The Icelandic Sheepdog is the only native purebred dog of Iceland.
It’s a small to medium sized dog, weighing up to 30 pounds and growing up to 18 inches as an adult. This breed is loving and people-oriented. But has some natural insticts to be aware of.
Despite this appearance and temperament, the Icelandic Sheepdog is rare and still rather obscure.
They have almost gone extinct more than once. Dog breeders have fought countless times to rescue this very special breed.
Where Does the Icelandic Sheepdog Come From?
The Icelandic Sheepdog is the only purebred dog native to the country of Iceland.
The ancestors of this breed were present when Nordic settlers first inhabited the land over one thousand years ago.
These settlers brought herding dogs with them for their sheep and other farm animals.
It was these dogs that were the beginning of the Icelandic Sheepdog genetic line.
Unfortunately, this breed has faced a lot of hardship in the past; they have been near extinction multiple times from famine and disease.
Harships of the Icelandic Dog
In fact, they were on the very brink of extinction just 60-70 years ago.
This was due to a combination of disease and a lack of a need for herding dogs, causing the population to plummet to dangerously low numbers.
However, a breed club was established with the aim of conserving the breed in 1969.
Thankfully, they succeeded. The Icelandic Sheepdog is no longer at risk of being extinct. But their overall numbers still remain small.
Today, the breed is primarily kept as a companion dog and can be found all over the world.
Fun Facts About the Icelandic Sheepdog
The Icelandic Sheepdog is commonly nicknamed the “Icie.”
Icies weren’t recognized by the American Kennel Club until June 2010.
This breed is considered to be one of the most ancient to still exist today.
Icelandic Sheepdog Appearance
Icies are Spitz-type dogs who are well-suited to the cold climate that they originate from with their thick and waterproof double coat.
They are small to medium dogs, reaching heights of around 18 inches if male and 16.5 inches if female.
As for weight, a healthy number for a male is 30 pounds. While for the female it is 25 pounds.
Build and Physical Characteristics
Icies have a strong build and carry themselves with an agile gait.
The head of the Icelandic Sheepdog is quite fox-like: medium-sized, erect ears, a muzzle that is slightly shorter than the skull, and an intelligent and alert expression.
A black face mask may or may not be present.
Medium or Long Coats
There are two distinct types of coat within this breed; a short-haired and a long-haired.
For the short-haired variation, the coat is of medium length with a coarse overcoat and a thick, soft undercoat.
The tail is moderately bushy.
The long-haired variation is the same but simply with a much longer coat and bushier tail.
In both variations, their coat is shorter around the face, top of the head, ears and front of the legs.
Conversely, the hair is longer on the neck, chest and the back of the thighs.
Coat Colors and Patterns
As for the coat colors and patterns that may appear within this breed, many Icies are a single predominating color with white patches.
The white areas are commonly found on the face, chest, collar, legs and tail.
Here are some of the most common color combinations you may see.
- Black and white
- Chocolate and white
- Cream and white
- Fawn and white
- Gold and white
- Gray and white
- Red and white
- Sable and white
- Tan and white
- White, tan and black
Markings and Patterns
It’s possible for an Icie to be without white markings but much less common.
The Piebald pattern may also appear within this breed. This is where spots of color appear on an otherwise white-coated dog.
Finally, markings of various colors may appear within this breed, on top of the coat colors outlined above.
Icelandic Sheepdog Temperament
The Icelandic Sheepdog can have a limitless amount of love and devotion to give to the right family.
They are a very people-oriented breed and many want nothing more than to be with their owners.
However, there are still some concerns with the temperament of this breed that you need to be aware of.
Firstly, many Icies love to bark.
While they aren’t exactly a guard dog, they still instinctively like to alert their owners of any change or abnormality within the environment.
This stems from their background as herders; they used barking to help move the herd and to also alert the farmer to any intruders.
Training from a young age can help prevent your Icelandic Sheepdog from barking too much.
This is done by teaching what situations warrant a bark and an effective cue for quiet.
Another behavior that stems from their background is an instinctual urge to chase movement.
This can be anything from other animals, joggers and even cars.
Therefore, it’s imperative that you teach your Icie a faultless recall and an emergency recall for urgent situations.
Otherwise, they may catch sight of something and sprint headlong into trouble.
Obedience training can also help.
