Basic Guidelines to Help You  Mold Your Puppy into a Good-Natured & Trustworthy Pet and Companion.

by Susan Hamilton
Alpha Norwegian Elkhounds

Most of the "rules" and guidelines discussed in this article will pertain to any breed of dog. However, MY breed is the NORWEGIAN ELKHOUND and elkhounds are simply not suited for everyone. They are very different from most other breeds in a number of ways and before bringing one into any family the elkhound personality needs to be discussed in detail.

The disposition of the Norwegian Elkhound CAN be, and usually IS, exceptionally agreeable. Most puppies are born with the inherent potential to become a well-adjusted pet. Many evolve naturally into a gentle, well-mannered adult. SOME, however, need to be "MOLDED" by proper training techniques and firm, fair guidance.

I tend to use those words a lot...firm and fair. And there is another word I harp on...

CONSISTANCY.

An elkhound is an animal of an intelligence beyond what many people are accustomed to. My husband always says, "Ya' gotta' be smarter than what you're workin' with", and, when describing the elkhound mind, truer words were never spoken.

This breed is wicked smart and will con you, out-think you, sass you, and, if you let him think he is more intelligent than you, he MAY try to intimidate you.

Bear in mind what the elkhound was bred to do. He is supposed to have the cunning, the intelligence, the independence, and the power and agility to stand in the face of a Bull Moose and hold him at bay, without getting his brains kicked out, until the hunter gets there with the gun. This is not a breed that was originally a soft, sweet-natured wimp. In this country, we do not hunt moose. We do not want or need a dog with the aggressive tendencies necessary to perform in the field against a 1200 pound advisary, armed with sharp instruments.

So, most breeders, while we still want that outgoing attitude in the show ring, do not want aggression. Most of us breed for stable temperament, (and the rest of us SHOULD)... and for the most part, the elkhound is a reliable family pet.

UNLESS....
It is mishandled, poorly trained and given all the wrong signals.

The elkhound still has a bit of an "edge".  And sometimes his edges are a little sharp. He is a pack animal. He wants and needs a "pack leader". All members of his HUMAN family MUST "out-rank" him WITHIN his "pack". If he sees no obvious leader, he may assume the position is open and may apply for the job. If rules are not made, and consistantly, firmly and fairly enforced he may choose to make up his own rules as he goes along, and expect his human family to abide by them.

Other animal members of the family will normally work out their own pack order, although occasionally there may be need for some speedy human intervention.

These guidelines are not meant to solve every problem that might occur...however, they just might prevent many from ever beginning in the first place.

From the first day you bring home your new puppy:

IMMEDIATELY SET RULES THAT FIT YOUR LIFESTYLE.

Inform all family members of these rules and how to inforce them. Each person, children included, should be able to use the same corrections, where ever physically possible, or the dog will quickly learn who he can manipulate and who he'd better respect.

BE CONSISTANT.

DON'T GIVE MIXED SIGNALS.

ALLOW THE PUPPY TO BE A PUPPY, BUT DON'T ALLOW HIM TO DO THINGS WHILE HE IS A BABY THAT HE WON'T BE ALLOWED TO DO AS AN ADULT. [Yes, that sounds confusing, so let me site some examples.]

Don't take that cute, cuddly puppy to bed with you, UNLESS you want to share your clean pillow cases with a 50 lb. shedding adult later on. Choking on an elkhound hair caught in your throat is NOT a pleasant way to be awakened in the middle of the night! If you really LIKE having your dog sleep with you you'll have to decide early on if you can handle the hair, and the pillow hogging. And then there's the extra WARMTH. Great on a cold night, but much like sleeping IN the furnace if Fido want's to cuddle in July. But, with an elkhound....that's doubtful. He or she may just want the whole bed and not want YOUR old hot body in the way.

Also,  your dog considers your bed a place of high station. If   you are married, and you allow him free access to your bed, he may decide your husband (or wife) doesn't belong in it. (Unless this is the reason you bought the dog in the first place, you may want to reconsider having your dog as a third bedpartner.)

Don't allow your dog to jump on your jeans UNLESS you don't mind muddy paws on your "Sunday Best" as well. HE can't tell the difference, and scolding him for jumping on you one time but not the next will confuse him unless you take the time to teach him to jump up ONLY when he is "invited".

