Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Dunker
Canarian / Wikipedia.org

In his native Norway, the Dunker is also known by the name of Norwegian Hound. The Dunker is a tracker dog with a great sense of smell, which has been around since the 1800s. The Dunker is very much a working dog, and is best kept as such rather than as a pet. This isn’t a reflection on his character or manners, which are impeccable, but more on his need for exercise and a superb talent at tracking.

He’s also a roughy-toughy soul capable of coping with severe weather conditions. Indeed, an ability to cope with severe freezing conditions is one of the reasons the breed was created in the 1800s.

A kind and tolerant breed, the Dunker is good natured; but his longing for the great outdoors and need for extreme amounts of exercise mean he’s rarely kept as a pet. However, amongst rural communities in Norway, he’s something of a local superstar, much loved and adored for his natural good nature and dedication to work.

About & History

If you’re thinking ‘Dunker’ is a bit of a random name, that’s because the breed is named after one Captain Wilhelm Conrad Dunker who came up with the idea of creating a dog with the breed’s characteristics. In the early 1800s, Captain Dunker spotted a need for a hunting dog capable of coping with the extremes of a Norwegian winter. He selectively breed the hardiest of existing Scandinavian tracking dogs with the Russian Harlequin Hound, to create the breed we now recognise as the Dunker.

Developed for work, the Dunker is a pack animal, very much at his ease amongst other dogs. In common with other pack breeds, he’s a barker and loves the sound of his own voice. The breed is supreme trackers with a wonderful nose for a scent. They also have the physical stamina to follow that scent for miles… and hours… without tiring.


Dunker Large Photo
Canarian / Wikipedia.org

The Dunker is a medium-sized dog with the typical appearance of other scent hounds. This includes a well-developed muzzle (all the better for picking up a smell), and a well-proportioned body. He’s athletic, whilst at the same time being sturdy, as befits such an active dog.

In common with other scent hounds, he has drop ears. Oh, and did you know the purpose of those drop ears? It's because the gentle flapping as the dog sniffs the ground helps to set up micro-air currents that waft scent molecules towards that questing nose. Clever!

One of the most distinctive things about the Dunker is his coat colouration. White provides a background to show off the attractive markings of his patterned coat. He often has touches of fawn on the ears, shoulders, and rump with a darker saddle-area. It is this saddle area that is distinctive as it can be marled or solid, in shades of black or blue. The coat itself is dense and wiry. It’s slightly too long to be considered short coated, yet not long enough to be a long coat; instead, it lies somewhere in between and often has a distinct wave or kink to it.

Character & Temperament

There are many positive words that are used by devoted owners of Dunkers to describe their dogs. The breed forms a strong bond to their owner and is good with adults and children alike. They are also gentle and tolerant, slow to anger and considered placid. Indeed, they make a poor guard dog, as they are more likely to welcome a stranger with a lick rather than growl to warn them off.

This all makes them sound like an ideal dog, whereas they are a product of their environment and even this superb temperament doesn’t mean they make good pets. For one thing, there’s their need for extreme amounts of exercise, then there’s their noisy voices, and finally, a high prey drive. This means the family cat becomes a target of interest for the Dunker who thinks that anything small and furry that runs must be worth hunting.

The exception is those Dunkers that as puppies were socialised with cats or other small pets. This early training can ameliorate the urge to hunt, but even so, the dog is never going to be entirely trustworthy amongst non-canine fur-family members.

Another word of warning is about what happens if the Dunker’s needs are not met. A bored Dunker spells ‘trouble’ with a capital ‘T’. He’s likely to be destructive and vocal, and make you very unpopular with the neighbours in a very short time.


It is a recognised characteristic of scent hounds that they are intelligent but stubborn. This is because their brain is ruled by their nose. When they pick up an interesting scent, it becomes total focus on following that smell to the exclusion of everything else, including the owner’s commands.

Hence the Dunker has a reputation for being on the stubborn side when it comes to training. Add into this that they like to bark and run as a pack, and you have the potential for an unruly group of dogs all excitedly following a scent and doing their own thing. All of which means it takes a special sort of owner, experienced with handling scent hounds, to keep them under control.


