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Icelandic Sheepdog
Characteristics, History, and Health

Icelandic Sheepdog

The Icelandic Sheepdog is one of the oldest dog breeds, tracing its lineage back to the Vikings who brought them to Iceland around 874 AD. These dogs were used for herding and protecting livestock, particularly sheep, in the challenging Icelandic terrain. Over time, they adapted to the harsh conditions and became an integral part of Icelandic farming life. They are a vital part of Icelandic history and folklore, with numerous sagas, poems, and stories featuring these loyal and sturdy dogs. By the late 19th century, however, the breed was on the brink of extinction due to diseases brought in from foreign breeds. But thanks to dedicated breeders in the mid-20th century, the breed was saved, and today they are thriving in their native land and elsewhere in the world.

Main Info
Alternate Names
Iceland Spitz, Islandsk Farehond, Friaar Dog, Íslenskur fjárhundur, Icelandic Sheepdog, Iceland Shepherd Dog
Life Expectancy
12-14 years
Average Male Height
18 inches
Average Female Height
16.5 inches
Average Male Weight
30 pounds
Average Female Weight
25 pounds
Coat Length
Coat Type
Coat Colors
Black, Black & White, Chocolate, Chocolate & Tan, Cream, Cream & White, Fawn, Fawn & White, Gold & White, Golden, Gray, Gray & White, Red, Red & White, Sable, Sable & White, Tan, Tan & White, White Tan & Black, Chocolate & White
Coat Pattern
White Markings, Tan Markings, Gray Markings, Black Markings, Black Mask, Cream Markings, Piebald, Chocolate Markings, Reddish Brown Markings

Genetic Predispositions and Health

Icelandic Sheepdogs are generally healthy, though can suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, patellar luxation, heart conditions, multidrug sensitivity, and autoimmune thyroiditis. They may be prone to certain eye conditions including distichiasis, a condition where an extra row of eyelashes can grow toward the cornea and cause irritation.

Personality and Behavior

Icelandic Sheepdogs are known for their friendly and outgoing nature. They are intelligent, agile, and make excellent herding dogs due to their herding instincts. They are alert and good watchdogs, often barking to alert their owners of any potential danger. They are also social dogs that get along well with children and other pets when properly socialized. Their herding background makes them active and energetic, requiring regular exercise and mental stimulation.

They are highly adaptable and can live in a variety of environments, although they thrive best in cooler climates due to their thick and weatherproof double coat. They are known to be agile and athletic, often excelling in dog sports such as agility and obedience trials.

Fun Facts

They are the only native dog to Iceland.

One of the Icelandic Sheepdog's distinct features is the "barkur," a curled tail that rests on its back. This trait is commonly seen in the breed. Other spitz-like features of the breed include a foxy face, pointed ears, and their dense coat.

Despite its historical significance in Iceland, the Icelandic Sheepdog faced endangerment at one point. In the mid-20th century, its population dwindled, but efforts by dedicated breeders helped revive and preserve the breed.