The Norwegian Elkhound—the National Dog of Norway—is an ancient spitz-type dog that was prized by Vikings as a hunter, guardian, and companion. The loyal dogs were buried with their masters, an act reserved for the Vikings' most treasured items that would be necessary when they reached Valhalla, or the afterlife. Elkhounds are a hardworking breed with a goofy side: they refuse to take life too seriously. The spunky little Elkhound has a powerful bark—which was key in the job of moose hunter. Though you can try to train them not to bark, Elkhounds will bark—it's in their DNA, so it's just a fact of Elkhound companionship. This good-natured companion was developed as an independent-thinking dog. Consistent, positive training methods from an owner who doesn't give an inch is necessary—they may not be an ideal match for a first-time dog owner.
Norwegian Elkhounds are also known as Norsk Elghund, Norwegian Moose Dog, and Elkhound.
The Norwegian Elkhound's thick double coat is weather-resistant. The undercoat is wooly and dense and is covered with a straight overcoat. The hair is shorter on the ears, face, and legs. The coat is gray, with some variation in shade caused by the black-tipped overcoat.
Average Height: 19.5-20.5 inches
Male: 55 pounds
Female: 48 pounds
Breed Standard & History
The Norwegian Elkhound has a square profile with balanced proportions. A broad head is topped with high-set, erect ears that display alertness and affection via ear movement. A muscular neck and strong back offer a hardy appearance. A tightly-curled tail is high-set and carried over the back. The thick, weather-resistant coat is comprised of a soft, dense undercoat and a straight overcoat. Natural presentation is required, with no trimming, clipping, or treatment. The gray coloring may show some variation due to the black tips and guard hairs—but should be darkest at the saddle and lighter on the chest, mane, and harness mark. The Norwegian Elkhound is bold and energetic, friendly, and independent. – AKC Breed Standards
With a history that stretches back even before the Viking age, the Norwegian Elkhound is a Nordic relic. The dogs kept by Vikings were prized as hunting dogs, protectors, and companions—and were even buried alongside the families they served. The Vikings' dogs were likely the result of breeding between wolves and domesticated dogs from the south. The modern Norwegian Elkhound is likely descended from the Viking's prized canines.
Their name, 'Norsk Elghund,' translates to Norwegian Moose Dog—elk is the name given to moose in Europe. Elkhounds and hunters would team up to hunt moose, with the dog tracking and cornering the moose while barking to alert the hunters, then the hunter dispatching the quarry. Though popular in Norway, it wasn't until 1877 that the Norwegian Hunters Association hosted a dog show, which brought some interest to the breed. By 1923, interest had spread, and the British Elkhound Society was formed. American gained its own Norwegian Elkhound Association in 1930, and the AKC recognized the breed in 1953.
AKC Breed Category
Steadfast Norwegian Elkhounds are alert and intelligent, with a playful nature. They are bold and confident, natural guardians. Their watchful nature doesn't make them any less friendly or playful—with family and strangers alike. The Elkhound's confidence and intelligence may result in a strong-willed dog with a mind of his own, so early training from a confident owner is key.
Are Norwegian Elkhounds Good with Kids? Norwegian Elkhounds tend to love children and are often a great match for a household with kids, if both child and dog are taught how to interact with each other safely. Older kids are recommended, as the Elkhound can be rambunctious. Dominant behaviors toward both children and adults should be discouraged.
Are Norwegian Elkhounds Good with Other Pets? Other dogs and dog-experienced cats can usually live with a Norwegian Elkhound, but the Elkhound's prey drive and dominant nature may result in chasing or bossy behaviors. Early socialization with other pets can help create a peaceful living situation.
Protective by nature, an alert bark will always signal the approach of any newcomer—friend, stranger, squirrel, or bird—but the Elkhound's bark is rarely followed by anything but cheerful, bouncy greetings. Elkhounds make fantastic watchdogs, but they are not guard dogs.
The Norwegian Elkhound is an active, high-energy dog who requires lots of exercise.
- Known to bark
- Loves to bounce and jump up
- Needs at least an hour of exercise per day
- May display dominant behavior
- Independent and strong-willed
- Not ideal for a first-time dog owner without an obedience class to reinforce training.
