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Icelandic Sheepdog

Quick facts

Icelandic Sheepdog AKC Group: Herding
Height: Male: 16 - 18 inches, Female: 15 - 17 inches
Weight: 20 - 30 pounds
Colors: Chocolate brown, reddish brown, tan, grey, cream and black
AKC recognized in: 2010

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a Nordic-Spitz type dog that is genetically related to the Finnish breed, the Karelian Bear Dog. It is also thought to be a distant relative of the Norwegian Buhund.

Icelandic Sheepdogs were first brought to Iceland in AD 874-930 by Viking and Scandinavian settlers to herd cattle, sheep and horses. These small herding dogs adapted their working style to Iceland's local terrain and farming techniques so well that they became indispensable to the local farmers. They eventually developed into the present day Icelandic dog breed. The Icelandic Sheepdog is Iceland's only native dog and is believed to be one of the oldest breeds of dogs in the world.

Around the late 19th and early 20th century, plague and canine distemper caused the death of more than 75% of the Icelandic Sheepdogs. With the sharp drop in numbers, it was feared that the breed might become extinct, but persistent efforts by concerned local breeders helped increase their number in recent decades. After another threat of extinction around the end of the 20th century, Iceland established the Icelandic Dog Breeder Association to protect their one and only native dog.

Called 'the dog of the Vikings' the breed is also known as Íslenskur Fjárhundur, the Iceland Spitz or the Iceland Dog.


Icelandic Sheepdog Summary
Affection four paws
Cold Tolerance five paws
Ease of Training three paws
Energy level three paws
Exercise Requirements four paws
Friendliness : Children four paws
Friendliness: Other Animals two paws
Friendliness: Other Pets two paws
Grooming Requirements three paws
Heat Tolerance three paws
Playfulness four paws
Protection Ability three paws
Watchdog Ability four paws

Icelandic Sheepdogs are friendly, playful, inquisitive and unafraid. These dogs aren't just good with sheep, they like people too. They are incredibly loving, patient and affectionate with children and make an ideal family dog, finding playmates in children and pets alike.

Like most sheepdog breeds, these dogs tend to shadow their owner persistently, preferring to stay in close proximity all the time. They are by nature very alert and will always let you know when someone approaches, though they are not aggressive. Visitors to your home can expect an enthusiastic, barking welcome but without any overt aggression.

These are tough and highly energetic dogs, which is not surprising given their years spent herding sheep and cattle in a country as rugged as Iceland. Their small size belies their inner toughness and high energy levels, earning them a reputation as a 'large dog in the body of a small dog'.

This is a dog breed that likes to have some work to do. They tend to get restless easily and can be very keen on 'creating tasks' when they are alone and bored. Left alone for long periods of time with nothing to do, their boredom and high energy can result in them becoming very destructive and causing havoc in the house. Taking your pet on long runs regularly can help release all of that excess energy. Dog training is highly recommended as another effective way to help them rein in that energy.

Native Icelandic Sheepdogs herd by barking and driving livestock. This has resulted in these dogs becoming very vocal as a way of seeking attention especially when they are left alone or when they want something.

The inherent personality of this breed does not lend itself well to apartment living. These dogs can bark a lot for no reason at all. Their separation anxiety issues also cause them to bark incessantly if left alone for any period of time. In addition, they are also very energetic and active and need plenty of exercise. A suburban or country lifestyle and plenty of company are what suit them best.

Training is highly recommended for this working dog to get the barking under control and also to prevent your dog from herding your pillows or destroying your home while you are away.


The average lifespan of the Icelandic Sheepdog is 14 to 15 years.

While the Icelandic Sheepdog is generally a healthy dog, it is susceptable to certain health problems. These problems include:

  • Hip Dysplasia - Where the thigh bone does not fit snugly into the hip joint. This can lead to severe lameness or arthritis. A dog diagnosed with hip dysplasia should never be bred, as this is an inherited condition.
  • Elbow Dysplasia - A condition involving several developmental anomalies of the elbow joint in the dog. This keeps the three bones that make up the joint to fit together imperfectly, causing irritation and pain.
  • Distichiasis - An inherited disorder where there is uncommon growth in the eyelid area. Normally this can be ignored, unless it causes discomfort in your dog.
  • Cataracts - A cloudiness in the lens of the eye, with varying degrees of opacity. Symptoms vary depending on the degree of opacity.


The Icelandic Sheepdog comes with two different coat types, either short or long. In both cases there is an undercoat that is thick and soft. These dogs do shed, and tend to shed profusely in the spring and fall. A weekly brushing should be sufficient most of the time to keep the hair from matting and removing loose hair, but this frequency probably needs to be ramped up significantly during the shedding seasons.

Having such a high energy level, the Icelandic Sheepdog requires a lot of exercise. Long runs or extended play in a fenced in yard will help expend that energy, and result in a much better behaved dog while inside.

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