History of Working Dogs

As the Svalinn name suggests, we admire the powerful themes found in Old Norse mythology and the spirit of the Scandinavian people and their Viking descendants.

Old Norse Mythology

The value of the working dog is well documented by these Nordic cultures. Although most breeds were used as working dogs on Viking farms, many were recognized as loyal companions. Dogs were often buried alongside their Viking masters. In Scandinavian belief, the dog is the guardian of the underworld, and it is speculated that one reason for including dogs in Viking Age burials was to provide a guide for the deceased to lead them to the underworld.

Garmr or Garm –Goddess Hel and her guard dog Gramr

history-odin.jpg God Odin flanked by his dogs Geri and Freki

Often, Vikings kept dogs for hunting purposes and several of those breeds remain today. One of the best-known Norse hunting dogs is the Norsk Elghund, bred by the ancient Danes to hunt moose and bear. The Norwegian Lundehund or Puffin-Hound is the most ancient of Nordic breeds and was often used to hunt the Viking delicacy, Puffin. In addition to hunting, the Vikings also used dogs to herd cattle. One of these breeds is the Swedish Vallhund, which looks like its close relative, the Welsh Corgi. 

Mercy Dogs of World War I

In addition to the breeds of the Scandinavian North, we have an appreciation for the European lines bred for their intellect and obedience, like the Dutch Shepherd of the Netherlands, the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd.  All originally used for their expertise in herding sheep and cattle, handlers soon recognized the breeds for their incredible intelligence.  As the Industrial Revolution minimized the need for working dogs on farms and WWI broke out in Europe, these breeds became vital members of the battle. The breeds were often utilized as guardians, personal protection and for tracking during war.

ww1-british.jpgBritish World War I Dog and Soldier

ww1-french.jpgFrench World War I Dog and Soldier


In addition to serving as companions in the trenches, “Mercy” dogs were vital in WWI. Originally trained by the Germans in the late 1800s, these dogs were equipped with medical supplies to aid the wounded and dying on the battlefields. Injured soldiers could tend to their wounds with the supplies, while gravely wounded soldiers sought the company of Mercy dogs in their final moments. 

US Troops & Their Dogs

When WWII required US troops to travel to the dense jungles of Asia, the military knew they needed a keen nose to scope out the enemy. Dogs from American homes were donated to the war effort and it then became the responsibility of the Marine Corp to mold these pets into elite war dogs

Often assigned to one handler, these loyal dogs learned to silently search and signal their handlers to danger. They could detect enemy scent up to 1000 yards away, sooner than any man could. Scout dogs were widely used because they were highly efficient in avoiding detection by the enemy. Eventually, the superior scouting lessons learned in the jungles of WWII were reapplied when war dogs served in Korea and Vietnam.

ww2-foxhole.jpgUS Marine Corporal Virgil W. Burgess gave his dog Prince instructions on which foxhole to carry a message to, Iwo Jima, 19 Feb 1945

vietnam-partol.jpgVietnam Soldiers and Dogs on patrol

ww2-partol.jpgUS Marine ‘Raiders’ and their dogs on Bougainville, circa Nov-Dec 1943

vietnam-tracking.jpgVietnam Soldiers and Dogs tracking

Many returning US military men brought their war dog companions home, impressed by their intelligence, and began training them to work in law enforcement. To this day, these breeds continue to have a military presence and can be found guarding homes and property, in rescue work, police work and as drugs detection dogs in international ports and airports.

Svalinn has learned from the training techniques of the past
and has deployed teams for security and counter poaching all over the world.

While innovating and setting new standards when it comes to the art of the working dog, we still appreciate, respect and honor the classic partnership between man and dog that has been forged over thousands of years and send our support to all the military dogs and their handlers currently overseas.