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The Pumi’s History and It’s Herding Roots

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242 – March, 2015

By Meir Ben-Dror

The ancestral Hungarian herding dog appears to have migrated with the Magyars and their livestock from the Ural-Altay region, between China and the Caspian Sea, to the Carpathian Basin around 800 AD. This dog most likely can be traced back to the herding/guard dogs (Tsang Apso, mistakenly called Tibetan Terriers by Europeans) originating from China and Tibet and were widespread in that region. This ancestral Puli mixed with French and German herding dogs around 300 years ago, as a result of livestock trading between Hungary with France and Germany. Livestock was driven on hoof to their destination and the dogs went with them. Some accidental or perhaps even intended breedings between the respective parties’ dogs took place as the Hungarian Gray cattle provided much of the beef eaten in France and Germany. From the German side, the contributors to the creation of the Pumi were the Pomeranian Schafspudel (Sheep Poodle, still in existence today in small numbers) and the Hütespitz (Herding Spitz) which was considered extinct as of 1935. Both these ancient breeds had been recognized since the Middle Ages.

In the early twentieth century, the Hungarians identified three distinct herding breeds based on phenotype. The Puli was prevalent on the eastern Hungarian plains. The Pumi was found in the hilly country of western Hungary; and the Mudi (which carries more of the characteristics of one of its ancestors, Hütespitz) was from southern Hungary. The Pumi was considered a regional variation of the Puli and the two names were used interchangeably for centuries. The breed standardization of the Pumi and the Puli started in the early 1900s and FCI approved the Pumi standard in 1935.

The modern Pumi is the result of centuries of selection by shepherds for dogs that were able to assist the shepherd in managing the livestock in the hilly areas of Western Hungary where there were many cultivated fields and small towns. The native Hungarian Grey Cattle and the Racka sheep, along with the Mangalica (hairy) pig, are very hardy and originally lived off the land in a semi-wild state. There were no huge contiguous pastures, but many smaller ones, which were accessible only by narrow roads, through woods, and cultivated fields. The livestock typically spent the night near the shepherd’s house in town, then were driven to the fields for the day, tended while they grazed, and driven back to the shepherd’s home for the night. The dog needed to assist the shepherd by moving the sheep without letting them graze the neighbor’s corn field and during the day tending them in the unfenced pasture area under the direction of the shepherd. The Pumi also guarded the farm at night and alerted its owners to any unusual goings-on.

The dog working with this type of livestock had to be fast, spirited and decisive, and able to work independently. It had to be capable of assessing the given situation and making correct decisions – driven by its strong desire to please. Such a dog works close to the livestock and can overrule any decisions made by the livestock that don’t agree with the shepherd’s. The dog must be a quick learner to the point of seemingly reading its owner’s mind. It also must be cautious of strangers.

The Pumi’s tools are barking, quick movement, and an occasional nip if needed. In order to move and turn quickly, the Pumi must have a moderately angulated front and rear, with the shoulder and upper arm about equal in length. The croup and pelvis are short, allowing them to power off their rear to turn quickly and sharply. The Pumi has some terrier-like attributes (although there is no terrier blood in the Pumi), such as quick, alert, inquisitive temperament and a square, lean and muscular body type with a longer, narrower head than the Puli. The average male ranges from 16 to 18 inches tall and weighs 22 to 33 pounds. The average female is 15 to 17 inches tall and weighs 18 to 26 pounds.

True to its working roots, the Pumi is intelligent, a quick learner, and energetic, with an excellent work ethic. It has a virtually limitless willingness to work, without being obsessive about it. The Pumi uses its intelligence to assess each new situation, including strangers, and may appear aloof while they’re thinking through the situation. Early socialization is very important so that they get used to lots of new situations.

Its intelligence, liveliness, and expressive nature make it a good breed for an active family. It’s terrier-like qualities give it a joie de vivre that will lift anyone’s day, and the whimsical expression will make you smile anyway. The Pumi is very agile and loves to climb over and under things. They love to be in high places to see and check out what’s going on. The Pumi wants to be where the action is. As a full family member the Pumi takes it for granted that it should have reasonable rights and total access to all their “flock’s” activities. The Pumi makes a wonderful house dog if provided with daily physical exercise and mental activity. It bonds closely with its entire family, but might prefer one family member as the leader. Tennis balls and frisbees are especially important toys and they may be demanding a good chase-and-fetch game with them.

The breed’s unique qualities make Pumik increasingly popular in agility, obedience and various other dog sport and companion events. For a rare breed, the Pumi s making its mark in the agility ring, with multiple MACh titles, a USA World Team member, and a two-time Eukanuba Invitational winner. There are also titlists in just about every possible dog sport including obedience, flyball, nose work, tracking, coursing, and of course, herding.

Almost all Pumik retain the herding instinct and do well in herding trials, provided they’re trained by someone familiar with their particular style of herding (a loose-eyed, close-working style). The Pumi can be still found in Hungary living on farms and working with professional shepherds.

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Posted by on Mar 23 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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