Lundehunds

Shhhh. Don’t tell Rhiannon and Gael, but two weeks ago, I fell in love with another breed of dog. The Wine Country Circuit is four days of dog shows held at Sampson State Park, a gorgeous park on Seneca Lake, south of Geneva. My mother and I went and we stayed at a farmhouse B & B, which had its own two dogs, Nose and Hickory. Nose is a reserved Australian Cattle Dog, and Hickory is a huge, lumbering Goldendoodle who likes nothing better than a good cuddle.

Much as I enjoyed these dogs, they’re not the dogs I fell in love with. The dogs that captured my heart were Norwegian Lundehunds. Lundehunds are an old but rare breed and, while I knew about them, I’d never seen one in person until I attended Westminster Kennel Club dog show last February. There was only one entered and I only saw it briefly in the arms of its owner. So, when I saw that two Lundehunds were entered at Wine Country, I knew this was my chance.

A heavy fog Saturday morning almost ruined my plans, but I did get to the show just before the Lundehunds went into the ring. Then I spent the rest of the day in the company of the breeders, talking about all sorts of things, especially Lundehunds.

Lundehund translates as “puffin dog” because that’s what these small dogs were bred for. Norwegian farmers used the dogs to retrieve puffins, which were used for both feathers and meat. The dogs would climb the cliffs and go into burrows for the puffins. The dogs have six toes on each foot to help them climb the cliffs, and they also have great flexibility. Their front legs can go straight out to the side, which is useful when the dog is climbing a near vertical cliff. Their ears can clamp tightly shut to keep out dirt in a puffin burrow, and their spine is so flexible that their head can bend back so that the top of the head touches their back.

The breed is a spitz breed, so the Lundehund has upright ears, a wedge-shaped head, and a double coat, ideal for northern winters. Their tail, when they’re relaxed, curls up over their back, with the tip just touching their back. It’s not a tightly curled tail, like a Pug or a Basenji, but more like a Siberian Husky’s. Like many smaller dogs they can be difficult to housetrain, but I think that would be a minor inconvenience compared to the joy of hearing the patter of 24 toes scampering around the house.

Lundehunds only weigh about 12 pounds and stand between 12 and 15 inches tall at the shoulder. Corgis are typically 12 inches at the shoulder, so this is a small, compact dog.

The breed has been around since at least the 1500s, but the combination of the puffin becoming a protected species and an epidemic of distemper reduced the number of Lundehund to under a dozen by the early 1900s. Two breeders carefully worked to restore the breed and save it from extinction.

The two dogs I met were Dottie and Birgitt of Norstar Lundehunds, and they were adorable. Alert to everything that was going on around them, no one could walk by without both of them sounding the alarm. In that regard, they’re a lot like Corgis, so I felt right at home with the Lundehunds.

Breeder/owners Judy and Harvey Sanderson are more than happy to talk to anyone about the breed, and they carry a supply of pamphlets prepared by the Norwegian Lundehund Club of America Inc. to help educate those interested in this unique breed. Judges are still learning about this breed as well so the Sandersons frequently end up chatting with the judge in the ring. The day I saw them, Harvey demonstrated to the judge the fastest way to count the pads on the feet. Each Lundehund should have eight pads on each foot, so, ideally, the handler picks up the dog, holding the dog’s back to the handler’s chest, exposing all four feet at once.

After a wonderful day at the dog show, I called home to gush about the Lundehunds. “Wait,” said my husband. “You’re not bringing one home, are you?” I assured him that, although there was a dog crate in the car, it was remaining empty. It’s probably just as well. Rhiannon and Gael don’t need to know that I could ever love any other dog but them.