10 Scandinavian Dog Breeds for Cool Climate Living

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 often synonymous with all the Nordic countries, including Finland, Iceland, and its territories. The Nordic Kennel Union officially recognizes 29 native breeds. They were primarily used for hunting or livestock management. These hardy, tenacious Scandanavian dog breeds adapted well to cold weather conditions and harsh terrain.

Here are 10 of the most well-known Nordic dogs.


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. Most are high-energy, are work-oriented, and crave activity and enrichment to keep them motivated and happy.

  • 01 of 10

    Finnish Lapphund

    Finnish Lapphund running in a field of grass

    Bigandt_Photography / Getty Images

    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 U.S. The semi-nomadic, indigenous Sami people have been using these dogs for hundreds of years to guard and herd reindeer. For a herding breed, these dogs are surprisingly calm. Lappies are also loyal, sociable, and smart. They can be strong-willed and tend to bark. Their long, dense, weatherproof double coats kept them warm in the harsh climates; thus, they are not as well suited to living in hotter climates. Lappies shed a lot and need regular brushing.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 16 to 21 inches

    Weight: 30 to 50 pounds

    Coat and Color: Thick, harsh double coat in a variety of colors

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

  • 02 of 10


    Broholmer dog standing

    Agency Animal Picture / Getty Images

    One of five breeds native to Denmark, the large mastiff-type Broholmer has been around for hundreds of years. Its size and strength meant it was a popular guard dog for large manors and estates. The Broholmer is known for being a docile and affectionate giant. Although they're watchful and powerful, they make a great family pet with proper training and socialization. After World War II, the Broholmer faced extinction, but a dedicated group of breed enthusiasts worked to save the breed. Although rarely seen outside of Denmark, Broholmer numbers are growing.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Molossian (FCI); not recognized by the AKC

    Height: 25 to 30 inches

    Weight: 85 to 150 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short, thick double coat; commonly yellow with a black mask; can also come in red shades or black with some white on paws, tail, and chest

    Life Expectancy: 7 to 12 years

  • 03 of 10

    Finnish Spitz

    Finnish Spitz walking through snow

    Johner Images / Getty Images

    The Finnish spitz might not be as well known as the Lapphund, but these little dogs are full of character nonetheless. Hunters traditionally used them to sound the location of birds hidden in trees. If you're looking for a quiet breed, then strike Finkies from your list. They're often champion barkers. They have strong hunting instincts, which also makes recall difficult. They have a strong prey drive, so they are not suitable to have around other small pets. Smart, independent, energetic, and fun-loving, Finkies often make enthusiastic running or hiking partners.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Non-Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 15.5 to 20 inches

    Weight: 20 to 32 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium-length dense double coat that comes in shades of red

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 04 of 10

    Icelandic Sheepdog

    Icelandic Sheepdog standing on a snowy peak

    Jeremy Woodhouse / Getty Images

    The Icelandic sheepdog is the island country's only native breed. Their descendants were brought to Iceland by Viking settlers. Farmers used these hardy, intelligent dogs to herd and protect livestock roaming the harsh, sparsely populated landscapes. The breed is fun-loving, affectionate, and highly trainable. These dogs drip stamina, drive, and athleticism and are best suited for an active home that can offer them plenty of physical and mental enrichment. As a family dog, its herding instincts have to be managed, and the breed can be rather vocal.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 16 to 18 inches

    Weight: 25 to 30 pounds

    Coat and Color: Long or short double coat that's thick and weatherproof; typical colors are tan, brown, gray, and black; white markings always accompany the main color

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    Karelian Bear Dog

    Karelian bear dog standing

    Uusijani / Wikimedia Commons / CC0 1.0

    The Karelian bear dog, an ancient breed traditionally used for big game hunting, is well-known in its native Finland. Although they're pretty rare in the U.S., wildlife agencies use these intelligent, courageous dogs in national parks to minimize human and bear conflict. While Karelians are intensely loyal and protective, they can be territorial and wary of strangers. They're not always suited to living in multi-dog homes; carefully manage introductions with new dogs. Another active breed, a Karelian will not thrive in a sedentary household.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Working (AKC)

