Black Norwegian Elkhound

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Black Norwegian Elkhound

The Black Norwegian Elkhound, or the Norsk Elghund Sort is directly derived from the standard grey Norwegian Elkhound, though is, of course, black in colour. The black Elkhounds are smaller and more nimble than the original greys. The huge, and very obvious, advantage that they have over their predecessor, is that they are immediately visible to the human eye in the white snow, which is a very appealing trait in the wintery climate of their native Norway.

This medium-sized darkly coloured hound has a compact body and a thick and dense double coat that must be solid black in colour. Traditionally used for hunting, tracking and sledding, these are a versatile breed of dog that are not well known outside of their native Scandinavia.

About & History

The original Norwegian Elkhound is thought to have been around since the Stone Age, so is a truly ancient breed. Working alongside the Viking people, these Elkhounds were kept as both hunters and guard dogs. Equally adept at hunting both large and small prey, they have traditionally been used to track anything from as small as a rabbit to as large and impressive as a moose. With their remarkable sense of smell, they can track animals from up to a mile away. While they do not kill the prey, they will prevent the animal from escaping, and bark to alert the hunter of its presence.

So prized are the dogs and their abilities, it is widely believed that the Defense Minister of Norway possesses the power to assemble all privately-owned Elkhounds at times of war! If this is in fact true, quite what they would be used for in modern war is open to interpretation.

It was only around 200 years ago that the black variant of the Norwegian Elkhound came into existence, when a group of the original grey Norwegian Elkhound breeders began to selectively breed in favour of the black puppies that were sometimes produced. Not originally recognised as a breed by the official registries, more emphasis was placed on their ability and athleticism than their appearance when breeding them – a fact that has surely benefited them in the long run. Their sense of smell, used effectively for tracking their prey, is thought to be more keenly developed than that of the grey Elkhound.

While eventually recognised as a breed in their own right, they have never come close to matching the popularity of the original Norwegian Elkhound. In fact, they would have surely become extinct in the 1950s were it not for a handful of enthusiastic fanciers who were eager to keep the breed alive. Rarely found today outside of Norway, they have a small following within their home country, with roughly 100 or so new puppies being registered each year.

The Elkhound’s name arises from the direct translation of the Norwegian for ‘moose dog’ or ‘elg hund’. With their thick coats and pointed ears and muzzles, they are a classical Spitz type dog, like the Akita or Swedish Lapphund. Spitz type dogs are notoriously well suited to harsh climates and are working breeds that have recently been found to have similar DNA to wolves.

Appearance

Black Norwegian Elkhound Large Photo
Rvenes / Wikipedia.org

While sharing many similarities with the grey variant, the Black Norwegian Elkhound is defined by its shiny, solid black coat. They are slightly smaller and lighter than their grey cousin, measuring from 42cm to 50cm, which is, on average, 5cms shorter. Understandably, they will also weigh less: a typical dog weighs on average 20kg (so, somewhere between 17-23kg), a good kilo or two lighter than the typical Grey Elkhound.

This is where the differences end however, as they share the characteristics of having a sturdy, compact body, a straight back and a densely furred tail that is wound tightly and carried over the back. Their oval-shaped paws with small pads are perfect for walking across snow and icy ground.

Their weather proof coat is one of their greatest assets, with a thick, harsh outer layer keeping them protected from external elements, and a softer interior coat that is particularly dense.

Character & Temperament

When highly trained, this is a dog that loves to work and excels at what it does. This breed enjoys being given tasks to complete and can become demanding if not adequately stimulated. Known for being naturally more ambitious and work-oriented than the grey Norwegian Elkhound, the Black Norwegian Elkhound can also be more likely to display negative behaviours towards people and other animals, such as wariness or aggression. Despite this tendency, they are loyal and affectionate to those they know, and can make good family pets in the right conditions.

