Swedish Vallhunds are fascinating dogs with a long, colorful history, sharing their origins with Vikings. If you think this means they are powerful dogs, despite their size, you’re right. The Vallhund is an amazingly energetic dog with a lot of spunkiness and a work ethic. While they may be low to the ground, the Swedish Vallhund (or SV for short) is a giant in the herding world. “Vallhund” itself is a Swedish word that means “herding dog.” They were bred to be short-legged to nip the heels of cattle while avoiding getting kicked.
This breed is incredibly spirited, with a vibrant personality that is sure to bring a smile to your face. They are friendly, loyal, and loving– excellent for many different family types. This breed is not for the faint of heart. They require plenty of exercise to remain fit and happy. They also tend to be quite vocal, so they need training from the moment you bring them home. Despite all of this, they are fantastic dogs with love that is as boundless as their energy.
Let’s dig in and take a look at everything a new owner needs to know about their Vallhund. We take a look at their origins, temperament, and appearance, plus what you need to know to care for them. This helpful guide ensures that you are prepared to give your dog the happy and healthy life it deserves.
The beginnings of the Swedish Vallhund are steeped in mystery simply because they’ve been around for such a long time. It’s certain that they are native to Sweden, though, as you may have guessed by their name. The breed is over a thousand years old, dating back to the 8th or 9th centuries, and is believed to have been called the Vikingarnas Dog by the Vikings. By studying archaeological remains, we can ascertain their ancestors came from native Arctic wolves, bred with domestic dogs from the south, resulting in a Spitz-type canine.
These dogs were bred to be multipurpose farmhands, but their greatest talent was protecting the herds. Their alertness and bravery made them exceptional at keeping the cattle safe. In many parts of the world, they keep this duty to this day. This is why they are sometimes called Swedish Cattle Dogs. This breed has obtained many different nicknames over the centuries. They are also known as Swedish Cow Dogs, Wolf Corgis, and most importantly, “Västgötaspets” after Västergötland, the county in Sweden where the dogs were developed.
It is thought that the Vallhund was brought to Great Britain after the Vikings had conquered many areas of the isles in the 8th to 11th Centuries. This is where they were supposedly bred with Welsh Corgis, though some sources say that Corgis were brought from Wales to Sweden around that same time. While it is unknown if the Swedish Vallhund is actually related to the Corgi, they are definitely part of the Spitz family.
The Vallhunds continued their work as cattle dogs over the many centuries. However, as the years went by, their numbers gradually dwindled. Come the early 1940s, hundreds of years had passed, and the breed almost died out. It was thanks to the efforts of Count Björn von Rosen, a diplomat, and dog enthusiast that the breed was brought back from the brink of extinction. He sought to preserve the breed after he had recalled seeing it in his boyhood.
In the year 1943, the Swedish Kennel Club recognized the breed after it had been on show for a year. The standard was revised in 1964 where Sweden declared the breed as being called Västgötaspets since the breeding program was developed in Västergötland. The name “Vallhund” went to the English-speaking world. By 1974, the first Swedish Vallhund was brought to England, where they continue to thrive today.
It wasn’t until 1985 that U.S. shores welcomed the breed. Marilyn Thell, a Rhode Island native, was of Swedish descent and picked up two puppies while abroad in England. On September 4, 1986, the first litter of Vallhunds was whelped at Jonricker Kennel, and the population has only grown since. The AKC recognized the Swedish Vallhund as its 157th breed in 2007. Today, the AKC ranks it the 147th most popular breed in America. We are hopeful that this wonderful breed continues to grow in popularity as the years pass.
As far as temperament goes, Vallhunds are exceptionally vibrant and full of life. They are commonly described as friendly, energetic, and watchful. Those words capture the essence of the Vallhund completely. This dog loves interaction, and they always want to be around their humans.
VS’s are entertainers with clownish antics. They are eager to please and are always happy to show off and make their family smile. However, given their high energy needs, they are not suitable for people who may be too busy to get them the exercise required.
While they have larger-than-life personalities, they are very even-tempered. They are friendly and make for a great family dog. They get on well with children and other animals whom they’ve been raised with. However, watch out for their herding instincts. They may try to circle around family members in an attempt to “herd” them together. This is simply their way of showing they care and that they’re good at what they’ve been bred to do.
