Don’t Get A Samoyed!
Interested in buying a Sam? You must be or you wouldn’t be reading this. You’ve already heard how marvelous Sammies are. Well, I think you should also hear, before it’s too late, that SAMOYEDS ARE NOT THE PERFECT BREED FOR EVERYONE. As a breed, they have a few characteristics that some people find charming, but that some people find mildly unpleasant, and some people find downright intolerable. There are different breeds for different needs. There are over 200 breeds of dogs in the world. Maybe you’d be better off with some other breed. Maybe you’d be better off with a cat. Maybe you’d be better off with goldfish, a parakeet, a hamster, or even a stuffed toy dog.
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU ARE ATTRACTED TO THE BREED BY ITS APPEARANCE.
The appearance of the Samoyeds you have seen in the show ring is the product of many hours of bathing and grooming. This carefully constructed beauty is fleeting: a few minutes of freedom, romping through the fields or strolling in the rain restores the natural look. The natural look of the Sammy is that of a large, shaggy dog, usually with some dirt and weeds clinging to his tousled coat. The true beauty of the Sam lies in his character, not in his appearance. Some of the long-coated and most of the short-coated breeds’ appearances are less dependent on grooming than is that of the Samoyed.
DON’T BUY A SAM IF YOU ARE UNWILLING TO SHARE YOUR HOUSE AND YOUR LIFE WITH YOUR DOG.
Sams were bred to share in the work of the family (hunting, herding, pulling sleds, etc.) and to spend most of their waking hours working with the family. They thrive on companionship and they want to be wherever you are. They are happiest living with you in your house and going with you when you go out. While they usually tolerate being left at home by themselves (preferably with a dog-door, giving access to the fenced yard), they should not be relegated to the backyard or kennel. A puppy exiled from the house is likely to grow up to be unsociable, unruly, and unhappy. He may well develop pastimes, such as digging or barking, that will displease you and/or your neighbors. An adult so exiled will be miserable too. If you don’t strongly prefer to have your dog’s companionship as much as possible, enjoying having him sleep in your bedroom at night and sharing many of your activities by day, you should choose a breed less oriented to human companionship. Likewise if your job or other obligations prevent you from spending much time with your dog. No dog is really happy without companionship, but the pack hounds for example, are more tolerant of being kenneled or yarded so long as it is in groups of 2 or more. A better choice would be a cat, as they are solitary by nature.
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU DON’T INTEND TO EDUCATE/TRAIN YOUR DOG.
Basic obedience and household rules training is NOT optional for the Sam. As an absolute minimum, you must teach him to reliably respond to commands to come, to lie down, to stay, and to walk at your side, regardless of temptations. Want him to be reliable outdoors off-leash? Forget it. You must also teach him to respect your household rules: e.g. is he allowed to get on the furniture? is he allowed to beg at the table? What you allow or forbid is unimportant, but it is *critical* that you, not the dog, make these choices and that you enforce your rules consistently. You must commit yourself to attending an 8 to 10 week series of weekly lessons at a local obedience club or with a professional trainer, and to doing one or two short (5 to 20 minutes) homework sessions per day. As commands are learned, they must be integrated into your daily life by being used whenever appropriate, and enforced consistently. Young Sammy puppies are relatively easy to train: they are eager to please, intelligent, and calm-natured, with a relatively good attention span. Once a Sam has learned something, he tends to retain it well. Your cute, sweet little Sam puppy will grow up to be a large, powerful dog. If he has grown up respecting you and your rules, then all his physical and mental strength will work for you. But if he has grown up without rules and guidance from you, he will make his own rules, and his physical and mental powers will often act in opposition to your needs and desires. For example: he may tow you down the street as if competing in a sled-dog race; he may grab food off the table; he may forbid your guests entry to “his” home. This training cannot be delegated to someone else, like “boarding school,” because the relationship of respect and obedience is personal between the dog and the individual who does the training. While you definitely may want the help of an experienced trainer to teach you how to train your dog, you yourself must actually train your Sam. As each lesson is well learned, then the rest of the household (except young children) must also work with the dog, insisting he obey them as well. Many of the Sams that are rescued from shelters show clearly that they have received little or no basic training, neither in obedience nor in household deportment, yet these same dogs respond well to such training by the rescuer or the adopter. It seems likely that a failure to train the dog is a significant cause of Sam abandonment. If you don’t intend to educate your dog, preferably during puppyhood, you would be better off with a breed that is both small and socially submissive.
