The standard says: "In temperament, the Norwegian Elkhound is bold and energetic, an effective guardian yet normally friendly, with great dignity and independence of character."
The typical elkhound is "bold and energetic," self-confident, very independent, and sometimes slightly aloof. An elkhound is not usually a lap dog, but is usually very loyal and loving (in an aloof kind of way, if you can imagine that!). They are usually very stable and good with all types of people. Many across the country are used for therapy work in nursing homes and hospitals, where a stable temperament is of paramount importance.
As you might expect from a 50-pound dog that hunts moose (2000 pounds and up) and bear, an elkhound is an extremely intelligent and independent dog. For nearly 7000 years, elkhounds have been expected to go one-on-one with a bull moose and live through the experience. They have to be able to "think on their feet," to have the confidence that allows them to make life-or-death decisions and act immediately. Breeding for this characteristic for 7000 years has produced a dog that likes making its own decisions, and is less willing to accept your direction. Obedience training is quite a challenge, but it is also very rewarding. You must use motivation to train most elkhounds. Since elkhounds are very strong and very independent, forceful methods almost always produce a resentful, inconsistent worker.
Because of the elkhound's independent nature, you should obedience-train your elkhound from a very early age (i.e., start well before six months). Your elkhound must learn that you are the leader (please note that's "leader," not "tyrant") in the household. If you do not make and enforce the rules, your elkhound will probably think he's in charge. This early confusion can eventually lead to a dog that is resentful of corrections, and (as with any other breed of dog) produce aggression problems that are easier to avoid than to correct.
When you start obedience training, you should be very careful to find a trainer who knows the breed and uses motivational methods. You cannot train an elkhound the same way you train the more popular "obedience breeds," like golden retrievers or Shetland sheepdogs. These breeds have been developed to work with and take instructions from a hunter or a shepherd. Elkhounds have been bred to track down game and bring it to bay on their own, relying on their own decisions. Your elkhound must think the obedience training exercises are his idea. In other words, it must be something he enjoys doing. If he doesn't want to do it, he won't do it.
Most elkhounds are very good with people of all ages, sizes, sexes, colors, and abilities, especially if you make an effort to expose the dog to as many types of people as you can as he is growing. Many elkhounds throughout the country are successful therapy dogs, visiting hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and other areas where people can benefit from the love of a good dog.
Elkhounds have also been used successfully as herding dogs (on reindeer in Lapland, although people in the U.S. are beginning to use them to herd sheep and cattle, and at least one elkhound here herds horses as well!), as draft dogs to pull sleds, and some are even working in search and rescue.