- Can be standoffish with new people without proper socialization
With plenty of exercise and entertainment, the Norwegian Elkhound can adapt to many living situations, including apartments. Elkhounds tend to bark—whether or not there's something to bark at. In order for the Elkhound to be a well-behaved companion indoors, plenty of exercise and mental stimulation are necessary.
Time outdoors—with family—is some of the Norwegian Elkhound's favorite. They love the cold and snow, and are comfortable in most weather conditions. They shouldn't be expected to live outdoors full-time due to their strong desire to be near people. They are known to wander, especially if a critter crosses their path, so fenced areas, leashes with a comfortable collar or harness, and a solid recall are important for the Elkhound.
At least an hour of exercise per day is necessary for the energetic Norwegian Elkhound. More exercise means a happier Elkhound.
This hardy working breed is built for hiking, running, swimming, and playing. Without enough exercise, the Elkhound may be difficult to manage. The breed is also prone to weight gain, and exercise can help prevent obesity.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: Running up to five miles may be no problem for the robust Norwegian Elkhound.
- Hiking Miles: Elkhounds in good health may be able to hike a full day—hikes should be on leash, unless a solid recall has been mastered, as this breed has a high prey drive and wanderlust.
Norwegian Elkhounds are food-motivated and prone to overeating. The breed responds well to treats during training sessions. The recommended diet for most Elkhounds is about 2 to 2 ½ cups of high-quality dry food daily, based on the dog's average weight and activity level. This amount should be split between two meals, or can be offered in a food-dispensing puzzle toy.
Norwegian Elkhounds do not tend to guard their food, but children should never be allowed to touch or remove food while any dog is eating.
Though they prefer spending time with family, the Norwegian Elkhound may be able to stay home alone for five to eight hours. They are natural barkers and will likely 'serenade' neighbors while you are away. Providing plenty of exercise and mental stimulation can help the Elkhound behave while you are away, but crate training may help prevent destructive behaviors.
Health and Grooming
The double coat of the Norwegian Elkhound releases dirt and debris easily, but your furniture and house will benefit from weekly brushing to capture shedding fur. Bathing should be done only as necessary. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting, cracking, or a broken nail.
Common Health Issues
Breed-specific concerns in the Norwegian Elkhound can include:
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Sebaceous cysts
- Fanconi syndrome
- Eye concerns
You can minimize serious health concerns in a Norwegian Elkhound by purchasing him from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Though intelligent, the Norwegian Elkhound is easily bored by repetitive tasks. Keep training fun and interesting for the Elkhound. Early training with positive reinforcement techniques and plenty of high-impact treats will help the Elkhound learn basic obedience. They may be manipulative and strong-willed—a consistent and patient trainer and a sense of humor are keys to training success.
Help the Elkhound burn off excess energy through agility, flyball, advanced tricks, and other activities. Obedience training isn't the Norwegian Elkhound's favorite, but dog sports and task-related training will keep him happy. The more you do to exercise the Elkhound's body and mind, the happier he will be.
The Norwegian Elkhound has fantastic tracking skills: he performs well in tracking competitions and can be trained for search and rescue.
Sporting Dog Training
A hunting instinct has stuck with the Norwegian Elkhound for centuries, and some people still use the breed to track and hunt. Though they're still used in Norway for moose hunting, they're more often kept as companions in the US. Training a Norwegian Elkhound as a sporting dog is a possibility if you appreciate the breed's independent hunting style.
Black Norwegian Elkhounds are found in Scandinavia, but are not part of the Norwegian Elkhound breed recognized by the AKC. They are a newer type of Elkhound developed in the 19th century, and while the breeds are related, there are differences in appearance and temperament.
The AKC Breed Standard calls for the Norwegian Elkhound to be gray, any other color is considered a disqualification. Gray Norwegian Elkhound puppies are born black, and their coats lighten to the standard gray with black-tipped fur within a few weeks.
Though they're called Elkhound, they were used for hunting moose. The name seems misleading, until you consider the Nordic name—Norsk Elghund—translates to Norwegian Moose Dog. Elk actually refers to what Americans call a moose.
Though they were not bred to be short, some litters of Norwegian Elkhounds produce puppies with a genetic mutation called chondrodysplasia, or dwarfism. Some breeds like Dachshunds and Corgis are selectively bred for the long, low dog appearance but when the Elkhound shows this trait, it's considered a genetic abnormality. Because it is a hereditary trait, dogs who produce puppies with dwarfism, and affected puppies, should not be bred.