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The Swedish Vallhund is a small to medium purebred from Sweden and is an ancient breed. Its Swedish name is Västgötaspets, and it is also known as the Swedish cow dog, Swedish Cattle dog and Swedish Shepherd. The Vikings referred to it as Vikingarnas Hund meaning Viking Dog. The word Vallhund means herding dog. It was bred to do just that, be a cattle herder and drover and has been around for possible as long as a thousand years. Today it does well in various events such as flyball, rally obedience, dog agility, showmanship, herding, obedience, tracking and hiking.
|The Swedish Vallhund at A Glance|
|Other names||Swedish cattle dog, Swedish Shepherd, Västgötaspets|
|Average size||Small to medium|
|Average weight||20 to 35 pounds|
|Average height||12 to 14 inches|
|Life span||12 to 14 years|
|Coat type||Thick, dense, harsh, rough|
|Color||Brown, blue, red, grey|
|Popularity||Not that popular – ranked 163rd by the AKC|
|Intelligence||Excellent– understands new commands very quickly|
|Tolerance to heat||Good – can live in warm to hot climates but nothing too hot or extreme|
|Tolerance to cold||Very good – can live in climates that are cold just nothing extreme|
|Shedding||Average – there will be some hair around the home|
|Drooling||Low – not a breed prone to slobber or drool|
|Obesity||High – prone to weight gain, loves to eat! Measure its food and exercise daily|
|Grooming/brushing||Moderate – brush regularly|
|Barking||Frequent – will need training to control it|
|Exercise needs||Very active – has lots of energy, need active owners|
|Trainability||Moderate – easier of you have experience though|
|Friendliness||Very good – social dog|
|Good first dog||Low – not recommended if this is your first dog|
|Good family pet||Excellent with socialization|
|Good with children||Very good with socialization|
|Good with other dogs||Good but can have dominance issues so socialization and supervision are important|
|Good with other pets||Good but socialization needed as has high prey drive|
|Good with strangers||Very good with socialization tend to be at least polite|
|Good apartment dog||Good – can adapt with daily exercise but they do bark a lot and do better with yard access|
|Handles alone time well||Moderate – prefer not to left alone for long periods|
|Health issues||Quite healthy – a few issues include eye problems, back problems and hip dysplasia|
|Medical expenses||$460 a year for basic health care and pet insurance|
|Food expenses||$145 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats|
|Miscellaneous expenses||$215 for license, basic training, toys and miscellaneous items|
|Average annual expenses||$820 a year as a starting figure|
|Cost to purchase||$800|
|Rescue organizations||Several including the Swedish Vallhund Breed Rescue and Swedish Vallhund Rescue – Rescue Me!|
|Biting Statistics||None reported|
The Swedish Vallhund’s Beginnings
The Swedish Vallhund is a very old dog breed from Sweden and is thought it could date back to the 700s or 800s though there are no records to confirm this. It comes from a region of Sweden called Vastergotland hence its name was once the Vastgotaspet and the Vasgota-Spitz. It was bred and developed over the years to be able to herd and guard cattle, to hunt vermin and to be a great watchdog and companion. It was a working farm dog and would round up cattle and herd them by nipping at the heels.
It is thought by some that this dog may be an ancestor of the Lancashire Heeler and the Welsh Corgi w
ith the theory being it was brought to Wales by the Vikings. It is also related to larger Scandinavian moose hunting Spitz type dogs. It has had several names over the years, as well as those mentioned others include the Vikingarnas Dog, the Swedish Herder Spitz, the Schwedischer Schaferspitz, Svensk Vallhund and the Westgotenspitz. It was a popuar and common breed in Sweden for many years up until the world wars. It was recognized by the Swedish Kennel Club in 1943 and officially called the Svensk Vallhund. However around the same time its numbers were very low and it came very close to extinction.
New Lease on Life
In 1942 K Zettersen and Count Bjorn von Rosen started measures to save the breed. They found what Vallhunds were left through various efforts including advertising in newspapers. It was slow going for them. In 1964 it was renamed the Vastgotaspet and its standard was revised. In 1974 some were taken to England and in 1980 the Swedish Vallhund Breed Society and it was recognized by the Kennel Club in England in 1985. Also in 1985 two were brought to America by a Marilyn Thell who was from Rhode Island. In 1987 the Swedish Vallhund Club of America was formed and the AKC recognized it in 2007. It is ranked 163rd in popularity by the AKC today.
The Dog You See Today
The Swedish Vallhund is a small to medium dog weighing 20 to 35 pounds and standing 12 to 14 inches tall. It has a long and strong body, is low to the ground and its ratio of height to length is 2:3. Its neck is muscular and long and while its legs are short they are powerful. Its dewclaws are removed in some places and its tail is docked in countries where that is still legal, so can be long, bobbed or a stub. It has a level topline and its feet are medium oval shaped and point forwards. Its head is wedge shaped and long with a squared muzzle. Its nose and lips are black and it has oval, dark brown, medium sized eyes. Its ears point upwards and are pricked and very mobile.
It has a double coat, the undercoat is dense and soft and the top coat is tight, harsh and short to medium. Its legs, chest and neck have hairs that are a little longer than elsewhere. Common colors are grey, reddish brown, greyish yellow, grey and brown. It is darker on the sides, the back and the neck and then lighter on the shoulders, throat, chest, feet, belly and rear. Some can have a small amount of white in patches on the head, neck, legs and chest. Some also have a mask in lighter hair on their face. It is possible for some to have a coat that is wooly or curly even but this is not allowed in show dogs.
The Inner Swedish Vallhund
The Vallhund is an energetic dog and needs owners who are energetic too or are going to use it as a working dog. It is best too with people who have experience with dogs. It is a fearless and alert dog and will bark to let you know of any intruders trying to get in. It is a frequent barker though and may be hard to stop once it gets going so train it to stop on command from an early age. It is a friendly dog, smart too, spirited, athletic and lively but also hard working, dependable and sensible. It is often described as a ‘big dog with short legs’. With strangers it should at least be polite until it gets to know you and becomes more friendly.
Being a herding dog it prefers its family to be gathered together and may attempt to nip at heels to get this to happen so that too will need to be controlled. It is even-tempered and with its family it is affectionate and devoted. It will want lots of attention and needs its owner to be a strong leader. It also helps to have a sense of humor as this dog certainly does and can quite the little entertainer. It likes to be busy and can be kept as a working dog, or a show dog, or just a companion dog if it is given jobs to do still. It is eager to please and can vary from being very outgoing to more shy. It does not like to be left alone for long periods and will bark which could be a problem in apartments. It is inquisitive and very good at problem solving. It is confident and does have an independent side to it but it loves to spend time with its family and would be with them as much as allowed. Some owners like that it will chat back to them.
Living with a Swedish Vallhund
What will training look like?
This is an easy dog to train as it is intelligent and eager to please. It is usually able to listen to its owner and obey. Being attentive and responsive means it is likely that there will be less repetition needed than for many other dogs and so things could go quicker. However it can be independent minded so it is important that you be a strong leader, firm and consistent, clear about the rules and stick to them. It can also try to manipulate you if you do not stay strong. Always mean what you say, be positive and encourage and motivate them. Treats work well and be patient when you have to be! If it does not know its place it can develop small dog syndrome which makes it hard to live with, destructive and even snappy. Train it to stop barking on command and not to nip. Early socialization is important to make sure it is not suspicious of strangers. A well socialized dog is happier and more confident when an adult. Socialization involves exposing it to different animals, people, places and sounds and such.
How active is the Swedish Vallhund?
As mentioned the Swedish Vallhund is a very active dog and needs owners who are committed and active themselves. It will be happy to join you for a hike, a couple of moderate walks a day, run time somewhere safe off leash like a dog park and so on. It also likes to chase balls and play with you and is very enthusiastic about it. It is hard working and it likes to have tasks to do and enjoys the challenge of doing new things. Remember it is active but it is a short dog so it doesn’t want miles of running, just different opportunities to let off steam and have fun. If it gets bored and has too much energy it can be destructive and restless and vocal. A good way to keep their minds engaged is to enter them in more advanced training classes, obedience, agility or herding for example. It can live in an apartment if well exercised but does bark a lot. A yard is a good bonus though where it can play and explore.
Caring for the Swedish Vallhund
There will be a moderate amount of effort required to keep the Swedish Vallhund looking in good condition. It does not need stripping or trimming but it does shed an average amount and will leave hair around the home that needs vacuuming up. If you are not showing it, then it can be trimmed if you wish to. Brushing regularly can help lessen how much loose hair is left around, use a firm bristled brush and comb and will also remove some dirt and debris. Bathe just as needed, when it is especially dirty or smelly. Use a proper dog shampoo as any other kind can damage the oils it needs in its skin and coat. Bathing too often can do the same damage and cause skin problems.
Each week you should check your dog’s ears for signs of infection like a build up of wax and irritation. If they are good you can then give them a clean after using either cotton balls and a dog ear cleanser or a damp cloth. Always wipe the sections that you can reach easily, never insert anything into the ears. It is easy to go too far down and do serious damage and cause a lot of pain. Its teeth should be cleaned regularly too. Use a dog toothbrush and toothpaste and brush at least two to three times a week. Then its nails also need to be kept an eye on in case they grow too long. Some dogs wear their nails down naturally outside but some need a trim now and then using proper dog nail clippers. If your dog is scratching you when it puts its paws on you or it clicks when it walks on hard floors that is a sure sign it is time to trim. If you want to do it yourself that is fine, just make sure you know where you can cut to. There are vessels and nerves in the lower part of the nail that will bleed and hurt the dog if nicked. You can always have a dog groomer or the vet do it for you, and a vet should be happy to show you how.
