Icelandic Sheepdog – Everything You Need To Know

Icelandic Sheepdog is a medium-sized purebred dog belonging to the spitz family. The spitziness of the dog is showcased by their dense coat, fox-like face, pointed ears, and bushy, curly tail. The Icelandic Sheepdog is Iceland’s only native dog breed. They are charming, friendly, faithful, and densely coated. They are social, highly devoted to their humans, and love to be around all the time. They are called the ‘smiley dogs because of their cheerful faces and smiling expressions.’ 

Icelandic Sheepdogs are independent herding dogs and were bred to herd and safeguard the livestock and are led by their instincts. An exciting yet funny fact is that their herding instincts are so high that they start herding the cars in the absence of livestock if not fenced. They are loyal, loving, friendly, playful, and make great family pets. The Icelandic Sheepdogs are the only herding dogs who work independently of people. This distinctive feature puts them in the ‘smart dog’ category. So, prepare yourself for a dog with solid opinions which does not need your input.

Icelandic Sheepdog Pros and Cons

Lively and affectionateStrong herding instincts
Easy to trainHeavy shedding
Excellent HealthHigh exercise needs

Icelandic Sheepdog Basic Information

  • Name: Icelandic Sheepdog
  • Origin: Iceland
  • Group: Herding dog
  • Size: Small to medium
  • Height: Male – 18 inches, Female –  16.5 inches
  • Weight: Male – 30 pounds, Female – 25 pounds
  • Coat: Straight or wavy, double-coated
  • Color: Tan, chocolate brown, gray and black
  • Energy: High
  • Activities: Agility, Rally, Obedience, Tracking, Barn hunting, Coursing, trick dogs
  • Barking Level: Low
  • Shedding Level: High
  • Hypoallergenic: No
  • Litter Size: 4-8 puppies
  • Other Names: Icelandic Spitz, Iceland Dog, Íslenskur fjárhundur, Islandsk Fårehund, Friaar Dog, Canis Islandicus
  • Original Passtime: Herding trials
  • Life Span: 10-12 years

History of Icelandic Sheepdog

The Icelandic Sheepdogs are Iceland’s only native dog breed. The ancestors of this spitz dog breed were brought to Iceland by human inhabitants during the late 800s.

During the 9th century, Vikings brought this Nordic spitz breed to Iceland. There is a notion that this dog breed is as ancient as the land of Iceland. For many centuries, these dogs were used to herd and protect flocks of lambs from the birds looking for prey.

Icelandic Sheepdogs carry this feature until this date, and one can see these dogs barking at the sky at anything that flies or moves above the head. They faced extinction around the 19th and 20th centuries but were thankfully rehabilitated by dog enthusiasts and breeders worldwide. They remained a rare breed around the 1950s, with only a few specimens found in Iceland. With constructive action, they brought these dogs to England and America. Notably, a mere total of 50 dogs was increased to more than 800 dogs in the USA alone. The Icelandic Kennel Club has been formed in 1969 to monitor the breed, and they are now a part of Iceland’s heritage. The American Kennel Club recognized this breed in 2010. 

Icelandic Sheepdog Highlights

  • Icelandic Sheepdog is double-coated and comes in two lengths and several colors. All shades of the coat include white markings and black masks.
  • These Icies have double dewclaws on the hind legs.
  • Icelandic Sheepdog puppies love rounding up the livestock, and they don’t follow a master but their instincts.
  • These dogs are cattle crazy and need to be fenced to prevent them from herding the cars.
  • They are eager to please, love people and suffer from separation anxiety when left alone for long.

Icelandic Sheepdog Personality

Icelandic Sheepdogs grow not taller than 18 inches and weigh around 20 -30 pounds. They are charming herders of small to medium-sized who have a waterproof double coat with a thick and soft undercoat.

The double coat comes in two lengths – medium and long. It can be either straight or wavy, and the coat comes in many colors. The coat color includes shades of tan varying from cream to reddish-brown, chocolate brown, and black with white markings and black masks. Icelandic dogs are not hypoallergenic and shed a lot, fox-faced with pointed ears. The tail is bushy and curly. The almond-shaped eyes are brown. Their cheerful smiley look will tell you, ‘where there is a smile, there is an Icelandic Sheepdog.’

