum qualifications for breeding a dog: Dog/bitch has the correct physical and temperamental characteristics of the breed Dog has no disqualifying (see AKC breed standard) or serious physical or mental faults Dog has been X-rayed and cleared by the Orthopedic Foundation of America or Penn-Hip (University of Pennsylvania vet school) of any sign of hip dysplasia Dog's eyes have been examined by a veterinary opthalmologist and certified clear of inheritable conditions. (These are minimal test that were required years ago when we first began breeding. There are others now that can help identify heart problems, elbow problems, and other health issues. The owner of your selected stud dog will let you know what he or she requires of breeding stock.)
I HAVE A MALE. WILL PEOPLE WANT TO USE HIM AS A STUD DOG? If the dog meets all the above criteria, you probably have a dog suitable for breeding. This still does not mean that the public is going to beat a path to your door. If you own a male dog that has never been shown and has not completed a conformation championship or earned some other working-related honors (obedience championship, sled dog race winner, etc) it is not likely that prospective breeders are going to seek you out. If you know your dog's breeder, that is the first person to consult. If he or she is involved with showing or performance events, he will be able to tell you if the dog is one that people are likely to want to breed to and can probably help find someone who is looking for a stud dog from their bloodlines. If you got your dog from a pet shop or from a 'backyard breeder' this assistance will not be available to you and it is unlikely that anyone seriously into Samoyeds will be interested in your dog no matter how desirable he may seem to you. It is, alas, the male dog's role to wait for the owners of bitches to seek him out. That is why so many male dogs are shown to their championships - so that breeders will see them and hopefully, want to breed to them.
I HAVE A FEMALE. WHAT ABOUT USING HER AS A BROOD BITCH? In the case of a bitch, you can seek out a stud dog using your bitch's breeder for advice, if possible, or a show catalog, or the internet. Your bitch will have to meet all of the above criteria . Responsible stud dog owners will question you carefully as to your reasons for wanting to breed your bitch and what you plan to do with the puppies. You can probably find someone with an available stud dog among members of your closest regional Sam club provided your bitch meets breeding criteria. Things prospective stud dog owners will want to know about your bitch are: Her pedigree (if you know her breeder, that is the first place to start for stud dog suggestions) Why you want to breed her What you plan to do with the puppies In addition, they will want you to have had a hip clearance from the Orthopedic Foundation of America, and at least one clear eye exam done by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist. Some stud dog owners may require additional tests or clearances for other things. Most of us will want to see the bitch in person before saying definitely 'yes' or 'no' to assess her physical qualities as they match up to the Samoyed standard. The Samoyed Club of America has available a booklet called 'Breeding Your Samoyed' that you might want to get to help you. I also highly recommend you find a 'mentor' or an experienced breeder to help you with the process.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO PAY FOR A STUD FEE? Generally the stud fee is the price of a pet or show puppy. It varies a great deal from dog to dog and breeder to breeder. A young dog that is not a champion yet, or has not achieved recognition in some other field (agility, herding, sled racing, etc.) would be less than a proven sire of top quality show dogs (or sledding dogs, or whatever).
I WANT TO BUY AN ADULT BITCH TO SET UP A BREEDING OPERATION. WHAT DO I NEED TO DO? Assuming anyone would sell you one without knowing a great deal more about you, you would be paying a lot of money for a breeding quality adult bitch. I have to admit, a request like this makes me very nervous. If you are not looking for a pet, and you don't mention showing or any other kind of activity, I have to assume you are just planning to crank out puppies for some reason. Very few breeders will be willing to sell you a breeding bitch without being in a position to control where, when, how often, and to what dogs she is bred.
WHY ARE YOU DOG SHOW PEOPLE SO FUSSY? Most of us have spent many years developing our line of dogs, breeding for specific characteristics that we feel will be good for the breed and that will meet the written standard for what a Sam ought to be. We do not want to see that hard work go down the tubes by breeding to dogs that do not meet the rigorous standards that we have set for our own breeding stock. Nor do we want to be responsible for generating puppies that will not be carefully placed in good homes and cared for their entire lives. No one wants to find that a dog which has been rescued from the pound is a direct descendent of our breeding stock. This reflects very poorly on a breeder.