The Swedish Vallhund will eat about 1 1/2 to 2 cups of a good quality dry dog food each day and that should be split into at least two meals. How much exactly can vary from one Vallhund to another depending on age, size, health, metabolism, and level of activity. Make sure it can access fresh water at all times.
How is the Swedish Vallhund with children and other animals?
Around children if it has been well socialized and grown up with them it can learn to accept them and even be affectionate, but it is best in a home that has older children. It is easy to injure low set dogs and small children are not careful enough. The Vallhund will try to nip at their heels so supervision is needed and teach it to stop when you say so. Teach children how to approach, stroke and play in a kind and acceptable way. It tends to get on well with other animals in general, it comes from being a farm dog so it gets on fine with horses and livestock and such. This means it can accept other pets and even other dogs in the home. However it is not accepting of other strange animals, cats, dogs or whatever, that come into its territory or too close to it. It was bred in part to drive away other dogs that might come to nip at its cattle, and it will try to drive them away still even with no cattle to herd. It likes to chase small strange critters too from its days of being a vermin hunter so squirrels, birds and mice look out!
What Might Go Wrong?
This breed should live between 12 to 14 years and is generally a healthy dog. There are some issues to be aware of though such as back problems, eye problems, hip dysplasia, patellar luxation and cryptorchidism. Take care when picking them up and how they jump down, make sure they have support at the rear and front when carried and take care in deep snow due to its short legs.
In reports of dog attacks against people that caused bodily harm over the last 35 years in Canada and the US, there is no mention of the Swedish Vallhund being involved. It is not known to be especially people aggressive but being a less common breed in North America it is even less likely to come up in such reports as not many are kept there. Still is important to understand that all dogs have the potential for becoming aggressive towards people, sometimes the reason is obvious, sometimes less so. Some breeds can do more damage when it happens but there are no breeds that are 100% safe and nothing could induce them to behave in such a way. Even dogs can have off days. Key ways to lessen the chances of it happening though come down to being responsible owner. Socialization, training, supervision, giving it plenty of exercise and stimulation and also the attention it needs all can help a dog be more trustworthy.
Your Pup’s Price Tag
A Swedish Vallhund puppy is going to cost around $800 from a decent breeder, and twice that or even more from a top breeder of show dogs. It is important when you are buying any pet that you get it from a reliable source, using experienced breeders will mean less money goes towards unscrupulous and cruel ones like puppy mills or back yard breeders. Take care with some pet stores even, as some get their animals from puppy mill like places. Another option if you are not getting a dog for show purposes is to look to local rescues and shelters. You may not get a purebred dog this way but you will find a dog that needs you and a forever home, has a lot of love to give and will be grateful for the chance you give it. Adoption fees are usually between $50 to $400 and usually include some medical concerns take care of for you.
When you have found your dog or puppy and are ready to bring it home there are some things to get to get you and it started. It will need a carrier, bowls, bedding, collar and leash and a crate for example and these will cost around $200 or so. Then once it is home you should book an appointment with a vet as soon as possible. It needs things done like micro chipping, spaying or neutering, shots and deworming as well as some tests done like blood tests and a physical exam. These will cost about $270.
There are also ongoing costs to pay out for as long as you have it. Basic health care for example like flea and tick prevention, shots and check ups, along with emergency medical insurance will cost about $460 a year. Miscellaneous costs like license, toys, basic training and miscellaneous items will cost about $215 a year. Food like dog treats and a good quality dry dog food will cost at least $145 a year. This gives a starting figure annual cost of $820.
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The Swedish Vallhund is a short dog but it certainly thinks of itself as a lot larger! It is a working do so it needs to be busy, active and engaged. It likes attention but care needs to be taken when lifting it for a cuddle as it is prone to back problems. It is easy to groom and take care of and it is eager to please and it tends to get on well with other pets in the home. It should be with older children so it does not get hurt and it does like to nip at people and children to herd them, so that and its barking needs to be controlled with training. It is an affectionate dog, loyal and steady and can make a great companion.
Featured Image Credit: Marcel van den Bos, Shutterstock
Oliver (Ollie) Jones – A zoologist and freelance writer living in South Australia with his partner Alex, their dog Pepper, and their cat Steve (who declined to be pictured). Ollie, originally from the USA, holds his master’s degree in wildlife biology and moved to Australia to pursue his career and passion but has found a new love for working online and writing about animals of all types.
- The Swedish Vallhund’s Beginnings
- New Lease on Life
- The Dog You See Today
- The Inner Swedish Vallhund
- Living with a Swedish Vallhund
- Caring for the Swedish Vallhund
- How is the Swedish Vallhund with children and other animals?
- What Might Go Wrong?
- Your Pup’s Price Tag