Norwegian Lundehund

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

The Norwegian Lundehund is a unique and intriguing breed. Once used in their native Norway to hunt puffin birds, they were well suited to the job due to their dexterity and flexible joints. They possess several characteristics that made them well-suited to their job, including additional toes, a flexible neck and adjustable ears.

Now recognised as an excellent family pet, and no longer used to hunt, the Norwegian Lundehund can more often be found snuggled up by the sitting room fire than roaming the wet and windy Scandinavian cliffs. Unfortunately, the prevalence of gastrointestinal disease within the breed is very high. This has led to the recent implementation of an ‘out-breeding’ programme with closely related dog breeds – an innovative scheme run by the Norwegian Kennel Club.

About & History

Some claim that the Norwegian Lundehund dates as far back as the Ice Age, though this is impossible to prove. Certainly, there have been records of the breed in written history for many hundreds of years. It is widely believed that they co-existed with the Vikings, who utilised them to hunt the local puffin birds for their valuable meat and feathers. They would hunt young puffins who were within their nests on the cliffs in inaccessible places. In fact, their name translates to mean ‘Puffin Dog’. It was important that they did not damage the bird, its down or feathers, and were trained to bring it back to the hunter unscathed.

Their natural agility and unique conformation made them superior bird hunters, as they nimbly made their way around the coastal cliffs, fitting into the narrowest of spaces. Despite their talents, the breed began to fall out of favour when huntsmen developed new hunting methods (which generally involved the use of nets). Around the same time, Norway introduced a dog tax, a fee that was unaffordable to many owners; particularly those who owned several Lundehunds.

The breed was dealt a further blow in the 1940s when there was a local outbreak of Distemper Virus. While this disease is rare today due to modern advances in canine vaccinations, most of the dogs contracted the virus and perished. Just twenty years later, it is reported that there was a further Distemper Virus outbreak, decimating the population and leaving just a handful of Norwegian Lundehunds (some reports state as low as four) available for breeding.

A woman named Eleanor Christie proved herself to be essential in the preservation of the breed in the 1900s. She and her husband opened a kennel, and she later participated her animals in a breeding programme, with the aim of bolstering breed numbers.

As of 2012, there were about 1,400 registered Norwegian Lundehunds, with roughly a third of these being in Norway. The Norwegian Kennel Club has approved a breeding plan in the hopes of increasing the numbers of Norwegian Lundehunds worldwide. Interestingly, the average litter size of the breed is only 2.75, much lower than the typical dog. The breeding plan includes the provision that anyone who buys a female puppy must commit to breeding her at least once. Fascinatingly, Tromsø Airport in Norway has recently used the Norwegian Lundehund to gather seagull eggs, in a bid to reduce the numbers of nearby birds, and thus reduce the risk of airplane bird strikes.

Appearance

Norwegian Lundehund Large Photo

A Spitz-type, the Norwegian Lundehund should be longer than they are tall with a triangular-shaped head and a long muzzle. It is vital that their body type allows ease of movement and great flexibility. Their neck and shoulders should be particularly supple.

They must be able to fold over the cartilage in their ears (which would have protected the ear canal from trapping dirt and grime when hunting). Their eyes should be a yellow-brown colour and almond in shape. Their oval feet should each have six toes. While their limbs should be muscular, they must also be lightweight and allow fluidity in their movement. Over-exaggerated features are to be avoided.

They have a weather-proof double coat. The coat colour can be varying shades of brown and may have black tips and white markings. Females are small in stature, standing at 32-35cms, while males stand at a height of 35-38cms. While females will weigh roughly 6kg, males tend to weigh closer to 7kg.

Character & Temperament

Typically, the Norwegian Lundehund is a good-natured and social little dog. They are known to be stand-offish with those they don’t know and may take some time to warm up when first introduced to a new person.

With their family, they are devoted and affectionate. However, some dogs can become over reliant on their owners, and may be prone to developing separation anxiety. This breed is known to get on exceptionally well with other pets within the household and are very tolerant of young children.

Trainability

Photo of Norwegian Lundehund puppy

Retaining their hunting instincts, the Norwegian Lundehund is particularly good at retrieving. As they would have done with a puffin bird, they will retrieve the desired object with a soft bite, ensuring it is not harmed. They equally enjoy taking part in tracking work, in which they excel.

This breed tends to listen well to their master but is also content to work alone or alongside other dogs. They do not take well to harsh training methods, as they can be sensitive at times; instead responding best to patience and praise. Quick to learn, they particularly enjoy being given new challenges and puzzles to solve.

Health

The Norwegian Lundehund will usually live to between nine and twelve years old. There are a number of conditions that owners must be aware of, including:

Intestinal Lymphangiectasia (IL)

This is a disease that is known to be prevalent within the breed population, with some reports stating that a third of the breed are affected, while others claim that the true number is actually far higher. This is a disorder of the lymphatic system. The lymph vessels within the gastrointestinal system will dilate, ultimately meaning that proteins are lost from the body. Symptoms will typically begin in middle age and will include diarrhea, vomiting and weight loss. This is a medically managed condition with a guarded prognosis. Prescribed low fat diets can help to improve clinical signs.

A number of other gastrointestinal conditions have been reported within the breed, including Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), Protein Losing Enteropathy (PLE) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Due to this, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis before assuming that all Norwegian Lundehunds with chronic gastro-intestinal signs are suffering from Intestinal Lymphangiectasia.

Cataracts

Ocular cataracts have been reported, particularly in older breed members, though also occurring in juvenile dogs. Eye screening is strongly recommended for any breeding animal.

Patellar Luxation

This is a condition that is not uncommonly seen in clinical practice, particularly in smaller dogs. In affected animals, the kneecap will not sit correctly and will pop in and out of place. Signs include hopping or limping, and generally worsen with time. While some clinical cases can be managed with lifestyle modifications and medication, others will benefit from orthopaedic surgery.

Fertility Issues

Problems with reproducing have been reported in several breed members, including poor sperm quality and difficulty mating. In such a small population where there is a concerted effort to increase breed numbers, this may prove to be a real issue in the future.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Norwegian Lundehunds have a high exercise tolerance and have adapted to be active in all weather conditions. They are particularly well suited to long hikes on mountains or cliffs. They truly relish being outdoors and are audacious explorers. This breed has a propensity to bark and dig – behaviours which may become repetitive and are arguably more common in an under-exercised or under-stimulated dog.

Grooming

Regular brushing is required, as the Norwegian Lundehund can shed quite a lot of fur. The brush used should be rigid enough to rid them of any old undercoat fur.

Famous Norwegian Lundehundene

Solan the Lundehund is a lovely example of the breed who lives in Norway and has over 11,000 followers on Instagram.

Cross-Breeds

The Norwegian Kennel Club has recently developed an ‘Outcross Programme’ in the hopes of reducing the incidence of gastrointestinal disease within the population. Norwegian Lundehunds are bred to three similar breeds: the Norwegian Buhund, Norrbottenspets, and the Icelandic Sheepdog.

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