Icelandic Sheepdog

Table of Contents

icelandic sheepdog portrait
Get ready to embark on a tail-wagging adventure with the Icelandic Sheepdog, a truly unique and captivating breed! These spirited pups are known for their fluffy coats, friendly demeanor, and unmatched loyalty. Hailing from the land of fire and ice, they are Iceland's only native dog breed and have stolen the hearts of dog lovers worldwide.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Icelandic Sheepdog is an ideal companion for those who appreciate a loyal, energetic, and affectionate dog by their side. Best suited for individuals or families with an active lifestyle, these pups thrive in environments where they can engage in regular physical and mental stimulation.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEIcelandic Sheepdog
OTHER NAMESIcelandic Spitz, Iceland Dog, Íslenskur Fjárhundur, Friaar Dog, Canis Islandicus
ORIGINIceland
BREED GROUPHerding Group
BREED SIZEMedium
HEIGHT15.5-18 inches
WEIGHT20-30 lbs
LIFESPAN12-14 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERLow
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERHigh
GROOMING NEEDSModerate
EXERCISE NEEDSHigh
TRAINABILITYHigh
BARKING TENDENCYHigh
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELModerate
POPULARITY RANK132nd
icelandic sheepdog running in an open field
Photo: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

Appearance

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a medium-sized, sturdy breed with a well-proportioned body that exudes strength and agility. These dogs typically stand between 16.5 to 18 inches for males and 15.5 to 16.5 inches for females at the shoulder, with a weight range of 20 to 30 pounds for both genders. Their muscular build, slightly arched back, and well-developed chest contribute to their overall athletic appearance.

One of the most distinctive features of the Icelandic Sheepdog is its tail, which is bushy, medium-length, and curls over the back, forming a beautiful plume. The head of this breed is fairly broad, with a slightly domed skull and well-defined stop. Their powerful muzzle is medium-sized, tapering slightly toward the nose, while their tight lips and strong jaws give them a confident expression.

The ears of the Icelandic Sheepdog are erect, medium-sized, and triangular in shape, with rounded tips. They are set rather far apart and are extremely mobile, reacting to the slightest sound or movement. The eyes are medium-sized, almond-shaped, and come in varying shades of brown that harmonize with the coat color. The breed’s keen, friendly, and intelligent expression is one of its most endearing traits.

The Icelandic Sheepdog’s double coat plays a crucial role in protecting them from harsh weather conditions. The outer coat is thick, coarse, and water-repellent, while the undercoat is soft, dense, and insulating.

This breed comes in two coat types: short-haired and long-haired. The short-haired variety has a medium-length coat, while the long-haired variety boasts a longer coat with more profuse furnishings on the legs, tail, and around the neck, giving them a mane-like appearance.

The coat comes in a variety of colors and patterns, including various shades of tan, ranging from cream to reddish-brown, chocolate brown, gray, and black. They can be single-colored, bi-colored, or tri-colored, with white markings commonly found on the face, chest, legs, and tail tip. Additionally, some Icelandic Sheepdogs may have a black mask or a lighter shade on the underside and around the eyes.

Overall, the Icelandic Sheepdog’s appearance is a harmonious blend of strength, agility, and endurance, perfectly adapted to the challenging Icelandic environment where they originated.

icelandic sheepdog lying in the garden
Photo: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

Temperament

If an Icelandic Sheepdog were a person, they’d be the life of the party – always cheerful, friendly, and ready to make everyone laugh with their playful antics. They’re those friends who can’t help but light up a room with their infectious energy and positive vibes.

They’re the kind of individuals who are always there for you, loyal to the core, and always up for a good time. They make friends easily, getting along with everyone from babies to grandparents, and even other pets. With their sociable and outgoing personality, they never meet a stranger – only friends they haven’t gotten to know yet.

At home, this breed would be the one dancing around in their socks, music blaring, turning even the most mundane household chores into a fun event. They love being involved in everything going on around them, eager to join in whatever activity is at hand.

