Perhaps it’s a contradiction to suggest that one of a country’s national breeds is also one of dogdom’s best kept secrets, but the fact remains that the Swedish Vallhund is still a relatively rare breed in America despite having been here for about 50 years (the first litter of SVs in the US was whelped in 1986). As recently as 2021, Newsweek Magazine included the SV in article about the rarest dog breeds in America.
America wasn’t unique in this regard. In the 1940s, few Swedes had ever seen a Vallhund, let alone own one, and it wasn’t until two breeders, K. G. Zettersten and Bjorn von Rosen, saved the personable breed from vanishing. In 1943, the SV was recognized by the Swedish Kennel Club, but not until 1974 did the breed expand outside Sweden when the first Swedish Vallhund went to England, and later still, to the US in 1983. Though the Vallhund is said to be a popular companion dog in its country of origin, it is not among the top three most popular breeds as reported by stasta. In 2022, the most registered breed in Sweden with 358,043 dogs was the Labrador Retriever. The second most registered breed was the German Shepherd Dogs (33,000 dogs), and coming in at third was the Golden Retriever with approximately 29,000 registretered dogs. Perhaps this personable little herding breed is a well kept secret in Sweden, as well?
We came across a “tweet” on Twitter in which the poster described the Vallhund as “basically a wolf-corgi,” and we suspect the observation was a superficial one based on the Vallhund’s wolfish face, coloring, and shorter legs. Nevertheless, the photo of “Misty,” owned by Cindy Kingsley went viral in 2013 among people who were astonished by the breed’s appearance. The same photo enjoyed a second wave of fame months after Misty died in 2021 at the age of 14. People simply did not know the breed, and those who did – the owners and breeders – were tasked with having to explain that the Vallhund was not corgi-mix (though the Corgi is a relative), and certainly not a corgi x wolf hybrid. Education never ends. Still, we were surprised to get several “hits” on “wolf-corgi” when we did an internet search on the term.
Spitz dog would be more accurate. Indeed, the Vallhund’s Swedish name, Västgötaspets, actually translates as “Spitz Dog of the West Goths.”
The Swedes bestowed another word upon this highly intelligent, biddable, and all-around farm dog, and while it may not have increased the breed’s visibility, it offered an insight into the value placed on their ancient breed: The word is lantras.
Sweden declared the Vallhund as a lantras, “a designation that includes the exhibition of qualities such as long life, patience to hardship, and hardiness.” An exploration of what the word means in Swedish reveals that lantras is a characteristic of a native breed in its good ability to survive in local conditions. We also found this: För att räknas som lantras ska de ha funnits i ett område så länge att de anpassat sig till den lokala miljön.” Translation: To qualify as a native breed, it must have existed in a particular area long enough to have become adapted to the local environment. Given that the Vallhund has been known since the time of the Vikings, lantras is appropriate.
We caught up with a Vallhund a few years ago at the AKC National Championship. That interview is in the post below: