Someone once said to me: “Norwegian Elkhounds ... ah yes, they were bred in the Netherlands to work on barges.” Unsurprisingly, this isn’t true. Norwegian Elkhounds originate, you guessed it, in Norway, and were bred to hunt Elk. But, to be fair to this chap in case he ever reads this, he wasn’t quite as daft as he sounds. He was probably thinking of the Keeshond, which looks like a small Elkhound that has been through a tumble dryer.
The breed name “Norwegian Elkhound” is a translation of “Norsk Elghund”, meaning “Norwegian Moose Dog”. In fact, you will sometimes hear them referred to as “Moose Dogs”, particularly in the USA.
Elk? Moose? Eh?
The elk (in Europe) and moose (in North America) we’re talking about are the ones with the flatter leaf-shaped antlers. Not the ones with the twig-shaped antlers. For the scientifically minded, that’s Alces alces.
That’s Elk and Moose cleared up ... what about the Hound bit?
During the hunt, the Elkhound’s job is to track down the moose. There are two styles of hunting and dogs are used as a loshund (free running) or as a bandhund (on an 8 to 10 foot lead and harness).
Dogs working as a loshund are taken to an area where there are likely to be moose and released off lead. They will range the area to catch a scent, before returning to the hunter to signal the chase is on and then heading off in pursuit. Dogs must work silently so as not to warn the moose of its approach but, as soon it is close enough and the moose is stationary, they will start to bark. Moose aren’t frightened, but curious and slightly annoyed. Sometimes lunging at the dogs, Elkhounds need to be intelligent, bold, fast and agile. The barking will also alert the hunter, who could be several miles away through thick forest. So it’s loud. Very loud. Dogs have to work hard to hold the moose and distract it from the approaching hunter, while using restraint so the moose doesn’t run away.
Dogs working as a bandhund lead the hunter to the moose using the wind so the dog can scent the moose, without the moose being able to scent, or hear, the dog and hunter. There is no barking involved with bandhunds. Instead they use physical signals that they have found the moose, such as raising their hackles.
Moose are big, so Elkhounds must be too?
Weighing in at just 30-50 lb / 15-25 kg, Elkhounds are surprisingly small. Imagine that taking on a 2000 lb moose or 800 lb bear! What they lack in size they make up for in pluck. They’re self-confident, intelligent, agile and full of energy. Luckily for us pet-owners, they’re also loyal, loving and very sweet-natured.