Yet, despite their love for fun and games, Icelandic Sheepdogs also have a serious side. They’re vigilant and alert, always keeping an eye out for anything unusual. If they were a person, they’d be the responsible friend who makes sure everyone gets home safe after a night out.

Icelandic Sheepdogs are also the curious and adventurous type. They love exploring and discovering new things. If they were human, they’d probably be the one suggesting road trips, hiking adventures, or exploring a new city.

In essence, an Icelandic Sheepdog is like that best friend who is not only fun and adventurous but also caring, loyal and protective. They’re the ones who bring warmth and joy into your life, making every day a little brighter with their presence.

icelandic sheepdog's face up close
Photo: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

Ideal Environment

Physical Environment

The ideal environment for the Icelandic Sheepdog is one that caters to their physical and mental needs, offering ample opportunities for exercise, mental stimulation, and social interaction. These dogs are highly adaptable and can adjust well to various living situations, including both urban and rural settings. They can thrive in apartments or homes with yards, as long as their daily exercise requirements are met.

Climate Adaptability

The Icelandic Sheepdog’s double coat makes them well-adapted to colder climates, providing excellent insulation against harsh weather conditions. Their origin in Iceland means they are naturally equipped to handle cold temperatures and can comfortably spend time outdoors in winter months. Nevertheless, it’s important to monitor them for signs of discomfort and provide a warm shelter when necessary.

In contrast, these dogs may be less tolerant of extremely hot climates due to their thick double coat. During hot weather, it is crucial to provide them with plenty of shade, fresh water, and limit their outdoor activities to cooler parts of the day to prevent overheating.

Ideal Owner

Icelandic Sheepdogs are best suited for active pet parents who are willing to invest time and energy into meeting their needs for physical activity and mental engagement.

These dogs enjoy participating in dog sports such as agility, flyball, and herding trials, which not only provide exercise but also help nurture their natural instincts and intelligence. Regular walks, playtime, and interactive games are essential to keep these energetic canines happy and healthy.

Other Pets

When it comes to other pets, the Icelandic Sheepdog’s friendly and sociable nature allows them to get along well with other dogs and animals. However, it’s vital to monitor interactions with smaller pets, as their herding instincts may prompt them to chase or herd them. Early socialization and training can help ensure harmonious relationships with other household animals.

icelandic sheepdogs sniffing the grass
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Grooming

The Icelandic Sheepdog’s thick double coat requires regular grooming to maintain its health and appearance. Although their grooming needs are not overly demanding, it is essential to establish a consistent routine to keep these dogs looking and feeling their best.

Coat Care

Brushing is a crucial aspect of the Icelandic Sheepdog’s grooming routine. Their double coat tends to shed moderately throughout the year, with heavier shedding occurring during seasonal changes. To manage shedding and prevent matting, it is recommended to brush their coat at least once or twice a week using a slicker brush or an undercoat rake.

For long-haired varieties, more frequent brushing may be necessary to prevent tangles in the longer furnishings on the legs, tail, and neck. Regular brushing not only helps remove loose hair and dirt but also distributes natural oils throughout the coat, keeping it healthy and shiny.

Bathing should be done as needed, typically every 2-3 months, or when the dog becomes dirty or starts to smell. It’s important to use a gentle, dog-specific shampoo that won’t strip the natural oils from their coat. Be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove any soap residue, which can cause skin irritation.

After bathing, towel-dry your Icelandic Sheepdog and allow them to air dry, or use a hairdryer on a low heat setting to speed up the process. Remember to brush their coat once it is completely dry to prevent matting.

Dental Care

In addition to coat care, regular dental care is essential for maintaining the overall health of your Icelandic Sheepdog. It is recommended to brush their teeth at least two or three times a week using a soft-bristled toothbrush and dog-specific toothpaste.

Regular dental checkups and professional cleanings can help prevent dental issues such as gum disease, bad breath, and tooth loss.

