Out of the Viking Age

From archeological remains we know that the dogs of the Norse people, dating back thousands of  years were a spitz type canine.  They were produced from the interbreeding of the native arctic wolf with the domestic dogs from the south.  These dogs were used for hunting, chasing in the hunt, herding, herd protection and companionship.  Several breeds recognised today pre date or come out of the Viking age.  The Swedish Vallhund is a very ancient national dog breed of Sweden and dates back to the 8th/9th century.  They were the  alert, eager, and brave dogs used to herd cows. They were likely also known as Vikingar-nas dog.   Being a small, low to the ground dog the characteristic trait of herding was achieved by rounding and nipping at the hocks cattle.  This behaviour has been utilised and preserved down through the ages.  These dogs with their bright, jaunty temperament made them suitable as a working dogs, watch dogs and companions. 

 

Topsy

The Decline & Rescue

Vara  is township in the south west of Sweden. It was here in the 1920's that Karl Gustave Zetterstén a school teacher, and well known Scottish Terrier breeder, took up a position at the local highschool. Karl had noticed and was interested in the attractive, usually bobtailed little Svensk Vallhund at horse sales and the surrounding farmland district. These dogs were the invaluable working farm dogs that rounded cattle, and cleared the farm yard of vermin. These jaunty dogs had been relatively common right up until WWI. But over the next decade or two their numbers had rapidly declined and had all but disappeared. Fate though was about to intervene. Karl's attention was caught one spring day in 1942 by an advert placed in a in Skarabårg newspaper.  


The advertisement had been placed by Count Bjorn von Rosen. Bjorn, a dog enthusiast and coincidentally a terrier judge, was looking for the little Svensk Vallhund. Having already been involved in the saving of several other Swedish breeds Bjorn had set his sights on the farm dogs he remembered from his boyhood days.  As a child he had spent summers with a friend on their farm in Västergötland.  The dogs were a very familiar sight.  They were oft observed eagerly running ahead of the horse teams, following the farmers to market and  noted at stock sales. 

So united by an advert, & a passion for dogs Bjorn and Karl were about to embark upon a rescue. While the world was in the grips of WWII, a search for what surviving dogs remained began in earnest. They toured around the Vara plains, up and down country lanes on bicycle scouring for surviving dogs. 

 

Mopsen

They found many crossbreeds and dogs with obvious Svensk Vallhund in their lineage. But hope of finding unmixed dogs was waning.  Of historical interest, pertaining to the possible relationship with corgis, Count von Rosen noted that with their extensive search there were no known Pembroke Welsh Corgis in the Vara region.

Success

The summer weeks passed in this endeavour, and then suddenly there she was. They had happened upon Topsy and she was found on Andersson's farm. Topsy was described as a perfect, grey, bobtailed female.  Later discovered, a male called Mopsen. While healthy, Mopsen only had one testicle. Not an ideal situation. But without a lot of choice and considering cryptorchid was not a disqualifying aspect at the time, Mopsen was to become the first recognised stud of the breed. And so with two more bitches, Lessi, and Vivi, the men started upon a breeding programme. It is believed that Mopsen sired a dog pup, Jerry265OTT,out of Lessi. Mopsen also sired a bitch pup, Tessan3999VV, out of Vivi. And Mopsen may have sired Borgalls Mopsan7871VV out of Topsy. Although this is uncertain as at the time she was found Topsy was an older bitch of 12 years. Also in the uncertainty is the belief that Vivi may be a daughter or granddaughter of Topsy, as both Vivi and Topsy came from the same owner,  farmer Herman Johansson.

 

The Count with first dogs

The Swedish Kennel Club

Bjorn von Rosen recognised early that Topsy was the best specimen of them all and began to write the first breed standard based on her qualities. This standard, along with photos of the other dogs was sent to the Swedish Kennel club. Credit must also be paid to the Swedish Kennel Club, they too were very keen to see the breed saved and recognised. So by that autumn a total of six initial dogs, along with their owners, travelled to a Göteborg dog show where the dogs were assessed by three judges. The first being Count von Rosen, also Colonel Bertil Burén, and Baron Carl Leuhusen. 

The gentlemen were of one mind that Topsy was indeed the ideal specimen. She was regarded as having a beautiful body, a strong head and perfect quality of hair [fur] and the correct grey colour. All the initial dogs were grey. Although Karl-Gustaf Zetterstén managed to have the acceptable colours include brown, yellow and red-brown in the 1950's. There was much determination to ensure that in ongoing breeding the dogs should still "look like grandfathers dog" and retain the ability to herd. 

The men also believed that a correct Swedish Vallhund's coat was maintained as vital. The breed should always have half-long coat with undercoat. It shouldn't be soft or open. After a year of exhibition shows the kennel club recognised the breed in 1943.

Björn von Rosen had been writing articles about the breed, published in Svenska Dagbladet, a major newspaper. This prompted a lot of public interest and demand. Karl Gustave Zetterstén, still breeding terriers and initially with no intention to brred Sewdus Vallhund established the kennel Borghälla.  This was prompted by the Swedish Kennel club continually refering puppy seekers to him.  Karl felt a duty to care for and continue the breed,   Karl continued with the bicycling and the search for more dogs and managed to find a lovely bitch, Tyra. Tyra sported a white chest, and had a good length of leg. And her breeding was known back three generations (of dams). And her father was known as Nicke.  Tyra was mated to Pelle, a Mopsen son out of Tessan. One very beautiful boy, Borghällas Ajo from the litter of five that resulted went on to become a very notable stud with his very straight forelegs, close fitting, short & hard grey coat.  Karl also bred the  'Borghällas Delila', the very first Swedish Vallhund Champion.

Then in 1964, the Swedish Breed standard was revised and the name Västgötaspet was officially adopted acknowledging the region of Vastergotland were the rescue was initiated. Translated Västgötaspet means, 'Small spitz of the West Goths'.  The Swedish Vallhund is also known as the Swedish cattle dog, and Svensk Vallhund.


References:

Serpell J., The Domestic Dog, Its Evolution.  Behaviour and Interactions with People.Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. 1995.

Hubbard Clifford. L B.,  Dogs in Britain; a Description of All Native Breeds and Most Foreign Breeds in Britain. London, MacMillan. 1948

Swedish Kennel Clubs Magazines Special number:"Hundsport Special"  5/86

Gascoigne.Nicky., The Swedish Vallhund. Dalsetter Designs. Wakefield. UK. 1989

Bayliss. J., A Study of the Swedish Vallhund (Västgötaspets) A Pictorial History - Owners’ Hand Book. Eng. 2007.