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10 Stately Russian Dog Breeds and Their Fascinating History

From sled dogs to guard dogs, these are the Russian dog breeds you'll want to learn about.

Russian samoyed and siberian husky on russia flag background
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Introduction to Russian dog breeds

As the largest country in the world, it’s no surprise that Russia has several prolific dog breeds. From the sled-pulling Siberian husky to the hare-hunting borzoi, many majestic breeds call Russia home. While each Russian dog breed is unique, they all have one trait in common: tenacity. Throughout Russia’s history, many of its dog breeds have faced a considerable amount of tragedy. In 1917, Russian revolutionaries slaughtered the Russian royal family, as well as many of the purebred dogs associated with the aristocracy (working breeds were spared). Fortunately, canine enthusiasts from other countries kept some Russian breeds alive. Ahead, find the most interesting Russian dog breeds that make incredible companions. Whether you’re looking for a guard dog or a lap dog, there’s a pup that fits the bill. For more country-specific pups, we’ve also compiled lists of the best Italian dog breeds, Japanese dog breeds, German dog breeds, Chinese dog breeds, and Australian dog breeds.

three Samoyed dogs sitting in a field
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1. Samoyed

These fluffy dogs have a perpetual smile that’s actually the result of their Russian upbringing. Because Samoyeds were bred to work in the sub-zero temperatures of Siberia, the corners of their mouths are upturned to prevent their drool from turning into icicles. Samoyeds are friendly, smart, and adaptable. They were originally used to guard reindeer and move heavy loads across the Siberian tundra. Sammies come in white, cream, and biscuit colors, and have a soft double coat that keeps them warm. They require lots of exercise, playtime, and attention. And of course, you’ll want to brush these fluffy pups daily to keep them looking their best.

Breed Overview
Height: 19 to 23.5 inches
Weight: 35 to 65 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 14 years

A purebred Siberian Husky dog with blue eyes
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2. Siberian husky

Friendly, mischievous, and athletic, the Siberian husky is one of the most famous Russian dog breeds. These pups were bred by the Chukchi people of northeastern Asia to move light loads over long distances at moderate speeds. Today, they’re known for their pointy ears, fluffy tails, and outgoing personalities. In 1925, the Siberian husky rose to fame when musher Leonhard Seppala led a relay of the dogs 675 miles across Alaska to prevent a diphtheria epidemic in Nome. Balto, Seppala’s lead dog on the final leg of the journey, is memorialized today with a statue in New York City’s Central Park and the DreamWorks Animations 1995 film Balto. Because of their work ethic, huskies require vigorous exercise and will never skip an opportunity to run or roll around in the snow. They make great family dogs and get along with everyone.

Breed Overview
Height: 20 to 23.5 inches
Weight: 35 to 60 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 14 years

Borzoi dog sitting outsiee
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3. Borzoi

These pups are nothing short of Russian royalty. The Borzoi was originally used to hunt wolves, foxes, and hare, and was the preferred hound of the Russian aristocracy. Because of that, they were targeted during the Russian Revolution in 1917. Revolutionaries murdered the Romanov family and their aristocratic Borzoi pups. The breed lived on thanks to Borzoi aficionados in other countries. Today, they’re known for their long, silky coats and dignified personalities. Borzois use their sense of sight to hunt (as opposed to their sense of scent), which means they tend to chase anything that moves. They’re perfectly suitable family dogs as long as you provide them with a fenced-in yard and lots of exercise.

Breed Overview
Height: Up to 28 inches
Weight: 75 to 105 pounds
Life expectancy: 9 to 14 years

Two large curly Russian Black Terrier dogs sitting outdoors
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4. Russian black terrier

After Russian revolutionaries slaughtered countless purebred dogs for their associations with the aristocracy, the Soviet government decided to create a new Russian breed to support its army. (Because of the slaughters, they were working with limited stock.) The Russian Black Terrier was the result of this work. During the 1930s, the dogs deployed to patrol Russia’s borders, prisons, and military installations. By the mid-1950s, retired Russian officers began bringing their canine partners home, making the pups popular with a new generation. According to the AKC, today, the Russian Black Terrier is “more likely to be guarding a suburban lawn than a political prison.” They’re known for their large size and calm and protective demeanors.