When they are tired out after a long day of work and exercise, they make for perfect cuddle buddies. They love to lounge around with their family just as much as they love being the center of attention. For this reason, take care not to leave them alone for too long, as they can suffer from separation anxiety.
Watch out for this breed’s exuberance, as they can be very vocal dogs. Training them is of utmost importance. This way, they know when it is appropriate to make noise. They are great at keeping watch over the home for this same reason, and their protective instincts come from guarding farms.
Vallhunds are intelligent and may come across as being independent sometimes. This quality is much desired in working dogs. However, they are still very affectionate. This mix of qualities makes them a good choice for a variety of work, both on and off the farm.
Size & Appearance
You’ll know just by looking at them that SV’s are short dogs. They are low to the ground and quite long. This makes it easy for them to nip at the hocks of the cattle they herd. They are a strong and sturdy breed, making them very suitable for work on the farm. Vallhunds stand at around 12.5 to 13.5 inches at the withers for males and 11.5 to 12.5 inches for females. They are hefty for their height and weigh around 20 to 35 pounds.
The Swedish Vallhund’s head is quite long and makes up about one-third of their body proportion. Their eyes are of medium size and are oval in shape. These are colored dark brown with black eye rims. Their ears are also medium-sized, prick and pointed, set at the outer edge of the skull. The Vallhund’s muzzle is squarish when viewed in profile and slightly shorter than the skull. Both the lips and the nose are black.
As for their neck, it is long with good muscular definition and fine reach. The topline stays level when they stand or move. The AKC describes Vallhund’s gait as being “sound, with strong reach and drive”. It is essential that this dog is agile and hardy, and the way they move should reflect this. Their shoulders are strongly muscled, with laid-back shoulder blades. The forearms are slightly curved when viewed from the front, and the elbows are even, turning neither in nor out.
Vallhund’s hindquarters balance the front legs in angulation. These legs are powerful to allow for quick movement during work. The feet are medium-sized and short, with tight-knit toes and thick paw pads. The Vallhund’s tail can actually be of any length– from no tail at all to a long, curly tail. They are born this way, as tail docking is illegal in Sweden.
Coat & Colors
The Swedish Vallhund’s coat is part of what makes them appear so wolf-like. It is of medium length, with a tight outer coat and a soft, dense undercoat. It is short on the head and the forelegs and slightly longer on the neck, chest, and hindlegs. Their fur does not grow very long. It is of a straight texture, where curly or fluffy coats are a fault.
As for color, the breed standard dictates “a sable pattern seen in colors of grey through red and combinations of these colors in various shades.” So you won’t really see a lot of Vallhunds that have coat colors beyond gray and red. You will find lighter shades of these colors on the belly, buttocks, chest, lower legs, feet, and hocks. In case you’re wondering, sable is a pattern where the tip of the fur is darker than the base, as seen in our beloved Vallhund.
It’s also imperative that they have their distinct harness markings where the coloration is lighter. White is allowed as “a narrow blaze, neck spot, slight necklace, and white markings on the legs and chest.”
The Swedish Vallhund requires a high amount of exercise, which is what makes them challenging for first-time dog owners. Their high energy needs plus their great intelligence makes them high-maintenance dogs when it comes to needing activity. This means that you’re going to have to establish an exercise regimen for them that includes plenty of variety as well as much frequency.
Everybody in the home should take part in caring for this aspect of your dog’s needs. Allowing them to burn off their energy is crucial to them behaving well because bored dogs usually turn to destructive tendencies. You can avoid this by taking them out on long walks every day for around an hour. They are happy to hike with you if you live in an area that is more rural.
Vallhunds are eager to run and play, so they do best in places that have large areas they can patrol. However, a fenced-in yard should also do the trick. Since they are so intelligent, be sure to have an array of games to play together, such as fetch and tug-o-war. If you are lucky enough to live on a farm and have sheep or cattle that need herding, you should not pass up the opportunity to let your dog do what they do best. If you like, you can also train them in dog sports like agility, given enough space to set up an obstacle course.
Despite needing a lot of exercise, your SV will not be unhappy to live in a smaller home— provided, of course, that you do give them the exercise they need. If you can manage to bring them out for several walks a day, as well as train them not to be too noisy, they will be fine living in an apartment space. This is partly due to them being on the smaller side. Be sure that they have a lot of toys to keep them busy so as not to trigger any destructive tendencies.
Coming from Sweden, in very cold Scandinavia, your Swedish Vallhund will be fine with colder temperatures. They may even enjoy playing and working in the snow. We have their thick double coat to thank for this. Conversely, they do not tolerate hot weather very well. Ensure that they have plenty of shade and water during the summer months, and keep them indoors whenever possible.
Since they are smart dogs, one would hope that Swedish Vallhunds would take quickly to training. Thankfully, they do. They are eager to please and do well with obedience training. However, being part of the Spitz family, there is an inclination to be somewhat stubborn. Therefore, you must incorporate firm guidance and a strict routine in your training.
For one, given how vocal they are, Vallhunds must be trained from the moment they come home with you for the first time. It’s imperative that they know when it is appropriate to bark so as not to irritate the neighbors. They should also know that it’s not okay to nip at the feet of people and animals who share the home with them in an attempt to herd them together.
Still, like all dogs, Vallhunds deserve to be treated with kindness and respect. Ensure that you are fair in your instruction and never do anything that would upset your dog in the name of “discipline.” Studies show that positive reinforcement is truly the way to go when it comes to training. Be sure not to be stingy with the pets, praise, and treats during your training sessions with your Vallhund.
Once rapport has been established, you’ll find that your dog will be more than eager to make you happy by doing what is right for you. You can then move on to more complicated tricks, as well as teach them for competitive obedience and agility. The key is consistent training to give your dog a sense of routine to be incorporated into your everyday life.
Socialization is incredibly important to your dog’s well-being, as well as the well-being of those who share their spaces with them. Getting them used to new people, places, things, situations, and other animals is key to helping your dog grow up healthily and confidently. Being so friendly, it’s not unlikely for your Vallhund to warm up quickly to their new environments. However, it is still possible for your dog to be a little discouraged at first. Be gentle with them during this time.
It is also a great idea to enroll them in puppy kindergarten classes. This way, they can learn how to behave appropriately with other dogs. This is important when sharing the home with other dogs, as well as when they interact with new dogs on the street. Good socialization leads to less anxiety, fearfulness, and aggression in your dog, so it’s imperative to guide them well as they get used to their surroundings.
Your Swedish Vallhund is a pretty sturdy dog. They can be very healthy as far as breeds go. You can further ensure their health by purchasing your dog from a reputable breeder. They will do all the health screening necessary to release your dog with a good bill of health. Being a smaller breed, you can expect your Vallhund to live longer than larger dogs.
A lifespan of 12 to 15 years is typical. Taking good care of their health means giving them the best quality of life possible and may even extend the time that they have with you.
However, like all dogs, your Vallhund is also predisposed to a few different illnesses. Understanding these ahead of time can really give you a head start on treatment plans with your veterinarian. While your dog may not develop all these illnesses– or any of them– it’s still good to keep them in mind. It’s also worth considering signing up for pet insurance, a great tool to help you proactively manage the financial risks associated with keeping your dog healthy.
Here are three of the most common conditions that inflict this breed.
Since they carry a lot of weight on their little legs, it is common for Vallhunds to develop hip dysplasia. This is a condition where the thigh bone does not fit properly into the hip socket. This can result in irregular posture, an unusual gait, and/or limping in one or both hind legs. This can be a very painful condition for your dog. Always ask your breeder about the possibility of your dog developing hip dysplasia. As it is hereditary, responsible breeders always screen for hip dysplasia before releasing your puppy to you.
Patellar luxation is a disease commonly found in smaller dogs. This condition occurs when the kneecap becomes dislocated from where it normally sits in the groove of your dog’s thigh bone. Unfortunately, this condition is difficult to spot until it has progressed to the point of discomfort for your Vallhund. You may see your dog exhibiting hindleg lameness, attempting to “pop” the kneecap back into its normal place.
