The Origin of the Myth!!!!
The Origin of the Myth
by: Jim Osborn
Like many artifices, the myth of the reindeer herding Samoyed dog is grounded in commercial considerations. The early English breeders had considerable difficulty in selling their puppies for basically three reasons: (1) The breed was virtually unknown; (2) Samoyeds were a bit large for the English homes and apartments of the era; and (3) There had been a lot of bad PR regarding "fierce wolf-like sledge dogs". The first of these problems could only be solved by time and familiarization. The size issue was "solved" simply by drawing up a standard that lopped a bit off of the natural size range of the breed on the assumption that the breeders could selectively downsize the dogs to fit the standard. Fortunately, the genetic constitution of the breed didn't allow that, so the British are still measuring their dogs with rubber rulers. Lastly, the "fierce sled dog" image could be overcome by inventing a different work purpose. (Guess what?) I'm sure no one knows for sure whether the fabrication of the reindeer herding story was deliberate or accidental. The earliest English breeders fully understood the heritage of the dogs they were working with, and as early as 1891, ads appeared in English papers for "...white Russian(Samoyed) sledge dog pups..."(from the Kilburn-Scotts) (Ref 1). "The Great Myth" went public in 1911 at the Glasgow Exposition (Ref 2). Some Laplanders were on display with tents, reindeer, and full native regalia -- but had none of their dogs. Mr. Kilburn-Scott offered some Samoyeds which were nothing like their own herding dogs. But, this was "show biz", and the show must go on, so the Sammies were displayed with the Lapps, and the attendant news photos and publicity formally launched The Great Myth. Once launched, the myth has refused to die. English breeders were not eager to undo the favorable publicity, and the "gentle herd dog" image was easier to sell than the "fierce sledge dog". English fanciers faced legal restrictions on using these dogs for their legitimate draft work, even for recreation. Novice fanciers of course, accepted what they heard from their seniors, and many never got around to doing their own homework. (Do we know any of those?) And reasonably enough, most observers felt the myth was essentially harmless. Attacking it is still viewed as somewhat akin to attacking the Tooth Fairy. So there, in a nutshell, is the birth of the myth. (Tooth Fairy, make my day!) References
1. The New Complete Samoyed, 2nd Ed. by Robert H. & Dolly Ward; Howell Book House; New York, NY; 1985; pg 31.
2. The New Complete Samoyed, ibid., pg 34.