Sometimes called the Norwegian Lundehund, and known in its homeland as the Norsk Lundehund, or simply as the Lundehund, this breed was developed specifically for climbing cliff pathways in search of a fedgling puffin, capturing it and then carrying the bird back to the hunters. It is referred to informally as the Lundie.History
This highly unusual dog from the remote Arctic islands off the coast of northern Norway has four strange anatomical features. It has an additional toe on each of its large paws, giving it an improved grip when climbing; it has ears which it can fold over, providing protection from freezing rain; it has forelegs that can move sideways through a 90-degree angle, giving it incredible flexibility; and it has a double-jointed neck, enabling it to wriggle into narrow crevices in pursuit of hiding puffins.
It was important for the Norwegian farmers who owned these dogs to understand the breeding cycle of the puffins. The adult birds, with their powerful beaks, were able to defend themselves with savage pecks and had to be avoided. But once their nestlings had grown and were about to leave the nest in August, the parental urge to protect them from all-comers waned and the plump, 40-day-old fledglings were vulnerable, just before they were ready to fly away. It was during this brief ‘window of opportunity’ that the hunters had to act and send in their dogs.
The Norwegian Lundehund dogs had to clamber up the cliffs, crawl into the rocky crevices and start digging into the puffin tunnels. This often involved lying on their sides and twisting this way and that in the tiny dark spaces, before they could reach their quarry. The fledgling was finally grabbed and carried back alive and undamaged to the dog’s owners. Each dog caught between 20 and 40, sometimes as many as 80, birds in a single hunting session.
The Norwegian Lundehund dogs dutifully carried out their difficult search-and-retrieve task every puffin breeding season from the 16th to the 19th century. We know this from reports of explorers, dating from 1591, which recorded observations of Puffin Dogs already in action in those early days. But then, in the middle of the 19th century, the breed suffered a serious setback when new puffin-trapping techniques were introduced, using nets. The population of these unique dogs dwindled rapidly, but luckily a small number did manage to cling on in the more remote island areas. One such place was the island of Vaeroy in the Lofoten archipelago.
In the 1930s, canine enthusiast Eleanor Christie, of Hamar in southern Norway, acquired a few of these Vaeroy dogs and began breeding from them. This proved to be the breeds salvation because in 1943 an epidemic of distemper nearly wiped out the island population, with only one dog surviving. Mrs Christie was able to send some of her kennel dogs back to the island and they resumed work there. This too was a lucky move because the following year distemper hit her own dogs and wiped out her entire breeding stock. This time the island came to her rescue, sending her a group of their working dogs. From this stock she was able, after the end of WW II, to start building up their numbers and to ensure the safety of this fascinating breed.
By the 1970s there were enough the Norwegian Lundehund dogs in existence for some to be exported to other countries. In the 1980s they crossed the Atlantic to the United States. In modern times, with the puffins now protected by Norwegian law, the exclusive role of this attractive, brown-and-white hunting dog has become that of a friendly household companion and a show dog.Appearance
The height at the withers should be about 12 1/2-15 inches/32-38 cm. Its weight should be about 13-15 pounds/6-7 kg. The body of the Norwegian Lundehund should be rectangular, with front feet turning out and five showing toes. A very well-developed dewclaw is typical — there should also be well-developed dewclaws on the hindlegs. The head should be small, wedge shaped and with rather big, pricked ears. The eyes are quite pale with a darker brown ring around them. The absence of premolars is typical. The breed’s front movement is wide with legs moving in circles and its hind action is close. The tail may be carried over its back in a loose curl or pendant. The coat should be straight and medium short with a thick undercoat. Its color may be any shade of golden-red with black tips. The forehead is grizzle-marked and the eye rims are black and well defined.