Jämthund

Linda Simon
Dr Linda Simon (MVB MRCVS, University College Dublin)
 
Photo of adult Jämthund

Jämthund, also known as the Swedish Elkhound, are a versatile breed of dog that originated within central Sweden and closely resembles their ancestor – the wolf. With their thick, luxurious coat and light and dark colouring, they are an unquestionably attractive breed. While nowadays they are often kept as family pets, they were originally kept as hunters and guard dogs.

A large, Spitz-type dog, they share many of their physical features with the closely related Norwegian Elkhound. They are, at times, a wilful breed and can show resistance to certain training methods. High energy dogs, they relish being outdoors and active, particularly in the snow.

About & History

It is widely believed that the Jämthund, or Swedish Elkhound, is one of the most ancient breeds of all. As their name suggests, they originally hail from Sweden, from a central region called ‘Jamtland’. The Jamtland is renowned for having particularly severe weather conditions, and so only the hardiest of dogs would have survived in olden times. It is thought that they have been in existence from the dawn of civilisation, making the tracing of their exact origin practically impossible.

The original purpose of the Jämthund was that of a hunting dog. They were used to hunt bears, wolves, and, of course, elk. In order to successfully hunt such physically intimidating creatures, this breed has developed to be incredibly powerful and brave. While mainly used as hunters, local people also kept them as pets, guard dogs, and even sled dogs. Their versatility, and ability to survive in such an unforgiving climate, is surely what led to their local popularity.

DNA testing has proven that the Jämthund originated from the crossing of a female wolf and a male dog. They are described as a ‘Spitz-type dog’ and are the tallest of the Spitz family. A Spitz dog will have dense, thick fur, pointed ears, a long muzzle and a curled tail. These dogs are generally described as ‘Wolf-like’. Other Spitz breeds include the Akita, Keeshond and Samoyed.

There are a variety of closely-related dog breed within Scandinavia, that up until recently, had been classified alongside the Jämthund. These include the Finnish Lapphund and Swedish Lapphund and the Norwegian Elkhound. As a matter of fact, the Jämthund is so similar in appearance to the Norwegian Elkhound, that for many years it was thought to be a larger variant. It was not until 1946 that the Jämthund was recognised as a breed in its own right. This recognition was mainly due to the efforts of a man called Aksel Lindstrom. Mr. Lindstrom had a passion for sledding, and was disappointed to find that the Jämthund, an accomplished sled dog, was becoming rare within its own native territory of Sweden. He wrote an article for a newspaper, and through this article, got in contact with a man called Count Bjorn Van Rosen. Their activism led to the breed’s recognition by the Swedish Kennel Club, and quite possibly saved them from eventual extinction.

Within Sweden, the Jämthund is legendary for its apparent ability to take on bears with great courage. They are often referred to as a ‘bear dog’ for this reason. Present today in countries known for their extreme winter condition, such as Canada and Russia, the Jämthund has now spread far afield from Scandinavia. Despite their migration, they have only left their homeland in small numbers and it is still rare to find them outside of Sweden. While still often kept as a working dog, they are equally commonly seen as family pets. The UKC finally accepted the Jämthund as an official breed in 2006.

Appearance

Jämthund Large Photo

Undeniably very closely related to the wolf, the Jämthund could easily be mistaken for one when seen from a distance. Their body is rectangular in shape, and they should be longer than they are tall. Their overall body shape is very similar to that of the wolf and should be robust and athletic.Their head should be long and broad, with a wide muzzle and erect triangular ears that are spaced wide apart on their skull. They have dark brown, expressive eyes. Males stand at 57-65cm, while females will stand smaller at 52-60cm. The male will weigh in at 30-35kg, and the female will usually weigh between 25 and 30kg.

Their plush double coat is incredibly thick and weather-proof – a necessity in the deep snow. The outer coat is more harsh and resistant than their soft, woollen cream-coloured undercoat. Their coat colours include white, cream, black and various shades of grey, though their overall coat should be predominantly dark. Their characteristic tail should curl naturally over their body and be thickly feathered.

