The Ancient Swedish Vallhund Dog Was Almost Lost to History

By: Laurie L. Dove  | 

Swedish Vallhund
The Swedish Vallhund is a friendly, high-energy breed that loves to play and is great with kids. Wikimedia Commons (CC By 3.0)

They're fearless and fun, but also affectionate; what's not to love about the Swedish Vallhund? Fur, maybe. This loveable and ancient breed has a thick double coat, with an undercoat that sheds twice a year in some climates. Other than swimming in fur for two weeks out of 52 each year, this ancient breed is remarkably easy to maintain, has few health issues and comes with quite a history.

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The Dog That Nearly Wasn't

The Swedish Vallhund stands at 11 to 13 inches (28 to 33 centimeters) tall and weighs up to 35 pounds (16 kilograms), but don't let its size fool you: This small dog is big on personality. In fact, that's what draws many of the breed's enthusiasts.

"My Lucas loves to boop things when he is frustrated, is very vocal about his needs, will herd you (a wee nip) when you aren't moving fast enough, and is the sweetest, funniest, most loving dog we have ever had," emails Georgette Champagne, who lives in Virginia with her Swedish Vallhund, Lucas. "He loves his scritches!"

This personable little breed (that still retains its herding instincts) actually has an ancient pedigree that nearly went extinct. By the 1940s, few Swedes had seen a Swedish Vallhund and fewer still had one as a companion. It wasn't until Björn von Rosen, who already had successfully saved several ancient Swedish dog breeds, recalled the Swedish Vallhund of his youth that measures were taken to increase its numbers.

Von Rosen placed an advertisement in a newspaper, inquiring about existing dogs of that type, and eventually heard from a man named K.G. Zettersten. Together, they began a Swedish Vallhund breeding program predicated on finding foundation stock. Before long, they had located five suitable dogs — one male and four females — and were intent on bringing the Swedish Vallhund back to life.

In 1943, after just one year of exhibiting and showing Swedish Vallhunds, the breed was recognized by the Swedish Kennel Club. It wasn't until 1974 that the breed expanded outside Sweden, with the first Swedish Vallhund transported to England. By 1986, the first Swedish Vallhund litter had been born in the United States, but it wasn't until 2007 that the breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

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Charming Characteristics

Swedish Vallhunds are a type of spitz dog, which are generally known for erect ears, pointed muzzles, dense fur and plumed tails that curl upward to rest atop their spines. The wolfish shapes of spitz dogs remain consistent regardless of size or breed, from the tiny Pomeranian to the dignified Akita, with the Swedish Vallhund ranking somewhere in the middle for size. Their thick coats range in color from red to sable to gray.

Although Swedish Vallhunds often have plumed, curled tails, they are just as likely to be born with no tail at all or to have a bobbed tail, the result of natural genetic mutations. Those born with long tails may have them docked, with the breed standard focusing more on individual dog's physical and temperamental soundness than tail appearance.

A Swedish Vallhund typically has a high energy level. It loves to play, requires plenty of daily exercise (at least two hours!) and is known for its friendliness toward children. Thankfully, this boisterous breed also is easy to train because of its intelligence. Swedish Vallhunds are cheerful and usually friendly with other pets and can be quite vocal.

"There's a special sound Vallhunds make known as 'argle bargles,'" Sharon Steigerwald of upstate New York, who has two Swedish Vallhunds, says in an email interview. "It's hard to describe, but they talk to you with this 'argle bargle' to get something or just to say they are having a good time and they are happy."

Because of their need for mental and physical challenges, Swedish Vallhunds are ideal companions for those who frequently hike or jog, and the breed is adept at herding and agility games. Keep in mind, though, that this herding instinct doesn't always translate well to modern life. Swedish Vallhunds are prone to chasing any kind of moving object, including cars, which means they need plenty of obedience training for their own safety.

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Little Viking Dogs

The Swedish Vallhund, with its wolf-like coloring and short legs, looks like a mashup of a Welsh corgi and Norwegian elkhound — and with good reason. More than 1,000 years ago when Vikings needed a good dog for herding animals and guarding property (and perhaps for a little snuggle by the hearth fire), the Swedish Vallhund answered the call.

It's widely believed that as the Vikings entered Britain, some of the Swedish Vallhunds that accompanied them were bred by Welsh corgis or Welsh corgis were taken back to Sweden for breeding. This may account for the Swedish Vallhund's diminutive height, but the Swedish Vallhund is actually more closely related to the spitz family of dogs once used for hunting in Scandinavia; scientists point to the skeletal similarities between the Swedish Vallhund and Norwegian elkhound in particular.

"What drew us to Vallhunds originally was their look," says Steigerwald, "but when we researched the breed we fell in love with the ancient Viking concept. The sturdy little dog with the smile on its face. We are so happy with our choice. We live near Rochester, New York, so there's plenty of snow and these little dogs with their double coats love it here. They are great company."

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