The only native dog of the small island country of Iceland, the Icelandic Sheepdog is anything but common. Accompanying Vikings on their trek to Iceland, this beautiful, hardy breed is beloved by its home country, and has even been featured on national postage stamps. Though only recently admitted to the American Kennel Club (2010) and ranking 155th of 193 total breeds acknowledged by the organization, the Icelandic Sheepdog is famed in its home territory and surrounding Nordic countries. The Icelandic Sheepdog may also be known by several different names, including Iceland Spitz, Iceland Dog, and íslenskur fjárhundur.
Icelandic Sheepdog Appearance
A small to medium breed weighing 25 to 30 pounds, the Icelandic Sheepdog is a member of the well-known Spitz family of dogs. Like all Spitz breeds, the Icelandic Sheepdog has the telltale pair of prick ears, a fluffy tail curled over its back, and a dense, weatherproof coat for keeping it warm in frigid temperatures.
The coat of the Icelandic Sheepdog features both a long and a short variety, each of which is a double coat containing a thick undercoat and a longer outercoat. While standard colors can vary slightly, all Icelandic Sheepdogs’ colors include white, in tandem with any one of a number of other colors including fawn, gold, gray, white, red, sable, tan, chocolate, and black. Non-standard colors may include any of the aforementioned without white. Standard markings range from piebald and black mask to a handful of markings like black, cream, gray, tan, and chocolate. These dogs can shed quite a bit, so a vacuum for dog hair can be helpful for keeping the house tidy.
Overall, the Icelandic Sheepdog is a sturdy, rectangular shaped dog that is strong yet sports a friendly, happy appearance.
The Icelandic Sheepdog’s perpetually happy expression isn’t just an appearance—it’s the breed’s natural disposition. The friendly and playful Icelandic Sheepdog makes a great family pet and is extremely affectionate. Even when the Icelandic Sheepdog encounters strangers, it will likely take kindly to all people and enjoy being in the company of virtually any and all humans. Nevertheless, the Icelandic Sheepdog is known to be rather vocal, and will often bark to notify its family when someone is at the door.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is particularly taken by children, and is quite affectionate toward kids of all ages. Icelandic Sheepdogs are also generally friendly toward most other animals, including dogs and cats, especially those it has grown up with or that have been raised in the same household. One notable exception to this seems to be with birds, an aversion that likely stems back to the breed’s habit and history of guarding its flock against avian threats from the skies.
Given its roots as a sheepdog, you may find this breed chasing a car, a bird, or anything else it finds interesting. Most Icelandic Sheepdogs, however, are very attached to their humans and will likely stay close to them. The Icelandic Sheepdog is more than capable of sharing and spreading its love, and is quite intelligent, making these dogs ideal for therapy work. Icelandic Sheepdogs will love to pal around with their owners and can make great travel companions.
Life expectancy for an Icelandic Sheepdog usually falls within the range of 12 to 14 years.
Caring for an Icelandic Sheepdog
The Icelandic Sheepdog is a wonderful dog and is highly adaptable to almost any situation, but caring for this breed is still a matter of utmost importance for any owner.
The Icelandic Sheepdog isn’t an especially difficult breed to feed but nonetheless requires a high-quality dog food diet with a balance of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. As with any other dog breed, the Icelandic Sheepdog can be fed an age-appropriate wet dog food, dry dog food, grain free dog food, meals prepared at home, or some combination of the four. Icelandic Sheepdogs may gain weight if overfed, so care should be taken to ensure that this breed doesn’t overeat. A veterinarian can help owners determine a proper feeding schedule for the Icelandic Sheepdog.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are active dogs that need plenty of regular exercise. The Icelandic Sheepdog is happy to participate in any activity you present it with, and especially enjoys being outdoors. This breed will love to occupy itself with anything combining physical and mental exercise, such as herding, agility, and tracking. Icelandic Sheepdogs are also great companions for walking, hiking, and swimming. Interactive dog toys or puzzle toys for dogs, and an automatic fetch machine can help keep the Icelandic Sheepdog entertained when busy owners are otherwise preoccupied and don’t have time to exercise their dog.
The Icelandic Sheepdog is an intelligent dog that is eager to please its owner, making it relatively easy to train. Like all dogs, the Icelandic Sheepdog can benefit from being enrolled in obedience classes or a puppy training program to promote socialization and good habits. A pleasant dog with a more sensitive nature, the Icelandic Sheepdog will not be receptive to harsh treatment or training methods involving positive punishment. Instead, the Icelandic Sheepdog should be trained with patience and respect. Since this breed loves to please its family, positive reinforcement like rewards and praise are the most effective means of training the Icelandic Sheepdog.
Hardy and healthy, the Icelandic Sheepdog is, on the whole, a very healthy dog breed. A dog DNA test should be ordered for Icelandic Sheepdogs, and while a reputable breeder will try and avoid any genetic diseases, it’s helpful to play it safe and be aware of any potential genetic disorders.
The Icelandic Sheepdog can develop cataracts, hip dysplasia, distichiasis, and patellar luxation. Owners should keep a close watch on any symptoms of these conditions and should remain diligent in bringing their dog to the veterinarian and conducting routine checkups and any tests recommended by the vet. A canine hip dysplasia test and eye examination can help detect any problems early on in the process, which will help increase the chances of effective treatment and recovery.
The Icelandic Sheepdog’s thick coat may lead to a more common incidence of ear infection and should be checked for signs of infection and cleaned frequently. Similarly, the Icelandic Sheepdog’s teeth should be brushed with a natural toothpaste for dogs. In addition to regular veterinary checkups, an annual visit to an animal ophthalmologist is useful in identifying distichiasis, cataracts, and other conditions of the eyes.