Swedish Vallhunds were known for centuries as Cattle Dogs or Vikingarnas Hunds, meaning Viking Dogs. This native breed of Sweden can be traced back over a thousand years and probably accompanied the Vikings on their journeys. When not traveling, the Vallhunds resided with their masters in the flat southwestern region of Sweden, where the dogs earned their keep guarding ranches and farms, herding sheep and cattle, and keeping the rodent population at bay. Despite their long history, this breed remained relatively unknown in other countries until the latter part of the twentieth century.
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi looks like a stockier version of the Swedish Vallhund; albeit with even shorter legs and a longer body. The similarity is such that two breeds could be related, having possibly been brought together by the Vikings who traveled to Wales in the 8th and 9th centuries. This theory, however, is based solely upon their physical similarities and there is no evidence to the idea that the Corgi may have been brought back to Sweden or the Vallhund to Wales. At present the relationship between the two breeds is mere speculation and it would sophisticated DNA tests to determine if there is any genetic connection between them. Historian and authority on Welsh dogs, Clifford Hubbard (1913-2005) believed the Vallhund to be the older of the two breeds.
The Vallhunds were common in Sweden until World War I when their numbers declined rapidly. Over the course of the next two decades the breed nearly became extinct. Count Bjorn von Rosen, a member of the Swedish Kennel Klub (SKK), had already worked to save other Swedish breeds from disappearing, including the Jamthund (Swedish Elkhound). He found a new cause in the Swedish Cattle Dog, which he remembered from boyhood summers spent on a farm in Vastergotland, a province in southwestern Sweden. There he had seen the little dogs trailing behind farmers going to market and trotting in front of teams of horses. Unwilling to let the native breed vanish forever without a fight, Rosen placed an ad in the Skarabarg newspaper for purebred Vallhunds, to start a breeding program.
In the summer of 1942, Mr. Karl-Gustav Zettersten answered the ad, beginning a lengthy collaboration between the two men. Zettersten, a teacher in Vara, a small town in Vastergotland, was also an avid dog fancier who bred Scottish Terriers. He too had taken note of the Vallhunds in the region, seeing them at horse sales and on farms. Zettersten and Rosen rode bicycles through the surrounding countryside of Vara, in search of the best breed specimens. Their mission soon proved more challenging than expected, as they discovered most Vallhunds had already been mixed with other breeds.
It is noteworthy to report that Rosen found no Pembroke Corgis in the region, lending credence to the theory that, if indeed Corgis and Vallhunds are related, the Corgi was not brought to Sweden, rather the Vallhund arrived in Wales, mixed with the Welsh herding dog, producing the Pembroke Corgis of today.
Finally their efforts began to pan out when they found Topsy, a female Vallhund, on the Anderson’s farm. Next they happened on Mopsen, a male, but he only had one testicle. Still, they were not in a position to be picky, and the dog’s lack of two testicles was not considered a disqualifier in those days. Ironically, Mopsen went on to become the first recognized stud of the breed.
Zettersten and Rosen found two more female Vallhunds, Lessi and Vivi. With the four dogs they began their breeding program. Mopsen fathered a male, Jerry2650TT, by Lessi; a female, Tessan3999VV by Vivi; and Borgalls Mopsan7871VV might have been born to Topsy. Some doubt exists as to whether Topsy was actually Borgalls’ mother, since she was already twelve years old when they acquired her.
In Rosen’s estimation, Topsy was by far the best Vallhund specimen of the lot, so he used her qualities as a blue print when he wrote the breed standard, which he sent, along with photos of all the dogs, to the SKK. In the fall, six of the dogs were entered in the Goteborg Dog Show. Rosen was one of the three judges, along with Colonel Bertil Buren and Baron Carl Leuhusen. All three agreed that Topsy was the ideal Vallhund and were determined to promote standards of breeding that retained the Vallhund’s herding ability and maintained their traditional appearance. They wanted to ensure that Swedish Vallhunds continued to “look like [your] grandfathers dog.”
It took at least a year of entering the dogs in exhibitions, before the Scandinavian Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1943 or 1948. (Sources are fairly evenly divided between the two dates). Meanwhile, Rosen wrote articles on Vallhunds for a major Swedish newspaper, the Svenska Dagbladet, helping to increase the popularity of the breed. Count von Rosen included the story surrounding his work to save the Vallhund in his book Mitt Hundliv, (My Dog Life) which, unfortunately, is not available in English.
