Early development and history of the breed
Northern Europe we find descendants of the Spitz type
- they followed man on his trek as the edge of the glacier receded
at the end of the Ice Age. Here, climate and vegetation could
vary greatly; from the forests to the mountains and valleys,
to the rocky coasts and fjords of Norway, to the Tundra of the
Arctic circle. It was a foreboding environment.
All along Norways 1,110-mile length, fingers of ocean
wind inland between steep mountains. Three-quarters of the land
is rocky slope, bleak plateau, lake or glacial ice. Forests
cloak nearly a quarter in conifers and birch; scarcely four
per cent is flat and fertile. Thus with its face to the sea,
its rugged interior hostile to the plough, the fjord country
in Norway saw the flowering of the Viking Era. To survive, man
was forced to utilise whatever natural resources he could; while
man and dog in co-operation fared much better.
Although these dogs received little in the way of food or shelter,
there was no place for them if they did not satisfy their existence
by being a hunter, herder or watch dog, Through the process
of selection, the dogs within these environments, were shaped
according their usefulness to man. Within each area, the conditions
would vary greatly as to the requirements for survival, and
hence selection of dogs. Common to all these dogs was their
need for a good coat to survive the cold winters and also as
protection against rain. All were typical Spitz breeds in appearance.
The hunter in the great forests would want a dog that could
track, keep bear or moose at bay and enable the hunter to get
close enough to kill the animal. In the forests of Norway it
was natural to prefer a dog which, in addition to being a guardian
of the home, could also be used for hunting.
As rugged as the land from which he sprang, the Norwegian Elkhound
- a cherished possession of his Viking masters - appears in
much of the folklore of the time. Although he is known as the
"Dog of the Vikings," the Elkhounds association
with man dates from much earlier. In the famous Viste Cave at
Jaeren in Western Norway, archaeological investigations brought
to light a number of stone implements and bones dating from
5000 to 4000 BC.
Included among these remains of an even earlier civilisation
were four skeletons of dogs, two of which were identified by
Professor Brinchmann of the Bergen Museum as being of definite
Norwegian Elkhound type. Even before the Viking Era, the Norwegian
Elkhound began that long and staunch companionship with mankind.
What his earliest duties were we can only surmise, but it is
safe to say they involved the chase and the guardianship of
his master's crude belongings and primitive hearth.
The Viking Period and beyond
The Vikings were bold and daring Norsemen who travelled the
seas, sailing in large, skillfully designed ships made of oak.
Up to 60 rowers would be manning these ships. Some of the recordings
of Viking invasions are somewhat romanticised but, as the story
goes, while their menfolk were away, their wives, children and
elderly took care of the farms with the help of dogs. Dogs were
the prized possessions of the Vikings, serving as, guardians,
comrades and hunters at home and on the farm.
Viking ships were often used as burial ships with the dead being
placed in special burial chambers what included their possessions,
clothing, jewellery food and dogs. The skeletons of at least
six dogs were found outside the "Gokstad" (one of
three Viking ships excavated in the nineteenth century). Study
and research categorised these dog bones as having a strong
resemblance to an Elkhound-type breed of dog. From the present
time, right back through the centuries of recorded time, Elkhounds
have been kept in Norwegian rural districts by farmers, herdsmen,
and hunters to serve as watchdogs, guardians of flocks, and
trackers of big game: moose, reindeer, and bear. A rigorous
climate, often sub-arctic, a wild country of forests, and both
dogs and owners had to be strong and hardy to withstand such
With the passing of the Viking period and the arrival of Christianity
in Norway, little was recorded about the Norwegian Elkhound.
The country suffered from the ravages of man and nature and
deadly plagues took their toll. Gradually, groups of homeless
people from surrounding countries began to filter back into
Norway, accompanied by Elkhounds to help them hunt big game
in the rugged mountains and deep snow.
A much more recent period in Norse history was the 20 year stretch
between 1825 and 1845 known as the Wolf Period. During this
time, many thousands of hungry wolves swarmed through Scandinavia,
killing much of the livestock including many dogs. The Norwegian
Elkhound is credited with ridding the country of these wolves
through its skill of ingenuity and fearless fighting. The folklore
preserving the history of the wolf period portrays the Norwegian
Elkhound as its hero and gives the exact night of the incident
- February 14th 1842.
night - a piece of Elkhound history
Dogs and livestock were barricaded in sheds at night to protect
them from marauding wolves. Fanarouk, an Norwegian Elkhound
known for his leadership qualities, had just lain down in the
straw when he heard screams from his little brother Purven.
