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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The Norwegian Elkhound has a long history in Norway as a watchdog, flock guardian, and big-game hunter. He has a thick, protective gray coat, a broad head topped with prick ears, and a tail that curls tightly over his back. The Elkhound is a medium-size dog, weighing 48 to 55 pounds.
The Norwegian Elkhound’s job is to track elk, bear, or moose, and then keep the animal in place by barking at him until the hunter arrives.
The Norwegian Elkhound is built tough for rugged terrain and a cold, unwelcoming climate. He’s a good choice if you like a Spitz breed with a bold, boisterous outlook on life. An active dog, he needs daily exercise that will challenge him physically and mentally and prevent him from becoming destructive or noisy. Joint health and overall health permitting, plan to exercise him for 20 to 30 minutes twice a day. He also performs well in dog sports such as agility, obedience, and rally.
He barks a lot. That’s just how he communicates. In some instances, that’s a good thing. The hardy, good-natured Elkhound is friendly in general, but he will alert you to anyone approaching the home, and his deep bark will make intruders think twice about coming onto your property. If you’re not home during the day to prevent him from barking unnecessarily, he may drive the neighbors barking mad.
This intelligent and highly trainable dog responds well to positive reinforcement techniques such as play, praise, and food rewards, but he is an independent thinker. Don’t expect unquestioning obedience from him and you won’t be disappointed. Keep training sessions short and fun, so he doesn’t get bored. Spend extra time practicing the “heel” command. He tends to be a puller.
If the presence of Elkhound dust puppies would make you crazy, reconsider your decision to get this breed. He’s not difficult to groom, but he does shed a lot of hair. Brush his double coat weekly to keep it clean and remove loose hair. During spring and fall shedding seasons, daily brushing will help keep excess hair under control. In addition, trim his nails as needed, brush his teeth, and keep the ears clean to help prevent infections.
A people-loving dog like the Elkhound needs to live in the house. It’s an unhappy Elkhound who is relegated to the backyard with little or no human companionship.
Dogs like the Elkhound accompanied the Vikings, the Norse sagas tell us; after all, a man’s dog is as important as his weapons. Over the centuries, the Elkhound’s ancestors guarded farms, herded and protected flocks from predators, and hunted big game such as elk and bear.
Though these dogs have been known in Norway for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until 1877 that they began to be exhibited in dog shows. The Norwegian Hunters Association held its first show that year, and owners began to keep better records of pedigrees and trace them back as far as possible. They wrote a breed standard and published a stud book. A photograph of a well-known dog of that time — Gamle Bamse Gram — looks much like an Elkhound of today, lacking only some of the modern dog’s refinement.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Elkhound in 1913. Today the breed ranks 106th among the dogs registered by the AKC.
The people-loving Elkhound is inclined to be friendly to family and strangers alike. He has a deep bark that will give intruders second thoughts — but only if they’re unfamiliar with the Elkhound’s typically unaggressive nature.
If he is brought up with children, the loving and good-natured Elkhound enjoys their company and can be a good playmate. Remember that no dog is automatically good with kids. An adult Elkhound who is not experienced with children needs time to get used to their quick movements and shrill voices. Teach children never to tease or mistreat a dog. As with any dog, never leave an Elkhound alone with young children, no matter how well he knows them or how gentle he seems.
Elkhounds are vocal. It’s their job to bark, after all. Don’t think that your Elkhound will be quiet simply because you don’t have any elk wandering down your street. Be prepared to teach him from an early age when it’s okay to bark and when to stop.
Elkhounds are active dogs. Joint health and overall health permitting, expect to give him 20 to 30 minutes of exercise twice a day to keep him from becoming bored, barky, and destructive. He’s a good hiking companion and will enjoy long walks or trotting alongside your bicycle (wait until he is 2 years old before beginning strenuous running activities, and it's always a good idea to check with your vet before starting an exercise program with your pet). Elkhounds are versatile and compete in many different dog sports, including agility, carting, flyball, freestyle, herding, obedience, rally, and tracking. They make excellent therapy dogs, spreading their special brand of Elkhound joy to people in nursing homes, hospitals, and other facilities. Some Elkhounds have been trained to do search and rescue work. In other words, don’t count on the Elkhound to be a couch potato — at least not until he has gotten his exercise for the day.
When you see the word “hound” in a breed’s name, the first words that should come to mind are “independent” and “stubborn.” Hounds of all types have been bred for centuries to work on their own, and they are used to making decisions for themselves. The Elkhound is highly smart and trainable, but unquestioningly obedient? Not so much. You will find, however, that if the Elkhound understands why you want him to do something, he will be happy to comply.
Train him with lots of praise and rewards for behaviors you like, while still letting him know through tone of voice, expression, or turning away from him that other behaviors are unacceptable. This is a sensitive dog who will pick up on your attitude without the need for harsh or physical punishment. Keep training fun and interesting, avoiding a lot of repetition. The Elkhound has been known to put his own creative spin on behaviors if his mind isn’t challenged. The most important qualities needed by someone training an Elkhound are patience and a great sense of humor.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see their puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an Norwegian Elkhound, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit a particular disease. Run, don’t walk, from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed is 100 percent healthy and has no known problems, or who tells you that her puppies are isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines.
In Norwegian Elkhounds, the health problems that may be seen include hip dysplasia; hypothyroidism, a common hormonal disease in dogs in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone; a kidney disease called Fanconi syndrome; skin cysts; and eye conditions including progressive retinal atrophy, glaucoma, and retinal dysplasia. Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible. They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Norwegian Elkhound Association of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center Program. For a Norwegian Elkhound to achieve CHIC certification, he must have a hip evaluation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), an eye clearance from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, and OFA thyroid and kidney evaluations. A hip evaluation from PennHIP is also acceptable. Additional certifications that are recommended but not required are OFA for patellas (knees) and elbows and a genetic test for Fanconi syndrome.
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease. All test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. Having a dog vet checked is not a substitute for genetic testing.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas and a puppy develops one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live good lives. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the more common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Norwegian Elkhound at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of diet and exercise to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The Elkhound has a soft, woolly undercoat and a coarse, straight top coat. The thick double coat is easy to groom with brushing several times a week, but it sheds heavily. During seasonal sheds, you’ll think it’s snowing Elkhound hair. At those times, daily brushing and warm baths will help remove the loose hair so the new hair can grow in. On the plus side, there’s never any need to trim his coat or whiskers and baths are rarely necessary.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every six weeks. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy and will, without question, have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems as much as possible. She is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with, and come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps she takes to avoid those problems. And remember that breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical.
Look for more information about the Norwegian Elkhound and start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Norwegian Elkhound Club of America (NEAA). Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the NEAA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to explain the advantages and disadvantages of living with a Norwegian Elkhound.
Avoid breeders who seem interested only in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will go through. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from a website that offers to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include puppies always being available, multiple litters on the premises, having your choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Quickie online purchases are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of a Norwegian Elkhound puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Norwegian Elkhound might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up to become the dogs of your dreams. An adult Norwegian Elkhound may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Norwegian Elkhound in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Norwegian Elkhounds available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Norwegian Elkhound. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Norwegian Elkhounds love all Norwegian Elkhounds. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Norwegian Elkhound Club of America can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Norwegian Elkhound rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Norwegian Elkhound home for a trial to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a pup. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Norwegian Elkhound, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter, or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with puppy lemon laws, be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, a breeder purchase or a rescue, take your Norwegian Elkhound to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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