What To Know About Norwegian Elkhounds

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on May 03, 2022
7 min read

Norwegian elkhounds are strong and dependable working dogs in the hound group. They’re considered hounds because of their tracking abilities. But they don’t look anything like the droopy-eared, large-eyed hounds that were bred in southern climates — like bloodhounds.

Instead, these are hardy northern dogs that can handle harsh weather conditions. Their eyes and ears are alert. Their size makes them perfect for trapping big game. And keep in mind that these dogs aren’t just for work — they enjoy play and can be a delightful addition to a variety of homes. 

Body size. Norwegian elkhounds are a medium-sized breed. The average Norwegian elkhound size is slightly larger for males than for females. Males are an average of 20.5 inches at their withers. Females are about an inch shorter — averaging around 19.5 inches tall. Males weigh an average of 55 pounds and females are just slightly lighter — weighing an average of 48 pounds. 

Body shape. Norwegian elkhounds have square profiles and balanced proportions. Norwegian elkhound traits include wedge-shaped heads with high-set ears. These erect ears are always moving, trying to pick up new sounds from their environment. Their muzzles are thickest at the base and taper towards the end without reaching a definitive point. Their tails are set high on their rumps and are tightly curled.

Lifespan. The Norwegian elkhound lifespan is an average of 12 to 15 years. This means that you can expect a reasonably long life with your pet — especially if you adopt them when they’re still a puppy. 

Coat. Norwegian elkhounds have a double coat with a medium length. A double coat means that they have two distinct coat types — each with its own properties. The undercoat is soft, dense, and woolly. The overcoat is coarser and straight. The overall effect is lush and thorough coverage. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes seven color combinations for the breed, including:

  • Black and grey
  • Black and silver
  • Black, white, and silver
  • Grey, black, and silver

There aren’t any standard markings associated with the breed. 

Eyes. They have medium-sized, oval eyes. They’re usually dark brown in color and evenly set within the skull. 

Personality. Norwegian elkhounds have friendly, dependable personalities. They behave with dignity but also love to play. The Norwegian elkhound temperament is bold and energetic. They’re independent creatures that can take care of themselves — and will sometimes try to take care of you. They’re strong, intelligent dogs that can serve as both companions and hard workers. 

Grooming. Norwegian Elkhounds shed a little bit all year round. It becomes much worse during shedding season which happens about twice a year. 

You should brush your dog’s coats for at least two minutes every day. Then increase it to several minutes a day during shedding season. Stick to a technique called back brushing — where you brush against the direction that your dog’s coat grows in. This’ll remove more fur than normal brushing. 

The texture of their coat prevents the build-up of that traditional dog smell, so you’ll only need to bathe your dog a couple of times a year. Otherwise, you should trim your dog’s nails as needed and brush their teeth daily to complete their grooming routine. 

Feeding. Make sure that you have clean water available for your dog at all times. 

Find a high-quality dog food that your dog likes or talk to your veterinarian about the best ways to make your own food. Feed them the appropriate amount for their age and size. 

Norwegian elkhounds love food and won’t hesitate to beg for more. They’ll eat almost anything that they’re given and can struggle with obesity. If your dog is at a healthy weight then the region behind their rib cage will sink into their body as they eat. This won’t be visible in an overweight dog. Overweight elkhounds also develop a rolling motion when they walk, so keep an eye out for changes to your dog's gait — particularly around their back and hind legs. 

Exercise and mental stimulation. Norwegian elkhounds were bred to track game across miles of rough terrain for days at a time. This means that they have a reasonable amount of energy that needs to be burned off. 

They enjoy long walks and hikes in the woods. But resist letting them wander off-leash. They love to explore their environments and won’t hesitate to wander off. They’re great swimmers and can provide fierce competition in herding and agility trials, too. They do have a need for mental stimulation as well, so keep them occupied with games or new places to sniff. 

Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. All dogs need a core set of vaccinations. You should talk to your veterinarian about the exact timing of these vaccinations and any follow-up needs. Core vaccinations include:

These can begin as early as six weeks of age. There are also other non-core vaccinations that you can discuss with your veterinarian. 

Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog's weight. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors. Use them as needed. Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, so talk to your veterinarian to figure out the best one for you. Heartworm medication is also recommended year-round in all parts of the U.S.

Norwegian elkhounds are an incredibly healthy breed. Their medium size means that they don’t have a lot of the problems associated with larger dogs. They also carry few genetic problems in their bloodlines. 

Some Norwegian elkhound health issues include: 

  • Hip dysplasiaThis is a condition that’s present in a dog from birth. Their leg bone doesn’t fit properly in the hip joint — which can lead to pain and problems walking. 
  • Kidney problems. These are more of a historic than a current problem for the breed as a whole, but can still occur in your individual animal. Your veterinarian should carefully evaluate your dog to make sure that they don’t develop any kidney problems. An example is Fanconi syndrome, a kidney condition that leads to an excessive loss of nutrients in your dog. It can be treated with supplements if caught early, but will lead to death if it’s not diagnosed in time. 
  • Patellar luxation. This is a common cause of lameness in dogs that is due to problems with your pet’s knee joint. They could be born with it or develop the problem from an injury. The treatment will depend on how severe your dog’s condition is but could include surgery.
  • Eye problems. One eye problem is progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) where your dog will eventually go blind. You may start to notice them struggling to see at first, particularly at dusk and dawn. At present, there isn’t a treatment for this condition. Your vet should perform annual eye exams to look for any signs of deterioration.
  • Skin issues. An example is moist dermatitis. There are a variety of treatments for your dog’s skin conditions depending on how severe they are. 
  • Thyroid problems. Your veterinarian can specifically test your pet for thyroid problems like hypothyroidism.
  • Sebaceous cysts. These are small, round growths that can form on your dog's skin. They can form on your dog’s head, neck, body, or legs and produce a thick discharge. They’re not a severe threat to your pet’s health but can become infected. In this case, you’ll have to keep the area clean.

Elkhounds are fantastic hunting companions — particularly if you’re after large game. There’s one particular hunting method that the dogs were bred to perform. These fearless animals are confident enough to chase and corner large prey. Then they can confuse the animal by darting at it and dodging its attacks. They also bark a lot when their prey is stationary so you can find them. 

Common prey includes:

  • Elk or moose
  • Bear
  • Wolves
  • Other large game

The breed does tend to bark a lot — even when unprovoked. On a positive note, they don’t drool very much and only shed a moderate amount. 

Before bringing one home, keep in mind that they’re not always friendly with strangers, young children, and other dogs. Always make sure that your dog feels safe before leaving them alone with others.  

Norwegian elkhounds are one of the most ancient breeds of dogs that are still alive today. They’re at least partially descended from the ancestors of the grey wolves that still live in central Europe and western Russia. 

The original breeders were likely Nordic hunters from the stone age. One of the earliest skeletons from this breed was found along with stone tools in a cave in Jaeren — in Western Norway. The artifacts and bones date between 4,000 and 5,000 B.C. The dogs are also present in ancient Norse sagas and other forms of art. Among the many entertaining stories about this breed is one from the middle ages where an elkhound was rumored to be king of Throndjem. 

Norwegian elkhounds clearly sailed the world with the Vikings. They were important enough to be buried in the same graves as their owners — along with their swords and shields. 

These dogs first came to England at the end of the 19th century. They’re currently the national dog of Norway. Both traditionally and today, they’re used in a large number of tasks outside of hunting including: 

  • Guarding farms and other property
  • Herding livestock
  • Protecting families from dangerous wildlife
  • Hauling goods
  • Serving as companions to wanderers

They’re very versatile dogs that have been with humans for over 6,000 years. If humans are careful, this breed is sturdy enough to last for 6,000 more.