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Six-Toed Dog: The World's Rarest Breed

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Six-Toed Dog: The World's Rarest Breed

By John Parker
AURORA, Colo. -- At first glance, they don't look that much different than any other dog. Four legs and a tail -- check. Four paws -- check. Six toes. What? Six toes. On each foot.



Those extra toes are the first indication that the Lundehund is not like every other breed. They're most likely the rarest dogs on Earth -- yet, they are hardly known.


Estimates put the number of Lundehunds at around 1,500 in the world, and only around 250 live in the United States. Originally from Norway, Lundehund means "puffin dog."


At one time, the Lundehund did just what their name implies -- they hunted puffins on the rocky cliffs and in the caves along the coast of Norway. The breed remained unchanged for hundreds of years -- until they were almost wiped out by distemper during World War II. Sixty years ago -- there were only six Lundehunds left.


But thanks to a dedicated group of owners and breeders, the Lundehund is slowly coming back.


"Everyone I talk to has never heard of the breed," said Karen Woerner, a Colorado Lundehund owner. "They say -- is that a fox? What kind of dog is that?"


And it's not just the six toes that make folks take a second look. The Lundehund is extremely limber. They can turn their heads a full 180 degrees, rotate their legs over their heads, and even lie completely flat, with all four legs sticking straight out to the sides.


"They are a very unique dog, I will tell you that," said Kay Dahlinger, a Lundehund owner and breeder who says the dog's unusual six toes made it successful at what they were bred to do.


"The toes on the back, although they don't touch the ground when the dog is standing, when they're on the rocks, the toes hold them down like suction cups so they would not slide off the wet, slippery rocks," Dahlinger explained.


The Lundehund is also able to clamp its ears shut to protect them from wind and rain. That kind of ability helped them in often adverse weather conditions. But their extreme flexibility -- turning their heads, and moving their legs and joints at strange angles -- helped them squeeze in and out of tight spots while on the hunt for puffins.


As the breed is beginning to make a come back, breeders are careful to avoid inbreeding with so few blood lines to mix with. The challenge is compounded by Lundehunds averaging only two to fours puppies a litter, a fact that also contributed to the breed's endangered numbers.


With just a couple hundred dogs owned in the U.S., very few veterinarians are familiar or treated the breed.


"When you take them to the vet, they'll say, 'oh my gosh, look at those feet, what's wrong with their toes,' " said Paul Gjeldebennett, who's the proud owner of 18-month-old Lundehund.


Gjeldebennett says his dog, Bren, is part of the family, which is a strong Lundehund personality trait -- to bond with humans.


"They make their family their pack also," Gjeldebennett said. "They're very tight with their family. So you really feel that closeness with them. There's a real connection and a bond."


While bonding is a strong trait, the breed does have a genetic intestinal disorder that can lead to starvation, as some Lundehunds won't absorb nutrients from food. Although there
is no cure, the disease can be managed with a special diet.

The AKC, at this time, does not recognize the Lundehund as an individual breed, but owners and breeders hope that in the next two to three years they will.


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