Norwegian Elkhound

Norwegian Elkhound dog breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The Norwegian Elkhound is a very old, Spitz-like Northern dog breed, and the national dog of Norway. In his homeland, he is known as Harmaa norjanhirvikoira, Norsk Elghund or Grå Norsk Elghund, and other peoplealso call him Small Grey Elk Dog or Norwegian Moose Dog.

His high intelligence has always made him suitable for a wide range of canine jobs, like herding, guarding and especially hunting. They were used since ancient times for hunting big game like moose or deer, by barking and keeping them at bay until the hunter arrived.

Nowadays, they are still used as hunting dogs in Northern regions, but they are also highly appreciated as family dogs, because of their loyalty and friendly behavior.

Breed Characteristics

Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHigh
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog Breed Group:Hound Dogs
Height:19.5–20.5 inches
Weight:44-51 lbs
Life Span:12 to 15 years

Norwegian Elkhounds are independent and dignified dogs, with a mind of their own, but very affectionate and loving family companions. They are confident and with a strong character, and are great watch and guard dogs because of their protective behavior, awareness and loyalty.

They are literally bursting with energy and love to play, but they can be trained to control themselves. Obedience training is a must with them, because of their strong mind, so they need a firm owner who can display proper leadership. The Norwegian Elkhound needs to be shown his place in the packing order, or he will take over and rule himself. This is why this breed is no match for a meek owner.

These dogs are usually friendly, but they still need proper socializing from a young age. Otherwise, they may act aggressive towards other dogs, and be reserved towards people they haven’t met before. This is not the rule, though, and there is a high chance of seeing your dog jump over people to greet them for the first time. This is why they must be taught not to do so, because this might scare some people or kids.

Main Highlights
  • These dogs are rugged and sturdy, yet very agile and athletic. They have a lot of energy and love playing outdoors, especially on cold, winter days;
  • They have a mind of their own, are confident and capable;
  • Because of their independent mind, they are quite difficult to train, and need a confident owner who can show them who rules the pack;
  • If not well socialized, Norwegian Elkhounds may be suspicious towards strangers. Even with a lot of socializing, they may still act a bit reserved and watchful, which makes them excellent watch dogs;
  • Norwegian Elkhounds love children and are very affectionate towards the entire family. They may, though, be aggressive with other animals or dogs, so make  sure you socialize them well;
  • They bark a lot, and some of them have really loud and even with training, it’s extremely hard to eliminate this;
  • Their strong prey drive makes it difficult to keep other small pets in the same home, but they would tolerate any family cats if they were raised with them.
Breed History

The Norwegian Elkhound is a very old dog breed, only found in Scandinavia for many centuries. It originated about 3000 years ago and was the result of a male dog — female wolf hybridization. Their offspring became the base for all the Sami-related dog breeds: Swedish Lapphound, Jamthud, Finnish Lapphound and Norwegian Elkhound.

These dogs were known in medieval times as dyrehounds («animal-dog» in Norwegian) and were very popular as hunting dogs (especially large game, like moose and bear), although very few have been recorded outside Norway. They were also used by Vikings to guard flocks, herds and homes, for their great awareness and tendency to bark.

The breed became more popular abroad after the first show in 18887, held by the Norwegian Hunters Association. A standard began to emerge and this dog soon became a serious competitor in further dog shows. It was only at the end of the 19th century when they finally reached England, and were recognized by The Kennel Club in 1901.

Prized for his high intelligence and hardiness, the Norwegian Elkhound is nowadays very widely used in many careers and dog sports, like obedience, agility, conformation, freestyle, flyball, guarding, tracking, sledding, herding and search and rescue. They are also great family members, very affectionate and fond of children. Of course, their base activity has never been forgotten and they are still widely used as great hunting dogs in northern regions.