Somehow, he had been off playing when the others had been closed
in for the night. Purven stood no chance against the wolves
and was killed. Fanarok vowed to revenge Purven's death and
with mournful howls he sent the message to farm after farm throughout
The next night, as he sat alone on the ice in the middle of
Lake Juveren, the wolves began to approach. Suddenly Fanarok
moved to the other edge of the lake where eight strong Elkhounds
lay waiting. The noise from the ensuing encounter between wolves
and dogs attracted additional hungry wolves as well as farmers
with clubs and weapons. The raging farmers encircled the small
lake and began closing in on the surprised wolves, retaliating
for 20 years of torment. By morning, Norway was rid of wolves
and the Norwegian Elkhound again proved his worth as hunter,
family guardian and protector.
The wolves had taken a heavy toll on the elk population and
by 1830 they were scarce. By 1850 this trend was beginning to
reverse and there was an equal increase in the interest in hunting
and dogs for that purpose.
In 1877 the Norwegian Hunters and Fishing Association held,
in Oslo, its first dog show at which Northern hunting Spitz
breeds were classified as Bear and Moose dogs. There were no
standards at that time and the dogs were judged by hunting men
on their ability to hunt.
That year perhaps marks the beginning of interest in the Norwegian
Elkhound as a show dog. A standard was drawn up shortly after
this first show - based on a puppy born in 1865 - who was destined
to become the cast for today's Norwegian Elkhound was born.
He was called Gamle Bamse Gram and was owned by a well known
sportsman of the time - Consul Jens Gram of Ask, Ringerike.
The Norwegian Kennel Club was founded in 1898 and adopted the
Norsk Dyrehund Graa, the grey Norwegian Elkhound, the National
dog, as its emblem - which it still uses today; the first dog
to be registered was an Norwegian Elkhound. A group of Norwegian
hunters and sportsmen established the Norsk Dyrehundklub in
1899 and began to formulate the breed standard for the Norwegian
Elkhound - the name of the club was changed to the Norsk Elghund
Klub in 1949.
up the Breed Standard
Although a standard had been formulated based on Gamle Bamse
Gram in the late 1870's, it was in 1901 that a separate standard
was considered for grey Elkhounds, although it was not finalised
for several years. In 1902, a committee was formed between the
Norwegian and Swedish Kennel Clubs to discuss the Spitz breeds
and to re-write existing standards. They also sought to decide
whether the Norsk Elghund Graa and the taller, longer cast,
Swedish variety (with longer narrower head, and light cream
or grey patches on cheeks , muzzle, throat ) the Norrland dog
(or Jamthund as it became known in later years) should have
the same standard. For background, it needs to be recognised
that in Sweden, two types of Norwegian Elkhound had evolved
- one, the Grahund - similar to the grey Norwegian Elkhound
and the other - the Norrland dog which was confined to the Northern
area of Sweden where the snow lay much deeper in the hunting
season; the advantage being that this type of dog had the leg
length to cope with such deeper coverings.
By the Spring of 1908 no agreement between the Norwegian Kennel
Club and the Swedish Kennel Club concerning the division of
the Nordic Spitz breeds had been reached. To remedy the need
for a standard, the Norwegian Kennel Club's proposed standard
for the Norsk Elghund Graa was printed in the show catalogue
of the speciality Club's show in Oslo in 1908. However, the
standards for the Jamthund and the other Spitz breeds adopted
by the Swedish Kennel Club in December 1908 were not identical
to those proposed by the Spitz Committee and adopted by the
Norwegian Kennel Club. In 1910, the Swedish Standard for the
Grahund was adopted which was almost identical to that of the
Grey Norwegian Elkhound. The Swedish and Norwegian Kennel Clubs
again agreed a common standard for the grey Norwegian Elkhound
in 1937. The taller dog continued to exist in Jamtland where
it had much favour as a hunting dog and, eventually, in 1946
it was recognised as a separate breed.
The Norwegian Elkhound arrived in England towards the end of
the 19th century. The first one entered in the Kennel Club Stud
Book was Major Godfrey Faussett's Feordig - born 1874.