Address this as soon as possible because it often progresses into degenerative arthritis, which can be extremely painful for your dog. Regular medical treatment will not be very effective in treating this disorder. Surgery is more often recommended for more effective correction.
Cataracts occur as a result of aging. This is where your dog’s eyes develop a cloudy lens. This condition is not painful. While the cataract is small, it also does not impede your dog’s vision. However, as time passes, it is likely that the cataract will grow in size. If not treated, this can lead to partial or complete vision loss for your dog.
This can seriously hinder their quality of life, even without it being a painful condition. If you notice cataracts beginning to form, tell your veterinarian immediately. Treatment for cataracts is usually surgical, although medicated eye drop solutions do exist.
Swedish Vallhunds need a well-balanced diet to keep them healthy and strong throughout their life. Nutrition is, after all, the foundation of good health in all living beings. Your Vallhund needs good nourishment to help them develop strong bodies during their puppyhood.
In their adult and senior years, the focus shifts to maintaining that good health. It is important that you feed dog food that is appropriate for their life stage. This ensures proper growth and great health all throughout their lives. All-natural dog food is the best option for your dog, as this contains all the nutrients necessary for a balanced diet. When choosing a product, stay away from food that has artificial ingredients in it, as this does not contribute positively to their diet.
Deciding portion sizes for your dog entails thinking about their age, size, and activity level. That final factor is especially important because your Vallhund is a very active dog. As such, they eat more food than most other dogs in their breed size. Puppies need calorie-dense food to help them grow up healthily. Their portion sizes should change as they grow.
Adult Vallhunds need more food portion-wise, but it does need not be as nutritionally dense. Seniors eat the least amount of food but still need plenty of protein to keep their muscles strong. You can ask your vet for help determining portion sizes to ensure that your dog is eating the correct amount of food. Too much food can lead to obesity, which paves the way for many preventable diseases.
If you find your dog has developed pickiness with food, you may be very frustrated. Since your SV needs plenty of routine in their life, a good way to address pickiness is to be firm about their eating times. Leave their food out for 30 minutes. If the food goes untouched, then take it away until the next meal. This lets your dog know that their food will not always be available to them and thus make it more enticing to eat on time. If you prefer, you can also introduce wet food into your dog’s dry kibble, as this helps to make the meal more palatable.
The Swedish Vallhund is, unfortunately, a non-hypoallergenic dog. This is sad news for allergy sufferers. Truly, they do shed quite a bit and require daily brushing to remove excess dead fur. We recommend a deshedding tool, but you could also use a wire slicker or rubber curry brush. Ensure that you maintain a strict brushing routine, especially at the change of seasons, as this helps your dog shed fur they no longer need.
As far as bathing goes, these dogs do not need baths very often. You can usually give them a bath every six to eight weeks. You may opt to give them more frequent baths whenever they get too dirty. Wiping them down after a long day of work in the field can keep the baths to a minimum. While they do not need to have their coat clipped very often (if at all), there’s no harm in trimming a few stray hairs here and there to keep them looking sharp.
Be sure to clean your dog’s ears regularly to prevent ear infections. Remove excess wax and debris by wiping on the visible parts of the ear with a cotton pad and ear cleaning solution from your vet. You must also brush your dog’s teeth a few times a week, if not daily. Use a toothbrush and toothpaste meant specifically for dogs to keep their teeth bright and white. Getting rid of plaque and tartar also prevents a host of diseases. Lastly, Swedish Vallhunds have strong nails that grow quickly. You should trim them with a nail clipper or a grinder to prevent splitting, cracking, and injury.
To prevent difficulty in grooming your dog, it’s a good idea to incorporate grooming time into their training. Using basic obedience commands can really help make the process a lot easier. You should soothe your dog into thinking that grooming is a good bonding experience for both of you. This way, they look forward to their daily brushing and other grooming.
Breeders & Puppy Costs
Adopting your Swedish Vallhund from a reputable breeder is always a great way to go. Just be sure that you do your research. There are plenty of irresponsible breeders out there.
