The Norwegian Elkhound dates back thousands of years to the wild rocky slopes, bleak plateaus and glacial ice of primitive Norway. Fossilized skeletons of these dogs were uncovered among stone implements in the Viste Cave at Jaeren in western Norway, in a stratum dating back to 5000 to 4000 B.C. The Elkhound developed in type and temperament strictly through natural expression of physical and temperamental needs. He hunted all day with his guardians in rugged country with a bone-chilling sub-arctic climate, where stamina counted more than speed. He was a fearless hunter of the largest and most dangerous wild game, particularly the bear, which was common in the forests of Norway many years ago.
Over time, as bear dwindled, the Norwegian Elkhound was transitioned to hunt the true elk – Alces alces, which Americans call the “moose.” The so-called elk in America is actually the “wapiti,” Cervus canadensis. In Norwegian, “elg” means “moose.” The Elkhound has uncanny and highly-developed senses that make him unusually adept at elk hunting. He can catch a scent or hear an elk from miles away. A slight whimper will indicate to his master that the elk has become alarmed and is on the move. Once the dog approaches the elk (especially a bull elk), his instincts and intuition take over. He barks just enough to engage the bull, knowing full well that it can outrun him if it bolts. Still, the elk may retreat while the hunter is approaching, despite the dog’s efforts. If that happens, the Elkhound will stop barking. Then, slowly and silently, it will creep upwind and re-engage its quarry. Inevitably, the bull elk will tire of the annoyance and will attack with great antlers and deadly forefeet. Once again, the Norwegian Elkhound is prepared for this both mentally and physically. Its short back enables it to “bounce like a rubber ball,” avoiding the elk’s attack. It will at the same time bark furiously to guide its master to the site.
This breed also is well-adapted to hunt other game, including reindeer, wolf, lynx, mountain lion, badger, fox, rabbit and raccoon, as well as any variety of ground-dwelling birds. Scent, sight, vision and hearing are all keenly refined senses in the Norwegian Elkhound, contributing to its tremendous versatility as man’s hunting companion in the pursuit of wild game. The Norwegian Hunters’ Association held its first formal dog show in 1877. Shortly thereafter, pedigrees which had been handed down for these dogs were traced as far back as possible, and an official studbook - Norsk Hundestambak – was published. A breed club was formed and a standard was prepared to solidify the breed type, using a grand dog named Gamle Bamse Gram as a representation of the ideal specimen. The Norwegian Kennel Club (Norsk Kennelklub) held its first annual dog show in Oslo. The breed skyrocketed from that point on, with exports to a multitude of countries.
As game became increasingly scarce, the Norwegian Elkhound became one of the most common of all breeds at dogs shows throughout Scandinavia. During the 1900s, the breed steadily gained in popularity outside of Scandinavia as well. The American Kennel Club recognized the Norwegian Elkhound in its Stud Book in 1913. The British Elhound Society was founded in 1923, the same year that The Kennel Club (England) recognized the Norwegian Elkhound as a distinct breed. The American Kennel Club followed suit in 1930, moving the breed into its Working Group with full registration eligibility. The Norwegian Elkhound Association of America was loosely formed in 1930 and became a parent club member of the AKC in 1935. Today’s Norwegian Elkhound continues to excel at hunting, but more commonly is a competitive show dog and an ideal companion. It is an excellent watchdog and family guardian, as well as a competent herder, flock guard, sled dog and pack dog. This is the National Dog of Norway.
The average life span of the Norwegian Elkhound is 13 to 15 years. Breed health concerns may include chondrodysplasia, entropion (usually lower lids), primary glaucoma, lens luxation, cataracts, familial renal disease, Fanconi syndrome, hypothyroidism, infundibular keratinizing acanthoma (keratocanthoma) and progressive retinal atrophy.