He may not have been the first here - merely the first to win
a prize to qualify him for entry into the stud book. The first
bitch to enter the stud book was Milly bred by the Hon Mrs Baillie
Hamilton. The first breed classes at Crufts were in 1897 when
the winner was Northern Light.
The first British champion (in 1898) was Ch King - owned by
Capt A W Hicks Beach and bred by Rev Longinetto (a Roman Catholic
priest from Windsor) from Blue Belle ex Jager. From 1908, Elkhounds
were included in a separate breed register in the Kennel Gazette
although it is uncertain what was the exact date of "recognition".
In 1915, Mrs George Powell bred a litter by Wolfram out of Thalma,
a grandaughter of Ch King which contained her own Ch Woden.
In 1923, nearly fifty years after Feordig was registered, the
British Elkhound Society was formed. By that time, approximately
90 Elkhounds had been registered in England. In the same year,
Mr W F Holmes registered two Elkhounds - Dagmar and Olga of
the Holm. Mr Holmes became the leading breeder and exhibitor
with over 35 champions to his credit and imported many Elkhounds
from both Norway and Sweden. Infusion of new blood was much
needed and an excellent article produced by Julia Rands (1938)
entitled "Scandinavian Invasion" sets the scene for
the difference and controversy at the time when the newly imported
"Glitre" dogs first arrived. Quoting , she wrote:
"Certainly there was a difference in type between the "English"
and "Glitre" dogs, but they both had characteristics
rarely found in the breed today. In general appearance they
were both handsome, more massive and rugged than the dogs of
the present day. None of them I should have described as pretty,
an epitaph one constantly finds oneself applying to the exhibits
nowadays. Compared with the "Glitres", some of the
"English" Elkhounds were inclined to look "common",
while the former had a "foreign" appearance to people
accustomed only to the latter. Both were about equally and fairly
inbred. Many of the first crosses between the two strains were
very beautiful and charming animals and we were very pleased
with them; but after them our troubles began".
Space precludes mention of more recent Norwegian Elkhound history
and those who are now involved in the breed - this is well chronicled
in many publications and, especially the excellent book by Anne
Roslin-Williams - The Norwegian Elkhound in the British Isles;
published this year is Juliette Cunliffes book on the
breed which is ideal for anyone contemplating an Elkhound or
when they have their new puppy. Both are available from Our
Dogs Mail Order Department.
I have included several important dates within the establishment
of the breed in Britain, key personalities and milestones.
Throughout its long history in Britain - over 125 years - there
have been many devotees of the breed. Miss Joyce Esdaile (later
Mrs Winter) registered her first Norwegian Elkhound Brita of
Fourwents in 1928 and in 1933 saw the foundation bitch of Mrs
Kitty Heffer's Friochan line registered - Indira. 1936, a second
breed club was established - the Elkhound Club. The Norwegian
Elkhound Society of Ireland formed in 1939 and on 22nd November
1948 so was the Norwegian Elkhound Association of Scotland.
The British Elkhound Club was formed by the amalgamation of
the Elkhound Club and British Elkhound Society in 1973.
During the Second World War, breeding was very difficult and
the larger kennels which existed in those days were much reduced
in numbers and the Elkhounds retained considerably curtailed
as well. Nevertheless, the efforts of so many people ensured
the continuation of the breed through these difficult times
- although many good dogs were lost to the breed.
There have been many well known dogs and people within the breed.
But of special note must be to the star who came to the fore
in 1980 - Ch Ravenstone Hattie bred by Margaret Harper (nee
Lovell) and owned by the late Fred Pickup. Hattie established
a new breed record of 44 CC's , the first won at 14 months of
age. A remarkable ambassador for the breed.
In 2001, a proposal to change the breed name from Elkhound to
Norwegian Elkhound was put forward by members of both breed
clubs, to reflect the origins of the breed. This was accepted
in the Summer of 2002 by the Kennel Club.
From the time of its establishment 125 years ago right up to
the present day there have been a number of importations of
fresh stock. Over the last 30 years there have been further
importations of new blood from Norway, Sweden and America which
have been incorporated into the existing bloodlines. Nowadays,
there are no big kennels; instead a number of dedicated breeders;
the custodians of the breed. Successful long-time breeders of
Elkhounds in many countries has helped preserve the natural
beauty of the breed, his intelligence and ruggedness, though
careful breeding programmes. The Norwegian Elkhound remains
a guardian and hunter, much like his ancestors who first roamed
the lands of Scandinavia.