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU LACK LEADERSHIP (SELF-ASSERTIVE) PERSONALITY.
Dogs do not believe in social equality. They live in a social hierarchy led by a pack-leader (Alpha). The alpha dog is generally benevolent, affectionate, and non-bullying towards his subordinates; but there is never any doubt in his mind or in theirs that the alpha is the boss and makes the rules. Whatever the breed, if you do not assume the leadership, the dog will do so sooner or later and with more or less unpleasant consequences for the abdicating owner. Like the untrained dog, the pack-leader dog makes his own rules and enforces them against other members of the household by means of a dominant physical posture and a hard-eyed stare. Breeds differ in tendencies towards social dominance; and individuals within a breed differ considerably. You do not have to have the personality or mannerisms of a Marine boot camp Sergeant, but you do have to have the calm, quiet self-assurance and self-assertion of the successful parent (“Because I’m your mother, that’s why.”) or successful grade-school teacher. If you think you might have difficulty asserting yourself calmly and confidently to exercise leadership, then choose a breed known for its socially subordinate disposition, such as a Golden Retriever or a Shetland Sheepdog, AND be sure to ask the breeder to select one of the more submissive pups in the litter for you. If the whole idea of “being the boss” frightens or repels you, don’t get a dog at all. Cats don’t expect leadership. A gerbil or hamster, or fish doesn’t need leadership or household rules. Leadership and training are inextricably intertwined: leadership personality enables you to train your dog, and being trained by you reinforces your dog’s perception of you as the alpha.
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU DON’T VALUE LAID-BACK COMPANIONSHIP AND CALM AFFECTION.
A Sam becomes deeply attached and devoted to his own family, but he doesn’t “wear his heart on his sleeve.” Some are noticeably reserved, others are more outgoing, but few adults are usually exuberantly demonstrative of their affections. They like to be near you, usually in the same room, preferably on a comfortable pad or cushion in a corner or under a table, just “keeping you company.” They enjoy conversation, petting and cuddling when you offer it, but they are moderate and not overbearing in coming to you to demand much attention. They are emotionally sensitive to their favorite people: when you are joyful, proud, angry, or grief-stricken, your Sam will immediately perceive it and will believe himself to be the cause. The relationship can be one of great mellows, depth and subtlety; it is a relation on an adult-to-adult level, although certainly not one devoid of playfulness. As puppies, of course, they will be more dependent, more playful, and more demonstrative. In summary, Sams hate to be alone!
DON’T BUY A SAMMY IF YOU ARE FASTIDIOUS ABOUT YOUR HOME.
The Samoyed’s thick shaggy double coat and his love of digging in water and mud combine to make him a highly efficient transporter of dirt into your home, depositing same on your floors and rugs and possibly also on your furniture and clothes. Samoyeds are seasonal shedders, and in spring can easily fill a trash bag with hair from a grooming session, or clog a vacuum cleaner if left to shed in the house. I don’t mean to imply that you must be a slob or slattern to live happily with a Sam, but you do have to have the attitude that your dog’s company means more to you than does neatness, and you have to be comfortable with a less than immaculate house. While all dogs, like all children, create a greater or lesser degree of household mess, at least the Samoyed coat has less odor and doesn’t tend to “pierce” fabrics the same way the shorter coated dogs hair does.
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU FIND BARKING TOTALLY REPELLANT
Samoyeds are vocal. They are pack dogs and a “chorus” is a lot of fun if they can find participants! But overall they will use their voice to express pleasure (usually “you’re home!!”, or “it’s dinner time!!”) or displeasure (“you left me home alone.”). Samoyeds left alone a lot will be sure to make their displeasure known, so if you have close neighbors you’ll want to make sure that your Samoyed doesn’t get lonely!
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU DISLIKE DOING REGULAR GROOMING.
