Approximately 20 Russian dog breeds exist, but the American Kennel Club (AKC) only recognizes a few. The United Kennel Club (UKC), however, recognizes most of the breeds. Many of the dogs originating from Russia are considered working dogs; they include sled dogs, hunting, herding and guard dogs. Sight and scent hounds are also among the breeds deriving from Russia. Some of the breeds are well-known, others less so.
Four Russian dog breeds are recognized by both the AKC and the UKC:
One of the most well-known dog breeds is the Samoyed. Its name is from the people that developed the breed, the Samoyede people of Northern Siberia. It’s most-noted for its thick, white coat and its endearing expression, known as the Samoyed smile, consisting of black lips curling slightly at the corners and the sparkle in the dog’s eyes.
Samoyeds were originally used as reindeer herding dogs; they were also occasionally used for pulling sleds, a job many still occupy today. These hardy and eager workers possess a deep affection for their owners. The Samoyede people cherished the breed because they depended so much on the dogs for survival; dogs were even allowed to sleep in their humans’ tents. That bond between Samoyeds and their special people continues to this day; these intelligent, gentle dogs are extremely loyal to their owners and make great family pets as well as good watchdogs.
Due to their lineage as working dogs, Samoyeds may chase, run and bark, so an owner is advised to channel that energy with some kind of job or activity. Otherwise, a dog may invent ways to keep itself entertained. At a minimum, daily exercise is necessary.
The luxurious weather-resistant coat is prone to mat and, therefore, needs regular brushing, especially during shedding season.
The Samoyed stands 19 to 23 ½ inches (48 to 60 cm) tall at the shoulder and weighs 35 to 65 pounds (16 to 30 kg). The AKC recognized the breed in 1906.
Another sledding and hauling breed of Russian dog ancestry, the Siberian Husky is the fastest of the sled dog breeds. It was bred in northeast Asia, off the Siberian peninsula and is known for its great endurance and willingness to work. Because of the cold climate from where it came, a Siberian’s coat is thicker than most other dog breeds. Coat color ranges from black to pure white, often with variable markings on the head. Its well-furred, fox-like tail is usually carried over the back in a graceful curve. The coat requires weekly brushing.
Siberians were used in 1908 for the All-Alaskan Sweepstakes, a 408-mile (657 km) long dogsled race, and they served in the Army’s Arctic Search and Rescue Unit during World War II. Because of their tremendous endurance and their working dog heritage, Siberians need daily exercise.
Considered playful, loving and social, these dogs are good with children and with strangers; therefore, they make excellent family pets but not good watchdogs. Their predatory instincts are strong, so Siberians should be supervised around small animals that may share the home or yard.
These dogs are stout but light on their feet. They stand 20 to23 ½ inches (51 to 60 cm) tall and weigh 35 to 60 pounds (16 to 27 kg).
The AKC recognized the Siberian Husky in 1930 as part of the Working Group.
Another Russian dog breed recognized by the AKC, the Borzoi was once known as the Russian Wolfhound. A graceful, elegant sighthound, the breed developed by crossing Arabian greyhounds with a thick-coated, Russian canine. The Russian aristocracy bred these dogs for several hundred years, using them to hunt wolves, fox and hare, often in parties of more than 100 dogs.
Today’s Borzoi is a popular breed on the lure coursing field. It stands 26 to 28 inches (66 to 71 cm) tall and weighs 60 to 105 pounds (27 to 48 kg), depending upon the sex.
These fleet-footed dogs need regular, daily exercise. They will chase anything that moves so they need to be kept on leash or in a confined area. The long, rangy coat, which can be any color, requires regular brushing and bathing.
Considered aloof, even with their owner, these are intelligent dogs that are less eager-to-please than other breeds. Therefore, obedience training at an early age is recommended.
The AKC recognized the breed in 1891 as the Russian Wolfhound. The name was changed to Borzoi in 1936.
Black Russian Terrier
This Russian dog breed is fairly new to the AKC, recognized by the organization in 2004. The UKC recognized it in 1995. Despite its name, it is considered part of the AKC’s Working Dog group and the UKC’s Guardian Dog group instead of categorized in either organization’s Terrier Group.
This powerful, thick-coated dog was bred for guarding, specifically created as a military dog for the Red Army after World War II.
The course, double-coat is always black with a slight to moderate wave; it requires regular brushing. If maintained, the coat sheds little.
