Icelandic Sheepdog

Icelandic sheepdog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

A loyal companion to Vikings during the ancient times, the Icelandic Sheepdog was brought to Iceland in the 9th Century. Since it can easily cope with difficult terrains and extremely cold climates, this dog breed became an important part of Icelandic villages in the earlier years. As a part of the herding breed group, it has a natural instinct to guard and protect lambs from preying animals. When protecting a flock, it will endlessly watch the sky for vultures and other vicious predators.

Highly sociable and cheerful in nature, the Icelandic Sheepdog is truly man’s best friend. Mesmerizing aspiring owners with its charming and friendly expression, this dog breed is beautiful inside and out. It’s loyal, intelligent and confident, making it an ideal dog breed for almost any household.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health IssuesAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessAbove Average
Exercise NeedsAbove Average

Dog Breed Group:Herding Dog
Height:Around 1 foot and 4 inches – 1 foot and 6 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: About 20 to 30 pounds
Life Span: 14 to 15 years

As the only Icelandic dog, this breed played a major role in the lives of local Icelandic settlers. According to data, it was brought to Iceland by Vikings back in the 9th Century. Since Iceland was isolated during the ancient times, this breed retained almost the same characteristics that its ancestors possess, making it unique and enthralling.

Also popularly known as the Icelandic Dog or the Icelandic Spitz, this breed guarded flocks for centuries. As a herding dog, it has an innate drive to protect and guard lambs from predators on land and on air. Once it senses any danger or malicious activities within the area, it will bark with all its might to alert its human companions.

Inside the household, the Icelandic Spitz is intelligent, cuddly and affectionate. It can effortlessly charm its way to the hearts of its owners as it is friendly, intuitive and playful in nature. However, there is a marked difference between the male and female Icelandic Dog. While both genders are devoted to their human companions, a male Spitz is typically more affectionate and laid back than its female counterpart.

Main Highlights
  • Since it is protective in nature, this dog breed is ideal for herding animals and guarding a household. However, it is not aggressive in nature. It will bark at any unfamiliar stimuli, but it will not act in aggression against unfamiliar people.
  • Just like other breeds, the Icelandic Spitz requires daily exercise for its holistic growth and development. It is inquisitive and extremely active, and it can easily get bored once its physical requirements are not met.
  • This breed was once in the verge of extinction. Although there are still Icelandic dogs available from respectable breeders, it is already considered a rare breed. Hence, if you are considering this breed, be prepared to wait in line for a healthy puppy.
  • Since this dog breed has a medium-to-long coating, it needs to be brushed at least once a week. It only sheds twice a year but once it does, it requires more frequent brushing.
  • The Icelandic Sheepdog has a high barking tendency since it is always on a look out for predators.
  • Because of its thick coating, it can withstand extremely cold temperatures. However, this breed is not suited for countries that generally experience temperate and hot climates.
  • Male Icelandic dogs have a more laid-back and affectionate personality as compared to their female counterparts.
  • It is ideal for households with children and other pets.
  • Since this breed is sociable in nature, it should be kept indoors.
Breed History

A rare and ancient breed, the Icelandic Sheepdog is amongst the 50 northern breeds that are categorized as a ‘Spitz’. Standing no taller than 18 inches, this dog breed falls under the medium-sized breed classification.

According to studies, this dog breed first worked with Vikings during the ancient times. In the 9th Century, the Vikings brought this breed to isolated Icelandic villages. Since it is physically capable of withstanding extreme cold temperatures and harsh terrains, it survived the environmental conditions in Iceland and became a significant herding companion of locals. It worked closely with lambs, sheep, horses and other animals. Even today, it still has a natural instinct to guard and protect not only its human companions, but its flock as well.

In the year 1983, blood samples were drawn from Icelandic dogs. The analysis of the sample later confirmed that this breed belongs to the same ancestral family as the Karelian Bear Dog, a popular Finnish breed. Originating from Russia, the Karelian Bear Dog is more popularly known as the “Laika Dog”. Because there is a strong relationship between the Laika and Icelandic dogs, data suggests that the Icelandic Spitz travelled to Norway from the east.

Once near extinction, this breed survived because of the efforts exerted by local breeders and supporters. Officially recognized by the AKC in the year 2010, this breed is already considered rare.


The Icelandic Sheepdog is a medium-sized breed. While females stand at around 16.5 inches, males are normally 18-inch tall. The weight usually ranges between 20 to 30 pounds, depending on the height.

Personality and Character

As a herding dog, the Icelandic Spitz will do anything in its might to guard and protect the flock of lamb, sheep or horses it is closely working with. Always on the look-out for predators on land and on water, this breed will bark at anything suspicious to alarm owners of impending danger.

However, it is not hostile in nature. It may bark endlessly as a signal to owners, but it will not act in aggression against other animals. As a household pet, it will bark at strangers, but it is too friendly to become an efficient guard dog. In fact, since it enjoys being around people, it can even welcome unfamiliar people with excitement and enthusiasm. A charming, loyal and highly sociable pet companion, this breed is a people-friendly dog that can surely melt the hearts of its owners.

