Norwegian Elkhound

Breed Group: Hound

Temperament and Behavior

Considered by enthusiasts as the best all-around athlete of the canine world, Norwegian Elkhounds are among the most energetic, powerful, independent of all dogs with nearly unrivaled endurance. These qualities make for a playful, adventurous dog, that needs both mental and physical stimulation– at least half an hour of vigorous exercise twice a day. Norwegian Elkhounds are highly intelligent and have one of the most complex personalities and physical versatility of all breeds. They are boisterous and fairly active indoors with a strong need to be with their family. Bred to work closely with people, Norwegian Elkhounds thrive on love, affection, and praise. They are friendly and good-natured with children, provided they are given careful and consistent socialization and training. They can be aggressive with other pets and are normally friendly with strangers, especially once introduced. A Norwegian Elkhound can be an incessant barker as they were bred to hold prey at bay with constant barking until a hunter arrived. Some dogs have a voice that is shrill and piercing. When evaluating puppies it is worth listening to each bark before making a choice. However, this trait has a positive side– they make excellent watchdogs and most are above average guard dogs.

Physical Characteristics

The Norwegian Elkhound is a medium sized breed, with an average height of 19 to 21 inches, and an average weight between 40 and 55 pounds. Their coats are almost any shade of grey with a black tip on the end of most of their hair. With their thick heavy coat, they do well in cold or even arctic temperatures. But they suffer in warm or humid climates. With their thick coat also comes profuse shedding so they are not for anyone obsessed with a nice neat home.

Trainer's Notes

They need only an average socialization effort. But with a fascinating mix of traits that make this a breed like no other, training them is a complex but rewarding task. They are independent and intelligent with a short attention span but a long memory. A stubborn streak makes some resistant to obedience training. All find repetition boring. To be happy, they need a mental challenge. With their intelligence, a Norwegian Elkhound can fairly easily outwit an inexperienced trainer. But any anger or frustration displayed by their trainer will be met with certain defiance. Patience and praise are key to obtaining this breed’s obedience. Because of the challenging nature of training a well-behaved Norwegian Elkhound, this is not a breed recommended for the novice dog owner.

Photo © by Dmitry Guskov available under Public Domain
Norwegian Elkhound

Norwegian Elkhound


A fairly healthy breed, the Norwegian Elkhound has a single major health concern. One dog in five suffers from Hip Dysplasia. PRA is less frequently seen. Occasionally seen is Fanconi Syndrome along with other diseases of the kidney. Their typical lifespan is 10 to 12 years.


A breed with modest popularity, Norwegian Elkhounds are AKC ranked 92nd in popularity, with about 700 registered each year.

Breed History

This breed has a remarkable history. Known as the “Dog of the Vikings,” the Norwegian Elkhound dates back far earlier than the Vikings. Archaeologists have unearthed Elkhound bones and stone implements dating as early as 5000 BC. Not only a faithful companion to Viking masters, the breed appears to have served primitive man as well. They have been used for centuries in Norway as big game trackers helping men hunt elk, moose, and bear in frigid temperatures and rough terrain. They were bred to run ahead of a hunter silently in search of large prey, typically moose. Once prey was located, they would hold it at bay barking and feinting attack while dodging swinging antlers. They also served as sled dogs, herders, watchdogs, and retrievers, making them one of the most versatile dogs in the canine world. First exhibited in Norway in 1877, the AKC recognized the breed around 1930.

Additional Information

The breed’s original Norwegian name of “Norsk Elghund” translates to “Norwegian moose dog” so the AKC's Elkhound name is a mistranslation. While placed in the Hound group they are not related to other hounds. Placement in that group simply reflects their hunting ability. The National (U.S.) Breed Club is the Norwegian Elkhound Association of America.

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