Nail Trimming

Nail care is another important aspect of the Icelandic Sheepdog’s grooming routine. Their nails should be trimmed every 3-4 weeks, or as needed, to prevent overgrowth and discomfort. Using a guillotine-style or scissor-style nail clipper, trim the nails just below the quick, which is the pink part of the nail containing blood vessels and nerves.

Be cautious not to cut into the quick, as it can cause pain and bleeding. If you are unsure about trimming your dog’s nails at home, seek guidance from a veterinarian or professional groomer.

Ear Care

Ears should be checked regularly for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or foul odor. To clean your Icelandic Sheepdog’s ears, use a soft, damp cloth or cotton ball with a dog-specific ear-cleaning solution. Gently wipe the outer part of the ear, being careful not to insert anything deep into the ear canal.

two icelandic sheepdogs standing on snow
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Exercise

The Icelandic Sheepdog is an energetic and athletic breed that requires regular exercise to maintain its physical and mental well-being. These dogs thrive on daily physical activity and mental stimulation, which helps prevent undesirable behaviors stemming from boredom or pent-up energy.

Exercise Amount & Types

It is recommended to provide your Icelandic Sheepdog with at least one hour of exercise per day, which can be divided into multiple sessions. This exercise can include a combination of activities such as walks, jogs, off-leash playtime, and interactive games like fetch or tug-of-war.

These dogs enjoy exploring new environments, so varying the routes you take for walks or visiting different parks can help keep them engaged and stimulated.

Socialization is another essential aspect of the Icelandic Sheepdog’s exercise routine. Regular visits to dog parks or arranging playdates with other dogs can help fulfill their social needs and provide additional exercise opportunities. Socializing with other dogs also allows them to develop proper canine manners and burn off excess energy in a controlled environment.

Dog Sports

In addition to daily exercise, Icelandic Sheepdogs can benefit from participating in dog sports such as agility, flyball, obedience, or herding trials. These activities not only provide physical exercise but also cater to the breed’s intelligence and natural instincts, offering mental stimulation and strengthening the bond between dog and owner.

Training for and participating in these competitions can be a fun and rewarding experience for both the dog and the handler.

Exercise Precautions

When exercising your Icelandic Sheepdog, it’s important to consider weather conditions, particularly in hot climates. Due to their thick double coat, these dogs may be more susceptible to overheating during hot weather. It’s best to schedule exercise sessions during cooler parts of the day, such as early morning or late evening, and always provide access to fresh water and shade.

icelandic sheepdog standing in a meadow
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Training

Training an Icelandic Sheepdog can be a rewarding experience, as these intelligent and eager-to-please dogs possess a natural affinity for learning. Their keen intelligence, combined with their strong desire to please their owners, makes them highly trainable and responsive to positive reinforcement techniques.

Starting Early

When training an Icelandic Sheepdog, it’s essential to start early, ideally during puppyhood. Early socialization and obedience training will lay the foundation for a well-mannered and well-adjusted adult dog. Exposing them to various environments, people, and other animals from a young age will help develop their confidence and adaptability.

Consistency & Positive Reinforcement

Consistency and patience are key factors in training an Icelandic Sheepdog. These dogs respond best to positive reinforcement methods, such as praise, treats, or playtime, which helps motivate them and reinforce desired behaviors. Harsh or aversive training methods should be avoided, as they can lead to fear or anxiety and may damage the bond between you and your dog.

Additional Training Tips

Due to their herding background, Icelandic Sheepdogs may exhibit certain behaviors such as nipping at heels or trying to herd people and other animals. It’s crucial to address these behaviors early on through redirection and teaching alternative behaviors, ensuring that they do not develop into undesirable habits.

One potential challenge when training an Icelandic Sheepdog is their vocal nature. These dogs are known for their wide range of vocalizations, which can sometimes be excessive. Teaching them a “quiet” command and rewarding them for remaining silent can help manage their barking and prevent it from becoming a nuisance.

icelandic sheepdog walking on grass
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

What to Feed & How Much

A well-balanced diet is crucial for maintaining the overall health and well-being of the Icelandic Sheepdog. When selecting a food for your dog, it’s important to choose a high-quality option that follows the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines, as these foods are formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs in different life stages.