I WANT A DOG FOR A PET, BUT I WANT A SHOW QUALITY DOG. WHY AM I HAVING SUCH A HARD TIME GETTING WHAT I WANT? As you see in the above answer about 'fussy show dog people', breeders put a lot of thought, time and money into producing the best dogs that they can. If their best dogs spend their lives on someone's couch rather than being shown to a championship, it is hard to find show homes for future puppies. It is important that our show quality puppies go to people who will get them out to the show ring where other breeders can see the quality of our dogs. A breeder who will sell a good show quality puppy to a pet home may be more interested in money than his or her breeding program. By the same token, puppies from very good stock tend to be very nice representatives of the breed and the chances are that you will not be able to tell the difference between the 'pet' puppies and the 'show' puppies. The differences may be so subtle as to be invisible to the untrained eye. The breeder should be willing to show you and explain what makes a particular puppy a pet and you can make your own decision about how important those faults are. For a more in depth coverage of what is meant by 'pet' and 'show' quality see our "buying a puppy" page.
I JUST WANT A NICE FAMILY PET. WHY SHOULD I BUY FROM A BREEDER WHO SHOWS DOGS? Every puppy bred and raised by a responsible breeder has had the same careful attention to its background and health as has the potential Best-in-Show puppy. More than likely it will come with elaborate instructions for its care, some sort of health guarantee, a life-long commitment of advice and assistance from the breeder, and very likely an assurance from the breeder that it will always have a home if the buyer must give it up at some point in its life.
I SAW A PHOTO OF A SAMOYED AND I THINK I WANT ONE. WHAT DO I NEED TO DO? The first thing you need to do is to actually meet some Sams and find out for sure if it is the right dog for you. Try to find a local Samoyed club or attend a dog show and meet some breeders who will allow you to come and see their dogs in their home environment. Most of us are more than happy to spend time showing off our dogs and talking about them with prospective puppy buyers. You can also read more about the breed on the Samoyed Club of America site.
HOW DO I GO ABOUT FINDING A GOOD PUPPY? So that you will be on the same page as the breeders you talk to, here is some terminology to be aware of: Champion lines simply means that there are several champions in the pedigree on both sides. Champion sired means the obvious Ch. sire and dam means both have completed ('finished') their American Kennel Club Championships.
It is not at all uncommon to find bitches being bred before they have finished their championships as they are in and out of coat so much that to wait to breed them until they get all those points can take a long time. Many dogs also have Canadian and/or Mexican Championships as well. With the addition now of the "Grand Champion" title at AKC shows, many exhibitors who enjoy showing continue to do so long after the dog has obtained its championship. While a title does not guarantee a top quality dog (alas), it does indicate that the dog fits the standard well enough to have been successful in the conformation show ring. Other titles in Obedience, Agility, and Rally indicate at willingness to work and learn.
Of as much importance, you will want to know that both parents (and grandparents, etc.) are certified clear of hip dysplasia by OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) as well as that they have a current CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation) number. (this has been replaced by another OFA registry for eyes, but the exam is still required) Many breeders also do thyroid checks and elbow X-rays, both of which can have OFA numbers. Do not be afraid to ask to see copies of these certifications (or the originals, if you are visiting the breeder). The latest registry for dogs cleared of genetic health issues is CHIC. If the dog has a CHIC (Canine Health Information Center) number, he or she has been cleared for a number of possible genetic issues, and probably has DNA on file.
HOW OLD SHOULD OUR PUPPY BE WHEN WE TAKE IT HOME? I doubt you will find anyone (who knows what they are doing) to sell you a six-week-old puppy, and you may have trouble finding one that is seven weeks. although that is considered by some obedience people to be the optimum age to bond with an owner. The days when puppies were weaned at five or six weeks and placed in new homes immediately is long gone. We now know how important it is for puppies to remain with the mother and the litter long enough to learn how to be a dog before they go to a new home. It is also now illegal many places to sell puppies before eight weeks of age. In addition, most breeders are breeding dogs for a specific purpose (show, sledding, obedience, etc. ) and will not want to let puppies go until they are old enough to make an educated guess as to which ones will be suitable for their activity. Most puppies will be ready to go to new homes by the time they are eight to ten weeks old, but some may be a few weeks older than that.