An extrovert in nature, this breed is warm and affectionate to its human companions. Since it always longs for companionship, it is happiest when it is surrounded by its humans, which explains why it is one of the most ideal hospital therapy dogs. Perfect for young and old members of the household, this breed personifies a man’s best friend.

Lastly, this dog breed is extremely intelligent and trainable. It is agile and athletic, making it a top contender in dog competitions. With the Icelandic dog as a part of your household, you can expect a versatile and friendly dog devoted to your family.

Health and Potential Problems

The Icelandic Dog is generally healthy. However, just like other breeds, it is susceptible to a number of health disorders. While not every dog under this line may have to deal with these conditions, it is important for owners to be more cautious in dealing with their dog companions so they can eliminate risk factors.

If you are considering this breed, find a breeder that can offer documents that serve as proof that the puppy, along with the parents, is cleared from certain disabilities.

To help you become a better caretaker of this breed, below are some of the health conditions common to their bloodline:

  • Patellar Luxation: Patellar luxation, a medical condition typical in the Icelandic Spitz’s lineage, is also known as the patellar slip. This refers to the condition where the knee is slipping out of place, which can affect the dog’s ability to walk later in life. In worst case scenarios, the dog suffering from this ailment may have to undergo a surgery.
  • Hip Dysplasia: A genetic disorder common amongst this breed, hip dysplasia is a condition usually manifested as the dog ages. In this case, the femur does not fit into the socket, and it can occur even without clinical manifestations. It is prohibited to breed dogs with this condition. Hence, it is important to look for a clearance from the breeder if you wish to welcome this breed into your household.
Care Features

Energetic, friendly and cheerful, the Icelandic Sheepdog is ideal for owners who are willing to devote time to play and interact with their pet companions. Since this breed is highly energetic in nature, it requires daily exercise. It is not only an active dog, but it is also inquisitive. To keep it safe and healthy, owners must let it off leash on a secured yard every once in a while.

However, experts do not recommend owners to keep this breed in the backyard for extended periods of time since it is an extrovert. A friendly and loyal companion that can charm its way to your heart, it wouldn’t want anything in this world but to be with you and your loved ones.

When it comes to trainability, this dog breed is enthusiastic and intelligent, making it highly adaptable to a range of trainings and exercises. When training this breed, owners must use positive reinforcement methods that include dog food, treats and compliments.

Also, although this breed is highly sociable, it is still best for owners to introduce pets and other members of the household at an early phase so it will grow up as a well-rounded dog.

Feeding Schedule

The amount of food required for a breed greatly depends on the dog’s size, level of activity, and weight. Also, owners should choose a formula that can address their dog’s physical requirements. Regardless of the amount recommended by veterinarians, it is always ideal to divide the dog’s food into two equal servings per day.

Coat, Color and Grooming

Known as the “dog of the Vikings”, the Icelandic Sheepdog’s coating is waterproof and weather-resistant, which explains why it is ideally raised in countries experiencing a cooler climate. The outer coating can either be medium or long in length, while the inner coating is always thick and soft. The outer coating primarily functions to protect the dog’s body from harsh outer elements, whereas the inner coating provides the dog warmth and comfort during extreme weather conditions.

The color of the coating comes in shades of tan. While other sheepdogs are reddish brown or cream in color, others have black, chocolate brown or gray coatings. Also, this breed is more noticeable because of its white markings. Some Icelandic dogs are characterized by a black mask.

In terms of care, this breed should be groomed with a brush or a comb at least once a week. Once the coating sheds, it would require more frequent brushing. Just like other breeds, bathing every other day is not necessary. Owners just need to bathe their pet companions when it already looks untidy, or when it already smells foul.

In addition to that, owners who would like to inhibit gum disease and bad breath can brush their dog’s teeth every day. Meanwhile, tartar build-up can be prevented by brushing the dog’s teeth thrice a week.

Likewise, dogs can avoid painful tears and other problems if their nails are regularly trimmed. Owners who lack experience in cutting their dog’s nails must ask guidance from professional groomers.

Lastly, owners need to look for signs of impending health conditions when they groom their pets. For instance, bad odor from the ears can be a sign of infection. By being knowledgeable about some of the most common danger signs, owners would be able to ensure the overall wellness of their dog as it ages.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

This dog breed is warm, friendly and affectionate in nature. Being the extrovert that it is, it loves being around members of the household. It is also an ideal pet companion for children who know how to properly interact with pet companions. However, no matter how friendly a dog is, adult supervision is still required when there is pet-child interaction.

Lastly, since this breed is a herding dog, it socializes and mixes well with other domestic pets. With an innate instinct to guard and protect, owners don’t need to worry about smaller pets in their home.

A true personification of a man’s best friend, the Icelandic Sheepdog is truly a gift to any household. A rare breed outside Iceland, this dog’s sense of loyalty and highly affectionate nature proves why it is invaluable in the eyes of its locals.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.