A rare and fascinating breed, the Norwegian lundehund has superhero-like traits. With extra toes and pliable legs, these ancient Arctic dogs were once working dogs that embarked on puffin-hunting expeditions, scrawling up vertical and craggy cliff walls and wiggling their way into the tight crevices where the seabirds kept their nests. Once puffins became a protected species, the lundehunds lost their hunting jobs and were on the brink of extinction before becoming companion pets.
These small dogs (they weigh under 30 pounds) have durable, easy-to-manage double coats and are moderate shedders. Most Norwegian lundehund dogs will require an hour or so of exercise and play each day and love being in the outdoors—and, thanks to their Arctic relatives, can handle cold weather and wet conditions.
Striking and majestic-looking, the Norwegian lundehund has some wildly unique traits that have been passed down from her ice age ancestors. This breed shares some of the more common spitz traits—features like fox-like triangular ears, wedge-shaped heads, and a tail that gracefully curls over her back. But some extraordinary traits set Norwegian lundehunds apart from just about any other breed on Earth.
These dogs have at least six toes and extra pads on their feet, according to the Norwegian Lundehund Association of America (NLAA). They also have an elastic neck that's so miraculously flexible, her head can crane backwards and touch her spine—an evolutionary trait from hunting in narrow puffin bird caves.
For her next trick, the Norwegian lundehund can extend her front legs so they lay flat to the side, thanks to extra-flexible shoulders that helped her ancestors hug and ascend rocky cliffs in their puffin-hunting days. Also, this dog's ears can act like trap doors, clamping shut to protect themselves from pecking puffin beaks or rough and rocky terrain.
The Norwegian lundehund is a small- to medium-sized breed, with males measuring in at 13–15 inches and females slightly smaller at 12–14 inches, according to the NLAA. With agile, rectangular bodies, Norwegian lundehund dogs weigh about 20–30 pounds and have a gait that the NLAA describes as "light and elastic."
Norwegian lundehunds sport all-weather double coats that include a harsh outer coat and a dense, but soft, undercoat.
"The thick coat of the Norwegian lundehund is perfect for cold weather and keeps them nice and warm," Simon says.
While the Norwegian lundehund coat is short on the dog's head and front of her legs, it gets thicker around her neck and the back of her thighs, according to the NLAA. Males typically have a thicker ruff around the neck. The coloring of their coats ranges from reddish brown to tan, and they most commonly have white markings on their heads. They also commonly have white, gray, black, and red markings. Their almond-shaped eyes are yellowish-brown to brown, and the nose and lips are black.
In a nutshell, the Norwegian lundehund is very energetic and loyal.
Norwegian lundehunds can be a tad wary of strangers, according to the NLAA. But when Norwegian lundehund puppies are properly socialized and trained, these dogs can make for excellent companion animals and can be a good fit for first-time pet parents, Wooten says—as long as they get at least 30–60 minutes of vigorous walking or playing every day.
"These dogs are happiest in homes where they can be with their people," Wooten says. "They are social [and] moderately friendly with strangers, children, and other pets."
Not only is the Norwegian lundehund a loving and loyal companion, she can also be a great hiking and camping partner thanks to her curious spirit, agile and athletic body, and those unique physical traits that make her so great at exploring rough terrain, says Corinne Wigfall, DVM, BVS, BVM, and consulting veterinarian with SpiritDog Training.
"Given the lundehund's original purpose was to climb cliffs while hunting for puffins, their anatomy allows them to grip, climb, descend, and squeeze into small crevices," she says.
"This dog can live in the suburbs or in an apartment equally well, as long as they get enough exercise," Wooten says.
Simon says Norwegian lundehunds are a breed that can do well with other pets as long as they are socialized from an early age. As with all breeds, your lundehund should be supervised when playing with children.
The grooming needs for the Norwegian lundehund are fairly low-maintenance. Because of her harsh external coat and soft undercoat, these dogs should be brushed at least once a week, Wooten says, to help remove loose hairs and dirt.
The biggest responsibility for caring for your pup is keeping all those extra toes moving, as Norwegian lundehunds are always eager to get outside, no matter the weather.
"They cope well in wind, rain, and the cold and are happiest when walking somewhere purposefully," Simon says. "While they enjoy being inside, too, they need at least an hour of outdoor activity each day."
Clever and fun-loving, Norwegian lundehunds are A+ training candidates—especially when play is mixed into the positive reinforcement sessions. Arm yourself with treats and be generous with praise and head patting; these dogs are sensitive and clever and will enjoy this one-on-one time with you.
Intestinal lymphangiectasia is a health problem that disproportionately affects this breed, Simon says. Signs tend to show up in middle-aged dogs and can include chronic vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss. She says this condition can be managed long-term with a very low-fat diet.
A little bit of mystery shrouds the origins of the Norwegian lundehund. But, according to the NLAA, these dogs were found in the Lofoten Islands, an archipelago north of the Arctic Circle. Dating as far back as the Vikings, these working dogs accompanied hunters and were capable of scrawling up steep and rocky cliffs to pluck puffins from their nests.
Norwegian lundehunds became an integral part of the economy in northern coastal areas of Norway where puffins provided meals and down feathers. Most households had up to a dozen hunting lundehunds, according to the NLAA, and these dogs were more valuable than cows.
However, government taxes were levied on the dogs, and when puffin hunting with nets became a more affordable alternative, the Norwegian lundehund population began to dwindle. When puffins were declared endangered species in the 1800s, Norwegian lundehunds were out of work.
The dog breed was saved from near extinction after World War II by Norwegians who admired the pups, but they still remain a rare breed today.
- The Norwegian lundehund has several unique physical traits that helped them hunt puffins, including six toes with extra pads, an elastic neck, and the ability to fold her ears closed.
- Lunde translates to "puffin" in Norwegian.
- Despite the breed's long history, the American Kennel Club didn't recognize the Norwegian lundehund until 2011.