There are various types of dog food available, including dry kibble, wet food, and raw food diets. Each type has its benefits and drawbacks, so it’s essential to consider factors such as your dog’s age, activity level, and any specific dietary needs when making a choice. Consulting with your veterinarian can help you determine the most suitable diet for your Icelandic Sheepdog.

The amount of food you should feed your Icelandic Sheepdog depends on their age, weight, activity level, and individual metabolism. As a general guideline, adult Icelandic Sheepdogs typically require around 1.5 to 2 cups of high-quality dry kibble per day, divided into two meals.

Puppies may require more frequent feedings, with three to four meals per day, gradually reducing the number of meals as they grow.

It’s important to monitor your dog’s weight and adjust their food intake accordingly to prevent overfeeding and obesity, which can lead to various health issues. Regular vet checkups can help ensure your dog is maintaining an appropriate weight and receiving the proper nutrients.

Treats

Treats can be a useful tool for training and rewarding good behavior, but they should be given in moderation to prevent excessive calorie intake. Opt for healthy, low-calorie treats or use small pieces of your dog’s regular kibble as rewards.

Water

Access to fresh water is vital for your Icelandic Sheepdog’s health. Ensure they always have clean water available, especially during exercise or hot weather, to prevent dehydration.

icelandic sheepdog sitting on the grass
Photo: Bigandt_Photography/Getty Images

Health

The Icelandic Sheepdog is generally a healthy and robust breed with a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years. However, like all breeds, they may be predisposed to certain health conditions. A combination of a healthy diet, regular veterinary checkups, and appropriate vaccinations can help ensure your Icelandic Sheepdog remains in good health throughout their life.

Here are common health issues associated with the Icelandic Sheepdog breed:

Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition in which the hip joint does not develop properly, leading to arthritis and discomfort. Regular veterinary checkups and maintaining an appropriate weight can help manage this condition. Breeding dogs should be screened for hip dysplasia to reduce its prevalence in the breed.

Patellar Luxation: Also known as “slipped stifles,” this condition occurs when the kneecap moves out of its proper position. It can cause pain, lameness, and, in severe cases, arthritis. Treatment may involve surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.

Eye Conditions: Icelandic Sheepdogs may be prone to various eye issues, such as cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and distichiasis (abnormal eyelash growth). Regular eye exams can help identify these conditions early, allowing for prompt treatment and management.

Dental Issues: Like most breeds, Icelandic Sheepdogs can develop dental problems such as gum disease, tooth decay, and bad breath. Regular teeth brushing and dental checkups can help prevent these issues and maintain good oral health.

Allergies: Some Icelandic Sheepdogs may suffer from allergies, which can manifest as skin irritations, itching, or gastrointestinal symptoms. Identifying the allergen and implementing appropriate dietary changes or treatments can help manage this condition.

To keep your Icelandic Sheepdog healthy, it’s essential to provide them with a well-balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs. Regular veterinary checkups, including routine vaccinations and preventative care, can help identify and address any health concerns early on. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight and providing regular exercise can help prevent obesity-related health issues.

By being aware of the potential health risks associated with the Icelandic Sheepdog breed and taking proactive steps to ensure their well-being, you can help your dog enjoy a long, happy, and healthy life.

icelandic sheepdog in a park
Photo: RS-photography/Getty Images

History

The Icelandic Sheepdog, also known as the Icelandic Spitz or Icelandic Dog, is a breed with a rich history that dates back over a thousand years.

These dogs are believed to have originated from the Nordic countries and were brought to Iceland by the Vikings around 874 AD. The Icelandic Sheepdog is considered one of the oldest dog breeds in the world and has played a significant role in the history and culture of Iceland.