Don't NAG! Don't give a command that you can NOT enforce. And DON'T expect the dog to decide WHETHER YOU MEAN IT OR NOT! Give a command, and SHOW him what you want.

PRAISE THE DOG FOR ALL GOOD RESPONSES.
Petting and kind words re-inforce positive behavior.

NO ROUGH PLAY!

Don't let the kids, the rough-neck neighbor who grew up on a farm, and thinks all dogs should run loose and "guard the property", or old Uncle Fred, who's had dogs all his life and KNOWS how to handle them, wrestle, play tug of war, or any other "competition" where the power of the dog's jaw becomes a determining factor as to the outcome of the game.

Substitute positive play such as obedience exercises, tricks or retrieving. (Although I must warn you, retrieving ISN'T an elkhound's strong suit.) Many elkhounds can be taught successfully to retrieve. The average elkhound WILL go after something you throw.

Once.

MAYbe twice.

IF he brings it back and you take it AWAY from him....
and throw it AGAIN...You are very likely to get a look that clearly says..."If YOU can't hold onto the damn thing, don't expect ME to keep gettin' it for you!" And the game is over.

Don't allow anyone to play with a puppy until he is exhausted.
Especially children.

Don't push any puppy or dog into situations where he feels he must protect himself. Not unless you are prepared to protect YOURself.

ALL GROWLING AND SNAPPING MUST BE CORRECTED SWIFTLY, FIRMLY, AND WITH NO QUESTION AS TO WHO IS IN CONTROL.

Don't CREATE a situation you must PUNISH for.

At no time should a puppy be allowed to protest with a snap or a growl...not over food, toys, grooming or any other activity. NOT even if you caused it yourself by inadvertantly stepping on toes or pulling coat. You must STILL correct ANY aggressive behavior. Don't allow your puppy to ever think it is ok for him to have the last word.

When you find you must punish your puppy, use correction methods he will understand, such as a modification of the methods his mother would use, or that animals use in the wild.

Always make the punishment appropriate to the "crime".

DON'T USE ROLLED UP NEWSPAPERS.
DON'T HIT HIM.

A gruff scolding in a bark-like tone accompanied with a brisk but moderate shake by the scruff is acceptable and can be very effective with a young puppy. So can cuffing him under the chin.

But most effective is rolling him over, holding him in a forced position of submission until he stops struggling. You are showing him immediate and total dominance WITHOUT physical harm. If he struggles and fights, a firm but painless grip on his throat will get your point across. When he is calm, let him up...and then FORGIVE HIM. There are those who think this method is archaic, and harmful to the dog, and maybe for SOME breeds it would be too much. But we are dealing with a breed that needs to know his or her place, and I am 'old-school' and admit it. No elkhound was ever harmed, either mentally or physically, by my having rolled them over and showed them dominance.

Don't wait until he weighs 50 pounds and try to turn him on his back. (Trust me on this one.) Teaching him to lie quietly on his back when he is a baby will be to your advantage.

If, after corrections of this nature, the dog continues to misbehave the punishment was not strong enough.

Everyone in the family should be able to take ANYTHING out of the dog's mouth without protest. We "practice" with our puppies when they are very young, putting our fingers in their food, taking toys out of their mouths. They quickly learn that our fingers are "not on the menu". Sometimes simply yelling "OUCH" gets the message across. This is how they learn bite-inhibition when playing with their littermates. If they play too rough with those sharp little teeth, the littermate screams and usually the guilty party backs off. If MOTHER gets nipped too hard she will make it very clear that puppy has stepped over the line, often by that "forced position of submission" I just spoke of. (Only she holds him down with her MOUTH on his throat, I don't recommend that unless you have a strong stomach.)

SUBMISSIVE COMPLAINTS, such as whining, should NOT be punished. It is best to ignore them. If your puppy wets when you are disciplining him, please ignore this too. This is a submissive gesture and he is trying to tell you that he is not a threat.
Yelling at him or spanking him because he has wet out of fear  will only cause the problem to get worse. He will try harder to show you..."HERE....LOOK....SEE? I'm TRYING to tell you...I'm NOT a THREAT!"....(and he will pee more.)

Submissive urination when a puppy is excited, especially when Daddy comes home from work, or strangers come to visit, is very common, and should ALSO be ignored. Calling attention to submissive wetting, whatEVER the reason will only make it last longer. If it is ignored most all puppies eventually grow out of it.
And DON'T rub his nose in it. (or in anything else.)

