The Norwegian Elkhound is one of the ancient Northern Spitz-type breed of dog and is the National Dog of Norway. The Elkhound has served as a hunter, guardian, herder, and defender. In a land of subzero temperatures, deep snow, thick forests, and rugged mountains, only the hardiest of the breeds could evolve to perform the variety of jobs at which the Elkhound excels. Its Spitz courage is probably a by-product or residue of the fact that a significant number of them were used to hunt bear and other large game, like moose. The Norwegian Elkhound was first presented at a dog exhibition in Norway in 1877. The AKC breed name "Norwegian Elkhound" is a direct translation from its original Norwegian name "Norsk Elghund," meaning "Norwegian moose dog." (European settlers mistakenly called the North American cousin of the red deer an elk, when in fact in the Norwegian language the term elk or elg means moose.) Despite its name in America, it is not a hound dog; the Elkhound does not hunt like a hound dog nor is it directly related to hounds. The breed's goal in the hunt is to hold the moose at bay — jumping in and out toward the moose — until the hunter can arrive to shoot it.
|Norwegian Elkhound appearance|
|Build:||medium, sturdy and squarely built|
|Weight:||45-60 pounds (18-27 kg.)|
|Height:||18-21 inches (46-53 cm.)|
|Coat:||Coarse, straight, with soft undercoat|
|Color:||Black and white coloring, often noted as grey or silver|
|Head:||Broad and wedge-shaped with a defined stop|
|Eyes:||Dark brown with a keen, friendly expression|
|Tail:||Rolled tightly over back|
|Limbs:||Straight and parallel|
|Life span:||12-16 years|
The dog stands about 52 cm (20.5") high and weighs up to 24 kg (52 lbs). Its grey, white, and black coat is made up of two layers: an underlying dense smooth coat ranging from black at the muzzle, ears, and tip of its tail; to silvery grey on its legs, tail, and underbody; and an overlying black-tipped protective guard coat along its back. An ideal Elkhound has a tightly curled tail, as the dog shown in the photograph on this page. The Elkhound is a medium-sized dog and extremely hardy.
Norwegian Elkhounds are loyal to their "pack" and make good family dogs. It is bold, playful, independent, alert, boisterous, and protective. This is a dog ready for adventure and is happiest if that adventure takes place outdoors in cold weather. It needs daily exercise, lest it become frustrated or even destructive. It is friendly with strangers but may quarrel with strange dogs. It tends to pull when on leash unless trained, and it may bark a lot. Although each dog is an individual, they generally like children and can be very protective of those they consider part of their pack or family. This, combined with their loud bark, makes them a good watch dog.
Norwegian Elkhounds can be challenging to train because of their intelligence and deep independent streak. They are good obedience dogs and are good-natured in their disobedience — for example, failing to "come" because there is something of greater interest in the other direction. They can be wonderful in agility and are particularly good tracking dogs.
Elkhounds tend to remain clean because their coat sheds most dirt and because they seem to keep themselves clean instinctively. However, elkhounds require regular brushing especially when they moult to avoid their oil glands becoming plugged and to help them stay cool in summer.
Some owners save the hair from brushes and combs, spin it into yarn, and crochet or knit with it. The resulting fabric is soft and warm.
Elkhounds are very powerful animals, bred to hunt all day in cold climates, so they require plenty of exercise to feel satisfied and stay healthy. A 20–30 minute walk twice a day is recommended by many breeders.
Elkhounds are prone to rapid weight gain and must not be overfed.
They have a lifespan of 12–16 years.
For many years, the Norwegian Elkhound was considered the oldest of all dog breeds, going back further than 6,000 years. Recent DNA analysis suggests, however, that several "ancient" breeds have been "recreated in more recent times from combinations of other breeds" (Ostrander et al., 2004). The researchers found "genetic evidence for a recent origin of the Norwegian Elkhound, believed to be of ancient Scandinavian origin" (). But this study only includes 85 of the world's more than 400 dog breeds, omits many primitive lineages, and clusters the breeds together into just four major groups called clades. Nevertheless, some researchers say that the Norwegian Elkhound is a descendant of the ancient "primitive" Pariah Dog that existed 4,000–7,000 years ago.
Of the four major clades that Ostrander et al. clusters together, Clade II includes dogs with the genetic haplotype D8 from two Scandinavian dog breeds: the Norwegian Elkhound and the Jämthund [note: a haplotype is a group of alleles of different genes on a single chromosome that are linked close enough together to be inherited as a single unit]. This genetic sequence haplotype is closely related to two wolf haplotypes found in Italy, France, Romania, and Greece, and is also related to a wolf haplotype found in western Russia (Vila et al., 1997). Clade II appears to be only seen in Norwegian breeds and exhibits a vast amount of divergences. It is suggested that this clade illustrates an ancient and independent origin from wolves that are now extinct (Raisor, 2004). The Norwegian Elkhound evolved, at least partially, from ancestral grey wolf subspecies now found in south central Europe and western Russia and may very well be one of the most ancient of all dog breeds.
In Medieval times it was known as a dyrehound or dyrehund and was highly prized as a hunting dog but rarely seen or bred outside of Norway.