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Get to Know the Norwegian Elkhound: The Dog of the Vikings

Also Norway's National Dog, they are among the most-ancient of Spitz breeds.

Caroline Coile  |  Sep 21st 2015


Bothered by moose? Then what are you waiting for? You need a Norwegian Elkhound. No moose? Then Elkhounds must have done their job! This exuberant and ancient hunter makes an active if somewhat independent companion!

More interesting things about Norwegian Elkhounds

  • The Norwegian Elkhound may be confused with the Keeshond, but the Elkhound has a shorter, medium-length coat.
  • The Norwegian Elkhound is a typical Spitz-type dog, with a stand-off coat, well-furred prick ears, compact body, and tail curled over his back. Many of these traits are adaptations for cold weather.
  • Bones of Elkhound (or at least Spitz-type) dating to 4000 B.C. have been discovered in Norway.
  • DNA evidence suggests the Elkhound descends from a now-extinct subspecies of grey wolf from south central Europe and western Russia.
  • Nicknamed the “Dog of the Vikings,” the Elkhound served as a hunter, guardian, and herder since at least Viking times.
  • In Medieval times, the breed was known as a dyrehund, Norwegian for “animal-dog.”
  • The dogs came to England in the late 1800s and were recognized by the Kennel Club there in 1901.
  • Despite its name, the breed actually hunted moose, reindeer, and bear — not elk! The name “Norwegian Elkhound” comes from the Norwegian name “Norsk Elghund,” which translates as “Norwegian Moose Dog.”
  • The dog does not tackle his quarry, but tracks and holds it at bay until the hunter arrives. He generally tracks loose. When the quarry is cornered, the dogs start barking, alerting the hunter. He can also track the quarry on lead, again remaining silent when on the trail. The breed is still tested in Scandinavia with moose hunts. Watch a Norwegian Elkhound in action:

  • The Norwegian Elkhound is the National Dog of Norway.
  • If the need should ever arise, Norway’s Defense Minister is empowered to mobilize all privately owned Norwegian Elkhounds to help defend their country
  • The dog is the only one in the AKC Hound group from Spitz ancestry. The Kennel Club in England also classifies him as a hound. Some believe the breed should not be in the Hound group because of the Spitz ancestry, while other point to his function and how he tracks game as typical hound behavior.
  • The United Kennel Club classifies the dog as a Northern Breed. The FCI puts the dog in the Spitz and Primitive Breeds group.
  • All Norwegian Elkhounds are a grayish “agouti” wolf color. A striking and essential feature is the “harness,” an approximately 2-inch thick band of lighter hair, without black tipping, running from the withers to the elbows.
  • More recently, so-called Black Norwegian Elkhounds are being bred. While striking in their own right, these are not considered a part of the Norwegian Elkhound breed.
  • The Elkhound is the 100th most popular AKC breed, up slightly from 105th five years ago.
  • The Norwegian Elkhound is one of the most successful Hound breeds at the Westminster dog show, winning the Hound group 11 times. Most of these wins came from one kennel: Vin Melca, which is among the most well-known American kennels of any breed.
Herbert Hoover with Weeji.

Herbert Hoover had a Norwegian Elkhound named Weeji.

  • In the novel Orlando: A Biography, the dog Canute as well as several others are Norwegian Elkhounds.
  • President Herbert Hoover owned a Norwegian Elkhound named Weeji.

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

Read recent stories by Caroline Coile:

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier