By Elaine Waldorf Gewirtz
Kept for centuries as a bird-hunting dog on the tiny, isolated Norwegian island of Vaeroy, north of the Arctic Circle, the five Norwegian Lundehunds entered at Westminster next week will show the judge and spectators what a breed with unusual characteristics really looks like.
With a minimum of six functioning toes on each foot and a neck that can turn 180 degrees on either side and bend back to touch its spine, the Lundehund developed naturally without human guidance.
A study in canine evolution, the breed’s unique shoulder structure enables the front legs to splay out to each side, perpendicular to the body, giving it the ability to climb sheer rock walls in search of puffins. Together, the eight pads on the front feet and seven on the back act as a brake when the dog slides down the steep cliffs. To keep debris out of the ears while maneuvering through tight crevices and caves where the birds build their nests, the Lundehund’s ears can close to the front or the back.
According to the Norwegian Lundehund Association of America, the unusual dog with a fox-like appearance may be the oldest pure breed in the world. No other breeds inhabited the isolated island, and Norse and Danish accounts from the 16th century describe dogs with the Lundehund’s specific traits.
The desired height for males is 13 to 15 inches, while bitches measure 12 to 14 inches. The breed standard explicitly states that the judge should never ask the handler to demonstrate the Lundehund’s neck flexibility in the ring as the dog would not be able to relax enough to exhibit the trait.
During World War II and again, in 1960, a distemper epidemic in Vaeroy decimated the breed’s tiny population. Only six Lundehunds were left in the world with five out of the same dam, but a dedicated breeding program helped reestablish the breed and bring it back from the brink of extinction.
Alert, energetic and adaptable, the Norwegian Lundehund may be weary of strangers, but should never show aggression toward people.
For more on the Puffin Dog’s history and health, go to the Norwegian Lundehund Association of America website at www.nlaainc.com.