The Dunker is a breed of scenthound native to Norway. Developed by crossing the Russian Harlequin Hound with other scenthound breeds, the Dunker is renowned throughout Norway for its excellent scent-trailing abilities. Although a relatively well-known if uncommon working breed in its homeland, the Dunker is virtually unknown outside of Scandinavia. The Dunker is most well-known for its unique dappled coat and hunting drive. The Dunker is also known as the Norwegian Dunker, Norwegian Hound, Norwegian Rabbit Hound, and Norwegian Scenthound, although those last three terms often are commonly applied to several other breeds.
The Dunker is a relatively recently created breed, and we know more about its ancestry than is the case with many dogs. As is the case with breeds such as the German Shepherd Dog and the Doberman Pinscher, the Dunker is largely the result of one man’s breeding efforts. In the early 1800’s, the Norwegian author and military officer Captain Wilhelm Conrad Dunker wanted to develop a new breed of scenthound that would be able to work in the harsh conditions of his homeland. Norway is one of the most challenging places for a hunting dog to work in the entire world. The terrain is very rocky and some of the least developed in Western Europe. More importantly, Norway is one of the coldest countries on earth, and many breeds would quickly perish working there.
Captain Dunker chose the Russian Harlequin Hound to base his breed one. The Russian Harlequin Hound was developed by Russian noblemen by crossing English Foxhounds with Russian Hounds and other Russian breeds. Captain Dunker considered the Russian Harlequin Hound an ideal breed to begin his work because it was both an excellent scent trailer and capable of thriving in freezing temperatures. Captain Dunker began to cross his Russian Harlequin Hounds with other breeds. No one is exactly sure which breeds Dunker used, but it is believed that other Scenthound breeds and possibly a few Spitzen played a prominent role. The end result of Dunker’s breeding was a highly talented scent trailing dog which was capable of working in Norway’s rough terrain and adapting to its cold climate. The breed also exhibited a unique coloration. Many Dunkers possessed dappled or marbled coats similar to those of Catahoula Leopard Dogs and some Beaucerons. The Dunker became most renowned as a rabbit dog, although it has also been used to hunt a variety of small animal species.
The Dunker continued to gain popularity with Norwegian hunters throughout the 19th Century. For many years, the breed was closely associated with the Hygenhund, a Norwegian scenthound breed developed by HF Hygen. In 1902, the “Special Club for the Norwegian Hare Dog” was founded, which represented both the Dunker and the Hygenhund. However, that same year the two breeds were formally separated. The Norwegian Kennel Club (NKK) granted formal recognition to the Dunker, eventually followed by the F.C.I. Dunker populations continued to grow until World War II. Despite its attempt to maintain neutrality, Norway was occupied by German forces. Although Nazi occupation did not prove quite as disastrous for Norway as it did for most occupied countries, the nation was greatly impacted. Dog breeding was greatly curtailed as a result of the war, and many dogs died as a result of the conflict or lack of care due to their owners’ changing circumstances. Dunker populations declined sharply during World War II, but the breed did not experience the catastrophic losses or total extinction which many other European breeds did. Interest in the Dunker rose rapidly again after the War ended and continued to be very strong until the 1970’s.
In the 1970’s a number of foreign hunting breeds were imported into Norway, which greatly reduced the breed’s popularity. Norwegian hunters began to prefer these foreign breeds and abandon the Dunker. By the 1980’s, the Dunker was a very rare breed and had become heavily inbred. In 1987, Dunker breeders petitioned the NKK and FCI to allow them to crossbreed their Dunkers with other dogs in order to widen the breed’s gene pool. Initially, this application was denied but only two years later limited permission to do so was given. A small number of outcrosses were made to other scenthound breeds in the subsequent years. These outcrosses have proven to be very successful, greatly increasing the genetic diversity and health of the Dunker without compromising its appearance, temperament, conformation, or working ability.
In recent years, the Dunker has grown somewhat in popularity, but it is still a very rare breed. For the past several years, an average of between 130 and 180 Dunker puppies have been registered each year. Although the breed is now in significantly better shape than it was in the late 1980’s, the Dunker is still a rare and threatened breed. Currently, the Dunker is almost exclusively found in Norway, although a few breed members have been exported to other Scandinavian countries. It is unclear whether any Dunkers have been exported to the United States, but if any have it is a very small number of individuals. Despite this rarity, in 1996 the United Kennel Club (UKC) became the only major English language kennel club to grant full recognition to the Dunker in 1996. Unlike most modern breeds, the Dunker continues to be kept almost exclusively as a working dog. The vast majority of modern Dunkers are either working or retired scent tracking dogs, and few, if any, are kept primarily as companions. The breed is currently regarded as a rabbit hunting specialist, and is almost exclusive used to hunt rabbits and hares. Although the breed has currently stabilized in Norway, the Dunker remains essentially unknown elsewhere where it is very rare. Many fanciers would like to see the breed’s population and annual registrations grow substantially, although only if this can be done safely and responsibly.
The Dunker is very similar in appearance to other medium-sized scenthounds, but is easily distinguished by its unique coat coloration. The Dunker is the epitome of a medium-sized scenthound breed. Most males stand between 19½ and 21½ inches tall at the shoulder, and most females stand between 18½ and 20½ inches tall at the shoulder. Although weight is heavily influenced by height, build, and gender, most breed members weigh between 35 and 50 pounds. This is a rectangular breed which is generally slightly longer from chest to rump than it is tall from floor to shoulder. The Dunker is a very well-muscled and athletic breed which should always appear as though it is capable of intense physical activity. This breed should be powerfully built without ever being heavy or cumbersome. The tail of the Dunker is long and carried straight with a slight upward curve.