WHY CAN'T I GET A PUPPY FOR CHRISTMAS? Many breeders are reluctant to let puppies go at Christmas time as it is a busy and confusing time to bring a puppy in to the household. But, they will usually hold your puppy for you and perhaps give you a photo to put under the tree on Christmas day. Just don't be surprised if someone refuses to let you take it home Christmas Eve! The major cause of breeders' reluctance is that a disproportionate number of Christmas puppies wind up in dog pounds. This is perhaps related to the difference in commitment between choosing to buy a dog for yourself, with all of its obligations, and receiving one as a surprise gift. And, unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that a lot of Christmas puppy buys are influenced more by the impulse of gift giving than by the deliberate examination of all the factors involved that must be part of deciding whether or not to have a dog share someone's life. Admittedly this reluctance to sell Christmas puppies is unfortunate when your serious thinking about deciding to buy a dog coincides with the Christmas holidays, but you can understand the source of the breeder's concern.
WHAT CAN I EXPECT TO PAY FOR A HEALTHY PUPPY? Average prices on puppies vary from one part of the country to another and even, sometimes, from one part of a state to another. Puppy prices in a given area should be similar for all puppies from X-rayed clear stock being sold with contracts and guarantees but they can vary somewhat from breeder to breeder. Pet puppies are generally less than show quality puppies although show quality puppies may come with other options like a co-ownership with the breeder, a puppy back to the breeder from the first litter, etc. To learn more about what is meant by pet and show puppies you can go to my "Buying a Puppy From Shadow-wood" page. Responsible breeders are much more concerned about finding the best homes for their puppies than with how much money they get. However, it does cost a lot of money to do a good job of raising top quality dogs, so you should not be looking for bargain basement prices from a serious breeder. If you add up what this person has spent on purchasing good breeding stock, feeding, vet care, stud fee, hip X-rays, eye checks, checking for other genetic abnormalities, vet care for the puppies (shots, deworming, etc.) it is easy to see how it all adds up. And that's assuming all went well and there was no emergency C-section required or preemie puppies to hand raise! The best bargains, by the way, are to be found in a rescue dog. They aren't puppies, but they are loving Samoyeds.
DO THEY SHED? Yes! For a bit more information, see 'grooming' below.
HOW OFTEN MUST THEY BE BATHED? Not as often as you would think unless they are always rolling in disgusting things. Of course, dogs that are showing must be bathed regularly and before each show to keep them in good condition. I consider 'regularly' to be once a month, however many people will say once a week. You must find the line between so much bathing that the coat becomes damaged and so little that you cannot get the dog clean easily. It is important that they be thoroughly dried to avoid hot spots and matting. They MUST be groomed regularly.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD THEY BE GROOMED? At least once a week. Not difficult. Brush one side one night while you watch TV, and do the other side the next night. Only when the dog is 'blowing coat' do you need to brush and comb every day. Then it is a must or you will smother in dog hair. Included in grooming is regular clipping of the nails and brushing the teeth. If you own a good dog blow dryer, you may find that a much easier way to keep your dog clean and brushed. A powerful dryer (like a K-9) can blow right down to the skin and get rid of any dust, dirt, critters and loose hair. Even a small Metro Commander dryer can do a good job of keeping a coat clean and neat. This can be very useful to those of us with arthritic hands or older dogs whose skin may have become sensitive to even the minor pulling that comes from brushing and combing.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT FLEAS? Unfortunately, Frontline and others of its ilk only kill the fleas on the dogs (and perhaps, only when they bite, I'm not sure about that). They do not keep the fleas off, so as long as fleas are in the house they can continue to jump on the dogs. The best solution is a combination of a topical to kill the fleas that are there and a preventative to stop them from reproducing. I've also had some success with putting brewer's yeast in food. Regular vacuuming is a must. For those of us who are breeders, Program seems to interfere with doggie reproduction. It is a good long-term solution for dogs that aren't being bred, but all the dogs in the household must be on it for it to work. (and any cats!) If even one is not, then any fleas that drop off that dog are fertile and they just lay their eggs and keep the cycle going! You will want to treat the environment (vacuum, spray with flea stuff and vacuum some more). Brewer's yeast (and teeny amounts of garlic) on the dog's food can reduce fleas on the dogs, but will not remove them from the environment.
ARE SAMS GOOD WITH CHILDREN? As a rule, they are excellent with children. Not all Sams are crazy about children, but one that isn't at least tolerant of them would be very uncharacteristic of the breed. I would say over all a bitch is more likely to actually enjoy babies and small children, but most Sams are willing to put up with their attentions at least for awhile.
