From time to time, I want to highlight a relatively rare breed that has a lot to offer, and that I think is flying under the radar when it comes time for people to make breed choices. I also want to have something to say to people who are gravitating toward the mixed-breed “designer dog” market, because they think that the existing breeds don’t fulfill their needs (for example, non-shedding but doesn’t look like a poodle). I suspect that when people think of “existing breeds” they’re actually aware of only about thirty or forty, when there are hundreds.
I am tempted to make a statement like the “compare to” labels that are on all the store brands, or to do something manipulative like put “Free Terri-Poo Puppies!” in the title bar, but that would be unfair to this unique and quite startling breed. It has enough pizazz all by itself.
Now seriously. Are they not absolutely beautiful? This is the epitome of a NATURAL BREED. It does its job, it puts its money where its mouth is, with very little embellishment. The coat, which could be quite exaggerated, is properly kept in a clip that would be easy for any family to maintain. The body is square, spare, honest, and strong. They’re under 20 inches at the shoulder, not big not small. Nothing about this dog is exaggerated or sculpted.
So what on earth IS this?
Pumis are a Hungarian breed, and if there’s anything the Hungarians like on their dogs, it’s hair. That country is the birthplace of the Puli, Komondor, Kuvasz, Mudi, and several other breeds that have hair that curls or ropes or cords or sticks out in all directions.
Hungary’s dogs are strongly influenced by ancient trade routes. When the Magyars came over the mountains into Europe, they brought with them Very Useful Herding Dogs that we now call Tibetan Terriers (which has to be the worst job of breed naming EVER, since they are not terriers in any way).
When the Hungarian shepherds saw these Very Useful Herding Dogs, they bought/begged/borrowed/stole them to breed with their existing shepherding breeds. And because they’re fans of coat, they selected from the resulting puppies those that had coats that were more like raw silk and less like satin.
Coats that are fine, matte in texture, slightly curly, and long mat very easily if you don’t brush them obsessively. And they tend to mat in a surprisingly predictable and organized way. They cord.
And so the shepherds ended up with a Very Useful Little Herding Dog that we know as the Puli.
The Puli was and is a fantastically successful herding dog. But some shepherds, still on the lookout for even better results, were still watching the trade routes. And from the other direction, further into Western Europe, came shepherds using very unique, tough Very Useful Herding Dogs. These dogs never backed down; they could handle the toughest job and were never intimidated. These dogs have been lost in the intervening centuries, but they probably looked like one or all of these guys:
Whatever dog came into Hungary from the West was a herding TERRIER, fast and competent and fearless. And, again, the shepherds began to imagine what would happen if this Very Useful Herding Terrier were bred into their Very Useful Herding Puli lines. And they determined to find out, and the result is this.
The Pumi is just what you’d expect, given its origins. It is intense, driven, incredibly smart, active, tenacious, and somewhat suspicious of strangers (good socialization and training can mitigate this a great deal). It rarely sheds, and the coat will grow quite long, but the coat lies in natural locks rather than in cords like the Puli’s, is much less prone to matting, and it can be hand-stripped like a wire-haired terrier or clippered every two or three months. (By the way, after the grooming is done the dog should be wet down again and the hair lightly tapped or scrunched to go back into its natural curly pieces; that’s what will keep the dog looking like a Pumi and not like a poodle.)
It’s a breed that you should be thinking of if you need a dog that can go all day long–if you are getting serious about agility or flyball or herding or tracking or disc–but need a nonshedding coat. It’s a breed you should definitely consider if you want to get serious about ALL those things, because it’s great at multitasking and it’s a true all-purpose dog. It’s a breed you should be thinking of if you’re included toward a Cattle Dog or an Australian Shepherd (and know what you’re getting into with those breeds) but need a smaller size. And it remains supremely good at herding, with the vast majority passing herding tests, so it’s a great choice if you need a serious, unspoiled herding dog to move your sheep or goats or even cattle.
It’s also a dog to look at if you’re nervous about finding a good breeder. Because the Pumi is so rare in the US, there’s very little bad breeding and no puppy mill market. Generally speaking, you should be able to trust the breeders recommended by the national breed club.
It is NOT a dog for a household that needs a couch ornament or that has neighbors who hate dogs. This is a dog who barks, and barks a lot. It is NOT a dog to buy for looks. It’s NOT a dog who can tolerate sitting at home while you’re gone all day. It’s just as intense about human companionship as it is about everything else.
So if you’re looking for a serious canine partner, with many advantages in terms of size and coat and health and good breeding, the Pumi is a breed you should know.