Karl Zettersten had no intention of continuing to breed Vallhunds. But when the Swedish Kennel Klub kept referring people to him for Vallhund puppies, he felt duty bound to the cause of reestablishing the breed. He started the Borghalla Kennel and continued bicycling the countryside in search of more dogs. He found Tyra, whose pedigree was known on her mother’s side three generations back. Tyra was mated with Pelle, a son of Tessan and Mopsen. Their offspring, Borghallas Ajo, became a “very notable stud”. Zettersten was responsible for breeding Borghallas Delial, who became the first Swedish Vallhund champion.
In 1964 the Swedish standard for the breed was revised and the dogs became known as Vastogtaspets, after the province Vastergotland, where the breed revival had originated. In English speaking countries, the name became Swedish Vallhunds, which translates to Swedish herding dogs. The Swedish breed club for Vallhunds is called Specialklubben for Vastogtaspets or SKV.
In 1964 the first Vallhund, a red male named Lille-Bror, was brought to Finland. Nina Swaab brought the first two Vallhunds, Rodagardens Elof and Scarlet, to the Netherlands in 1978. Sheila and Dennis Haddon introduced the breed to Australia in January, 1981. Dorothea Schinz-Graf brought Tomtemors Gram from Sweden to Switzerland in 1983. Vastgotgardens Alex was imported from Sweden to France in 1989.
The first Swedish Vallhund, Snackans Kickan, arrived in the U.K. in 1974. He was brought to Ryslip Kennels by Mrs. Elizabeth Cartledge, a native of Sweden. Nicky Gascoigne helped form the Swedish Vallhund Society (SVS) in England, which received approval from the Kennel Club of the U.K. in 1980. Gascoigne wrote the book The Swedish Vallhund printed in 1989.
Joseph and Elizabeth Cartledge played a key role in bringing the first Swedish Vallhunds to New Zealand, as well. In 1973, Marie Cooper was showing her Pekinese at a dog show in New Zealand. Joe Cartledge was so impressed by sixteen-year-old Marie Cooper’s dog handling skills that he offered her a job working at their kennel. Cooper accepted and flew to England in 1974, where she worked at Ryslip Kennels for over a year. When she returned to New Zealand in 1975, Cooper brought back with her Ryslip Fabian, known as Puffin, a puppy born from Elizabeth Cartledge’s two imported Vallhunds, Valle of Ryslip and Snackens Isa. In 1976, Liz Cartledge sent Marie Cooper another dog, Maiden of Duncliffe, known as Margot, who was Puffin’s half-sister from Duncliffe Kennel. In November of 1978, Cooper bred Puffin and Margot, to whom three puppies were born. Unfortunately, these first Swedish Vallhunds in New Zealand were all desexed (spayed & neutered), ending this line of the breed.
Marie Cooper still contributed in a small way to getting the Vallhund established in New Zealand. In 1982 Ian and Lesley Gray were looking for a hobby; since Ian had grown up on a farm he decided to research dog breeds. He and his wife attended dog shows and researched a variety of breeds. Through his reading, he became taken with the Swedish Vallhund, although he had yet to see one in person. In these days (before the Internet) the process was slow; they wrote several Kennel Clubs and were put in touch with Marie Cooper. She let Puffin stay with the Grays, which served to win their hearts for Vallhunds. Eventually they made contact with the Swedish Vallhund Society in the U.K. and corresponded with Nicky Gascoigne, who was the secretary for the organization and owner of Rosern Kennel. She helped the Grays acquire Rosern Vancy and Santa of Rosern in March of 1984. The dogs flew from England to New Zealand; and upon their arrival Lesley Gray reported: “At our first glimpse of their little gray coats through the gratings of their crates, we thought there was some mistake. We’d been sent a couple of little possums! On closer inspection, it was all right. They were two beautiful Vallhunds.”