In their early days, Icelandic Sheepdogs were primarily used as herding dogs for sheep, cattle, and horses. They were highly valued for their ability to navigate the harsh Icelandic terrain and protect livestock from predators such as birds of prey. Due to their adaptability and intelligence, these dogs quickly became indispensable companions to Icelandic farmers and families.

Throughout the centuries, the Icelandic Sheepdog’s popularity continued to grow, and they became an integral part of Icelandic society.

However, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the breed faced near extinction due to various factors, including widespread canine diseases and the introduction of foreign dog breeds. In response to this crisis, dedicated breed enthusiasts and organizations in Iceland and other countries began working together to revive and preserve the Icelandic Sheepdog.

Their efforts were successful, and by the mid-20th century, the breed’s population began to recover. Today, the Icelandic Sheepdog is still relatively rare but has a dedicated following of enthusiasts who appreciate their unique characteristics and historical significance.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) first recognized the Icelandic Sheepdog as a breed in 2010, and they are now a part of the AKC’s Herding Group. Since their recognition, the breed has gained popularity in the United States and other countries, both as a companion and a participant in various dog sports and activities.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Icelandic Sheepdog in the United States is the Icelandic Sheepdog Association of America (ISAA). The ISAA was founded in 1996 with the mission to preserve, protect, and promote the breed within the country.

The organization provides education, resources, and support for Icelandic Sheepdog owners, breeders, and enthusiasts. You can visit their website to learn more about the club and its activities.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed.

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

Check out the Icelandic Sheepdog’s breed standard for the Icelandic Sheepdog as set by the American Kennel Club (AKC).

icelandic sheepdogs playing in the snow
Photo: slowmotiongli/Getty Images

Acquiring

When considering acquiring an Icelandic Sheepdog, it’s essential to research and prepare for the responsibilities of dog ownership. Begin by learning about the breed’s temperament, exercise needs, grooming requirements, and potential health issues.

To provide a loving home to a dog in need, consider rescuing instead of buying from a breeder. The official breed club in the United States, the Icelandic Sheepdog Association of America (ISAA), can assist with rescuing and adopting Icelandic Sheepdogs in need of homes.

Before bringing your new Icelandic Sheepdog home, prepare a comfortable space with a bed, crate, and toys. Stock up on essential supplies, including food, bowls, a collar, leash, and grooming tools. Schedule a vet appointment for a general checkup and discuss vaccinations and preventative care. Lastly, invest time in socialization and training to ensure a well-behaved and happy companion.

FAQs

Are Icelandic Sheepdogs good pets?

Yes, Icelandic Sheepdogs make excellent pets due to their friendly, intelligent, and loyal nature. They are well-suited for families and enjoy being active with their owners.

How rare is the Icelandic Sheepdog breed?

The Icelandic Sheepdog is a relatively rare breed, particularly outside of Iceland. However, dedicated breed enthusiasts have worked to preserve and promote the breed, increasing its popularity in recent years.

What is the life expectancy of an Icelandic Sheepdog?

Icelandic Sheepdogs typically have a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years, which is relatively long compared to some other breeds. Proper care, including a healthy diet and regular veterinary checkups, can help ensure a long, healthy life.

Do Icelandic Sheepdogs bark a lot?

Icelandic Sheepdogs can be vocal and may bark to alert their owners of potential threats or to communicate. Training and socialization can help manage excessive barking.

How much exercise do Icelandic Sheepdogs need?

Icelandic Sheepdogs are energetic and require regular exercise to stay healthy and happy. Daily walks and play sessions, as well as participation in dog sports like agility and herding trials, can help meet their exercise needs.

Are Icelandic Sheepdogs hypoallergenic?

No, Icelandic Sheepdogs are not considered hypoallergenic, as they shed their double coat seasonally. Regular grooming can help minimize shedding and keep the coat healthy.

How big do Icelandic Sheepdogs get?

Icelandic Sheepdogs are a medium-sized breed, with males typically weighing between 25-30 pounds and females weighing between 20-25 pounds. Their height ranges from 16-18 inches for males and 15-17 inches for females.

Table of Contents