10 Scandinavian Dog Breeds

An Introduction to Some Hardy and Hardworking Nordic Dogs

Finnish Spitz standing on a log in the forest

Pavel Rodimov / Getty Images

Strictly speaking, the term Scandanavia refers to a subset of Nordic countries - Norway, Denmark and Sweden. However, it's sometimes used as a synonym for all Nordic countries. This means Iceland and Finland and their related territories are also commonly incorporated.

The Nordic Kennel Union officially recognizes 29 breeds native to these regions. In this article, we're going to look at ten of the most internationally well-known Nordic dogs.

Typically, these hardy and hard-working Scandanavian dog breeds have been developed to handle cold weather conditions and harsh terrain. They were often utilized for hunting or livestock management.

If you're drawn to one of these breeds, you'll need to consider whether you can offer the right type of home and lifestyle to meet their needs.

  • 01 of 10

    Finnish Lapphund

    Finnish Lapphund running in a field of grass

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    Although most people still refer to this breed as the Finnish Lapphund, in 2015 the name was officially changed to the Finnish Lapponian Dog. They're one of the most popular breeds from this country, and probably the most well-known in the US.

    The semi-nomadic Sami people, who are indigenous to the region, have been using these types of dogs for hundreds of years to guard and herd reindeer.

    Their long, dense, weatherproof double coats kept them warm in the harsh climates they worked in, but it means they aren't so well suited to living in hot climes. Lappies shed a lot too and need regular brushing.

    For a herding breed, these dogs are surprisingly calm. Lappies are also loyal, sociable and smart. They can be rather strong-willed, however, and they do have a tendency to bark.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 18 to 21 inches (male); 16 to 19 inches (female)

    Weight: 30 to 50 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Strongly built with a thick, harsh double coat and they come in a variety of colors

  • 02 of 10



    Agency Animal Picture / Getty Images

    One of five breeds native to Denmark, the large mastiff-type Broholmer has been around for hundreds of years. It's size and strength meant it was a popular guard dog for large manors and estates.

    After the Second World War, the Broholmer faced extinction, but a dedicated group of breed enthusiasts worked to save these gentle giants. Although still rare, especially outside their home country, Broholmer numbers have grown.

    Despite being the biggest dog on our list by some margin, the Broholmer is known for being docile and affectionate. Although they're watchful and their strength could be a problem, with the right training and socialization, this breed can make a great family pet.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 25 to 30 inches

    Weight: 85 to 150 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Large, strongly built mastiff-type dog; has a short, thick double coat which is commonly found in yellow with a black mask; can also come in red shades or black with some white on paws, tail and chest

  • 03 of 10

    Finnish Spitz

    Finnish Spitz walking through snow

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    The Finnish Spitz might not be as well known as the Lapphund, but these little dogs are full of character nonetheless. They were traditionally used by hunters to alert them to the location of birds hidden up in the trees. If you're looking for a quiet breed, the Finkie shouldn't be at the top of your list. They're often champion barkers!

    Their strong hunting instincts mean you could also have your work cut out trying to achieve a solid recall, and care should be taken around small furries. Smart, independent, energetic and fun-loving, Finkies often make enthusiast running or hiking partners.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 17.5 to 20 inches (male); 15.5 to 18 inches (female)

    Weight: 25 to 32 pounds (male); 20 to 28 pounds (female)

    Physical Characteristics: Small, square, foxy-looking and has a medium-length dense coat that comes in shades of red

  • 04 of 10

    Icelandic Sheepdog

    Icelandic Sheepdog standing on a snowy peak

    Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

    The Icelandic Sheepdog is the countries only native breed. Their descendants were brought to the Island by Viking settlers. These hardy, intelligent dogs were developed by farmers who used them to herd and protect livestock roaming the harsh, sparsely populated landscapes.

    With bags of stamina, drive and athleticism, Icelandic Sheepdogs are best suited to an active home that can offer them plenty of physical and mental enrichment

    The breed is fun-loving, affectionate and highly trainable. You might, however, have to manage their herding instincts and they can be rather vocal too.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 16 to 18 inches

    Weight: 25 to 30 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized Spitz-type dog with pricked ears and a curled tail; can have a long or short double coat, but it's always thick and weatherproof; typical colors are tan, brown, gray and black; white markings always accompany the main color

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Karelian Bear Dog

    Karelian Bear Dog

    Uusijani / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication


    The Karelian Bear Dog, an ancient breed traditionally used for big game hunting, is well-known in it's native Finland. Although they're pretty rare in the US., these smart, courageous dogs are used by wildlife agencies and in National Parks to minimize human/bear conflict.

    While Karelians are intensely loyal and protective, they can be wary of strangers and territorial. They're not always suited to living in multi-dog homes, and introductions with new dogs will have to be carefully managed.

    Another active breed, a Karelian won't thrive in a sedentary household.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 19 to 23 inches

    Weight: 45 to 50 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized Spitz-type dog with pricked ears but not a curled tail; very thick coat with a harsh, straight outer layer and soft, dense undercoat; always black with white markings, although the black can have shades of brown through it

  • 06 of 10

    Norwegian Elkhound

    Norwegian Elkhound profile shot with head tilting to the sides

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    The Norwegian Elkhound is the most well-known and popular breed originating from Norway. They also have an ancient history. This is another breed that was thought to have been introduced by the Vikings. Dogs resembling the Elkhound can be seen in Norse mythology. They get their name from the big game they used to hunt, including Elk.

    In more recent history, the Elkhound served to guard and herd the livestock of remote Norwegian farms. With great endurance and energy levels, an Elkhound isn't suited to apartment living with inactive owners. Loyal and sociable with their family, this breed still has an independent spirit and can be wary of strangers. Their thick, shedding coat also needs regular brushing.

    Breed Overview

    Height: around 20 inches

    Weight: 48 to 55 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized Spitz-type dog that is sturdy, square and has a broad head and curled tail; thick, smooth double coat that comes in shades of silver

  • 07 of 10

    Norwegian Lundehund

    Norwegian Lundehund standing on grass

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    This rare and unique dog hails from the remote Islands off the coast of Norway. The Norwegian word for puffin is 'Lunde', and they were traditionally used to hunt for these little birds and their eggs.

    The Lundehund isn't your average dog. They have impressive flexibility. Their neck can fold back to touch their back, and their shoulder joints can be manipulated to ninety-degree angles. These attributes help them to squeeze into small cliff-side nesting spots. Lundes also have six toes on every paw, which helps them gain traction on the slippery slopes they were designed to negotiate.

    It's not surprising, given their background, that Lundes are intelligent, problem-solving, agile and energetic. If the breed doesn't get enough physical exercise and at-home enrichment, they can make their own entertainment, which could be rather destructive!

    Lundes also love to dig. If you have space in your yard to provide a dedicated digging spot or sandpit, this could prove beneficial. In an active home, a Lunde can thrive and make a playful and loyal companion.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 12 to 15 inches

    Weight: 20 to 30 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Six toes on every paw, they can tip their head back to touch their back and their shoulder joints are incredibly flexible; harsh short topcoat and a dense, soft undercoat; colors range from fallow, to tan, to a reddish-brown; black hair tips that darken with age and can also have white, white with red, or dark markings

  • 08 of 10

    Norwegian Buhund

    Norwegian Buhund standing in a snowy forest

    Jon-Eric Melsæter / Flickr / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License


    Another dog with Viking heritage, in their native Norway, the spitz-type Buhund proved to be an adaptable and reliable little farm dog. This fun-loving, affectionate and sweet-tempered breed can be a devoted family companion. Another smart and energetic dog, they won't be satisfied with a quick walk around the neighborhood. They'll need lots of in-home entertainment and a decent amount of exercise.

    You'll need to stay on your toes when it comes to training too. Buhunds are smart, but they can also be independent and stubborn. Keeping them motivated with tasty treats and short, fun sessions will be the key.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 16 to 18 inches

    Weight: 25 to 40 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Medium-sized spitz-type with a wide skull, pricked ears and curled tail; thick, short, coarse topcoat and come in black or wheaten coloring

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Swedish Vallhund

    Swedish Vallhund running fast on grass

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    The short-legged, long-bodied and bobtailed Swedish Vallhund is thought to be related to the Welsh Corgi. Although it's unclear which came about first. They're another breed that has descended from the dogs introduced to Scandinavia by the Vikings.

    Used to herd cattle, this tough little dog's working instincts still appear in a pet home. You may find they have a desire to nip at the heels of running children, or to chase after bikes and cars. They can also be prolific alert barkers.

    Vallhunds, however, are also smart, loyal and trainable. If you put the time in and keep them motivated with fun, reward-based methods, you'll see good results.

    Like many spitz-type dogs, the Vallhund is a heavy shedder. You might need to invest in a deshedding tool, like a Furminator, to keep the hairs at bay.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 12 to 14 inches

    Weight: 20 to 35 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Wedge-shaped head; long, low body; colors include gray and red

  • 10 of 10


    Samoyed standing in front of a bed of flowers

    Zhao Hui / Getty Images

    You may be surprised to see the Samoyed on this list. Admittedly the breed did originate in Siberia, Northern Russia. In the late sixties, however, responsibility for the breed standard was assigned to the Nordic Kennel Union. So now they're also officially included on the list of Nordic breeds.

    Sammies with their beautiful thick coats, smiling expressions and gentle temperaments are popular the world over. This breed, however, hasn't deviated much from it's origins as a hunter, herder and sled dog for the semi-nomadic Siberian people.

    With their thick and heavy shedding coat, Sammies can withstand the coldest of temperatures. They're also known for being pack dogs and form strong bonds with their family. This breed is best suited to a household where they'll have company for most of the day. They can be prone to separation anxiety.

    Breed Overview

    Height: 21 to 24 inches (male); 19 to 21 inches (female)

    Weight: 45 to 65 pounds (male), 35 to 50 pounds (female)

    Physical Characteristics: Pricked ears and a curled plumed tail; thick, water-resistant coat usually white in color but can occasionally also be cream or light brown

Most Scandinavian dog breeds were developed for hunting or herding. You'll have to consider whether you can offer the right amount of physical and mental enrichment to keep these dogs healthy, happy and out of trouble!

A lot of these breeds are also rare, even within their native countries. They may not be so easy to come across in North America. If you have your heart set on one of these beautiful Scandinavian dog breeds, make sure you do your research. Find a reputable breeder and don't be surprised if you have to go on a waiting list or travel further to secure a puppy.