Three weeks after Santa and Vancy arrived, the Grays invited Mr. and Mrs. Ivan Swedrup to their home. They knew Mr. Swedrup was an All-Breeds judge, but they did not realize that he was Secretary General of the Swedish Kennel Klub for almost thirty years. Swedrup had been closely involved with Count Von Rosen’s breeding program, so he was quite pleased to see well-bred Vallhunds in New Zealand and to know quality breeding programs were spreading to other countries.
The Grays started Valdemar Kennel when they bred Vancy and Santa, whose fist litter of five was born in August 1985. The Grays’ Vallhunds became New Zealand Champions. The couple got their dogs involved in obedience training and agility competitions. Ian Gray lobbied for agility rules in New Zealand to concur with those in the United Kingdom; he also started a magazine “Agility Link” and helped start the Dog Agility Training Association.
In 1985 the first two Vallhunds arrived in California, but they were not bred. That same year, Marilyn Thell, a Rhode Island resident, saw Vallhunds at Crufts Dog Show in England. Being of Swedish descent, she was intrigued by the breed and, after researching them, she brought Starvon Glenby and Repetas Julia to the U.S. She imported two more after that (Starvon Hopeful and Starvon Kadora) and bred them. In September 1986, a litter of nine was born at Jonricker Kennel, marking the advent of the first Vallhunds born on U.S. soil.
Mrs. Thell founded the Swedish Vallhund Enthusiasts Club (SVEC) in 1987 and served as president through 1996. In 1994 the club changed its name to Swedish Vallhund Club of America (SVCA). At the annual general membership meeting in Detroit in 1997, the SVCA voted to begin working toward American Kennel Club (AKC) recognition for both the club and the breed. Toward that end, they needed to send their dog registry to the AKC/FSS (Foundation Stock Service). Ms. Leonie Darling of Australia contributed the Breedmate database program to generate pedigree records. Ms. Jacqui Bayliss of the U.K. (author of The Study of Swedish Vallhunds) and Leonie Darling provided assistance in entering breed information into the database to attain ancestral pedigrees. In 1999, the Swedish Vallhund Club of America (SVCA) submitted their registry of 292 Swedish Vallhunds to the AKC/FSS. The Swedish Vallhund was recognized by the AKC in 2007 as part of Herding Group.
Ulla Gamberg of Vastogota Kennel in Ontario, was responsible for importing the first Swedish Vallhunds to Canada, beginning with Ebba, whom she brought over in 1993. Mrs. Gamberg worked toward Canadian Kennel Club recognition of the breed, which it attained in 1995.
Swedish Valhunds were admitted to the Westminster Dog Show in 2008, which means the breed club has at least one hundred members and at least three-hundred dogs in the United States with a registered pedigree going back three generations. These pedigreed dogs must be spread around the country, not just located in one region.
Today Swedish Vallhunds are recognized and found in the U.S., Sweden, Britain, Finland, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, and Switzerland. They compete in agility, tracking, obedience, herding, and flyball, and are trained as service and therapy dogs. In their native Sweden, Vallhunds still excel as herders, but are also trained to hunt truffles and to perform in search and rescue operations for the army. According to the Swedish Vallhund Society in the U.K., Vallhunds are solidly established in Britain, where they continue to grow in popularity. The AKC breed popularity poll of 2007 ranked the Vallhund 87th out of 157 breeds.
Male Swedish Vallhunds measure (ground to withers) 12.5 to 13.5 inches in height; the females stand 11.5 to 12.5 inches tall. The AKC lists no specific weight parameters for the breed because it is a working dog, but the Vallhund’s weight falls within the general range of 20 to 35 pounds.
Their coat colors are a sable pattern, ranging from gray to red. These colors can be in combination with any shades in that palette. Vallhunds should always have harness markings. A well defined mask and lighter hair around the eyes, on the muzzle, and under the throat are desirable. They may have white on their neck, legs, and chest, but not covering more than a third of their coats.
Swedish Vallhunds are double-coated, with medium length outer coats that are close-fitting; their undercoats consist of soft, dense fur. Their hair is shortest on the head and foreparts of the legs and longest on the neck, chest, and backs of the hind legs.
Their wedge-shaped heads are almost flat, and broad with a clear cut stop. Their oval eyes are dark brown and rimmed in black. They have medium sized prick ears set at the outer edge of the skull; the hair on the ears is smooth. In profile, the muzzle is squarish and a bit shorter than the skull; the muzzle and skull are parallel. The nose is on the same line as the muzzle, not extending beyond it. Their noses and lips are black. The lips are tight, closing in a scissor bite over a complete set of teeth.
