Swedish Vallhund

Catharine Hennessy
Dr Catharine Hennessy (DVM, North Carolina State University)
Photo of adult Swedish Vallhund

This herding member of the Spitz family has deep historical roots as a working dog originating in Scandinavia. Resembling a more familiar herder, the Welsh Corgi, Swedish Vallhunds have a long build and are low to the ground. The Corgi is considered a distant cousin, and may have descended from the Swedish Vallhund, although it is unknown which breed came first. Also known as the Swedish cow dog, these sturdy dogs were used for centuries as cattle driving and herding dogs, and secondarily for vermin control on the farm and on ships. They are easily trained and confident, and are not aggressive. They can adapt to different types of home environments, but need daily exercise.

Since it is a herding dog, the Swedish Vallhund needs to be socialised as a puppy to live in a house and to be part of a family. These dogs tend to bark, and will need to know when this is appropriate behavior. This breed may not be a good choice for households with small children, as the herding instinct of nipping at heels may need to be corrected. This should not be a problem for households with older children, who can help provide daily exercise. In addition to herding events, this breed enjoys agility and even flyball and tracking activities.

About & History

Swedish Vallhunds originated in Sweden at least 1,000 years ago, used primarily as herding and droving dogs for cattle and sheep. Their long, low build helped them to avoid being kicked, enabling them to drive cattle without injury. There is some speculation that the Vikings carried the dogs on their ships during their exploration and invasion of other countries, but there is little proof of this. Nevertheless, the Vallhund’s ability to track and eliminate vermin would prove useful on a ship. It has also been speculated that the Vikings may have taken Welsh Corgis back to Sweden, leading to the origination of the Swedish Vallhund.

In the early 1900s, the Swedish Vallhund became nearly extinct, attributed to the financial impact of the World Wars on the cost of keeping livestock and dogs. In 1942, Count Bjorn von Rosen and Karl Gustaf Zettersen placed ads in newspapers and reportedly bicycled the countryside in search of remaining breeding stock. They acquired one male (Mopsen) and three females (Vivi, Lessi and Topsy) and began a breeding progam.

As a result of the breed revival, it was recognised by the Swedish Kennel Club as the Svensk Vallhund. Later, in 1964, it was renamed Vastgotaspet, due to the location of the initial breeding program in the province Vastergotland. The breed was introduced in the United Kingdom in the 1970s and the United States in the 1980s. It is recognised as a breed by the Kennel Club (England) and the American Kennel Club.


Swedish Vallhund Large Photo

The Swedish Vallhund is a solid, low built Spitz. The skeletal structure resembles the Norwegian Elkhound, although much smaller in weight and stature. The wedge-shaped head resembles that of a wolf, with triangular, erect ears that are set high and apart. The ears and eyes are smaller than those of the Welsh Corgi. The muzzle is long and tapered, contributing to the breed’s intelligent expression.

Swedish Vallhunds have a short, thick neck and long, slightly rounded back. The withers are not prominent, due to the thick, double coat. The outer coat is coarse and waterproof, while the undercoat is soft and dense. The chest is deep, but with little tuck to the abdomen, although the waist should be clearly defined. The legs are moderately heavy boned, with rounded feet that are not oversized. The tail can vary from naturally bobbed to full, curled, Spitz-type tail held high, and a variety of lengths can occur even within a single litter. All tail types are acceptable as standard (tail docking has been illegal in Sweden since 1989). Their short build allows them to accelerate and turn quickly – a desirable trait for herding.

Males and females are similar in size and appearance, with males being slightly taller and heavier. The breed ranges from 31 to 36 cm in height and 11 to 16 kg in weight. The coat colour is sable and varies from grey to brown, yellow and red shades of grey, to reddish brown. They typically have lighter colour around their eyes, on the muzzle and under the throat, and darker colours on the top of the head, along the back and on the sides, giving this sturdy breed a wolf-like appearance. Many individuals are marked with a handsome “harness” on the shoulders extending down the neck.

