Breed Category: Working/Spitz
Country of Origin: Iceland
Most suited as: Family Pet/Herding dog in colder Climates
Average Size: lower end of medium 42-48 cm (at the withers)
Average Weight: 12-15 kg
Average Life Span: 11-13 years
Grooming Requirements: Low for a long haired breed.
Exercise Requirements: High – typical or herding breeds
The Icelandic sheepdog likely arrived in Iceland with the Vikings on the raiding ships in the 7th or 8th century AD. Whilst not a native of Iceland, they are certainly are considered Iceland’s only dog breed. Their genetic makeup indicates a close relationship with the Shetland sheepdog and the Welsh Corgi
They were used as working dogs, herding all manner of animals including sheep, cattle and horses (which were used as food animals in Iceland as well as for transport and field work). They are inherently skilled at keeping a herd together, most important in the great unfenced paddocks of Iceland.
The Iceland Sheepdog is thought to have been brought to Iceland by Vikings in the 7th or 8th century. As of today, it is Iceland’s only native dog breed. It is thought to be related to the Shetland Sheepdog and the Welsh Corgi.
This type of dog has been extremely helpful to Icelandic people, as it is a working dog that is skilled in herding livestock such as sheep, cattle and horses. It is particularly useful in keeping animals from straying on the Icelandic countryside or mountains. Livestock has long been a huge part of the livelihood of many of Iceland’s people, so the Iceland Sheepdog’s ability to keep a herd together and prevent animals from wandering away is crucial.
They were almost wiped out in the early 19th century as a result of canine distemper and the plague hitting a population with no previous exposure or immunity. The breed has seen a small increase in population and popularity in recent years with the creation of a breed association in Iceland and recognition as their national dog. They remain rare and are rarely seen outside Iceland.
The Iceland Sheepdog is at the lower end of size for a medium-sized dog though their incredibly thick fur gives them the appearance of much greater size and weight. Their water resistant coat may be long or short, and comes with a soft undercoat. Most commonly they are seen in brown, tan and red, black, gray and white.
As seen in the above photo, their fur colour is typically lighter on their lower body, including the chest, belly, feet and end of their tail. The strands of their fur are relatively thick which reduces matting so though thick coated it is still relatively low in maintenance requirements with only light brushing required which will prevent tangling and help remove dead hair when and where you want it removed rather than on your rug.
They are notably Spitz like in appearance with a thick, furry up curled tail typical of this dog type. Often their tail is sufficiently long and curled to rest on their back. Eyes are most often brown, nose is black or brown with ears permanently pricked, but expressive… their movement most often indicating their emotions.
As with many Spitz breeds, the males are markedly larger in size than the females. The breed averages 40-45 cm in height and 10-15 kg in weight though their fur gives them a far bulkier appearance.
The Iceland Sheepdog is playful, energetic and boisterous. As a small herding dog, the typically barked to move animals in the direction they wanted them to go and when excited are prone to barking but it’s a trait which can be addressed with training. It does make them excellent watchdogs. They love to keep bust and require lots of exercise through walks and games. They are eager to please and compete and do well in agility trials.
They are exceptionally clever and easy to train. Typically they have been brought up in homes where they were integrated into the daily lives of their owners on farms so they do not do well if left alone for long period.
Though the breeding numbers of these dogs is relatively small, as a purpose bred dog they are exceptionally healthy and free of the genetic problems that tend to be associated with dogs bred for appearance. There is some evidence of hip dysplasia in the breed, but at lower levels than most other medium sized dog breeds.
Their thick coat combined with their desire for high levels of activity make them a poor choice of dog for much of the Australian climate, should you be considering this breed (if you can find and Australian breeder or are thinking to import one) you will likely need to consider regular shaving to prevent heat stroke and skin diseases caused by overheating.
The average Iceland Sheepdog lives an average of 11-13 years.
Image greatly received from http://www.crossbreezefarm.com/icelandic_sheepdogs – do note the icy conditions these dogs are living in.