What a Nenet Mother teaches a Daughter-Bride

The Nenetsi people of Northern Siberia are a nomadic people who are also thought to be the largest Samoyedic group still in existence today. Also known as the Yurak Samoyeds or  Samoyede, they are, of course, closely associated with the Samoyed breed. The “Sammy,” however, is believed by many to be a descendant of the Nenet Herding Laika, possibly the true ancestor of the Samoyed.

Also known as the Reindeer Herding Laika, or Russian Samoyed Laika, the Nenet Herding Laika is a bit smaller than the Samoyed standing at about 18 inches to a male Samoyed’s 21 to 23.5 inches; unlike the Samoyed, the Nenet’s thick double coat can be solid or bicolored in white, red, brown, sable, grey, black and piebald. It is known for exceptional stamina and physical strength despite its smaller size.

In 1937, Mikhail Georgievich Volkov, a wildlife biologist, visited the Yamal Peninsula to study these dogs. He noticed two coat varieties, a longhaired version called Erre by the Nenets, and the other, a moderately shorthaired dog called Yando. The two varieties, however, herded reindeer the same way, which is to say that they kept the reindeer as a compact group by working around the edges of the herd. During the yearly migration from summer to winter pastures, the dogs were expected to move huge herds approximately 600-900 miles.

Outside of Russia, the dog fancy hasn’t taken notice of the Nenet Herding Laika, but in 1994, the Russian Kynologic Federation approved the first official standard of the breed. Today, the breed is still used in traditional reindeer breeding areas on the North and the North-East of Russia, and things are looking up for a breed thought to number only about 100 individuals in these areas. In early 2018, Moscow’s “Arctic development Project Office” was given a grant for the preservation of the Nenets Reindeer Laika. A comprehensive study and establishment of a breed club for breeding is planned, and scientists intend to create a register of Nenets which can be used for the development of the population.

How important was this breed to the Nenetsi? An old worth-of-mouth story went like this: “Mother teaches a daughter-bride: ‘…my husband has a dog, his own, with which he collects deer. His dog is more dear for him than his wife. If a man has a good dog, he is a good, real deer herder. If the dog is bad, he is no deer herder.'”

The conclusion is that the working dog of a husband should be respected as a member of the family, and the attitude towards it from the wife should be as a human.

Image of a Nenet Herding Laika: By Sergey.vlad.popov – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39772606

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