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All About the Icelandic Sheepdog

Icelandic Sheepdog | Creative Common

Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons

The Icelandic sheepdog is without any doubt one of the totem animals of Iceland. Its cheerful character, loud bark and thick coat make him the ideal companion for any Icelandic farmer wanting to herd his sheep, horses or cattle in large open fields in any weather. It is a dog breed known to the spitz type and comes from the dogs the Vikings settlers brought when first came to Iceland. The only mammal that existed in Iceland before this time was the Arctic Fox which makes the Icelandic Sheepdog Iceland’s only native dog. The breed has therefore been in Iceland for over 1,100 years!

The Icelandic Sheepdog is an energetic medium sized dog with a thick soft undercoat and pointy ears. Its tail tends to curl up and is equally as long-haired as the rest of its coat, creating the most adorable fluffy overlook. Their usual life span is 11-14 years and kept right they should weigh about 11-14 kilograms or 25-30 pounds. In Iceland, they are still today commonly used to herd sheep and other animals at farms but are also a common dog to have in the city.

Icelandic Sheepdog sitting on an Icelandic Horse

The History and Origin of the Icelandic Sheepdog

According to archaeologists findings, the dog remains that have been found in graves in Denmark and Sweden from around 8000 BC resemble the Icelandic Sheepdog quite a lot and would most likely have been their forefathers. This was later confirmed been proven with blood search.

In 1555 Olaus Magnus writes of the Icelandic Sheepdogs’ popularity and of dogs being shipped from Iceland to England where they had become exceptionally loved by the upper class, priests and madams. So popular in facts that in the play “Henry V” by no other than Shakespeare is a mention of an Icelandic Sheepdog.

In writings from 1650, Sir Thomas Brown again writes about Icelandic Sheepdogs being shipped to England but this time for shepherds who were eager to get their hand on them due to their excellent herding skills. In his descriptions, he states that this particular type of dog looks somewhat like a fox.

Other metropolitan placements of the Icelandic Sheepdog can be found in the writings of Count de Buffon where he desires 30 different dog breeds, the Icelandic being one of them and a painting from 1763 shows an Icelandic sheepdog which was born in Dantzig, Poland.

In the late 19th-century canine distemper and plaque tragically killed off over 75% of the race which later led to a complete ban of dog importation from the year 1901. At this point, the purebred Icelandic Sheepdog was at the brim of extinction but the breed kept on with only a few dogs. Another scare then occurred in the late 20th century but this time Icelanders worked harder to fight for its existence. In 1969, the Icelandic Dog Breeder Association (Hundaræktunarfélag Íslands or HRFÍ) was established with the main goal of preserving the breed and help keep track of its members.  

In 1983 research on the Icelandic Sheepdog showed that it had relations with a breed called Karelian Bear Dog which originates in Russia. When compared there are a lot of physical features which are the same such as the prick ears and the circled tail.

Icelandic Sheepdog puppies

In 2010 the Icelandic Sheepdog gained the famous AKC recognition, at the same time as the breeds Cane Corso and the large Leonberger. Today we can happily state that the breed is nowhere close to extinction and that around 100 puppies are born annually. The popularity of the breed has never been greater and some of the puppies have been getting new owners in North-America and Europe.

Fun Facts about the Icelandic Sheepdog

  • In Icelandic, the breed is called Íslenskur Fjárhundur
  • The breed is sometimes called canis islandicus in Latin even though it is a breed, not a species
  • A lesser known fact about the role of the Icelandic Sheepdog back in the day is that they were also used to drag Puffins from their nesting holes when the farmers were out hunting them
  • About 100 Icelandic Sheepdog puppies are born every year in Iceland
  • The Icelandic Sheepdog is often described as a very smiley dog
  • The breed has been trained and used to help the Search and REscue squads in Iceland, showing exceptional skill in avalanche searches
  • The male dogs are slightly bigger than the female dogs
  • The Icelandic Sheepdog is known as the Vikings’ Dog

Icelandic Sheepdog Miscellaneous| Pros and Cons

As can easily be read from the breeds name it is first and foremost a working dog and a watchdog. When herding the dogs’ purpose is not only to take sheep, or other animals, from one point to another but also to keep them in a flock. When the animals, they were attempting to herd would disobey the Icelandic Sheepdog uses his bark to draw them back in. Due to this reason, it is in its character to bark when it wants something or feels like it isn’t in control.

Unlike most working dogs the Icelandic Sheepdog can easily relax once indoors and will happily lie at its master’s feet or jump up to cuddle with them. They are very family friendly dogs as well as loyal and follow its owner everywhere.

They aren’t very keen on swimming which likely has to do with their thick coat. They are however excellent at learning things on their own which can be troublesome when they learn to open doors, shelves or get things they shouldn’t so owners might want to be in the lookout for new tricks and expect them to be smart. They need daily exercise and are considered fantastic jogging companions.


  • They are super cuddly
  • They are very friendly dogs
  • They are loyal to their owners
  • They get along with children
  • They are smart
  • They are very playful (possibly a pro and con)


  • They tend to bark
  • They can figure out things like to open doors without being taught
  • Can be susceptible to Hip dysplasia, Dog cataracts, Cryptorchidism, Distichiasis and Luxating patella although none of them are common nor are they connected directly with the breed

Icelandic Sheepdog

The Colors of the Icelandic Sheepdog

The Icelandic Sheepdog is renowned for its thick coat but it actually comes in two lengths; simply referred to as short haired and long haired. The colors, however, range quite a lot but are usually a dual split, with white markings but can on rare occasions present themselves in a black mask.

  • Black and White
  • Chocolate and White
  • Gray and White
  • Red and White
  • Cream and White
  • Gold and White
  • Sable and White
  • White Tan and Black

Wiki Commons, Icelandic Sheepdog

Photo from Wikipedia Creative Commons

Other Icelandic Animals

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Icelandic Sheepdog

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