Norwegian Elkhounds: A Comprehensive Breed Guide

Immerse yourself in the captivating world of Norwegian Elkhounds! Uncover their intriguing history, distinct traits, and why they make exceptional companions for dog enthusiasts.

Norwegian Elkhounds: A Comprehensive Breed Guide
Do Norwegian Elkhounds make good pets?

Photo by Dmitry Guskov, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Discover the Fascinating World of Norwegian Elkhounds

The Norwegian Elkhound, also known as Norsk elghund in Norwegian, originated in ancient Norway. These spitz-type dogs are, in fact, one of the oldest and most treasured breeds in Scandinavia. Their beautiful, wolfish coats and attentive demeanors reflect a history of hunting alongside humans in the harsh climate of the far North.

Elkhounds are intelligent and loyal, but they can be assertive and love being active. They make great pets for people who enjoy spending time outdoors regularly—especially in colder climates.

Is a Norwegian Elkhound the right dog for you? Read on to learn about this breed's history, temperament, health, and more.

History of the Norwegian Elkhound

The Norwegian Elkhound has a long history, dating back thousands of years. They were initially developed by the Vikings as hunting dogs for tracking and holding large game, such as moose and bear. Over time, these exquisite dogs (which are not actually hound dogs) have become popular as personal companions and guardians.

Ancient Origins and Development

The Elkhound is believed to have descended from ancient spitz-type dogs that migrated to Scandinavia with nomadic tribes thousands of years ago. These dogs were used during the Viking Age (approximately 793-1066 AD) for hunting and herding purposes, adapting to the harsh climate and challenging terrain of the region.

Evolution Over Time

Over centuries, the Norwegian Elkhound underwent selective breeding to enhance its hunting instincts, endurance, and overall working abilities. The breed developed characteristics such as a strong scenting ability, a sharp bark to alert hunters, and the courage to confront and hold large game animals until the hunter arrived.

Role in Hunting and Guarding

These dogs played a crucial role in the hunting traditions of Scandinavia. They were utilized to track and corner prey, barking to indicate the presence of game and keep it at bay until hunters arrived. They were versatile and adept at hunting a variety of game, making them highly valued hunting companions.

In addition to their hunting prowess, Norwegian Elkhounds also served as reliable guardians and watchdogs. They were known for their alertness, territorial instinct, and ability to protect their families and property. Their presence deterred intruders and alerted their owners to any potential threats.

Recognition by Kennel Clubs

The breed's significance and popularity gradually extended beyond its native land. In 1877, the breed was officially recognized by the Norwegian Kennel Club, making it one of the earliest dog breeds to receive such recognition. The Norwegian Elkhound Club was established in 1907 to promote and protect the breed's interests.

As the breed's reputation continued to grow internationally, it gained recognition by various kennel clubs worldwide. In 1913, the Norwegian elkhound was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Kennel Club (UK), further solidifying its position as a recognized and respected breed globally.

Today, while Norwegian Elkhounds are still used for hunting in certain parts of Scandinavia, they have also become beloved companions and show dogs. Their rich history, Viking connections, and strong working instincts have contributed to their enduring popularity and continued recognition as a distinctive and treasured breed.

The Norwegian Elkhound is built to withstand cold, harsh climates.

Photo by chelovekpoddojdem from PxHere

Physical Characteristics

The Norwegian Elkhound is a medium-sized breed that resembles a wolf, its original ancestor.

Weight: Males typically range between 50 and 60 pounds (23 to 27 kg), and females generally weigh 40 to 55 pounds (18 to 25 kg).

Height: Males stand about 20.5 to 22.5 inches (52 to 57 cm) tall at the shoulder, while females are slightly smaller, measuring around 19.5 to 21.5 inches (50 to 55 cm) in height.

Coat and Color

The Elkhound has a double coat that provides insulation and protection from harsh weather conditions. The outer coat is thick, coarse, and weather-resistant, while the undercoat is soft, dense, and insulating. This double coat helps them withstand cold temperatures.

The breed's most common coat color is gray, ranging from pale silver to darker shades of gray. The hair on the outer coat often has black tips, which gives the dog a characteristic "saddle" appearance. Some elkhounds may have small white markings on the chest and feet, although excessive white is not desirable in the breed standard.

