Loyal, athletic, vocal, and affectionate, the Swedish Vallhund is an ancient spitz breed that dates back over 1,000 years to the time of the Vikings, hence its sobriquet-Vikingarnas Dog-the Viking Dog. A small dog, the Swedish Vallhund measures about 12-13 inches for dogs and 11-12 inches for bitches at the withers. Although they may be small in stature and in numbers, the raves these energetic dogs receive from their owners are colossal.
“This breed is so easy to fall in love with. They are the ideal dog for an active person who wants a dog to have fun with. They can do anything—herding, agility, conformation, assisted therapy, hiking, and anything else you want to do. This is a very smart dog. They have a brain that needs to be used and challenged or they’ll use their brain on their owners,” says Mary Bennett, vice president of the Swedish Vallhund Club of America (SVCA). In his native country, this little dog has been tapped for rescue and patrol duty with the Swedish army.
Work ethic aside, Vallhunds instinctively know how to have a good time.
“Swedish Vallhunds won’t let you ignore them, and they know how to cheer you up when you’re having a bad day. They have a sense of humor and a real joy for life,” says SVCA president Louise McCombs.
“These dogs are extremely social, very attached to their owners, and they find ways to let you know if you’re not paying them enough attention. One day I guess I was on my computer a little bit longer than my dog Calen, who was a year old at the time, though I should be. He’d tried to get my attention, but I just kept working. Then I realized that I hadn’t seen him for a bit and that it was way too quiet in the house. When I got up to see what he was up to not only was I surprised, but I have to say I was impressed. Galen had gone into the bathroom and very carefully, without tearing a single sheet, had toilet-papered my front room. He’d taken the whole roll of toilet paper and weaved it through the legs of chairs, tables, you name it he did it!” says Gail Smyka, SVCAeducation chairperson.
Historians believe that during the eighth or ninth century the Vikings either brought the Swedish Vallhund to the coast of Wales or took the Pembroke Corgi back to Sweden and interbred them, hence the similarities between
the two breeds. Some historians believe the Swedish Vallhund to be the older of the two breeds. They are longer-legged, not as long in body, and not as stocky as the Corgi. They are also low to the ground and herd by nipping at the hocks of their target.
Like many ancient European breeds, their numbers declined through the middle of the 20th century. By the 1940s, they were all but extinct. Bjorn von Rosen, who had worked to save several old Swedish breeds, remembered the Swedish Vallhund from his boyhood and decided to take on the task of reviving the breed. Von Rosen placed a news paper advertisement regarding these dogs and received a response from K.G. Zettersten.
The men scoured the country, found a few of the old Swedish Vallhunds, and began a program to revitalize the breed. They started with one male named Mopsen and three females-Vivi, Lessi, and Topsy. These dogs and their offspring became the foundation for the breed. In 1943, after a year of exhibition showing, the Swedish Kennel Club recognized the Svensk or Swedish Vallhund. The word vallhund means herding dog.
In 1964, when the Swedish standard was revised, the breed there became known as Vastgotaspet after the Swedish province Vastergotland, in which the revived breeding program was started. In 1974, the first Swedish Vallhund was sent to England. Nicky Gascoigne helped to organize the Breed Society there in 1980, and championship status for the breed was received in 1985 from the Kennel Club.
On a trip to England in 1985, Marilyn Thell, of Rhode Island, saw a Swedish Vallhund at Crufts. Thell’s Swedish ancestry inspired her to find out more about the breed. In July of that year, she brought two Swedish Vallhunds to the United States. Two additional dogs arrived soon after, and the first litter of nine Swedish Vallhunds was whelped at Jonricker Kennels on September 4, 1986.
In 1987, Thell founded the SVCA, first known as the Swedish Vallhund Enthusiasts of America.
The Swedish Vallhund has a unique, and seemingly endless, need to talk. Owners call these vocalizations the argle bargle.
“They love to talk. I guess you could say it’s a combination of howls, yips, and barks. They love to chatter to each other and their owners. These are very vocal dogs. If you’re looking for a quiet dog, then the Swedish Vallhund is probably not for you,” says Nancy Tousignant, SVCA treasurer.
They also appear to understand human language very well.
“This breed is extremely intelligent and very easy to train. They want to please you, and they love doing things with their owners. My Solveig [Swedish for Sophie] knows that each of her toys has a different name. She actually knows her toys by name and she will bring the exact toy I ask her for,” says Tousignant.
In fact, the Swedish Vallhund is so easy to train and quick to learn that Tousignant has started a new game-find the truffle. She’s training them to sniff out the prized delicacy.
“I started by putting a truffle with a little bit of truffle oil in a small plastic container around the house in clear view for them to find. Now I hide it in different places around the house that they can’t see but they still find it every time,” says Tousignant. The next step will be to look for the real thing out in the field.
Swedish Vallhunds also have some fascinating quirks, winch owners simply refer to as vallisms. They will attack vacuum cleaners, rakes, shovels, and brooms, perceiving these implements as threats to their owners, even when their owners are the ones wielding them.
Born to Herd
Of course, their greatest talent is herding. From all accounts, the herding ability of this breed is not only remarkable but extremely instinctual. They seem to be born with it.
“At our national in Atlanta in 2003, we offered instinct and herding tests. It was amazing to watch. Dogs that had never herded or even seen sheep before knew immediately how to herd. Aegir, who was 6 months old at the time, brought together a group of sheep that had split into two groups even though he’d never seen sheep before that day,” says McCombs.
“When Hagar was 10 weeks old I took him with me to an animal shelter I visit. When we got there it quickly became apparent that some feral, aggressive roosters had gotten loose and were roaming the grounds. Hagar immediately circled and moved them away from me. It never even occurred to Hagar that the roosters might go after him, and after one look at this little puppy the roosters knew he meant business,” says Bennett.
Vallhunds also want to make sure that the humans in their care are rounded up and moving in the right direction. “These dogs definitely herd their people. When I get home they surround me and bump up against me with their noses. We call this the nose-blatt. Basically, they’re herding me into the house,” says Bennett.
A millennium ago, the Vikings relied on these sturdy, stocky dogs with the natural herding ability. Although their numbers are small in the United States, owners of the Swedish Vallhund are wildly enthusiastic about the breed’s future. After all, good things often come in small packages.