Vallhund: The little cattle dog of the Vikings
September 26, 2012 3:35 PM   Subscribe

The Swedish Vallhund is an ancient dog, believed to have been brought to Sweden with the Vikings and used as an all-purpose farm dog, cattle herder, and pest controller. It was close to extinction by the mid-twentieth century, when a Swedish Count and a school teacher worked together to revive the breed from one male with only one testicle and three female dogs.

The Swedish Vallhund (SV) is a very old Spitz type breed of small, not particularly shaggy dog known since the time of the Vikings. Sweden states the Swedish Vallhund dates back over 1000 years to the time of the Vikings when it may have been known as the "Vikingarnas Dog". This dog is believed today to be the ancestor of all chondrodystrophic breeds of British Isles, including Skye Terriers and Welsh Corgis, though the latter look most similar to Vallhunds and may be more closely related.

Though numerous up to the early 1900s, the Vallhund breed decreased greatly between the first and second World Wars, when hardships in Europe made it impossible to keep many dogs. In the spring of 1942, an advertisement was placed in a newspaper in Skarabårg, in search of the little Svensk Vallhund. The ad was placed by Count Björn von Rosen (Google auto-translate), a dog enthusiast and terrier judge. Schoolmaster Karl-Gustaf Zettersten responded. Zettersten was a well-regarded breeder of Scottish Terriers, and the two found Topsy, a perfect, grey, bobtailed female, then a a male called Mopsen, who while healthy, only had one testicle. They found two more females, Lessi and Vivi, and started a breeding program. In 1943, the Swedish Kennel Club recognized the breed, and they revised the standard the next year when the breed became known as Västgötaspets after the Swedish province Västergötland in which the revived breeding originated.

The breed has been slow to spread, arriving in England in 1974 and in the US a decade later, and eligible for AKC registration in 2007. Vallhunds came to New Zealand in 1975, and Australia in 1981. In appearance, Swedish Vallhunds can range from the traditional grey and red sandy tans and even all the way to white, and their tails naturally range from long, stub, or bob, but are also or docked.

Quite trainable (even at a young age), Vallhunds are bred for their training instinct and their agility. And of course, they're adorable and bitey as puppies.
posted by filthy light thief (29 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't read all the links but my first thought was that the Valhund looked like a cross between a German Shepherd and a Corgi, then I saw it's a related breed. And those puppies are too cute.
posted by shoesietart at 3:55 PM on September 26, 2012

Lucky dog! And great post!
posted by sfts2 at 4:01 PM on September 26, 2012

Let's hear it for that testicle!
posted by roger ackroyd at 4:05 PM on September 26, 2012 [14 favorites]

MetaFilter: Let's hear for that testicle!
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:08 PM on September 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Down to your very last testicle" is the new "critically endangered".
posted by Wordshore at 4:18 PM on September 26, 2012 [18 favorites]

It's amazing how fast time slips away when you look at puppy videos.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:30 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

My parents have five of these, and many more stories than that to tell about the vallhund community. They're a pretty particular bunch by the sound of it.
posted by mr. digits at 4:51 PM on September 26, 2012

You can watch our puppies live. Until Sunday when four go to their new homes and the cam goes dark.

Our vallhunds are here, except that we sadly put Rakki to sleep today, and while we technically own a third of Emil he's never lived here. More happily, Nina and Tish will be joined by the fifth puppy from the B litter. She'll be Alkemi Blade Runner LS. We're thinking her normal name will be Zhora, but are happy to take suggestions!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:09 PM on September 26, 2012 [7 favorites]

(the puppies are pretty much just snoozing now, but they snooze cutely)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:10 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

You know who else had one testicle?
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:11 PM on September 26, 2012

(besides Lance Armstrong, that is)
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:12 PM on September 26, 2012

Also don't forget that in Finnish, the vallhund is the Länsigöötanmaanpystykorva!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:16 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Halloween Jack: "You know who else had one testicle?"

Tom Green? Mark Latham? Bruce Lee?
posted by Pinback at 5:51 PM on September 26, 2012

My mom's Norwegian, and so I've always wondered about Vallhunds vz Corgis (who are my all-time favorite dogs). Thanks for the wonderful post!
posted by jrochest at 5:58 PM on September 26, 2012

biscotti would know better, but ISTR her saying that researchers doing SCIENCE! had found that the vallhund is not an ancestor or major contributor to either kind of corgi (though it may well be an older breed). But I have been known to make mistakes... from time to time.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:24 PM on September 26, 2012

Looks like somebody owes you dinner.
posted by empatterson at 6:34 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

What, oh right. That. Totally unintentional coincidence.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:53 PM on September 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

ROU_Xenophobe - thanks for the links and info! It seems most SV websites copy content from each-other, at least on the English websites, and I didn't delve too far into the Swedish sites.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:58 PM on September 26, 2012

Okay, so, the chondrodysplasia in the corgi and the vallhund are both caused by a single mutation, a retrogene insertion of fgf4. (see Parker et. al 2009)
I don't think the dog genomicists are yet working out the ancestral breed for this phenotype, but, somewhere along the line the stumpy-leg phenotype was selected for real hard out of the wolf population somewhere in Europe:
The ancestor of all chondrodysplastic breeds would have needed to carry both a source gene with the rare haplotype found in the retrogene, and the 24 Kb haplotype that defines the insertion site (Figure S3, Table S6). This combination was not found in any of the dogs that we tested but was identified in wolves from Europe and the Middle East, supporting fossil evidence that these populations contributed to the early development of the dog (25, 26).

So either separate selection events, on the same wolf haplotype, or a single selection that then went through further breed rarefaction.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 8:05 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

They look made to order for fitting in a crowded Viking long ship.
posted by stbalbach at 8:19 PM on September 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Corgis were actually created by faeries to serve as steeds, so they couldn't be descended from Vallhunds.
posted by homunculus at 8:38 PM on September 26, 2012

Why does "Duelling Banjos" keep popping into my mind?
posted by Goofyy at 9:57 PM on September 26, 2012

Valhunds, have only got one ball
Corgis, have two but theirs are small
The terrier, is so much hairier
We can't see if they have balls at all!
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:16 PM on September 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Friend of my Dad's has one of these & he looks after it occasionally. Very robust, friendly dogs. Need a lot of walking!
posted by pharm at 1:04 AM on September 27, 2012

"brought to Sweden with the Vikings"

I failed a saving throw against pedantry, so... going viking was a profession, i.e. a viking was a raider or pirate, but the name for the ethnicity is Norse, or Norsemen.
posted by Kattullus at 2:41 AM on September 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks for the clarification, Kattullus. I knew those who went viking didn't have horns on their helmets, and now I shall read more on who the Vikings were.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:03 AM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, you've got my vote for best gag post that actually turned out to be a pretty interesting read. Cheers, FLT.
posted by pecanpies at 9:18 PM on September 27, 2012

MetaFilter: I failed a saving throw against pedantry, so...
posted by homunculus at 10:55 PM on September 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

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