Distinguishing this breed from the Norwegian Elkhound can be difficult at times, but the general rule is that the Norwegian Elkhound will be shorter and sturdier. They also tend to have a black facial mask, while the Jämthund has a white one.

Character & Temperament

Not unexpectedly for a dog widely celebrated for its ability to hunt wolves and bears, the Jämthund is courageous and daring. Despite their undisputed strength, they do not tend to be aggressive with humans, and are generally very affectionate with those they trust. They are known for being particularly calm and gentle with children and make very good guard dogs, as they are alert and protective of those they love.

It is widely accepted that they should not be trusted with other animals and should be introduced to other family pets from a young age if disputes over territory and authority are to be avoided. Similarly, they are known to chase and hunt small animals, so should be kept on a lead when in public places.

Trainability

Photo of Jämthund puppy

Often referred to as ‘stubborn’, while their independence served them well in their past, they can be a handful to train. Their ideal trainer will be very firm and dominant, using consistent training techniques and not allowing the Jämthund to get away with anything.

They are irrefutably intelligent and can pick up on new tasks quickly. Their intellect has assured them entry into a variety of different disciplines, including shepherding, hunting, sledding and even military work.

Health

While the Jämthund is recognised for having good overall health, they can be more disposed to developing certain health issues than other breeds. These conditions include:

  • Hip Dysplasia – This is a condition affecting the hip joints of the back limbs that is commonly seen within the canine population. The hip joint does not form as it should as the dog develops, leading to a ball and socket joint, which does not fit together as it ought to. Over time, this will lead to degeneration and the development of a painful osteoarthritis. Unfortunately, this condition gets worse over time.
  • Elbow Dysplasia – Elbow dysplasia is actually an umbrella term that includes a handful of recognised elbow diseases. These include osteochondrosis, fragmentation of the coronoid process, ununited anconeal process and medial compartment disease. If your dog is affected you will notice that it will limp, may walk or trot with a ‘head bob’ and will not be as keen to exercise as it had once been. Diagnosis is via advanced imaging of the elbows. Surgery may be beneficial for some dogs.
  • Skin Allergies – Often quoted as the number one reason why dogs visit the vet, the Jämthund is not alone when it comes to suffering from skin disease. Dogs can be allergic to a huge array of things within their environment, including every day foods, house dust mites and fungal spores. Signs of skin allergies are varied, but can include red skin, pruritus (itching) and puffy eyes. An affected dog may be seen licking their feet, scratching all over or rubbing their faces on the ground. Notoriously difficult to manage, affected animals will often require lifelong trips to the vet and medication to keep their symptoms controlled.
  • Obesity – An overweight dog is more likely to develop certain diseases throughout their lifetime, including diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers. Obese animals will also more commonly suffer with osteoarthritis. Sensible feeding and exercise can easily prevent this problem from ever occurring. While a thick layer of fat is protective in cold conditions, it does not benefit a dog who is protected from the elements all year round in a heated home!
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy – A study performed in 2010 highlighted the occurrence of this disease within the breed. While it was known that the Jämthund was prone to blindness, it had not been determined exactly why. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is a degenerative eye disorder that must be screened for in breeding animals.

Exercise and Activity Levels

A vivacious, high energy dog, the Jämthund benefits from access to wide open spaces and the ability to roam freely. It would be unfair to confine these animals to a small home or apartment. They enjoy going for long hikes and runs each day and have impressive stamina when out and about.

Unsurprisingly, when not provided with appropriate exercise, the Jämthund will use its energy elsewhere, often developing unwanted behaviours.

Grooming

Brushing their coat every few days can help to keep it in top condition. They should be bathed only when necessary, as washing them strips away the natural weather resistance of their coat.

Famous Jämthunds

Confined mainly to Sweden, the Jämthund does not have any celebrity breed members.

Cross-Breeds

While you may find certain cross-breeds, such as a Jämthund cross German Shepherd or Jämthund cross Alaskan Malamute online, these are rare examples, and there are no recognised cross breeds of the Jämthund as of yet.

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