Although the Dunker is an active dog, he is prone to certain health problems. This is because of the relative rarity of the breed, meaning there’s a limited gene pool of dogs to call upon. Therefore, when breeding dogs that are closely related, there’s a greater risk of amplifying any genetic issues they have.

Indeed, for this reason, in the 1980s, breeders included some other breeds to widen the gene pool. Whilst there have been no official studies, this seems to have helped, although conditions, such as hip dysplasia, are still relatively common.

Hip Dysplasia

The Dunker is just one of many breeds with a predisposition to hip dysplasia. This condition is distressing as it impairs mobility, leads to early arthritis, and can occur is relatively young dogs. The implications are not good, especially for an active breed like the Dunker.

Dogs with hip dysplasia have poorly shaped hips. The smooth action of the hip joint depends on the head of the thigh bone being round, and sitting snugly in the cup formed by the pelvis. Sadly, in dogs with hip dysplasia the head of the thigh bone is often square or flattened, and only partially sits within the cup of the pelvis.

Running and moving causes knocking of the bones and inflammation. It’s this inflammation that cause pain, and over time, bony changes take place that are consistent with arthritis. Hip dysplasia has a genetic component, meaning that a parent dog with poor hip anatomy will often produce puppies with poor hips. Thus, screening programs that check the hips of the breeding stock is essential if this condition is to be eradicated.


Dunker dogs with one or two blue eyes are at an increased risk of a hereditary form of deafness.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

This condition is one usually associated with the Collie breeds, but also, unfortunately, affects the Dunker. Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) causes gradual loss of vision. Affected individuals can become blind at a young age, which again, is bad news when a dog lives to be active.

Sadly, there is no treatment so careful selection of the parent dogs, and only breeding from those with healthy eyes, is essential for the future welfare of the breed.

Ear Infections

Those lovely droopy ears reduce the amount of air circulating within the ear canal, making it an inviting warm and humid environment for bacteria and yeasts. The wise Dunker owner checks their dog’s ears daily and is alert for any unusual smells or discharge. Keeping the ears clean is beneficial, but if the ear appears red or painful, then veterinary attention is essential.

Weight Gain

And, finally, active breeds are prone to weight gain when they don’t receive enough exercise. Breeds, such as the Dunker, usually have a hearty appetite, which isn’t proportionately reduced when they have less walks and runs than a working dog. That steady trickle of extra calories soon accumulates as extra body fat and risks the dog becoming obese.

Exercise and Activity Levels

When it comes to exercise, think of the Dunker as a great running companion when training for a marathon, rather than a laid-back couch potato. This is a dog with a need for speed, who isn’t content with resting for long in one place.

The Dunker must get plenty of exercise every day in order to be happy. This means vigorous runs, lasting for at least an hour, rather than a gentle stroll round the block. However, this can be trickier than it sounds in a city environment. The Dunker likes to roam, and when off leash may seize the opportunity to go exploring. This means keeping him on the leash, which also means the owner will get fit quick keeping up with this active dog.


The Dunker is one of those breeds that needs little by way of coat maintenance. His heritage means his coat is naturally waterproof and provides good insulation against the weather. The downside of the Dunker is that outdoor coat has a reputation for shedding heavily, especially when kept indoors. If the Dunker is your chosen pet, then be prepared for drifts of hair around the room and on soft furnishings.

To pamper the Dunker could do more harm than good, as shampooing will strip the waterproofing oils from his coat. However, this doesn’t mean turning a blind eye to the dog’s coat care. Be sure to check him over daily for ticks and grass awns in his coat, and weekly for skin lumps or bumps that might need checking by a vet.

Famous Dunkers

If you search #Dunker on Instagram, you're likely to find a plethora of basketball players, rather than the gorgeous Norwegian Hound. Just as he is hardly known in real life, he is also rare on social media, because this gorgeous hound is just too busy hunting and exploring the great outdoors. If it's photographs you're after though, you may be interested in checking out this Pinterest board.


The Dunker is a local star in parts of Norway, but little known in other parts of the world. Those people that own Dunkers have selected them specifically for the breed qualities of endurance and tracking. Therefore, they are not used to create hybrids as the purebred dog is more valuable to them.

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