Finally, as we mentioned earlier, the Icelandic Sheepdog loves to be with the owners.
However, due to their heavy attachment to their family, they may suffer from separation anxiety when apart from them.
This can lead to negative behaviors taking place when you are not home.
This breed might not be a good fit for busy families that leave the house empty for large portions of the day.
Training Your Icelandic Sheepdog
With such an extensive history as herders, the Icelandic Sheepdog has high intelligence and can easily pick up new commands.
You shouldn’t have too much trouble training this breed; As such affectionate dogs, Icies are very motivated to please.
Positive, reward-based training is the best way to go.
Be patient, clear and consistent with your training. You will be pleasantly surprised by how quickly they pick things up.
Obedience and socialization training should be carried out from a young age to help ensure the Icie grows up to be a well-mannered, controllable adult.
Here are some resources that may help with training.
If you are struggling to train your Icelandic Sheepdog, never just give up.
Skipping training leads to negative behaviors and habits forming that are extremely difficult to break later in life.
Obedience classes and one-on-one help from dog behaviorists and trainers can help you.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is an energetic breed. They require at least moderate exercise each day to stay fit and happy.
This could be long walks, mixed with some play in a secure area off the leash.
However, it’s important to avoid strenuous exercise while they are still growing puppies.
They can be particularly prone to injury at this stage, so it is advised to keep the exercise to walks and light play at home.
Icelandic Sheepdog Health
The expected life span of the Icelandic Sheepdog is 12-14 years. They are commonly believed to be generally healthy dogs.
Regardless, there are still some health conditions that have been found to be at a higher risk within this breed.
Joint issues such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and patellar luxation have all been found to be at a possible high risk within this breed.
Ocular problems such as cataracts, entropion, retinal dysplasia and distichiasis have also been reported within Icies.
Hypothyroidism has also been found to occur within the Icelandic Sheepdog, which is when the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones.
This can lead to hair loss, lethargy and weight gain.
Finally, hereditary deafness is a possibility within this breed. It can affect either one ear or both.
How to Avoid These Problems
This breed isn’t at a higher risk than the norm for life-threatening conditions.
But the potential health risks that it is predisposed to can still severely affect their quality of life.
Therefore, it’s imperative that you do your utmost to ensure you purchase your Icie from a reputable and trustworthy breeder.
This gives you the best chance of avoiding the health issues outlined above from being an issue in your new puppy.
For this breed, a hip evaluation and an ophthalmologist evaluation are recommended.
A good breeder should be able to show the results of these tests to prove that there are no genetic issues within their litters.
Feeding and Grooming
Icies do well on high-quality dog food. But as with all breeds, it is important to keep an eye on their weight.
Obesity can further increase the risk of the health issues above.
If you are unsure of what or how much to feed an Icelandic Sheepdog, consult with your vet to create a diet plan.
Grooming and Shedding
This breed sheds a lot and goes through two shedding seasons a year.
They require daily brushing during these times to ensure dead hair is removed before it gets all over your house.
During non-shedding periods, a weekly brush is usually sufficient.
Along with their coat, remember grooming extends to the nails and teeth of the dog too.
Trimming their nails can help prevent discomfort.
Brushing their teeth regularly can stop painful dental diseases from being a problem.
Do Icelandic Sheepdogs Make Good Family Dogs?
The Icelandic Sheepdog can potentially make for a great pet for the right family.
They are very loving dogs with doable grooming and exercise requirements.
Additionally, they can get along with kids and other pets, provided that they are socialized from a young age.
However, they still might not fit every family.
Things to be Aware Of
This is a dog that would really benefit from a secure yard to play in or at least a nearby park.
It’s important to remember that this breed likes to bark, and even with training may tend to be very vocal.
Keep this in mind, and think of your neighbors before making any decisions.
Finally, these dogs are best fit for a family that always has someone around the house to keep them company.
This is not a breed that can be left alone for long periods of time.
If you can fulfill all their daily requirements and provide a great home for them to live, the Icie can quickly become a loving member of the family.
Rescuing an Icelandic Sheepdog
Adopting an Icie over purchasing a puppy from a breeder comes with its pros and cons.
On the good side, adopting allows you to get a dog that is already an adult.
At this stage, any health or behavioral problems will be immediately apparent, so you know exactly what you may be getting into with any given dog.