Breed Overview
Height: 26 to 30 inches
Weight: 80 to 130 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Portrait of a Caucasian Shepherd or North Caucasian Wolfhound.
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5. Caucasian shepherd

This giant Russian dog breed originated in the Caucasus mountain range of Eastern Europe and was used to guard sheep against predators. The Soviet Union began breeding them in the 1920s to work as prison guard dogs. A member of the working group, the Caucasian shepherd can be fearless and fierce toward strangers while devoted and kind toward their families. There are two standards for the breed: the mountain type, which is characterized by its long coat and heavier body mass, and the Steppe type, which is characterized by its shorter coat and lighter body mass. According to the AKC, these dogs are sometimes also called Caucasian Ovcharkas, Caucasian sheepdogs, Kawkasky Owtscharkas, and Kaukasische Schaferhunds.

Breed Overview
Height: 23 to 30 inches
Weight: 99 to 170 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Russian Toy Terrier outside
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6. Russian toy

These lively toy pups love to snuggle and make wonderful lap dogs. But that’s not all: The AKC even recognizes them as one of the smartest breeds in the world. Like several other Russian dog breeds, the Russian toy has a complicated and tragic history. Their lineage began in the early 1700s when socialites would import English toy terriers to Russia. “It became quite stylish to appear in public with a well-behaved small terrier at social events and the opera,” writes the AKC. By the 1900s, descendants of the English breed had morphed into a new breed: the Russian toy terrier. During the Russian Revolution, the breed was nearly eradicated during the slaughter of noble-adjacent animals. By the mid-20th century, breeders attempted to restore the breed. Today, there are two varieties, the smooth coat and the long coat. Both are known as the Russian toy (terrier was dropped from the name).

Breed Overview
Height: 8 to 11 inches
Weight: Up to 6.5 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 14 years

Tsvetnaya dolonka in studio of a neutral background
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7. Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka

The name of this breed translates to “Russian colored lapdog”—and we say that’s a perfect descriptor. Playful, loving, and friendly, these hypoallergenic dogs are great with children and families. The breed’s lineage may date back as early as the 18th century, from a Maltese-type dog gifted to members of the Russian nobility by King Louis IV of France. The pups nearly went extinct in the 20th century when the USSR restricted the breeding of toy dogs. After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991, interest in the little pups increased and the Russian Tsvetnaya Bolonka was restored. The Russian Kennel Federation recognized the breed in 1997.

Breed Overview
Height: 9 to 10 inches
Weight: 4.5 to 11 pounds
Life expectancy: 12 to 16 years

sulimov dog with tongue out
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8. Sulimov

The fox-like Sulimov is a jackal-dog hybrid developed by the Russian airline Aeroflot. Only around 70 of these rare dogs exist, and all of them belong to the company. So why does an airline need a dog? For security reasons, of course. These super-sniffing pups excel at explosive and drug detection. They can even use their incredible abilities to detect illnesses such as cancer. During the coronavirus pandemic, Aeroflot began training their Sulimovs to detect the virus by its scent, according to The Moscow Times. While the results of that experiment are still unknown, we bet these hard-working dogs are doing their best to make the world a better place.

Breed Overview
Height: Unspecified
Weight: Unspecified
Life expectancy: Unspecified

black and white russian spaniel in the woods
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9. Russian spaniel

Like other gun dogs, the Russian Spaniel was bred to scare birds into the air, then retrieve them once they fell to the ground. The pups are descended mostly from English cocker spaniels and English springer spaniels. While they love to perform a job, they’re also easy-to-train family pets who get along well with other pups. The breed has wavy hair and floppy ears and typically comes in black and white. Their compact size made them popular in Russia, where they’re currently primarily kept as companion dogs.

Breed Overview
Height: 15 to 17 inches
Weight: 28 to 35 pounds
Life expectancy: Average 14 years

Yakutian laika dog standing on hay bale
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10. Yakutian Laika

Originally used for hunting, herding, and sledding in the Yakutia region of Siberia, this working breed dog is known for its active and affectionate ways. The native Yakutes treated these pups as members of their families, and so the breed developed into one that is especially loyal, sweet, and devoted to its people. Yakutian Laikas are gentle with children and are practically never aggressive. The dogs have a medium-high energy level and love a good bike ride or hike, after which they’ll happily curl up next to you on the couch. Check out more loyal dog breeds that will always stay by your side.

Breed Overview
Height: 21 to 23 inches
Weight: 40 to 55 pounds
Life expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Juliana LaBianca
Juliana is a lifestyle writer for RD.com covering home, holidays, fashion, and beauty. She is based in New York City and spends most of her time trying new yoga classes and rearranging her tiny apartment.