The Swedish Vallhund - Farm Worker and Family Friend
With so many breeds to include, unfortunately one of my favorite breeds was left out of Farm Dogs. From time to time, I hope to profile some additional great farm dogs, like the Swedish Vallhund.
A truly old and native type, this little herding dog can be found on the carved bowsprits of surviving Viking ships. It is commonly assumed that that the Vallhund and the corgi are connected in some way, although there is absolutely no firm proof. It is extremely likely the Vikings brought their little farm dogs along with their families, and stock during their settlement efforts in England and Wales, where they may have influenced the native little heeler dogs. What is unknown is whether the Vikings took the early corgis, or perhaps Viking corgi crosses, back with them to their homes in Scandinavia. Genetic studies may eventually reveal the true relationship.
This short-legged cattle dog was present in Sweden, for at least one thousand years. These little dogs have been called by various names: Viking dog, Swedish cattle dog, västgöta spitz, and vallhund – meaning grazing, pasture, herding or shepherd’s dog. Officially the breed is called Västgötaspets, meaning spitz of the West Goths, and that name that reflects his recent recovery from near extinction in Västergötland.
In Västergötland, the plains around Vara are farm and grazing land, where the little farm dogs were in use with cattle and sheep well into 20th century. The little bobtailed workers were a common sight on the farms and in the markets into the years of WWI. However their numbers began to diminish, partially due to the adoption of the Border collie for both herding and trialing. During the years of WWII, dedicated supporters bicycled the countryside in search of good quality dogs. Starting at first with six dogs, they were able to bring deserved attention to this historic breed and the Swedish Kennel Club recognized their efforts. While still searching for more dogs, a breeding program and standard were established. Perhaps partially an expression of nationalism in the midst of war, 31 Vallhunds were soon registered and the breed was on its way towards a renaissance.
Today there are about 200 Valhunds registered yearly in Sweden. In 1964, the name was officially changed to Västgötaspets, to honor the region where the breed was saved, although it is widely called the Swedish Vallhund elsewhere in the world. The breed quickly found homes in many places, including Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Britain, New Zealand, and Australia. Vallhunds were also imported to North America, where the various kennel clubs recognized the breed. Today there are more than 1000 Vallhunds in the U.S.
Despite his height, the Vallhund is a sturdy and strong dog, with moderately heavy bone. Vallhunds stand 12 to 14 inches tall and weigh 25 to 35 pounds. The Vallhund has longer legs and a shorter back than a corgi. His head is wedge-shaped with a well-defined stop; dark, oval eyes; and medium-sized, pointed, erect ears. The SV is a natural bobtail breed, with about half of the population born with no tail or a stub tail of varying lengths. The rest are born with a full length, naturally curled spitz type tail. The standard for the Vallhund accepts all tail lengths and types and does not promote docking.
The Vallhund is double-coated, with a harsh, tight, weatherproof outer coat, while the undercoat is dense and soft. The color is sable or tipped with black color, in shades of gray, grayish brown or grayish yellow, and reddish yellow or reddish brown. Like a wolf, the darker hair is found on the back, neck, and sides. Lighter color, called harness markings, is found on the shoulders. White color is permitted in limited areas such as the face, neck, chest, and legs.
Vallhunds are alert watchdogs, who are loyal, devoted, and affectionate to their owners. They are also intelligent, willing, self-confident, and fearless dogs that can test and push their owners a bit. Like all heelers, their urge to nip or herd people needs to be discouraged in the home. Although they are well-tempered and happy dogs, they do need basic obedience training and good socialization. They are not overly protective or aggressive to strangers and they get along well with other family pets or children. Left alone too much, they can become problem barkers. They definitely need some good exercise every day. In addition to herding, Vallhunds enjoy dog sports such as agility.
Swedish Vallhunds made the transition directly from a working role on family farms to a new one as an active, companion dog. However, they are still well suited to life as herder and all-purpose farm dog. In Sweden, the general-purpose Vallhund is still used on farms with cattle. He possesses good cattle skills and can gather sheep, with a tendency to work close to the animals. He is also a very agile and active worker. In an effort to preserve the breed’s good instincts, the Swedish club has its own practical herding test of the Vallhund’s cattle working abilities, which includes gathering and sorting stock. Vallhunds love to be with their owners and will happily accompany them on daily routines inside and outside. They will also perform ratting and small vermin chores around the farm.
Temperament –moderate to high energy, willing, loose-eyed, heeler, gather
TS Eriksson - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15223943