HOW ARE SAMS WITH OTHER ANIMALS? Most Sams can learn to get along fine with other animals, however, they are a northern breed, and have been known to view anything other than another Sam as 'prey'. Some are more feral than others and may never learn not to chase the cat or eat the chickens. Most, however, are quite gentle with their own animals. They can and are, after all, used to herd ducks and sheep . How well they do with other dogs depends tremendously on the personality of the Sam and the personalty of the other dog, as well as how much positive socialization the dog had as a puppy. Male Sams tend to be a little belligerent as they hit puberty, and I can't guarantee that one would get along with another adult male. Much depends on the personality of the dogs involved. Two dominant dogs are going to fight until one is dead or in charge. More submissive dogs may get along fine. I never count on males getting along with each other after they reach adulthood (although I just lost one of a pair that had co-existed peacefully for their entire lives), but a male and female should be fine together (or a male and several females). Sammy puppies are fairly boisterous and play very rough so that could be a problem initially for an older or much smaller dog.
ARE THEY GOOD WATCH DOGS? DO THEY BARK? Yes, they love to watch (kidding!). They will usually warn you of approaching strangers, but are not aggressive dogs and should not be counted on to physically defend your property. You personally, maybe. Yes, they do bark - and whine and howl and 'talk'. I, personally, would not expect an indoor Sam to bark very much, but one that is confined to the yard can be very vocal. I know there are some that are vocal even in the house - I consider that more of an owner issue than a "bad dog" issue.
CAN I LEAVE MY SAM LOOSE IN THE YARD? The Samoyed people were nomadic. Their dogs tend to be the same. Only the very young and very old (and infirm) can be trusted to stay in an unfenced yard. Sams are easily bored and will go looking for something to do if left to their own devices. Alas, not everything they chose to do to relieve the boredom will be acceptable to your neighbors. In addition, of course, there is the danger to themselves from other dogs, traffic, and some people. Sams are easily stolen as they all love to ride in cars and be petted by strangers. And, no matter how smart or 'savvy' the dog, he does not understand the laws of physics nor how quickly a car going 65 mph will reach the spot he is standing. A Sam will not necessarily stay inside a fenced yard either if it is left out there long enough to become really bored. They can dig, jump and climb, and are more than willing to try all three of those things to go check out what's going on in the neighbor's yard.
WHAT IS THE BEST PLACE TO LEAVE MY DOG WHEN I'M NOT THERE? The safest place to leave a dog outside when you are not with it is a chain link dog run. It should be at least 6 ft tall and can be covered if the dog is a climber and or will need shelter from sun and rain. It need not be terribly big as long as you are not planning to leave the dog in it 24/7. He will need shade, shelter, water and toys. It should also have an easily cleaned, dig proof surface. Ideally, you will be keeping him with you as much as possible. A regular fence (chain link, pickets, boards with wire behind them) around the yard will be adequate for most situations, but will not hold a determined Sam for more than a few minutes if he or she wants to leave.
MUST I HAVE A FENCED YARD? A fenced yard or not is not really the issue with Sams - the issue is that they are not stay-at-home dogs and therefore must be safely confined somewhere while you are away. A fenced yard is absolutely no guarantee that your dog will be there when you come home after eight hours. Sams are excellent diggers, jumpers and climbers and they get easily bored when left alone. (They also tend to be friendly, which makes them easy to steal.) That boredom can translate into destructive behavior very easily in the house or yard, especially if the dog is bright and energetic as most Sams are. If you have a lot of free time, work from home, or otherwise can be available for frequents walks, you can certainly have a Sam without a fenced yard. No doubt the dog will be happy for the extra time spent with you. However, you must know that you can make that commitment to walking the dog often.
IS A SAM THE RIGHT DOG FOR ME? What you really need to decide is do you have time in your life for something that will be happiest as your constant companion? And that is going to depend a great deal on where and at what you wind up working (long commute? tiring work? etc) and where and how you live (active social life? dogs allowed in apartment or house? etc.) It is not fair to a dog for you to leave it early in the morning, come home, take it for a run, and then go back out for several hours every evening. Unless you have a doggy day care place (these are becoming more and more common) near you and you can afford it, your ability to go places and do things is going to be seriously limited by the fact that you have a living creature that is depending on you for companionship as well as food, drink and exercise. For more information to help you make this decision, the Samoyed Club of America's web site has a section devoted to answering questions about the breed.