The head and face of the Dunker are virtually identical to those of most other scenthounds. The head of this breed is often described as clean and noble. The skull is slightly domed, but should run parallel to the muzzle which it is quite distinct from. The muzzle itself is very long and squarely shaped. The nose of the Dunker is large and black. The eyes are large and round, but should never protrude. The color of the eyes can vary. Ideally, they should be dark, but many individuals have very light or even blue eyes. The ears of the Dunker are wide, flat, and hang close to the head. Although long, the Dunker’s ears are proportionately shorter than those of many scenthounds. The overall expression of most Dunkers is lively and friendly.
The Dunker has a coat which is straight, hard, and very dense. The length of the coat would best be described as short-medium. The Dunker’s coat is significantly longer than that of most scenthounds but significantly shorter than that found on most Nordic breeds. The Dunker is famous for its unique coloration. The breed usually possesses some degree of black or blue dappled or marbled coloration. These markings may cover the entire body of the dog or only a relatively small part, with greater amounts being favored in the show ring. Many breed members also exhibit black, tan, and white markings as well, with some breed members closely resembling an English Foxhound with less white. Although white faces are considered preferably, black masks are also acceptable. Dunkers should have no more than 50% of their bodies covered in white. Occasionally, Dunker’s will be born in alternate colorations, such as exhibiting no dappling. Such dogs are penalized in the show ring and should probably not be bred but otherwise make just as acceptable pets and working dogs as normally colored Dunkers.
Because Dunkers are almost exclusively kept as scent trailing dogs, it is very difficult to make any generalized statements about their temperament outside of a working environment. Like most scenthounds, the Dunker was bred to be tolerant of strange hunters and handlers. This breed is usually non-aggressive, and when properly trained and socialized, most breed members are quite friendly. The Dunker lacks the aggression to make an effective guard dog, and most of these dogs would follow a stranger home before they would show them aggression. Dunkers are known to be very affectionate dogs, many of them fawningly so. When properly introduced to them, most breed members are very tolerant of children, and many are very affectionate with them.
Although often used alone, the Dunker was bred to function effectively in packs with other dogs. As a result, Dunkers usually exhibit low levels of dog aggression, especially when properly trained and socialized. Although this breed does not crave canine companionship to the extent of some other scenthounds, most breed members would greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one (and preferably several) other dogs. The Dunker is considerably less tolerant of non-canine animals. Bred to hunt and potentially attack and kill small animals, the Dunker exhibits a very high prey drive. Although most breed members will be fine with cats and other pets with which they have been raised (but not strange animals) some are never entirely trustworthy with them.
The Dunker is a natural hunter and takes to hunt training very easily. However, this breed presents substantial training difficulties in other areas. The same traits that make scenthounds excellent hunters, stubbornness, determination, independent thinking, also makes them very challenging to train. Most breed members are very stubborn, and many are outright disobedient. This does not mean that it is impossible to train a Dunker, but it does mean that Dunker owners will have to spend significantly more time, effort, and patience than would be the case with most breeds. Dunkers are driven to follow any scent trail which they encounter, and even well-trained breed members are likely to ignore any calls to return when on the hunt. For this reason, Dunkers should always be kept on a leash when outside of a safely enclosed area. Another area where Dunkers exhibit training difficulty is in regards to their vocality. Dunkers were bred to bay when on the pursuit of quarry so that their handlers could follow them if they ran out of sight. These dogs are both more likely to make noise and much louder when they do than other dogs, and can very well cause noise complaints when kept in close quarters. Exercise and training can greatly reduce this tendency but cannot eliminate it entirely.
The Dunker was bred to tireless pursue quarry for hours over some of the harshest terrain found in Europe, and this breed has a substantial exercise requirement as a result. Dunkers should receive at least 45 minutes to an hour of vigorous physical activity every day although they would ideally receive more. This breed makes an excellent jogging companion but truly craves an opportunity to run off-leash in a safely enclosed area. Dunkers which are not provided sufficient exercise are likely to develop behavioral problems such as hyperactivity, excessive barking, destructiveness, over excitability, inappropriate greeting, and nervousness. Once Dunkers have been provided the exercise they require, however, most breed members will be quite calm and relaxed indoors. Because the Dunker requires a substantial amount of exercise and is quite vocal, this breed adapts poorly to apartment life and truly requires a house with a yard, preferably a large one.
The Dunker is a very low maintenance breed. These dogs should never require professional grooming, only a regular brushing. Dunkers do shed, and they can shed very, very heavily. This is a breed that will cover carpets, furniture, and clothing with dog hair all year long and would probably drive a neat freak or allergy sufferer crazy. Dunker owners have to make sure to carefully and regularly clean their dogs’ ears. The drooping ears of the Dunker can collect food, dirt, grime, and other particles which will cause irritation and infection if not removed.
It does not appear as though any health studies have been conducted on the Dunker, which makes it impossible to make any definitive statements on the breed’s health. Most fanciers seem to believe the Dunker is in average health. Many common canine health problems have been identified in the Dunker, although most are not found at high rates. Dunker breeders have long been extremely concerned about the breed’s health because it has such a small gene pool. For this reason, other breeds were crossbred with Dunkers in the late 1980’s to increase the dog’s genetic variety. While such breedings have increased the Dunker’s health, most believe that the Dunker is still at high risk of developing problems in the future. Among those problems which have been identified in the Dunker, most sources seem to indicate that hip dysplasia is the one of greatest concern. Potential owners should be especially careful of Dunkers with blue eyes. Such dogs often suffer from deafness in one or both ears.
Although skeletal and visual problems are not thought to be major problems in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
Although health studies have yet to be conducted on the Dunker, they have been for a number of similar and closely related breeds. Based on those studies, the following health concerns are likely to be present in the Dunker.