Their coat is designed to protect them from harsh (cold) climates. The dense, double-layered coat provides excellent insulation, keeping them warm in cold temperatures. The weather-resistant outer coat helps repel moisture, snow, and dirt, making them well-suited to outdoor activities.

Grooming Requirements

Norwegian Elkhounds have moderate grooming needs. Their dense coat requires regular brushing to prevent matting and remove loose hair. More frequent brushing may be necessary to manage increased hair loss during shedding. Elkhounds are considered a clean breed and typically do not have a strong "doggy" odor.

Distinctive Features

  • The Norwegian Elkhound has a distinctive spitz-type appearance.
  • They have a strong, well-balanced build with a wedge-shaped head.
  • Their eyes are dark and expressive, conveying a keen and intelligent expression. The small, erect ears are set high on the head, creating an alert and attentive appearance.
  • Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic is the elkhound's curled tail. The tail is set high and tightly curls over the dog's back, resting on the hindquarters. The tail's curl is an elegant and characteristic trait of the breed.

Temperament and Personality Traits

The Norwegian Elkhound has a generally friendly and outgoing disposition. They are known for their lively and spirited nature, always eager to participate in activities with their family members. Elkhounds are sociable dogs that enjoy being part of the family and thrive on human companionship.

They are courageous dogs, stemming from their historical role as hunters of large game. They possess a bold and fearless nature, allowing them to face challenging situations with confidence. This courage makes them excellent watchdogs as they are not easily intimidated.

Elkhounds are typically friendly and approachable, both with their family members and strangers. While they may initially be reserved with unfamiliar individuals, they warm up quickly with proper introductions. Despite their historical use as guard dogs, the friendly demeanor of the modern breed makes these dogs generally unsuited for guarding roles, as they are more inclined to greet visitors with enthusiasm.

Interactions With Family Members

Norwegian elkhounds form strong bonds with their family members. They are known for their loyalty and devotion, always seeking to be near their loved ones. Elkhounds often thrive in an environment where they are included in family activities and given attention and affection.

The loyalty of these dogs to their owners is one of their most notable traits. They are dedicated and protective of their families, willing to defend them if necessary. Their loyalty and protective instincts make them excellent companions and can contribute to their role as watchdogs.

Elkhounds are generally good with children and can be patient and gentle with them. They often form strong bonds with children within their families and can be watchful and protective. However, as with any dog breed, supervision—and teaching children how to interact with dogs respectfully—are important to ensure a harmonious relationship.

Relationships With Other Animals

The Elkhound's interactions with other animals can vary. They tend to be social and get along well with other dogs, particularly if they have been properly socialized from a young age. However, individual temperament and early socialization play a significant role. Some dogs may exhibit dominant or territorial behaviors toward unfamiliar dogs.

Norwegian Elkhounds generally have a good temperament and can coexist well with other dogs, particularly if introduced and socialized properly. They often enjoy the company of fellow canines and can engage in play and social interactions.

Due to their hunting background, Norwegian Elkhounds have a natural prey drive. They may exhibit a strong instinct to chase and pursue smaller animals such as squirrels or rabbits. Careful supervision and training are necessary if they are to be kept in households with smaller pets, as their prey drive may be triggered.

It's important to note that individual temperament can vary among individuals of this breed. Early socialization, proper training, and consistent leadership from their owners play crucial roles in shaping their behavior and ensuring they are well-adjusted, friendly, and well-behaved companions.

What is the life expectancy of a Norwegian Elkhound?

Image by JackieLou DL from Pixabay

Health and Lifespan

While Norwegian Elkhounds are generally a healthy breed, they may be prone to certain health conditions that potential owners should be aware of.

Common Health Issues

  1. Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition where the hip joint doesn't develop properly, leading to pain and mobility issues. Reputable breeders screen their breeding stock for hip dysplasia.
  2. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is a degenerative eye disease that can lead to vision loss and blindness. Responsible breeders will perform eye tests and ensure their breeding dogs are free from PRA.

Preventative Care

To promote the overall health and well-being of your Norwegian Elkhound, there are several measures you can take:

  1. Regular Vet Check-ups: Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial for preventive care. Veterinarians can detect early signs of any potential health issues and provide appropriate vaccinations, parasite prevention, and overall health assessments.
  2. Maintaining a Healthy Weight: Obesity can lead to various health problems, including joint issues. Provide a balanced diet and regular exercise to keep your dog at a healthy weight.
  3. Dental Care: Proper dental care, including regular teeth brushing and professional cleanings, helps prevent periodontal disease and promotes good oral health.

