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Meet the Norwegian Lundehund: The Six Toe-Minimum 'Puffin Dog' That's One of Westminster's Newest Additions

In case you don't happen to be as dog-obsessed as the rest of the Internet or haven't heard about the recent advertising controversy, we're here to tell you that Monday marks the start of this year's Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. An additional six breeds have been made eligible to compete this year and will be making their star turns at the event. One of these unfamiliar faces is the adorable and utterly bizarre Norwegian Lundehund. Sure, this dog looks normal enough from its picture, if not a little fox-like, but, it's got some, shall we say, interesting features. We talked to Colorado-based Peter Rosseau, a breeder and president of the Norwegian Lundehund Association of America, about the breed and what going to Westminster means.

So tell me a little bit about the Norwegian Lundehund? Correct me if I'm pronouncing that wrong.

The Lund - e - hund?

Lundehund.

Where would you like me to start I could go for hours? [Barking] And there they are right there.

What defines this dog?

What defines them is probably their unique combination of some physical traits that isn't found in any other dog breed.

What are those?

Such as the most obvious trait is that every Lundehund breed standard calls for a minimum of six toes on each paw, whereas most dogs have four, some breeds have five.

The extra toes are actually functional, they are not dewclaws, like you see on many other breeds.

Why do they have these toes?

The word Lundehund in Norwegian it's a shortened version that stands for "puffin dog." These dogs used to hunt puffin birds. Puffins went to hide in caves and crevices on the top of some very high cliffs. So they'd use those extra toes primarily in the front the extra toe works like our thumb to help them grab a hold of rocks to climb. Up the dog from the toes, they have a very unique shoulder set that I've been told has something to with the tendons and ligaments. It enables the dog to be able to turn their legs 90 degrees out to the side to help them grab the sides of the crevices to also climb. Kind of like if we were rock climbing our arms go out to the side to help for balance. These dogs will do the same thing.

Why are they just now becoming a breed at Westminster?

We were just recognized by the American Kennel Club as a recognized breed on the first of January of 2011. We were just admitted into AKC, primarily it's because of the low numbers here in the United States. Even just today we only have about 250 of these dogs here in the U.S.

Do you know the dogs that are going to be competing at Westminster?

I know all four, yes.

Could you tell me a little bit about them?

You are going to see four males exhibited. There were five entered, the female will not be there. There will be four males. Of the males to be in Westminster all dogs entered have to be an AKC champion. All four have the champion title and one of them has the grand champion title.

Are any of them your dogs?

One of them is from my breeding.

Can you tell me about your dog?

He's a 2-year-old male and he has the champion title. He currently lives down in Texas. He lives in San Antonio.

What's his name?

We have what's called a registered name and a call name. His call name is Infamie.

What are the personality traits of Infamie?

These guys, it's in our breed standard that they are shy and reserved to strangers, but they are amazing family dogs. We still refer to them as a semi-feral breed, which means these dogs are still so close to nature. They could survive in the wild, unlike a lot of domesticated.

We had a friend of our last that lived in one of the Nordic countries. Her dog got loose in the woods. Didn't see the dog for eight days. The dog had only lost less than a pound. The dog was foraging and surviving on its own.

 

What does it mean to you for these dogs to be debuting at Westminster and the recognition they are going to get from that?

To us, it's actually bittersweet. We love the fact that we are able to make it to Westminster, we are a recognized breed. It's a milestone for us. This is a huge thing. But it's also, we don't want to become the breed of the week. I don't know if you remember when the movie 101 Dalmatians came out, and everyone had to have a dalmatian because that's the cool thing. We don't want that with this breed because primarily scientists believe that this could be the oldest purebred breed of dogs in the world. So we don't want, "oh, I must have, it's bright and shiny, Oo!" We don't want that, and we don't want them to end up in a breeding program like, I'm not picking on the breed, but just as an example, a Labradoodle. We don't want to mix something this that whatever. So for us it's good and bad. This is something for breeders we're going to have to evaluate any applications or any questions we have, "oh, I want a puppy." You have to fill out this questionnaire. You have to apply. We're not a pet store. You don't just get the next one.

Are you going to be going to Westminster?

I leave on Sunday, and I'm going to be out there for all the media events.

How did you get involved with these dogs and why do you love them so much?

I'm retired Air Force. I was stationed in Belgium at the time at NATO headquarters and my wife, because of her job, had to come home early, and she was at a United Kennel Club show here in Colorado, and we had Italian Greyhounds at the time. She was showing our dogs, saw this very unique dog and the way it walks differently and everything else, and went up and talked to the breeder. My wife got home that night called me up said, "go talk to your Norwegian coworkers, find out what you can about this dog." Even my Norwegian coworkers didn't know about the dog -- they are that rare. So we did some research. Within six months we had our first dog.

What drew you to them?

Just the uniqueness of them. With the toes and the shoulders and the way they walk. The neck is so flexible. They can turn 180 degrees either side or flip their head back and touch the top of their head to their spine and look directly behind themselves. When they walk, their arms swing to the side. We call it a rotary or a paddle motion. Just everything about them is unique. And then you hear about how few there are. There are only about 2,000 of them in the entire world. That's because distemper had hit Norway really hard twice during WWII and once again during 1963. In '63 there were six of these dogs known alive in the world. In '63 they were almost extinct. Everything about them is just so unique and just draws you to them.

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