Norwegian Elkhounds are medium-sized dogs, with males being a bit larger than females. Males usually measure 19 — 21 inches high and weigh between 50 — 60 lb, while females reach up to 18 — 20 inches high and weigh between 40 — 55 lb.

Personality and Character

These dogs are loyal and very affectionate family members. They would greet you and family friends with enthusiasm, although they may act a bit reserved towards strangers. They are also very good with children. Norwegian Elkhounds are very alert and are great as guard and watch dogs, so you should feel safe having one of them around your home.

As all northern dog breeds, they have a mind of their own and can be stubborn sometimes. This is why obedience training is a must in this breed, so they also need a firm human leader. If they are not shown a steady packing order, they would take over and rule the house instead of you.

They love barking, and you will have to teach them when to stop. A Norwegian Elkhound will  alert you whenever someone or something enters your territory, and they have to know once is quite enough. Otherwise, you may face problems if  your neighborhood has noise restrictions. The same goes for apartment buildings, where noise should be kept to a minimum.

These dogs usually do well when meeting other dogs, but they do need as much socializing as they can have. Poorly socialized Norwegian Elkhounds may act aggressive, so make sure you introduce your young puppy to as many people, smells, places and pets as you can. Still, be very careful while leaving your dog with other small pets, like cats or rodents, because of their strong prey drive.

Health and Potential Problems

Most Norwegian Elkhounds are very healthy towards their entire life, but you must make sure your puppy’s parents and better yet, grandparents, had already been tested for any genetic disease they may have. Dogs of this breed do have a genetic predisposition for Progressive Retinal Atrophy or suffer from thyroid problems.

It is not a rule that all dogs would inherit these issues, but here is what you may see in a Norwegian Elkhound:

  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: this term is used for a range of eye diseases triggering the gradual decaying of the retina. This will make the dog become night-blind at first, followed by gradual loss of eyesight during the day. Dogs may adapt very well to living with this condition, but it is very important to have them genetically screened for it, to avoid the perpetuation of the gene;
  • Fanconi Syndrome: this serious illness affects the dog’s tubules that reabsorb substances and kidneys. By doing this, sodium, phosphate, glucose, calcium and amino acids levels become abnormal and begin affecting the dog’s health. You may notice him becoming excessively thirsty and urinating all the time, and as the syndrome progresses, he may feel muscle pain, lose weight or appetite, vomiting or losing muscle tone. Symptoms usually occur between one or seven years of age. Tracked in good time, this illness can be kept under control with adequate treatment and careful diet management. It is also vital that your affected dog has access to a stable supply of fresh water;
  • Hip Dysplasia: usually affecting larger breeds, hip dysplasia may also appear in smaller ones. This is a hereditary condition, but it may worsen over time by a series of environmental factors, like rapid growth, jumping or falling from higher places. This condition may not be very obvious, so X-ray screening may be necessary to track it. Arthritis may develop as a dog with this condition ages, so keep a close eye on his joints, especially if you know his parents were also affected;
  • Sebaceous Cysts: these cysts are usually formed in hair follicles under the dog’s skin. They may vary in size, from a small point to the size of a walnut, which may sometimes burst open and release a white, thick, cheesy mess. It is best to have them surgically removed;
  • Hypothyroidism: this is a hormonal disorder, caused by the lack of thyroid hormone. Symptoms include obesity, infertility, low energy, mental dullness, coarse fur, or the skin becoming tough and dark. This problem may be kept under control with daily medication, which has to go on throughout the dog’s life;
  • Weight gain: most Norwegian Elkhounds are likely to put on weight easily, so keep a close eye on their diet and never overfeed them.

Always choose your puppy from a responsible breeder and avoid pet stored and puppy mills, to make sure you will have a healthy dog. A responsible breeder is interested in keeping the breed healthy and should always have screening test results available for you to check out and will never breed any dog just to make some profit of him.

Care Features

Because they have so much energy and also the tendency to put on weight, Norwegian Elkhounds need at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. This helps keep them happy and at a healthy weight, but never forget about closely monitoring their diet. Never yield at their large, brown eyes begging you for a treat.