CAN I KEEP A SAM IN AN APARTMENT? You can have a Sam in an apartment - but you must have someplace safe to leave the puppy (and maybe well into adulthood, depending on the dog) while you are gone all day. A crate will work of course, but I don't like the idea of crating dogs all day long (although many people do it). I had my very first Samoyed in a one-bedroom apartment in Washington DC. However, I was in college at the time and could pop in and out of my first floor apartment to take my dog out for walks several times a day. And, I spent most of my weekends in the country with my horse, so he got lots of exercise there too. Had I been walking out the door at 7:30 or 8:00 every morning and not returning until 6, things would not have been nearly as easy. (And still my furniture suffered from my lack of knowledge about crates...)
Someone to come in and let the dog out at least once during the day would be very good - in fact, necessary for young puppies as they cannot 'hold it' for more than a couple of hours at a time when they are very young. You will also have to be sure your dog is not barking while you are gone. Only you can decide if you have the time and energy to make this work. Your dog will require a lot of your time when you get home and in addition to it's regular opportunities to relieve itself outside, it will need at least one good long walk or run per day to keep it from getting fat and bored.
I'VE HEARD SAMS ARE HARD TO TRAIN. IS THAT TRUE? Again, we are looking at personality differences between dogs. The first thing to understand is that they are working dogs. The idea that the breed could have developed as it has if it had an aversion to being trained is ludicrous. Very often the problem is the owner/trainer, not the dog. Sams are very intelligent (as a rule--we have, however, owned a couple of the rare exceptions) and learn very quickly. That means they also get bored quickly and too much drilling in a particular exercise can have the opposite affect from what you were hoping.
They are not 'windup toy' dogs like Shelties or Poodles, nor are they as submissive as German Shepherd Dogs, so you will not often get that same level of instant obedience. However, they can learn whatever you care to teach them (and probably some things you will wish you hadn't) and they can and should be expected to conduct themselves with good manners both at home and in public.
This belief that Sams are hard to train is one of our pet peeves. To read more, got to our Musings page.
SHOULD I HIRE SOMEONE TO TRAIN MY DOG?
No! You must learn to train your dog. And your dog must learn to work for and with you. Try to find a basic obedience class near your home and enroll in it. Most obedience clubs also offer puppy classes to get new owners and their puppies off on the right foot. Check the classes out before you join.
If the instructor indicates he or she doesn't like to train northern dogs, or doesn't think they can be trained, RUN for the nearest exit and look for another class. And watch out for trainers who have an over-reliance on food to train. Food is very useful to shape behavior. An example is teaching the sit by scooping the dog's rear while at the same time raising their head up by slowly moving a treat up over their head. Shaping means that you are getting the dog's muscles, nerves and brain to associate the command 'sit' with a sequence of muscular movement. It is a wonderful tool for teaching behaviors, guiding dogs into position, and so on. It does not, alas, teach obedience….
Over-reliance occurs when the food moves from shaping behavior to rewarding every time the dog does something right. The reward should not be a treat after each successful obedience to a command--particularly for a Samoyed, a breed that wants a close association with you, it's Alpha (hopefully) partner. What a Sammy responds to is recognition--praise and happiness. The pack bonding is the link, not the food. And for anyone who knows anything about gambling, it is the chance of a reward that brings people back to the slot machines. If the reward is always there, it would be boring. What keeps your dog focused (after you have successfully taught the exercise) is the chance that there may be a food reward one of these times. For the effects of food training on obedience competition, see my article, The Dangers of Training With Food. Look for a trainer who understands this.
WILL NEUTERING MAKE MY DOG BEHAVE BETTER? Neutering is not the magic pill that vets would like to think it is, but it may settle him down a little and perhaps remove some of the incentive to roam. It lowers testosterone, so the dog is less likely to be aggressive with other dogs, and of course, it can't sire puppies. Newer studies are showing that spaying and neutering may not be the cure-alls we have to to think of them as, and may have detrimental side effects to balance the positive effects. Also, newer techniques are being developed that may help the dogs retain some of the hormonal benefits while still removing the ability to reproduce. Consult your own veterinarian as to what may be best for you dog and bitch. I do NOT recommend neutering at a very young age.