Russian Laikas are similar to Spitz dogs that can be found all across the northern hemisphere, all very similar together, with the pricked ears, fluffy coat, curled tail, alert, independent and loyal personality.
The word laika can be literally translated as barker and it traditionally refer to all varieties of hunting dogs traditionally kept by the peoples of the northern Russia and adjacent areas. But Laikas are not only hunters, some of them are excellent sled dogs and some are even herding dogs.
Russian Laikas are very ancient primitive dogs with very long history. They evolved naturally by adapting to their local environment and later to their purpose and they differ from each other based on the region where they developed.
Even though there are or were many many Laika breeds, only three of them are officially recognized by the FCI and those are the West Siberian Laika, East Siberian Laika and Russo European Laika. There is also 4th laika that is recognized by some kennel clubs around the world and it is the Karelo Finnish Laika. But there are also many many others unrecognized Laikas, for example the Yakutian, Northeastern Hauling, Amur, Bashkir, Cheremiss, Irkutsk, Kamchatka, Lapland, Tofolar, Chukotka or Zorian laika and many others as well.
All the Russian laika are very hardy, healthy and adaptable animals, which can typically withstand very cold temperatures and that can work outside for long hours without any problems. As i said earlier, most of the Laikas are used for hunting in Siberian forests and they are great for this purpose. They are typically very smart, but also independent and great problem solvers, they are very athletic and fast, they have great sense of smell and hearing and they are very loyal and devoted to its owner, the hunter. All these characteristics makes them just amazing hunters and they can truly hunt all kinds of game, from squirrels to wild boar or bears.
When they are not on the hunt, Laikas are typically quite friendly and sensitive companion dogs, that are lively and playful. They are devoted to its family and they can live with kids or other dogs in the family as well. Of course, other household pets might be problematic due to their higher prey drive. But the Laika is still mostly kept as a working dog, rather than typical companion dog.
In most of the world, the Laika is very rare breed, but their numbers in Russia are not that low. There are many unregistered Laikas, so it is hard to estimate the real numbers, but it is believed that there is something around 100 000 laikas in Russia. Other countries with larger Laika population is Finland, followed by other Scandinavian countries.
Most laikas, even today, are bred only for their hunting abilities and not accordingly to some breed standard or for showring and apperance. The purebred, recognized Laikas on the other hand can be most often found in and around urban areas, where they are kept by non-professional hunters.
I mentioned that the four recognized and most popular Laikas are West and East Siberian Laika, Russo European Laika and Karelo Finnish Laika. The West Siberian Laika comes from the North Ural and West Siberia and it was developed from two local laika types.
The East Siberian Laika, compared to West, has slightly heavier body and the head is not so narrow. It is also one of the largest of all Laika breeds. The East Siberian Laika is originally from the eastern part of Siberia, east of the Jenisej river to the Pacific Ocean.
The Russo European Laika is closely related to another breed – the Karelian Bear dog. On contrary to the large East Siberian Laika, this is one of the smallest of Laika breeds and it is mostly hunting smaller game, such as squirrels. The Russian-European Laika finds its origin in the area between Finland and the Uralian mountains
The Karelo Finnish Laika is basically the same breed as the Finnish Spitz and prior to the early 20th century they were considered as one breed and were common across the Karelia region of eastern Finland and north-western Russia. Just like the previous laikas, even this is a skilled hunting dog.
To give you example of a Laika that is not only a hunter, there is the Yakutian Laika, a multi-purpose laika breed, used both in bird and seal hunting, reindeer herding, and sled pulling, which is their main purpose today. This breed originated in the Arctic seashore of the Sakha republic.
Some dog breeds that are very popular in the western world also originated from the Laika breeds. For example the Samoyed dog is a relative to Nenets herding laika and possibly even the Siberian Husky has laika ancestry, as it diverged from aboriginal Russian laikas as early as the 19th century.