Dogs: Norwegian Elkhounds – Breed Characteristics & Suitability as Pets

Dogs: Norwegian Elkhounds – Breed Characteristics & Suitability as Pets

By John Schwartz

Norwegian Elkhounds are an old breed, dating back to Stone Age times in Scandinavia. Fossil dating confirms its long use as a domesticated hunting companion of man. They are only moderately popular in the U.S., but as you’ll see, this breed has a lot of desirable traits that make it a good choice as a pet.

Physical Characteristics

Norwegian Elkhounds are beautiful dogs, with medium-sized bodies, a distinctive Spitz curled tail, and strong, athletic lines. Bred to hunt a variety of prey, they possess amazing stamina and can go strong for days at a time. Like all hunting dogs, Elkhounds have powerful jaw muscles and ears that move around the head to pick up sounds coming from many directions. They have wide, deep, muscular chests and front legs designed for quick bursts of speed.

Not surprisingly, since they evolved in colder climes, Norwegian Elkhounds possess a thick double coat that is darker gray on top and lighter underneath. It is superbly suited for heat absorption and retention. They also emit no “doggie” odor – another common characteristic of hunting dogs. This works to mask its presence when stalking prey. For us as pet owners, this makes the Elkhound a very clean dog, even in the hot summer months when other breeds can become smelly from all the perspiration.

Elkhounds stand 18-22 inches tall and generally run between 40-55 lbs. Pound for pound, they are one of the fiercest hunting dogs in existence and make excellent guard dogs for homes and businesses. They bark loudly and often, which is either a good or a bad thing, depending on where you live and what job you give the dog.

From a health perspective, Elkhounds are prone to hip dysplasia, dermatitis, and Fanconi Syndrome (rare, but can lead to kidney failure). You should also be careful not to overfeed this breed, as it gains weight quickly and doesn’t shed pounds efficiently in a sedentary domestic environment.


The Norwegian Elkhound is both friendly and fiercely loyal. This is a great trait in a pet dog, but care must be taken to properly socialize the animal to avoid aggression toward strangers (both other dogs and humans). Having only occasional visitors can bring out the ‘guard dog’ tendency. Early socialization, such as taking the pup to crowded parks or having lots of family and friends over on a regular basis, can instill a sense of ease around strange dogs and people that will last your dog’s lifetime. The key is to help your pet Elkhound learn early on to associate your presence among others as a good thing – not a situation requiring his/her defensive posturing (barking, growling, aggressive movements).

Like all arctic dog breeds, Elkhounds have a definite independent streak. Intelligent and resourceful, they are one of the best breeds to have as an ‘only pet.’ They are a bit resistant to formal training, so you need to be firm (but never mean) to teach them. They respond well to praise and rewards, but are very sensitive and will remain aloof for long periods if you treat them unfairly or punish too much during training. The key is to be firm, but give lots and lots of praise and love to reward him/her when the behavior you want to instill is exhibited.

The most common complaint about Norwegian Elkhound behavior is the barking. Understand that hunting dogs need to hold the prey at bay and alert their masters to their location at the same time. This means that the more boisterous dogs were better at helping their masters hunt, so they got bred more often. As a natural result, this breed now features loud barking almost universally. Don’t get an Elkhound if this will pose a problem.

Elkhounds as Pets

As you’ve probably discerned, Norwegians need a lot of activity. They are tireless runners and need to burn that energy off. Therefore, they are not good pets for apartment or condominium dwellers, unless you can provide ample outdoor space for regular exercise. Ideally, a big fenced yard or local park with a regularly active owner is the perfect setting for these dogs.

Norwegian Elkhounds are also best suited for a cooler climate. They can overheat quickly in any region where the temperature exceeds 90 in the Summer. However, they do very well during cold winters, even when temps dip into sub-zero readings.

Finally, always exercise caution when taking your Elkhound out for a walk or jog. Use a leash! They have an independent streak and are known to ignore their masters when they pick up an interesting scent. Even trained dogs of this breed will sometimes defy their masters when a really enticing scent comes along, so don’t get complacent!

Overall, the Norwegian Elkhound is an excellent dog to bring into your home as a pet. Loyal, friendly, intelligent and energetic, they make wonderful pets for active people or working dogs for those with property protection needs.

John Schwartz is a freelance writer and dog lover. He has written many published articles on subjects that include shopping for safe dog toys and supplies, improving pet health, and good dog training practices. Visit his website at for more information and pet dog tips.

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