History of the Samoyed

 

 

Dog of the ages, with a history and tradition as fascinating as the breed itself! The legend runs that, from the plateau of Iran, man's first earthly habitat, as the sons of man multiplied, the mightier tribes drove the lesser ones, with their families, their herds, and their dogs, farther and farther away in order that the natural food found there might be ample for those remaining. Onward and still farther northward through Mongolia, then the center of the world's culture, on and on, went the lesser tribes, until eventually the Samoyede peoples, primitives of the family of Sayantsi, reliably described as a race in the "transition stages between the Mongol pure and the Finn," found themselves safely entrenched behind bulwarks of snow and ice in the vast stretches of tundra reaching from the White Sea to the Yenisei River. Here for generations they have lived a nomadic life, dependent upon their reindeer herds and upon their dogs as reindeer shepherds, sled dogs, and household companions. The name  "Samoyede" translates to "living off themselves" which reflects their strong, self-sufficient culture. The Samoyede people lived mainly on the Taimyr Peninsula, between the Yenisei and Olenek rivers. This peninsula is in Northwestern Siberia north of the Arctic Circle jutting into the Arctic Ocean. It is the Northernmost part of the continent and is shown in the upper left hand corner of this map.

This relationship of the Samoyed dogs in the Samoyede culture was heightened to reverence due in part to the culture's traditional animistic religion (worship of animal spirits). They took puppies and gave them a special place in their lodgings ("chooms"). This relationship went from reverence to partnership. Both the hunter-gatherer and the wolf-like canine had many aspects of their clan/pack behavior that were identical. It is therefore easy to see how the primitive canines adapted well to the similar social structure of the Samoyede people. 

Here, through the centuries, the Samoyed has bred true. Of all the modern breeds, the Samoyed is most nearly akin to the primitive dog. No admixture of wolf or fox runs in its blood. The Arctic suns and snows have bleached the harsh standoff coat and tipped the hairs with an icy sheen. The constant companionship with man through the years has given an almost uncanny human understanding to the Samoyed and generations of guarding reindeer, requiring always a protector, never a killer, has developed through the ages in the breed a disposition unique in the canine world. Something of the happy childlike air of these people is found in every Sammy.

The Samoyede people call their dogs "bjelkier" (byel-kee-er) which translates to "white (dog) that breeds white." In Russian, the dogs are called "voinaika" which means lead or direction dog. The Samoyedes incorporated their dogs into every aspect of their daily lives and trained and depended on them year round for hunting, herding, guarding, and as sledge (sled-pulling) dogs. Their dogs were considered part of their family. They included them in meals and even brought them in to sleep (especially with the children) for warmth on cold Arctic nights.  The Samoyede so trusted their dogs that they would leave them to guard their children and possessions (including their valuable reindeer) while they were out hunting. 

         Samoyed campFor generations the Samoyede people have lived a nomadic life, dependent upon their reindeer herds and their dogs. The Samoyede's lifestyle has always revolved around reindeer, which they used for food and their skins for clothing and shelter (a round-topped tent called a "choom").  As the Samoyede people domesticated the reindeer, they moved from a hunting, to a herding lifestyle. Herding the domesticated reindeer was another useful service that came naturally to their dogs. The natural attribute of a wolf-like canine to go after an animal (prey drive) that breaks from the herd made it easy to use that behavior to herd the reindeer. The Bjelkier could herd, haul and hunt. and it enjoyed doing all three. 

The Samoyede and their dogs people exist today, although their numbers are less than 50,000. They are scattered across Siberia and have struggled to maintain their culture as industrialization expands throughout Siberia.