The thick, pristine white double coat demands regular grooming, not merely to look tolerably nice, but also to preserve the health of skin underneath and to detect and remove foxtails, ticks, and other dangerous invaders. For “pet” grooming, you should expect to spend 10-15 minutes a day (e.g. while listening to music or watching television) on alternate days or half an hour twice a week. Of course any time your Sam gets into cockleburs, filigree, or other coat-adhering vegetation, you are likely to be in for an hour or more of remedial work. During oxtail season, (western US), you must inspect feet and other vulnerable areas daily. In Lyme disease areas during tick season, you will need to inspect for ticks daily. “Pet” grooming does not require a great deal of skill, but does require time and regularity. “Show” grooming requires a great deal of skill and considerably more time and effort or expensive professional grooming. Almost every Sammy that is rescued out of a shelter shows the effects of many months of no grooming, resulting in massive matting and horrendous filthiness, sometimes with urine and feces cemented into the rear portions of the coat. It appears that unwillingness to keep up with coat care is a primary cause of abandonment. Many other breeds of dog require less grooming; short-coated breeds require very little.
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU DISLIKE DAILY EXERCISE.
Sams need exercise to maintain the health of heart and lungs, and to maintain muscle tone. Because of his mellow, stick-to-you-like-glue disposition, your Sammy will not give himself enough exercise unless you accompany him or play with him. An adult Sam should have a morning outing of a mile or more, as you walk briskly or jog beside him, and a similar evening outing. For puppies, shorter and slower walks, several times a day are preferred for exercise and housebreaking. All dogs need daily exercise of greater or lesser length and vigor. If providing this exercise is beyond you, physically or temperamentally, then choose one of the many small and energetic breeds that can exercise itself within your fenced yard. Most of the Toys and Terriers fit this description, but don’t be surprised if a Terrier is inclined to dig in the earth since digging out critters is the job that they were bred to do. Cats can be exercised indoors with mouse-on-a-string toys. Hamsters will exercise themselves on a wire wheel. House plants don’t need exercise.
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU BELIEVE THAT DOGS SHOULD RUN “FREE.”
Whether you live in town or country, no dog can safely be left to run “free” outside your fenced property and without your direct supervision and control. The price of such “freedom” is inevitably injury or death: from dogfights, from automobiles, from the pound or from justifiably irate neighbors. An unfenced Sam is destined for disaster. A thoroughly obedience-trained Sam can enjoy the limited and supervised freedom of off-leash walks with you in appropriately chosen environments. If you don’t want the responsibility of confining and supervising your pet, then no breed of dog is suitable for you. A neutered cat will survive such irresponsibly given “freedom” somewhat longer than a dog, but will eventually come to grief. A better answer for those who crave a “free” pet is to set out feeding stations for some of the indigenous wildlife, such as raccoons, which will visit for handouts and which may eventually tolerate your close observation.
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU CAN’T AFFORD TO BUY, FEED, AND PROVIDE HEALTHCARE FOR ONE.
Samoyeds are not a cheap breed to buy, as running a careful breeding program with due regard for temperament, trainability, and physical soundness cannot be done cheaply. The time the breeder should put into each puppy’s “pre-school” and socialization is also costly. The “bargain” puppy from a “back-yard breeder” who unselectively mates any two Sams who happen to be of opposite sex and conveniently in the same proximity may well prove to be extremely costly in terms of bad temperament, bad health, and lack of essential socialization. In contrast, the occasional adult or older pup is available at modest price from a disenchanted owner or from a breeder, shelter, or rescuer to whom the dog was abandoned. Most of these Samoyeds are capable of becoming a marvelous dog for you if you can provide training, leadership, and understanding. Whatever the initial cost of your Samoyed, the upkeep will not be cheap. Being medium sized dogs, Sams eat relatively large amounts compared to small dogs. (Need I add that what goes in one end must eventually come out the other?) Large dogs tend to have larger veterinary bills, as the amount of anesthesia and of most medications is proportional to body weight. Spaying or neutering is an essential expense for virtually all pet Sams, as it “takes the worry out of being close,” and makes the dog a more pleasant companion. Samoyeds are generally quite healthy but may be subject to certain health issues as can any living thing. Look for a breeder who screens for the major issues seen in the breed (hip dysplasia, eye issues (including glaucoma), congenital cardiac and tooth enamel hypoplasia. Screening doesn’t always prevent problems, but it can reduce the incidence and is evidence that a breeder is working hard to preserve the breed in good condition so that dogs can have healthy lives and families can have healthy puppies.