These dogs can easily become highly strung and anxious unless their abundant energy is directed into something positive. Aggression with other dogs is not unheard of, and it is sensible if using them as a sled dog, to pair a male and a female side by side to avoid the potential conflict of pairing two males together. Caution is advised with other pets, particularly those that are smaller, as they may not initially accept them as members of the family.

As they have been bred to do so, is in their nature to bark; indeed, it is encouraged when they are working. Thus, their owner needs to be understanding of this predisposition. They make good guard dogs and barking at strangers or new situations is very common. If this is an undesired trait, keep in mind that it can be a very difficult habit to break.

Trainability

Photo of Black Norwegian Elkhound puppy
Eirik Newth / Flickr.com

Often described as independent, it is not unusual for Black Norwegian Elkhounds to roam, and they need a strong leader who can overcome the natural resistance they may initially show when training. They must not be allowed to get away with bad behaviours, and consistency is key.

A firm, yet gentle approach is often rewarded with a good response. Positive reinforcement training is far superior to punishment-based training, which they would resent. Treat-orientated training tends to work particularly well.

Health

With a lifespan of 12 to 15 years, these are a long-lived breed who tend to have a good quality of life when it comes to their health. However, there are a few conditions that the Black Norwegian Elkhound is most likely to suffer from, including:

  • Hip Dysplasia – Often seen in medium to large breed dogs, this is a progressive condition affecting the hip joints. Malformed hip joints lead to osteoarthritis and chronic pain, which worsens as the dog ages. Selective breeding within the population should be employed to reduce the incidence of this debilitating disease.
  • Obesity – It has recently been proven that some dogs are more genetically susceptible to obesity, and one would have to wonder if the Black Norwegian Elkhound is one of these dogs. If given the opportunity, they will overeat, and have a natural propensity to put on fat. While the extra fat stores likely benefit them when outside in the harsh Scandinavian winters, it is critical that Elkhounds kept as pets within a home are not allowed to become overweight. As their nose is well adapted to seek out food, owners need to be vigilant both in and outside of the home.
  • Hypothyroidism – A hormonal condition in which the body does not produce enough thyroid hormone, resulting in a sluggish metabolism. Affected dogs will generally have a poor coat condition, be prone to infections, and find it difficult to lose weight. Lifelong medication can adequately control the disease.
  • PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) – This ocular disease can be truly devastating to a dog, as it will eventually result in blindness. It is vital that any affected dog should not be bred from, as this is a known genetic disease.
  • Glaucoma – This is an abnormal increase in ocular pressure due to increased pressure, resulting in severe pain. It can be diagnosed by measuring the intra-ocular pressure.
  • Fanconi Syndrome – This is a rare condition resulting in a variety of important substances, such as proteins and salts being lost through the kidneys. Affected dogs will have a decreased lifespan.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The importance of providing adequate exercise for this breed cannot be over-emphasized. Black Norwegian Elkhounds thrive when they are outside and working hard, and do well, even in the harshest of conditions. They should be kept on lead if roaming is undesirable, as it is not unusual for them to follow a scent and ignore a cue to return.

They flourish when presented with a task to complete, and excel in the sporting community, participating successfully in a variety of activities, such as agility and tracking. To deprive them the opportunity to participate in such enjoyable activities to which they are so well adapted would be a shame.

Grooming

Their thick coat requires brushing several times a week, or daily during a heavy shed. Their coat is weatherproof, and they should not be over-bathed if this feature is to be maintained. Many owners claim that their Elkhound’s fur does not have a ‘doggy’ smell, and bathing to remove odours from their coat is often not necessitated.

Famous Black Norwegian Elkhounds

There are no famous examples of this breed just yet. In fact, they are relatively uncommon outside of their native Norway. Plenty owners of the breed, however, have shared a fair few photos of the Black Norweigan Elkhound on Instagram, so those may be worth a gander for anyone researching and considering the breed.

Cross-Breeds

There are no popular cross-breeds of the Black Norwegian Elkhound.

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