Although they may do well in an apartment, keep in mind that these dogs are barkers and may get you into trouble with your neighbors. The best home for them is a house with a securely fenced medium yard, where they can release some of their energy and where barking won’t be such a problem.

Despite their hardiness and ability to cope with cold weather, they should never be kept as outdoor dogs. Norwegian Elkhounds are very affectionate dogs and should be allowed inside with their human family. They are in constant need of their owners’ love and attention, so they shouldn’t be left alone for hours without company.

Feeding Schedule

You can save a lot of money by feeding your dog high quality food that suits his particular needs. Energetic dogs, especially those from working lines, need a high-calorie diet, to help them keep up  with their activities. Feeding an adequate diet will prevent the from developing food-related health issues like obesity (which is not a serious threat in this breed, though), allergies, hot spots, etc.

If you plan on feeding your Norwegian Elkhound dry kibble, about 2 to 2.5 cups per day should be enough for a healthy adult. Of course, it always depends on his actual size, age and physical activity, as well as his health condition. It is always best to feed your adult dog about 2-3 smaller servings throughout the day, than a single, large meal, to avoid bloating. Puppies and very young dogs should be fed about 3-4 meals each day.

Females that are pregnant in late stages or breastfeeding should be given as much food as they want, to allow for proper development of the puppies and to make sure they have enough milk. Puppy kibble is best for them during this time, as it holds more nutrients than regular adult food.

Coat, Color and Grooming

Like all Northern breeds, the Norwegian Elkhound has a double coat to protect him from the cold, harsh environment in Arctic regions. The undercoat is water resistant as well, dense, soft and woolly and sheds dirt. The top coat is smooth, short and thick, with a uniform look across the whole body. Typically, these dogs are grey, with darker saddle and black ears and tail. The mane and chest are a lighter grey.

They don’t usually shed, but they would «blow coat» about 2 or 3 times a year, when they would shed really heavily. Throughout the year, a weekly brushing is enough, but they do need more while shedding, to remove all the dead hair and dirt. Hair would still be found around the home, so you may want to consider another breed if you are a fastidious cleaner.

Their coat is fairly easy to maintain also because they are very clean dogs, unlike most breeds. They have a very light to no smell and only need a bath if they get really dirty. Trimming is not necessary, as the coat has a smooth look and keeps a constant length.

Teeth should be brushed at least two or three times a week to prevent bacteria and tartar from accumulating and to avoid gum disease. Trim his nails as needed, usually once or twice per month if your dog doesn’t wear them down naturally. Usually, you can guess the time to trim them when you hear them clicking on the floor as your dog walks by the house.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

Norwegian Elkhounds are very fond of children and make great playmates because of their high energy levels. They are also very watchful and protective, so it’s really safe to leave them together. Always supervise young children while playing with the dog, though, to avoid accidental biting because of kids pulling their tails, paws and ears, especially in very young dogs. Teach them never to touch a dog while sleeping or eating, and especially to not try to take away his food, no matter how good friends they usually are. Food is food and dogs never bargain about it!

They get along pretty well with other dogs if properly socialized from a young age. Puppies that haven’t met many dogs would develop into overly protective and even aggressive adults, although aggressiveness is not a common trait in the breed. Because of their strong prey drive, cats, rodents, birds and most smaller pets won’t be that safe around of Norwegian Elkhounds. There is a chance, though, that they would tolerate family cats if they were raised next to them.

To the right owner, a Norwegian Elkhound would be a great companion for a very long time. Remember to always be firm, but gentle, and set strict rules for him to follow. They need constant leadership and attention, but they are also very affectionate, so don’t act like you were in the army. Harsh training would only result in a more stubborn dog. Last, but not least, control his barking behavior from the very beginning, and teach him to shut up when you ask him to.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.