Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are all beautiful countries distinct from continental Europe and so are their dogs. Add Iceland and Finland to the list, and you have a region that's home to some hardy, hardworking Scandinavian dog breeds, sometimes called Viking dog breeds. However, many Nordic dog breeds have a history of near extinction until renewed breeding interest in the mid to late 20th century.
Nordic dog breeds
These now-popular Nordic dog breeds include the Icelandic sheepdog, Norwegian elkhound, Swedish lapphund, and the broholmer, also called the Danish mastiff. Of course, there are many more listed in the Nordic Kennel Union directory, but these are the breeds most associated with their Scandinavian countries thanks to their names.
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The Icelandic sheepdog
Iceland's only native dog breed, the Icelandic sheepdog, has earned a reputation as a Viking dog breed, attributed to the fact that Viking settlers likely brought the dog to this northern island sometime between 870 and 930. The breed was almost extinct in the 1960s until the Icelandic Sheepdog Breed Club was founded in the 1970s.
A medium-size dog, the Icelandic sheepdog has the unique distinction of having double dew claws on the hind legs. Otherwise, these friendly, gentle working dogs, who are classified as spitzes, have a curly tail; pointed ears; and a thick, weather-resistant coat that can be short or long. Like most sheepdogs, Icelandic pups are high energy and require significant mental stimulation.
The Norwegian elkhound
Norway is one of the three official Scandinavian countries, so it's reasonable that the Norwegian elkhound is a proud representative of Scandinavian dog breeds. There are actually two types of Norwegian elkhounds: black and gray. They were originally used for elk and bear hunting. Norwegian elkhounds once sailed with Vikings and are among Europe's oldest dog breeds.
This Nordic dog has a thick coat and tail that curls tightly around the hind end. Elkhounds are sturdy, muscular, and wide but are only about 20 inches in height at the shoulder. Elkhounds are described as alert and steadfast dogs who make strong, confident watchdogs and herders. The gray Norwegian elkhound is the most popular elkhound breed in Norway
The Swedish lapphund
The Swedish lapphund is an example of a typical Nordic spitz dog, although this specific breed was used for years in Sweden to herd and guard reindeer. The lapphund is one of the oldest dog breeds in Sweden. Like several Scandinavian canine counterparts, the Swedish lapphund almost became extinct in the 1950s despite being given the nickname "the black beauty of Norrland."
An interesting fact about the Swedish lapphund is his alleged mythical power. According to legend, this dog breed once approached ancient Sami tribes of Scandinavia and promised them lifelong service in exchange for good treatment. The Sami are indigenous people who live in northern Scandinavian countries to this day. While these herding dogs once lived closely with families as working dogs, snowmobiles have largely replaced the role of the lapphund in today's Sami culture.
The Danish mastiff
The broholmer, also called the Danish mastiff, is a steadfast, imposing breed that is sometimes considered the most self-confident of the Nordic dog breeds. This native Danish dog once worked as a castle guard dog but was almost extinct in the 1950s. Interest in the broholmer increased enough to save the breed in the 1970s, and numbers have increased significantly in the 21st century.
The Danish mastiff is a large dog weighing up to 150 pounds. Fortunately, they are usually patient, calm, and good with children. Positive training and socialization are important with a dog this size. This Nordic dog breed requires a moderate level of exercise and should avoid stairs as much as possible. The broholmer is at home in the outdoors but is sometimes territorial.