The Norsk elghund (literally, "Norwegian moose-dog," mistranslated as "elkhound" outside of Norway) is a very ancient breed, having been developed over 6000 years ago to help the early Norsemen hunt big game such as moose and bear. Remains of dogs remarkably similar to the modern elkhound have been found in Viking grave sites such as the Viste Cave in Jaeren, Norway, where they were dated as far back as 4000 to 5000 BCE. For most of its existence, the elkhound has been almost exclusively a big game hunter, although he has occasionally been used as a herder of reindeer by the Lapps, as a draft dog to pull sleds, and as a guard dog on Norwegian farms.
An elkhound hunts moose in one of two ways, as a bandhund or as a loshund. The bandhund ("leashed dog") is worked as a tracker in harness on a long lead. The loshund ("loose dog") is sent into the forest alone, ahead of the hunter. The loshund uses his keen sense of smell to find the game, then slowly moves the moose to an area from which he cannot escape. The elkhound holds the moose at bay with a barking and dodging attack until, led by the bell-like tones of the elkhound's voice, the hunter catches up and dispatches the game.
Since elkhounds have been bred almost exclusively for their hunting ability until the early 20th century, the hunting instinct is very strong in the modern elkhound. They are still very independent and self-confident, as you might expect from a 50-pound dog that is expected to go one-on-one with a 2000-pound moose or an 800-pound bear. Successful hunters were self-confident dogs that were agile and quick-witted enough to evade the razor-sharp hooves and immense horns of the moose. Simply put, dogs that failed died and were unable to reproduce. Dogs that were successful were bred. This reproduced and reinforced the self-confidence, keen intelligence, and agility.
What this means for you as pet owner is the elkhound is an extremely intelligent, active dog that needs meaningful activity to keep him healthy and out of mischief. A bored elkhound is often a destructive elkhound, and an inactive elkhound is usually a fat, unhealthy elkhound. Agility and obedience training and/or competition are good ways to keep your elkhound active.