Character & Temperament

The Swedish Vallhund is an energetic, intelligent and confident breed, and once trained, are loyal and affectionate. They are friendly dogs, but will serve as watchdogs, ready to bark at unfamiliar people and animals (notably deer, vermin, and other dogs). While barking is normal for the breed, alerting the family of dangers, Swedish Vallhunds need to be taught when it is appropriate to bark.

Swedish Vallhunds enjoy time inside when the family is home, but will need plenty of activity and exercise. Hiking and walking are adequate, but they also enjoy agility, herding, flyball, and even tracking. The innate nipping and chasing behavior common in herding breeds may be a nuisance when around young children, so this behavior will need to be discouraged. They are excellent with older children, especially if contributing to an exercise regimen. They get along well with other pets, including cats, although should be watched at first to ensure that chasing behavior does not occur. They may not be a great fit for elderly people because of their high energy level.


Photo of Swedish Vallhund puppy
Sören T Eriksson / Wikipedia.org

Due to their intelligence, Swedish Vallhunds are relatively easy to train, although an early start with obedience and socialisation is highly desirable. They are considered willing, and respond well to positive reinforcement and consistent, firm commands.

House-training is usually easy, and they have good recall. They enjoy being with their owners and can accompany on errands and with daily activities. They are not prone to separation anxiety, but if left alone for long periods of time, will likely bark excessively and find other, possibly destructive, avenues of entertainment.


Since the Swedish Vallhund is a smaller dog, they have a long lifespan of 12 to 15 years. They remain healthy during much of their lives, with few serious health problems noted. The following diseases occur with some frequency in the breed.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

Many individuals of the breed are affected by progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), which leads to night blindness during middle age, and eventually progresses to total blindness. There is no treatment for this since it is a genetic disorder and careful breeding should be maintained to help minimise this.

Hip Dysplasia

This is a genetic disorder that leads to abnormal development of the hips. While some dysplastic hips never progress, this disorder frequently leads to arthritis and pain later in life. Again, careful breeding (removing individuals affected by this disorder from breeding stock) should help eliminate this. Any dog intended for breeding stock should be screened radiographically by a trained veterinarian and submitted for expert review.

Patellar Luxation

Many smaller dogs are prone to patellar luxation, which occurs when the kneecap slides out of position and resides either to the outside or inside of the knee. The leg is not functional until the kneecap slides back, which causes mild discomfort.

With chronic excessive movement, the knee becomes arthritic, which leads to pain later in life. It is caused by a genetic malformation of the bones making up the knee. Affected individuals should not be bred.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Swedish Vallhund thrives as part of an active family. They do well in warm and cold climates, although will need shade if it is hot outside. They cannot move around in deep snow due to their low build. Since they are a herding breed, they need at least an hour of activity daily to prevent boredom, which can lead to barking and possibly destructive behavior. Hiking and walking are adequate, but this energetic dog is capable of more vigorous activities.


Swedish Vallhunds have a thick, coarse coat that is relatively easy to maintain. They require weekly brushing to thin the undercoat, but are not prone to matting due to the coarse nature of the outer coat. If not brushed, the undercoat can mat. They do not require trimming, and bathing should be performed infrequently only to remove dirt from the outer coat.

The undercoat is not prone to becoming dirty due to its dense nature, and as such, will be very slow to dry following a bath. Swedish Vallhunds do shed excessively year-round, but regular brushing will help control this. If dog hair is a problem in the house, this may not be a good breed choice. The nails will need to be cut monthly if they are not worn regularly on pavement or concrete. Daily tooth-brushing, as with all breeds, is highly recommended.

Famous Swedish Vallhunds

There are no known examples of Swedish Vallhunds in show business yet, as they are truly a rare breed. But, due to their trainable nature, energetic personality, and affability, they are well-suited for stardom in the entertainment industry.


While Swedish Vallhunds are more common in their native country, they are rare in the rest of the world. Hybrids of this breed are not evident at this time, although may occur in Sweden.

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