Professional grooming, if you use it, is expensive. An adequate set of grooming tools for use at home adds up to a tidy sum, but once purchased will last many dog-lifetimes. Finally, the modest fee for participation in a series of basic obedience training classes is an essential investment in harmonious living with your dog; such fees are the same for all breeds. The modest annual outlays for immunizations and for local licensing are generally the same for all breeds, though some counties have a lower license fee for spayed/neutered dogs. All dogs, of whatever breed and however cheaply acquired, require significant upkeep costs, and all are subject to highly expensive veterinary emergencies.
DON’T BUY A SAMMY IF YOU WANT THE “LATEST, GREATEST FEROCIOUS KILLER ATTACK DOG.”
The Sam’s famous disposition as the “friendly neighborhood dog” is not a fable. A Samoyed with the typical disposition of the breed would prefer to play with a criminal than attack one. Also because of selective breeding for kind tempers, Sammies are “soft-mouthed” dogs. In contrast to the protection-trained dog, trained to bite on direct command or in reaction to direct physical assault on his master, the “deterrent dog” dissuades the vast majority of aspiring burglars, rapists, and assailants by his presence, his appearance, and his demeanor. Seeing such dog, the potential wrong-doer simply decides to look for a safer victim elsewhere. For this job, all that is needed is a dog that is large and that appears to be well-trained and unafraid. If your dog has been taught to bark a few times on command, such as “Fang, watch him!” rather than “Fifi, speak for a cookie,” this skill can be useful to augment the deterrent effect.
DON’T BUY A SAMOYED IF YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO COMMIT YOURSELF FOR THE DOG’S ENTIRE LIFETIME.
No dog deserves to be cast out because his owners want to move to a no-pet apartment, or because he is no longer a cute puppy, or didn’t grow up to be a beauty contest winner, or because his owners through lack of leadership and training have allowed him to become an unruly juvenile delinquent with a repertoire of undesirable behaviors. The prospects of a responsible and affectionate second home for a “used” dog are never very bright, but they are especially dim for a large, shaggy, poorly mannered dog. A Sam dumped into a shelter has almost no chance of survival — unless he has the great good fortune to be spotted by someone dedicated to Samoyed Rescue. The prospects for adoption for a youngish, well-trained, and well-groomed Sammy whose owner seeks the assistance of the nearest Sam Club or Rescue group are fairly good, but an older Sam has diminishing prospects. Be sure to contact FIRST YOUR BREEDER and then your local Sam club or Rescue group if you are seeking an adoptive home. Be sure to contact your breeder if you are beginning to have difficulties in training your Sammy despite taking training and socialization classes, so these can be resolved. Be sure to make arrangements in your will or with your family to ensure continued care or an adoptive home for your Samoyed if you should pre-decease him. The life span of a Samoyed is about 12-15 years. If that seems too long a time for you to give an unequivocal loyalty to your Samoyed, then please do not get one! In fact, since most dogs have a life expectancy that is as long or longer, please do not get any dog.
If all the preceding “bad news” about Sammies hasn’t turned you away from the breed, then by all means get a Samoyed. They are every bit as wonderful as you have heard! If buying a puppy, be sure to shop carefully for a *responsible* and *knowledgeable* breeder who places high priority on breeding for sound temperament and trainability, and good health in all matings. Such a breeder will interrogate and educate potential buyers carefully. Such a breeder will continue to be available for advice and consultation for the rest of the dog’s life and will insist on receiving the dog back if ever you are unable to keep it. However, as an alternative to buying a Samoyed puppy, you may want to give some serious consideration to adopting a rescued Sam. There are many groups out there doing this kind work, and you should google “samoyed rescue” to see if there is one in your area.
This article was adapted from “Don’t Buy a Bouvier!” by Pam Green. She gives her permission freely to all who wish to reprint and distribute it in hopes of saving innocent dogs from neglect and abandonment by those who should never have acquired them in the first place.