There are many unscrupulous breeders who have set up unsanitary operations in the form of puppy mills, where profit is the only thing taken into consideration. These operations do not respect the animals they rear and often abuse the dogs for the sake of maximum puppy production. The living conditions in these spaces are unclean and unsafe, with little access to fresh air and clean food and water. Avoid these breeders at all costs.
Conversely, plenty of breeders exist who love and respect their dogs. You can see this if the breeder you are talking to is enthusiastic about the breed and happy to show you where the dogs live. You will find the space to be comfortable and clean, with many different activities and toys for your puppy.
They also encourage you to get to know your puppy before bringing them home for a more harmonious transition into home life. They will also be glad to answer any questions you may have about the breed, plus everything else you may need to know about raising your new puppy. Good breeders also provide you with veterinary certification for any tests, vaccinations, and deworming done.
If you’re looking for a good breeder to purchase your Swedish Vallhund from, there are many sources that can help you get in touch with the right people. Firstly, your veterinarian may be able to point you in the right direction. Dog shows are also a fantastic way to get the information you need. Talking to enthusiasts helps make the search easier, especially if they themselves have a Vallhund they love.
You can also take advantage of the countless forums and social media sites online full of dog lovers who may be able to help you. Lastly, you can check with the Swedish Vallhund Club of America (SVCA) to find a respected breeder that you can trust. Expect to pay $1,500 to $2,300 for this rare pup, with show-quality dogs costing more.
Rescues & Shelters
It’s always good to look for a breeder when you want to buy a new puppy. However, we at All About Dogs believe that it is best to adopt from a rescue or shelter. While they might be rare dogs, it isn’t unheard of to find Swedish Vallhunds among the dogs at the shelter. Many dogs who are up for adoption are often older dogs or dogs with special needs.
Since they need the extra care, many of them are left in favor of new dogs. We think that it is a noble cause to give these dogs a second chance at life. Every year, there are 3.3 million dogs put into shelters, with many of them being euthanized. Your new dog may be among those numbers, so be sure to lend a helping paw and rescue when possible.
When picking out a dog to rescue, it’s always a good idea to ask the staff at the shelter anything that you might need to know about your new dog. Understand their complete background to the best of your ability– especially their temperament and health issues. This gives you a good picture of how to best care for your dog. it also becomes much easier to address their special needs, if they have any, as this eliminates the guesswork.
We all know that rescuing a dog is a heroic thing to do, but we must keep in mind that these dogs are often scared and feel unsafe in their new surroundings. Be patient with your new furry friend. Since they might be frightened of their new home situation, take the time to help them adjust and reassure them that it is safe with you. They have probably lived a hard life, so allow them to warm up at their own pace. This can be a tough time, but with enough love and care, you’ll find your Swedish Vallhund to start coming out of their shell and become happy and vibrant once more.
As Family Pets
Swedish Vallhunds are generally:
- Well-suited to working since they were originally bred to be farmhands.
- Have a bright and exuberant personality and are happy to clown around.
- Intelligent, easily trained, and eager to please. Once they have established rapport with you, they want to do what makes you happy.
- Quite noisy and need to be trained to bark only when appropriate.
- Highly affectionate and love to be around their family. They are prone to separation anxiety, so take care not to leave them alone for too long.
- Known to herd other animals in the home. However, they still get along well with other household pets.
- Extremely active dogs and require a lot of exercise to stay happy and well behaved.
- Able to live in smaller dwellings as long as they get their exercise. But, they are happiest in larger spaces.
- Require daily brushing, but besides that, they aren’t too difficult to groom. Unfortunately, they aren’t hypoallergenic.
- Prefer the cold to heat, and should remain mostly indoors during hot weather.
We hope we have answered your questions about the fantastic Swedish Vallhund. They are clever, cheerful, and devoted. They certainly bring a lot of joy to any home Whether happily performing tricks or herding the cattle on the farm, this dog never ceases to amaze. This is why it’s essential to learn how to care for them to the best of your ability.
While there may be speed bumps in taking care of this wonderful canine, the love you share is always worth it. Since these dogs have so much to give, be sure that you are providing the happiest and healthiest life possible. Armed with this knowledge, you are well on your way to making sure the years you spend with your beloved Swedish Vallhund are as sweet as possible.