Another easily made mistake is to fall for the pitiful look and "Poor baby" your puppy. When a dog as smart as the elkhound sees that acting pitiful or shy will get him hugged, petted and "oh...poooooor BABY!"d...he will milk it for all it's worth. This will, again, make a problem worse. The more you call attention to this type of behavior the more the dog will play the Pity Card. It is usally best to remain neutral when the puppy acts timid or frightened, speak to him in a calm voice and touch him in a reassuring manner, but NO "aawwwww...POOOOOOR puppy!"

CHILDREN AND ELKHOUNDS.

This is usually a great combination! However, a dog is NOT a BABY-SITTER! A DOG IS A DOG! He thinks like a dog, and reacts like a dog. He is an ANIMAL....(no matter HOW "human" you may think he acts. He has animal instincts and animal reflexes.

And KIDS will be KIDS!
Kids can and do come up with ideas that would make the Marquis de Sade cringe! Animals and very small children can NOT be reasoned with, and they MUST be watched carefully when they are together. Children often make sudden movements and strange noises. They may scream without provocation or warning. They flap their arms, crawl on all fours and bark in the dog's face. They may run AT him, FROM him, FALL on him, poke his eyes, pull his ears, step on his toes and try to see if his teeth come out like Grandpa's do. Elkhound hair just begs to be tweaked and chewed on, and this can annoy the poor dog beyond his endurance.

All these things can be done accidently or on purpose.

And this is not to mention the REALLY inventive tortures some small children are capable of dreaming up. Children often take out their frustrations at mommy and daddy or a bigger sibling on the nearest thing to them that they THINK they can overpower. Sometimes they CAN dominate the dog, which only adds to any potential problem. Sometimes the dog will try to discipline the child. This can be a disaster.

Add this to the equation: you are dealing with a hunting dog....a dog with an inborn hunting instinct and a strong PREY DRIVE. If a child is flopping around on the floor, screeching and acting like WOUNDED PREY, the dog may think that he or she is exactly THAT!

Or, depending on each dog's individual nature, he may take everything in stride, calmly putting up with everything the child dishes out with a lick and a wag...OR...
He may retreat to a safe hiding place...OR...
He may feel he is threatened and act like a dog...an animal...because this IS what he is...and he may instinctively try to protect himself from harm.

The inherent desire to protect oneself is true of any breed or species. And many dogs, of ANY breed, when confronted with a screaming, seemingly wounded ANYTHING, may react with aggression.

While this is not normally what happens with an elkhound, we want to stress that it is a possibility, and precautions are never a waste of time. Most elkhounds are excellent with children of any age, but we still recommend NEVER allowing small child/canine interaction without ADULT SUPERVISION. It is much better to be safe than sorry, and for the safety of both child and dog, whenever they must co-exist in the same household, the child MUST be taught to give the dog the same fair and respectful treatment that the dog should be taught to give to the child. This can be a tall order, but please don't take it's importance lightly.

This message is not meant to scare anyone away...(although if it does, it could mean that this breed and that person are not meant for each other.)

We believe in forewarning and forearming, in NOT sugar coating our breed, and trying to make people aware of how to avert possible bad habits and potential tragedies.

We have always advocated telling each prospective new elkhound owner the very worst things that CAN happen.

These things seldom DO happen...but....

NO BREED IS PERFECT.

(Even though I've known breeders who would tell you that the Elkhound IS!)


Although we know the elkhound's "edge" can make training, in some cases a little more challenging, we also know that an Elkhound who has been properly raised and trained, nurtured with love and well socialized should develop a delightful disposition and personality and will give his owners and family many years of unconditional love and devotion.

I have left out a LOT! There is a good reason why. I have a dear friend who has elkhounds who is a far better writer than I. One of the papers I routinely hand out to my new puppy buyers is one that she has written and graciously allowed me to use.

For those who have waded through my lengthy article, but still want to know more, I will link to her webpage and I strongly urge you to visit there. (Unless you got HERE.....FROM there in the FIRST place!)

Her name is Donna Jagodzinski, she and her husband Ed have several elkhounds. THREE of those have carried our kennel name into the field of Search and Rescue.

CLICK HERE  to read Donna's VERY informative article.



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