Adopting also gives the satisfaction of helping a dog in need.
However, on the bad side, many dogs sadly end up in rescue due to health or behavioral problems.
You may have to prepare to help deal with these potential issues, especially seeing as the small population of this breed means there may not be a lot of choice on offer.
If you do decide to adopt, you will likely be interviewed by staff as to ascertain whether you will be a good fit for the dog in question.
You will be asked about your previous experience with dogs and your current family situation. Home visits may also occur.
From there, you will be either denied or allowed adoption of the dog.
Finding an Icelandic Sheepdog Puppy
If you decide to purchase an Icie puppy from a breeder, there are a few important things to keep in mind to help ensure that you have the best chance of receiving a healthy puppy.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of breeders out there who happily sacrifice the welfare of their litters for more efficient sales.
They do not waste any effort on training or caring for their puppies beyond the bare minimum and do not screen for genetic health problems.
Such places are colloquially named “puppy farms” due to these immoral practices.
Puppies that are raised in such places are commonly riddled with health issues and behavioral problems.
Therefore, it’s important to avoid these places and to not give them any business.
Sadly, pet shops should also be avoided as many of them purchase their stock from such puppy farms.
What to Look For
Instead, it is important to search for a breeder with a discerning eye.
Look for a breeder that has recognition from reputable breeding societies.
Ideally, they will also have positive feedback from previous customers.
A good breeder will speak honestly about the genetic health of their lines and will not evade questions.
They should be able to prove the genetic health of their puppies via health evaluations and allow you to meet the parent dogs.
Raising an Icelandic Sheepdog Puppy
Raising an unruly puppy into a well-mannered adult can seem like an impossible task for even the most experienced dog owners.
Luckily, we have written some great resources on the topic. See below:
Icelandic Sheepdog Products and Accessories
If you decide to purchase or adopt an Icelandic Sheepdog, there are some products and accessories on the market that can help simplify things.
We would recommend taking a look into harnesses as opposed to leashes.
Harnesses hold a lot of benefits, which you can read about here.
Grooming tools can also be a good idea. As the Icie sheds a lot, any tool that can help combat this is a godsend.
This article has helpful suggestions.
Pros and Cons of Getting an Icelandic Sheepdog
Here is a quick summary of the good and bad of this breed.
- Tends to bark a lot
- Chase instincts
- Heavy shedders
- Rare breed, may be hard to find a puppy or adopt
- Separation anxiety
- Very affectionate, people-oriented dog
- Good with kids and other pets provided they have been socialized from a young age
- Highly intelligent and take well to training
- Generally very healthy with a low frequency of inherited disorders
It’s always worth taking a look at similar breeds before making any final decisions, just to see if any may be a better fit for you and your family.
Here are a few to take a look at.
Icelandic Sheepdog Rescues
If you decide you would like to adopt an Icelandic Sheepdog, you will quickly come to the realization that there aren’t many dedicated rescue centers out there for this breed.
This is most likely due to their small population.
If you are based within the U.S. or Canada, there is one good rescue center that you may be able to use: the National Icelandic Sheepdog Rescue Alliance.
However, if you are based somewhere else in the world, or cannot get an Icie from the NISRA, your best bet is to search rescue centers dedicated to covering a large number of breeds.
See below for places to start your search.
If you know of any rescue centers wholly devoted to the Icelandic Sheepdog, let us know and we’ll add it to the article.
Is an Icelandic Sheepdog Right for Me?
Ultimately, only you can answer that question.
However, the Icelandic Sheepdog can certainly make for an amazing and loving companion in the right family.
Consider whether you can fulfill all of this breed’s daily needs and if they will fit in with your current family situation.
Have you ever owned this rare breed? What do you think of the Icelandic Sheepdog?
Let us know below.
References and Further Reading:
Ackerman, L.J., 2011, “The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs,” American Animal Hospital Association
Bell, J., et al., 2012, “Veterinary Medical Guide to Dog and Cat Breeds,” CRC Press
Ólafsdóttir, G.A. and Kristjansson, T., 2008, “Correlated Pedigree and Molecular Estimates of Inbreeding and Their Ability to Detect Inbreeding Depression in the Icelandic Sheepdog, a Recently Bottlenecked Population of Domestic Dogs,” Conservation Genetics