Norwegian Elkhound - The National Dog of Norway


First Things First, its Norwegian name is Norsk Elghund Grå and the translation into English is a curious one. Given that they neither hunted Elk nor are they hounds, Norwegian Moose Dog Grey would be a more apt name. Clearly the English adopted it's name by sound rather than meaning.

The Norwegian Elkhound is an ancient breed, having been developed over 6,000 years ago to help early Scandinavians and Vikings hunt big game such as moose and bear. Remains of dogs remarkably similar to the modern Elkhound have been found in grave sites such as the Viste Cave in Jæren, Norway, where they were dated as far back as 4000–5000 BC. 

Archaeological excavations in Scandinavia suggest this breed existed and was domesticated in the Stone age. At the end of the 19th century the breed came to England, and in 1901 The Kennel Club officially recognized it.

For many years, the Norwegian Elkhound was considered the oldest of all dog breeds, going back further than 6,000 years. Recent DNA analysis suggests, however, that several "ancient" breeds have been "recreated in more recent times from combinations of other breeds". The researchers found "genetic evidence for a recent origin of the Norwegian Elkhound, believed to be of ancient Scandinavian origin”.

But this study only includes 85 of the world's more than 400 dog breeds, omits many primitive lineages, and clusters the breeds together into just four major groups called clades (a group of organisms believed to have evolved from a common ancestor, according to the principles of cladistics), nevertheless, some researchers say that the Norwegian Elkhound is a descendant of the ancient "primitive" Pariah Dog that existed 4,000–7,000 years ago.



Of the four major clades that were clustered together, Clade II includes dogs with the genetic haplotype D8 (a set of genetic determinants located on a single chromosome) from two Scandinavian dog breeds: the Norwegian Elkhound and the Jämthund. This genetic sequence haplotype is closely related to two wolf haplotypes found in Italy, France, Romania, and Greece, and is also related to a wolf haplotype found in western Russia.

Clade II appears to be only seen in Norwegian breeds and exhibits a vast amount of divergences. It is suggested that this clade illustrates an ancient and independent origin from wolves that are now extinct. The Norwegian Elkhound evolved, at least partially, from ancestral grey wolf subspecies now found in south centrall Europe and western Russia and may very well be one of the most ancient of all dog breeds.

From the present back through the centuries of recorded time, Elkhounds have been kept in Norwegian rural districts by farmers, herdsmen, and hunters to serve as watchdogs, guardians of flocks, and as trackers of big game: moose, reindeer, and bear. Outdoor jobs, all of them, in a rugged country and in a rigorous sub-arctic climate.

In 1877 the Norwegian Hunters Association held its first dog show, and that year perhaps marks the beginning of interest in the Elkhound as a show dog. In ensuing years, records and stud books were established, a standard formulated, and as an increasing number of experienced breeders in Norway focused their attention on the breed, the Elkhound gradually came into his own as a show dog. Interest in the breed spread to England, and the British Elkhound Society was formed in 1923 about seven years before a similar organization to sponsor the breed appeared in the USA. The Norwegian Elkhound Association of America was organized in an informal way about 1930.

We now know the Norwegian Elkhound is a double coated, close coupled, balanced, hardy gray hunting dog of moderate size whose hunting prowess was highly valued by ancient Scandinavians.  We also know the Norwegian Elkhound that we know today were spitz type dogs, with prick ears, curled tail, thick double coat, bold disposition, strong agile body and wolf-like independence.



The Norwegian Elkhound is a hardy gray hunting dog. In appearance, a typical northern dog of medium size and substance, square in profile, close coupled and balanced in proportions. The head is broad with prick ears, and the tail is tightly curled and carried over the back. The distinctive gray coat is dense and smooth lying. As a hunter, the Norwegian Elkhound has the courage, agility and stamina to hold moose and other big game at bay by barking and dodging an attack, and the endurance to track for long hours in all weather over rough and varied terrain.

The height at the withers for males is 20½ inches, for females 19½ inches. Weight for males is about 55 pounds, for females it’s about 48 pounds. Elkhounds are square in profile and close coupled. The distance from the brisket to the ground appears to be half the height at the withers. The distance from fore-chest to the rump equals the height at the withers. Their bone structure is substantial, without being coarse.

The head is broad at the ears, wedge shaped, strong and dry (without loose skin). The expression is keen and alert, indicating a dog with great courage. The eyes are a very dark brown, medium in size, oval, not protruding. The ears are set high, firm and erect, yet very mobile. The ears are comparatively small; slightly taller than their width at the base with pointed (not rounded) tips. When the dog is alert, the orifices turn forward and the outer edges are vertical. When the dog is relaxed or showing affection, the ears go back. Viewed from the side, the forehead and back of the skull are only slightly arched; the stop is not large, yet clearly defined. The muzzle is thickest at the base and, seen from above or from the side, tapers evenly without being pointed. The bridge of the nose is straight, parallel to and about the same length as the skull. Lips are tightly closed and teeth meet in a scissors bite.


The neck of medium length, muscular, well set up with a slight arch and with no loose skin on the throat. The back is straight and strong from its high point at the withers to the root of the tail. The body is short and close-coupled with the rib cage accounting for most of its length. Chest deep and moderately broad; brisket level with points of elbows; and ribs well sprung. The loin is short and wide with very little tuck-up. Tail set high, tightly curled, and carried over the centerline of the back. It is thickly and closely haired, without brush, natural and untrimmed.

Shoulders sloping with elbows closely set on. Legs well under body and medium in length; substantial, but not coarse, in bone. Seen from the front, the legs appear straight and parallel. Single dewclaws are normally present. Feet-Paws comparatively small, slightly oval with tightly closed toes and thick pads. Pasterns are strong and only slightly bent. Feet turn neither in nor out.

Moderate angulation at stifle and hock. Thighs are broad and well muscled. Seen from behind, legs are straight, strong and without dewclaws.

The coat is thick, hard, weather resisting and smooth lying; made up of soft, dense, woolly undercoat and coarse, straight covering hairs. Short and even on head, ears, and front of legs; longest on back of neck, buttocks and underside of tail.

Norwegian Elkhounds are gray, medium preferred, variations in shade determined by the length of black tips and quantity of guard hairs. Undercoat is clear light silver as are legs, stomach, buttocks, and underside of tail. The gray body color is darkest on the saddle, lighter on the chest, mane and distinctive harness mark (a band of longer guard hairs from shoulder to elbow). The muzzle, ears and tail tip are black. The black of the muzzle shades to lighter gray over the forehead and skull. Yellow or brown shading, white patches, indistinct or irregular markings, "sooty" coloring on the lower legs and light circles around the eyes are undesirable.



The gait is normal for an active dog constructed for agility and endurance. At a trot the stride is even and effortless; the back remains level. As the speed of the trot increases, front and rear legs converge equally in straight lines toward a center line beneath the body, so that the pads appear to follow in the same tracks (single track). Front and rear quarters are well balanced in angulation and muscular development.

The temperament of the Norwegian Elkhound is bold and energetic, an effective guardian yet normally friendly, with great dignity and independence of character.

The Norwegian Elkhound is a square and athletic member of the northern dog family. His unique coloring, weather resistant coat and stable disposition make him an ideal multipurpose dog at work or at play.