Average Lifespan

The average lifespan of a Norwegian Elkhound is typically between 12 to 15 years. Providing a nutritious diet, regular exercise, mental stimulation, and proper veterinary care can contribute to a longer and healthier life for your elkhound.

If you are considering getting a Norwegian Elkhound, research reputable breeders who prioritize health and genetic testing in their breeding programs.

Training and Exercise

Early training is crucial for Norwegian Elkhounds to develop good manners, obedience, and social skills. Starting training and socialization from a young age helps establish a strong foundation and can prevent behavior problems later on.

Positive experiences and exposure to various environments, people, and animals during the critical socialization period (up to around 16 weeks of age) are essential for a well-rounded and confident elkhound.


It's a great idea to expose your dog to different people, animals, environments, sounds, and experiences in a positive and controlled manner. This interaction and experience help them become well-adjusted, confident, and friendly dogs. Gradually introducing this breed to new stimuli and providing positive reinforcement for calm and appropriate behavior can help them become more comfortable and adaptable in various situations.


Obedience training helps ensure your pup understands and responds to basic commands. It establishes a clear line of communication between the two of you, promoting safety and reinforcing your role as a leader. Basic obedience commands such as sit, stay, come, and down should be taught and reinforced consistently.

Tips for Effective Training

  1. Positive Reinforcement: Elkhounds respond well to positive reinforcement training methods. Use rewards such as treats, praise, and play to motivate and reinforce desired behaviors. Rewarding good behavior increases the likelihood of it being repeated.
  2. Consistency and Patience: Consistency is key in training. Use the same commands and techniques consistently, and make sure all family members are on the same page. Patience is essential, as some dogs may take longer to grasp certain concepts or behaviors. Avoid punishment-based methods, as they can be counterproductive and damage the trust between you and your dog.

Exercise Requirements

Elkhounds are active dogs that require regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. They have moderate exercise needs and enjoy brisk walks, jogging, hiking, and interactive play sessions. Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise daily to keep them physically and mentally stimulated.

In addition to regular exercise, engaging your pup in daily activities is vital to a great relationship. These can include interactive games, puzzle toys, obedience training sessions, and engaging in activities that tap into their instincts, such as scent games or tracking exercises.

Because they are such intelligent dogs, Norwegian Elkhounds benefit from mental stimulation. Incorporate activities that challenge their minds, such as puzzle toys, obedience training, scent work, or teaching them new tricks. Engaging their problem-solving skills and providing outlets for mental energy can help prevent behavioral issues that may arise from boredom.

Of course, training and exercise should be fun for both you and your dog. Building a positive and trusting relationship through consistent, patient, and reward-based training methods will lead to a well-behaved and happy companion.

Elkhounds love being outdoors.

Photo courtesy of Pxfuel

Finding a Norwegian Elkhound

When you're looking to buy or adopt a Norwegian Elkhound, there are two primary avenues: working with a reputable breeder or adopting from a rescue organization.

  1. Reputable Breeders: A reputable breeder is an individual who prioritizes the health, well-being, and preservation of the breed. They follow ethical breeding practices, conduct health tests on their breeding stock, and are knowledgeable about the breed's characteristics and requirements. Reputable breeders can be found through breed clubs, referrals from other Elkhound owners, or by attending dog shows or events.
  2. Rescue Organizations: Some rescue organizations are dedicated to Norwegian Elkhounds and other breeds. These organizations rescue and rehabilitate dogs in need of homes. Adopting from a rescue organization provides a loving home to a dog in need and often comes with the benefit of the dog being spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and behaviorally assessed.


Remember, adopting a Norwegian Elkhound is a long-term commitment, and choosing the right source—whether it's a breeder or rescue organization—ensures you get a healthy and well-adjusted dog.

If you're considering a Norwegian Elkhound as a personal or family pet, please do further research or consult with breeders or experts to understand this dog's specific needs and suitability for your lifestyle.

There is no better resource for learning than visiting with someone who owns—and loves—an Elkhound!


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