    Height: 19 to 23 inches

    Weight: 45 to 50 pounds

    Coat and Color: 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

    Life Expectancy: 11 to 13 years

  • 06 of 10

    Norwegian Elkhound

    Norwegian Elkhound profile shot

    slyncher00 / Getty Images

    The Norwegian elkhound is the most well-known breed originating from Norway. It has an ancient history, believed to be a Viking dog. It also resembles dogs in Norse mythology. They get their name from the big game they used to hunt. Elkhounds also guard and herd the livestock of remote Norwegian farms. They have great endurance and energy and aren't suited to apartment living with inactive owners. Loyal and friendly to 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

    Group: Hound (AKC)

    Height: Around 20 inches

    Weight: 48 to 55 pounds

    Coat and Color: Thick, smooth double coat in shades of silver

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

  • 07 of 10

    Norwegian Lundehund

    Norwegian Lundehund standing on grass

    Capturelight / Getty Images

    This rare and unusual dog hails from the remote Islands off the coast of Norway. The Norwegian word for puffin is "lunde." These dogs were traditionally used for hunting for these little birds and their eggs. The lundehund has impressive flexibility to squeeze into small cliff-side nests. The dog can fold its neck back to touch its back, and its shoulder joints can be manipulated to 90-degree angles. Lundes also have six toes on every paw, which helps them navigate slippery slopes. This breed is intelligent, problem-solving, agile, and energetic. If it doesn't get enough physical exercise and at-home enrichment, it can be destructive. Lundes also love to dig, so provide a dig spot if you can. In an active home, a Lunde can thrive and make a playful and loyal companion.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Non-Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 12 to 15 inches

    Weight: 20 to 30 pounds

    Coat and Color: Harsh short topcoat and a dense, soft undercoat; colors include fallow, tan, and reddish-brown; black hair tips darken with age and can also have white, white with red, or dark markings

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

  • 08 of 10

    Norwegian Buhund

    Norwegian Buhund standing in a snowy forest

    Jon-Eric Melsæter / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    Another dog with Viking heritage, the spitz-type Norweigian buhund was an adaptable and reliable little farm dog. This fun-loving, affectionate, and sweet-tempered breed is a devoted family companion. Another smart and energetic dog, it won't be satisfied with a quick walk around the neighborhood. It needs lots of in-home entertainment and 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. Keep them motivated with tasty treats and short, fun sessions.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 16 to 18 inches

    Weight: 25 to 40 pounds

    Coat and Color: Thick, short, coarse topcoat in black or wheaten coloring

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Swedish Vallhund

    Swedish Vallhund running on grass

    GoDogPhoto / Getty Images

    The short-legged, long-bodied, bobtailed Swedish vallhund may be related to the similar-looking Welsh Corgi. It also herds cattle. However, it's unclear which came first. This breed also descended from the Vikings. This tough little dog's working instincts may sometimes translate into a desire to nip at the heels of running children or chase after bikes and cars. They can also be prolific barkers. Vallhunds are intelligent, loyal, and trainable. Motivate them with fun, reward-based methods. Like many spitz-type dogs, the vallhund is a heavy shedder.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Herding (AKC)

    Height: 12 to 14 inches

    Weight: 20 to 35 pounds

    Coat and Color: Dense coat in gray and red

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 15 years

  • 10 of 10


    Samoyed standing in front of flowers

    Zhao Hui / Getty Images

    You may be surprised to see the Samoyed on this list. Admittedly, the breed originated in Siberia. In the late 1960s, the breed standard was assigned to the Nordic Kennel Union and added to the Nordic breeds list. The Samoyed's beautiful thick coat, smiling expression, and gentle temperament are famous the world over. This breed hasn't deviated much from its origins as a hunter, herder, and sled dog for the semi-nomadic Siberian people. Sammies have a thick, heavy shedding coat and can withstand the coldest temperatures. They're also known for being pack dogs and form strong bonds with their family. This breed is best suited for a household with people home most of the day because they are prone to separation anxiety.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Working (AKC)

    Height: 19 to 24 inches

    Weight: 35 to 65 pounds

    Coat and Color: Water-resistant coat; usually white in color but can occasionally also be cream or light brown

    Life Expectancy: 12 to 14 years

Breeds to Avoid

A lot of the Nordic breeds are very rare, even within their native countries. They may not be so easy to come across in North America. However, if you're looking for a dog like the active Scandinavian canines, steer clear of dogs that prefer to be couch potatoes. These lower-energy breeds include mastiffs, Pekingese, and bulldogs.