The Vallhund’s body is strong, sturdy, and muscular, with a 2:3 ratio of height to length (when length is measured from prosternum to farthest point of buttocks). The topline is level, even when the dog is in motion. Their chests are deep; in mature dogs, the chest goes two fifths of the way down the forelegs. Viewed from the front, the chest is oval shaped and elliptical shaped in the side view. The underline of the dog is slightly tucked and the loin is short and strong. Upper and lower thighs are muscular; the lower thigh is a bit longer than the length of the dog from hock to ground. Upper arms are at a ninety degree angle to the shoulders, fitting close to the ribs.
The tip of the shoulder blade through the elbow forms a line perpendicular to the ground. Forearms are slightly curved when seen from the front, straight when viewed from the side. The dog should measure from ground to elbow half its height (ground to withers). The Vallhund’s feet are medium size and oval shaped; with thick, strong pads. Their tails can be natural or docked. Within any given litter, Vallhund puppies may be born with bobbed, stub, or long tails.
Swedish Vallhunds have been described as “big dogs in small bodies” because, despite their size, they are powerful and fearless. Even tempered with engaging personalities, they adapt well, enjoy being the center of attention, and are both fun and funny.
Swedish Vallhunds make great family dogs and companions; they love people and are friendly, gentle, and loyal. They want to be included in family activities and should not be left alone for too long. They are good with children, but need to be socialized well and early with them, especially very young ones. Vallhunds herd by nipping at heels, so you will have to be firm in training your Vallhund away from this behavior.
Vallhunds get along fine with family pets if they are socialized with them from an early age. However, they will probably be unable to resist going after other small animals because of their herding instincts. Generally, they get along well with other dogs and enjoy playing with other Vallhunds, but may chase off dogs they don’t know. They are less likely to get along with dogs of the same sex.
Swedish Vallhunds make good watchdogs because they are attuned and alert, brave, and wired to protect their families. They will bark long and loud at anything strange, from unfamiliar people to things that go bump in the night. In fact, you will need to train your Vallhund not to continue barking, as they tend to overdo it.
Overall, training Vallhunds is not difficult because they are smart and eager to please. They learn commands quickly and enjoy any challenge you give them. Keep in mind, though, that Vallhunds are puppies until they are four years old. When training, you need to exert strong leadership, setting and enforcing rules and limits, but always with positive reinforcement. Your Vallhund wants and needs you to take the lead. You will need to pay attention to and curb your dog’s tendencies toward over-protectiveness. If you do not, you may wind up with a pet who tries to take charge of your family, mistrusts strangers, and displays aggressive behavior toward other dogs.
Swedish Vallhunds have high energy, both physically and mentally. They are always ready to play and to learn from you. They are thinking dogs, capable of surviving independently, which means your Vallhund may sometimes exhibit a strong-will. If their needs for mental stimulation go unmet, they can become destructive. Athletic and active, both indoors and out, Vallhunds like to fetch and chase and are extremely fast. Although they do enjoy being outdoors, they can do well living in an apartment, as long as you give them enough exercise, which includes daily walks.
Vallhunds are considered low maintenance. Their water and weather resistant double coats help keep them clean, dry, and without that “doggy odor”. Their coats do not require trimming and are easy to brush out. For about three weeks, between winter and spring, they shed a lot as they lose their undercoat. During this time it is best to brush them daily. Otherwise, weekly brushing, occasional bathing, and regular care of their teeth and nails, are all the maintenance required.
Swedish Vallhunds are a hardy and long living breed with few inherited genetic problems. The average life span ranges from fourteen to sixteen years, with many living longer. The oldest age on record for a Vallhund is twenty-seven years.
Dr. Andaras Komarom, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at University of Pennsylvania, undertook research and data collection on eye health issues of Swedish Vallhunds. Eye problems are the dominant health concern and in particular, Cataracts and Retinopathy, either of which can cause blindness. Persistent Papillary Membranes (PPM) was the most commonly occurring hereditary eye condition in the Vallhund study.
Other possible health problems are: