The Norwegian Elkhound: What you need to know about Norway’s national dog

Norwegian ElkhoundPhoto: Kenneth Schulze / Pixabay

The Norwegian Elkhounds are nordic spitz-type dogs used for large game hunting, especially for moose (or elk) and bears. They are one of seven national dog breeds of Norway. 

According to the Norwegian Genetics Resource Centre, the Norwegian Elkhounds belong to the primitive group since their origins can be traced back to several millennia ago.

On the other hand, the Norwegian Kennel Club believes that such claims that point to the breed stretching back to times long before the Viking Age are a myth.

While the Norwegian Elkhounds may have enough resemblance to the old Norse spitz breeds, genetically they belong to the modern European breed of dogs developed through selective breeding in the 19th century. 

According to a comprehensive study by the Norwegian Elkhound Association in America, archaeological excavations in Vistehulden Norway, as well as in the osteological investigation by the Institute of Archeology and Ancient History in Uppsala University at Valsgärde Sweden, point to some of the skeletal features of the canine remains being similar to that of the present-day Norwegian Elkhounds. 


The Norwegian hunting and fishing club hosted the first dog show in 1877, with 15 entries of Elkhounds. In the second show in 1880, a total of 28 Elkhounds entries were registered.

In 1899, Norwegian sportsmen established the Norsk Dyrehundklub, but it was only in 1990 that a separate show between Grey Elkhound and the Black Elkhound was held.

The breed standard descriptions set forward by the Norsk Dyrehundklub in 1906 also cover all other Elkhound breeds in order to preserve their quality – they have not changed much since their first publication. 

The Grey Norwegian Elkhound is the flagship of the native dog breeds of Norway and the most popular Elkhound class. Its standard was drafted up in 1905 in Norway and was further developed in Sweden.

Approximately one thousand Grey Elkhound puppies are registered annually, mainly around Scandinavia and the USA. 

Black Norwegian Elkhounds originated along the Swedish-Norwegian border. They are a product of systematic selection from local spitz and are highly preferred for close game encounters or leashed forms of hunting.

The Black Elkhounds were more common around the late 1800s and early 1900s in the eastern inland valleys of Norway. 

However, after the 1900s, Scandinavians focused on the Grey Elkhound class. The black Elkhounds were neglected and on the brink of extinction by the mid-1950s.

At the moment, the Black Elkhound population is improving; the Norwegian Kennel Club registers between 90 and 150 puppies per year. 

A photo of an elk. Illustration: Dave Willhite / Unsplash

Black and Grey Elkhounds

The Norwegian Elkhounds are expected to have a lifespan of 12 to 15 years and are active in hunting until the age of 10 or 11 years.

The dogs are generally medium-sized, with a proud stance, fearless appearance, pricked pointy ears, tails tightly curled over the back, and lush double-coat.

As is the case with every northern dog, their coarse outer fur sheds rain, sleet, and snow, while the smooth underfur keeps the dogs warm.

The Black Norwegian Elkhounds have long-ish shining black coats, sometimes with white markings on the chest and toes. The height for males is 46-49 cm, and 43-46 cm for females.  

The Grey Norwegian Elkhounds have shades of silvery grey coat with specific markings such as darker ends of the fur, in the muzzle, ears, and saddle, as well as black tips on the tail. The ideal size is 52 cm and 51 pounds in weight for males, and 49 cm and about 44 pounds for females.  

While there may be individual variations, the Black Norwegian Elkhounds are said to be more stubborn compared to the Grey Norwegian Elkhounds. They are also called the “little brother” of the Grey Norwegian Elkhounds, as they are smaller. The Grey Norwegian Elkhounds are more sociable and are used to being a part of a family. 

These dogs are all-rounders: loyal, cooperative, and athletic, which makes them extraordinary outdoor companions and watchdogs.

In terms of temperament and traits, they have a stable disposition. These dogs are loving, very good-natured, and fond of children. They may appear headstrong, but the trait comes from their intelligence and personality. 

They are regarded as determined hunters and reliable trackers. During hunting seasons, their role in the terrain is to trail the moose and hold them at bay by barking and circling around, not to attack, but to serve as a distraction while the hunters approach.

The dogs must endure the weather and be in the field for long hours each day. They also must have the speed to dodge in case the moose charges head on.

Black Elkhounds are suited for leashed tracking, and Grey Elkhounds for both leashed and off-leash tracking. 

A photo of a Norwegian Elkhound during a trip to the vet. Photo: Maria Boström / Pixabay

Health issues, training, and grooming

According to the Norwegian Elkhound Club of Great Britain and the Associations of America, owners must be consistently firm without the need for punishment when handling Norwegian Elkhounds, in order to put up rules.

They respond to praise, and communication through gestures and voice.

The Elkhounds are famous for their trainability, though it would be worthwhile to teach them a few lessons in obedience while they’re still puppies.

They require consistent exercise, and most Elkhounds are not picky eaters.

The dogs don’t require extensive grooming and bathing, as they’re not likely to smell. However, regular grooming is advisable and a necessity – especially when they shed.

Owners should expect clumps of fur during shedding season. Just wipe them clean with a damp cloth, and comb or brush out the loose coat.

Serious health issues in this breed are based on genetic defects, such as ocular disorders (blindness, glaucoma), skeletal anomalies (hip dysplasia), urogenital conditions (renal cortical hypoplasia), metabolic disorders, and skin ailments (follicular cysts). 

Norwegian Elkhounds thrive with a proper diet, reasonable exercise, and clean living conditions.

Source: Norway Today


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