TRAINING YOUR NORWEGIAN ELKHOUND
Some would describe the Elkhound as stubborn. In my experience with training this breed (over 20 years and multiple dogs) I have not found them to be stubborn at all. In fact some Elkhounds are quite sensitive when it comes to training. I have found them to be very independent and intelligent and need to be given a reason why they should do what I am asking them to do. Keep in mind they were bred to work independently from the hunter and find a moose in the forests of Norway, and they are very good at that – working independently that is. The breed also gets bored quickly and that may result in “creative” behaviors. They have a high energy level and are always willing to “go” when you give the word. You must be able to keep your Elkhound stimulated mentally and physically for them to be happy and well behaved members of your family.
Your Elkhound must understand that you are in control of the training and the situation. I believe this is how the breed received the description of “stubborn”. The dog “puts on the brakes” in training and the trainer stops trying to get the dog to understand, and then calls the dog “stubborn”. This is extremely intelligent on the dog’s part – he has learned how to train the trainer and now only has to perform as he sees fit. Do make sure you demonstrate to your Elkhound, in a language that makes sense to the dog, what you expect him to learn. Just saying the word “sit” won’t get your dog to understand the concept of sitting, unless you show him physically what “sit” means. And saying it louder (as in anger or frustration) will only turn your dog off to learning altogether. Patience while training is the key, along with reward for the dog’s performing the behavior you want to see. Rewards should include praise (verbal and petting), food and toys.
All Elkhounds will benefit from the socialization and structured learning that a good obedience class gives them. But remember, they are not a Sporting breed, which was bred to wait for direction from their owner to complete a task. Our breed may not be willing to learn in the same way as many of the “typical” obedience breeds. You will have to find an instructor who is flexible in their training methods and knowledgeable in how different breeds learn, if you want to be a successful trainer and owner of a well-behaved Elkhound. They were not bred to repeat a task time and again, without questioning why such repetitive behavior is required. In fact, they may find the repetition quite tedious unless the trainer makes it fun for them. That fun usually includes a food reward. Most Elkhounds live for the next treat and become more willing workers with that as a reward. But do not confuse using food to reward good behavior for bribing them with food. Food should be used wisely, so the dog performs the activity, then is rewarded afterwards. Otherwise they will quickly learn to only perform when the treat is near and will learn to have “selective hearing” then they sense no treat is forthcoming.
As far as doing competition with your Elkhound, when in the right trainer’s hands they can be a willing worker and quick learner. This is not the breed to get if you want High in Trial awards every weekend and constant placements (winning). Not to say they aren’t capable of that - some are. But usually that requires a person very familiar with a style of training that gets the most out of this breed. And it is a good idea not to lose your sense of humor when competing with an Elkhound. Their creativity may come to bear at some of the least opportune times!
Since Elkhounds are such a versatile breed, there are many performance dog sports you can participate in with them, if you choose to do so. Those would include obedience, agility, tracking, fly ball, canine freestyle and even search and rescue work. Even if you choose not to compete with your Elkhound, you still need to find a way to keep his active brain and athletic body occupied.
Written by Renee Schmidt, member of NEAA since 1988