The Norwegian Elkhound is one breed of the hound group that is very different in appearance than the other dogs within the group. In addition the Norwegian Elkhound also has a non-typical type of personality for a hound, however there are definitely traits and instincts that make this smaller sized, northern type of dog a perfect match for the group as a whole.
Overall the Norwegian Elkhound is a true spitz type dog complete with a fox-like face, pricked erect ears and the high tail carried in a full curl over the back. They have changed very little over time and are one of the most ancient breeds of dogs, dating back some 5000 years. Still very similar in appearance to the gray wolves that are their ancestors, today's Norwegian Elkhound has a lot of the same personality traits of the early ancestors of the breed.
These dogs, which have been used in almost every working capacity in Scandinavia, were prized for their versatility and ability to live in the very harsh northern climates. The breed was used as herding dogs for various types of livestock as well as flock guardians, protecting the animals from predators. They were effective at hunting small game such as rabbits and other small birds and mammals, but were also effective trackers. Although they can hunt by sight, sound and scent, the Norwegian Elkhound is well known for its ability to pick up a trail and stick with it, no matter where it may lead.
Although a smaller sized hound the Norwegian Elkhound is still very active and very energetic all through his or her life. Owners that are considering the breed need to be aware that ongoing, intensive exercise on a daily basis is a must for this breed. Two to three long, brisk walks or jogs per day will be essential, especially if the dog is confined to the house. Ideally exercise periods should be at least 30 to 45 minutes in duration and more if the dog is going to be kept indoors. As with any hound a secure fence is a must as they will roam significant distances if they find an interesting trail to follow.
The Norwegian Elkhound can become very high strung and difficult to work with when enough exercise, training and routine socialization are not provided. A high strung or poorly trained or exercised Norwegian Elkhound is prone to barking, chewing and digging and can become aggressive towards other animals, dogs and even people. This is not a characteristic of the breed but rather a by-product of an unsuitable home environment.
Barking can be a major factor with the breed as dog's natural instinct is to bark to alert the hunter or owner that something is amiss. They were used to corner and hold large game such as elk, red deer and moose in Scandinavia by forming a circle and barking, holding the animal in place until the hunters arrived. They continue on with this behavior and have to be taught to stop barking on command. For a well trained Norwegian Elkhound this is not a concern, but for younger puppies and poorly trained and non-socialized dogs this can be a problematic issue for the owner.
The Norwegian Elkhound is a very loyal and loving dog with the people it considers part of the family. They bond very strongly with one or more individuals in the household and may be difficult to rehome once this bond has been established. While not a highly obedient dog by nature with work the Norwegian Elkhound can be used in competitive types of obedience, although this is not common. The independent nature of the Norwegian Elkhound is what makes them great as a flock guardian and herding dog, as well as a hunter and tracking animal.
Most Norwegian Elkhounds will do very well with cats when raised together, however adult Norwegian Elkhound may not accept cats in the home when they are introduced later in life. Breeders do not recommend this dog for homes with other small pets such as rabbits or hamsters, but they can learn to live as farm dogs if they see poultry flocks as part of their responsibility to guard and protect. Working with the puppy on early socialization with other animals is essential so the dog understands what is acceptable to chase and what is not.
While gentle with the family and very good with children, the Norwegian Elkhound is often very aloof and reserved around new people. Once they understand the person is accepted by the family the Norwegian Elkhound will become friendly and affectionate. They are not aggressive but more wary, making them a good watchdog but not a great guard dog.
The natural intelligence of the breed is evident in training and the dogs respond best to positive rewards in training. Negative consequence types of training simply cause the dog to disengage from the process and to become more independent and apart from the trainer. Repetitive types of training routines will not work with this breed and will lead to a dog that ignores the owner or seems to be stubborn and willful.
The thick, dense and waterproof double coat of the Norwegian Elkhound is surprisingly easy to keep looking in top shape. Brushing with a pin brush or rubber toothed brush is the best option as these tools trap the dead hair and pull it out of the coat. Matting around the legs and behind the ears needs to be carefully monitored and routine brushing eliminates this issue. The breed sheds very heavily twice a year, once in the early spring and once in the autumn. During this time daily brushing is recommended to pull the dead hair, especially the fine inner coat, out of the longer outer coat. This breed should only be bathed when absolutely necessary and definitely not more than a few times a year.
The heavy coat of the Norwegian Elkhound means that this breed is not a good match for very hot and humid climates. They prefer the more northerly, colder climates although with proper air conditioning indoors and exercise in the coolest parts of the day they can adjust to summer heat.