These large, robust dogs stand 25 to 29 inches (64 to 74 cm) and weigh 80 to 143 pounds (36 to 65 kg). They possess large bones and well-developed muscles. They are highly intelligent and learn very quickly. Though loving toward family members, Black Russian Terriers are reserved with strangers and possess the instinct to guard and protect. They are considered calm, confident, loyal dogs that respond well to training and enjoy the company of their human companions. They can be quite playful and seem to enjoy snow and water.
A breed recognized by the UKC but not the AKC, this diminutive dog is also called the Moscow Toy Terrier and the Russian Toy. This Russian dog breed stands only 8 to 10 inches tall (20 to 26 cm) and weighs between 3 and 6 pounds (1.3 to 2.7 kg). The UKC didn’t recognize the breed until 2008; it is part of the Companion Dog Group.
At the start of the 20th century, the English Toy Terrier was one of the most popular small dog breeds in Russia. However, from 1920 to 1950, breeding of this type of dog practically ceased, and when it started again, nearly all the dogs had no pedigree, and many were not purebred. The new breed standard drafted in Russia differed immensely from that of the original Toy Terrier, and from then on the breed’s evolution traveled a different path; therefore, a new breed was created and called the Russkiy Toy.
This small, elegant dog comes in long-haired and short-haired varieties. Coat color is generally black, brown or blue. Grooming is minimal, calling for the occasional brush and bath for the short-haired variety and daily brushing with periodic baths for the long-haired. Feathering on the ears creates a butterfly appearance.
Possessing long legs, this breed is considered intelligent, easy to train, loving and devoted. Due to its small size, this dog adapts well to apartment living.
South Russian Shepherd Dog
This large, robust herding dog was first recognized by the UKC in 1996 as the South Russian Ovcharka and was part of the organization’s Guardian Dog Group. Starting January, 2009 the breed’s name was changed to South Russian Shepherd Dog, and the classification moved to the Herding Dog Group.
This ancient canine is considered a direct descendant of the wolf, bred with herding dogs and sighthounds. The breed developed into a flock herder and guardian.
South Russian Shepherd Dogs stand 24 to 25 inches (62 to 65 cm) and weigh 108 to 110 pounds (48 to 50 kg). Their long, thick, course coat is usually white or various shades of gray.
This is considered a dominant dog that requires a confident, firm owner. Its naturally protective instinct makes it an excellent guardian over people and property.
Three Russian hunting dogs recognized by the UKC are the West Siberian, East Siberian and Russian-European Laika. Meaning a dog that barks, the Laika specializes in hunting large or small game or both. The Eastern Siberian was also used as a draft and drover dog.
The largest of the three is the East Siberian Laika, and the smallest is the Russian-European. All are classified in the UKC’s Northern Breed Group category and were recognized by the organization in 1996. All three types possess a double-coat with the curved tail of Spitz-like dogs. Coat color can be salt and pepper in all three breeds; the Russian-European’s coat can be all black.
The three breeds are considered loyal to their owners, with the East Siberian being the most noted as a protector and somewhat aggressive toward other dogs. The Russian-European is considered a friendly, affectionate dog that is good with children.
Other Russian dog breeds recognized by the UKC are the Caucasian Sheepdog Dog (Caucasian Ovtcharka), a powerful, guardian breed from the Caucasus Mountain area that is sometimes called the Caucasian Mountain Dog, and the Central Asian Shepherd Dog also known as the Alabai or Central Asian Ovtcharka, described by some as an ancestor of the Tibetan Mastiff as well as the oldest Livestock Guardian Breed in the world; it is strictly a guardian dog and is still found in Tadzhikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
Other Russian dog breeds exit but are not recognized by either the AKC or the UKC. These include the Russian Hound, a popular scenthound in Russia; the Russian Spaniel, which resembles the English Springer Spaniel; the Circassian Orloff Wolfhound, a dog similar to the Borzoi but with longer legs and a shorter head; the Tazi or Tasy, a sighthound similar to the Saluki but more strongly built and mainly found in the desert area east of the Caspian Sea; and the Taigan, another greyhound breed that is very rare, found only in a specific region of the mountainous area of Kyrgyzstan.
From the very rare to the strongly popular, Russian dog breeds play a role in the work and play of people. Although the AKC does not recognize most of the canine breeds that originate in Russia, several breeds are part of the UKC’s classification, while many other Russian dog breeds are not recognized by either organization.
Whether they work, hunt, protect, or play, these Russian dog breeds serve their owners with loyalty.