Friendliness Overview

Affection levelHigh

Adaptability Overview

Good for apartment livingLow
Good for new ownersLow
Sensitivity levelMedium
Tolerates being aloneLow 
Cold toleranceHigh
Heat toleranceMedium

Icelandic Sheepdog Physical Features

  • Head: The head is robust, with a skull longer than the muzzle. The muzzle is shorter than the head and is triangular. They bear a nose that is dark brown or black. Lips are black but sometimes pink, ears erect, triangular, and sensitive to noise. The eyes are medium-sized, almond-shaped, and brown with black eye rims. The cheeks are flat. 
  • Neck: The neck is strong, long, muscular, arched, and carried high.
  • Topline: The topline is level, muscular, and firm. The chest is long and deep.
  • Body: The body is compact, strong, and medium-sized. The chest is long, deep, well sprung, and reaches the elbow. The back is level, muscular, and strong.
  • Tail: The is bushy, curly high set and reaches the back. 
  • Forequarters: The forelegs are strong, straight, and parallel. The shoulders are muscular and strong. The forefeet have oval-shaped toes that are arched tight with well-developed pads.
  • Hindquarters: The hindquarters are well balanced and angulated. The thighs are muscular and well developed. The legs are parallel and firm. One or two declaws are seen in each leg.
  • Feet: The feet are oval, compact, and tightly knit. They are well padded with hair.
  • Coat: The coat is double-coated and waterproof. The coat is dense with a thick and soft upper coat. The coat comes in two lengths – long and medium. 
  • Color: Tan, reddish-brown, chocolate brown, gray, black with white as the prominent color.
  • Gait: The gait is well-balanced, agile, bold, and frictionless. It displays endurance and covers ground effortlessly.

Icelandic Sheepdog  Temperament

Icelandic Sheepdogs are tough and energetic. Hardy and agile, they are helpful in herding livestock and finding the lost sheep. They are alert, welcoming, and non-aggressive. Friendly and cheerful, the Icies are curious, playful, and unafraid. They generally get along well with children. Icelandic Sheepdogs are very loyal and want to be around their family constantly. Unlike most working dogs, they are calm when indoors and happily lie down. One must not forget these foxy faces are independent and have a mind of their own. They love being around people and suffer separation anxiety when left alone. Also, these smiling skywatchers are not great with birds and bark at anything that moves in the sky.

Icelandic Sheepdog Training

Icelandic Sheepdogs are intelligent, friendly, and independent. They are highly energetic and easy to train. Icelandic Sheepdog puppies need to be socialized early, and puppy training is necessary. They are eager to please, making training fun for both the dog and the owner. They require positive reinforcement and do not respond to harsh training. 

Trainability Overview

Easy to trainHigh
Prey driveHigh 
Mouthiness tendenciesMedium
Barking and Howling tendenciesLow
Wanderlust tendenciesMedium to high

Icelandic Sheepdog Exercise Needs

Icelandic Sheepdogs are active and high-energy dogs. They require a sixty-minute daily exercise which includes walking and other games. They love to accompany their owners in hiking. They also excel in Agility, Rally, Obedience, Tracking, Bran Hunting, Coursing, and Trick Dog. Enough exercise keeps the dog happy and healthy. These dogs were also trained to assist Search and Rescue squads, and they perform well in avalanche searches.

Exercise Needs Overview

Energy levelHigh
Exercise needsHigh

Icelandic Sheepdog Grooming

Icelandic Sheepdogs are double-coated and waterproof. The coat is thick, soft, straight, or wavy, with a high level of shedding. Brushing the coat 2-3 times a week will remove the dead hairs and prevent matting. They can be bathed occasionally as the skin gets dry and develops irritation. Clean their ears regularly to prevent ear infections. Clip their nails to avoid overgrowth and any injury. Brush their teeth periodically for good oral health

Grooming Overview

Easy to groomLow
Drooling tendenciesLow 
Amount of sheddingHigh

Icelandic Sheepdog Health

Icelandic Sheepdogs are robust, healthy, and active dogs. Yet, it’s always wise to be aware of the health conditions they are prone to.

Health Overview

General healthMedium
Weight gain tendenciesMedium

Hip Dysplasia: Hip dysplasia is outwardly a painful disease that occurs when the bones of the back legs do not fit properly in the joints. While some dogs will exhibit symptoms, the majority of canines will not. Hip dysplasia is primarily genetic, although other causes such as accidents, excessive weight gain, and inappropriate training can also cause it. Even though this disease is fatal, therapies range from medicine to hip replacement surgery. To avoid this problem, avoid breeding dogs with hip dysplasia parentage and get annual examinations.

Other Causes of Hip Dysplasia: 

  • Injuries 
  • Excessive weight gain 
  • Wrong exercises 
  • This condition causes defects or damage to the hip bones and joints and worsens without treatment.

Symptoms of hip dysplasia in dogs include:

  • Reduced activity and movements
  • Reluctance to rise, jump, run or climb
  • Lameness in the hind limbs
  • Reducing thigh muscle mass
  • Swaying, “bunny hopping” gait
  • Grating in the joint during movement
  • Enlarging shoulders
  • Pain
  • Stiffness

Cataracts: It is a common cause of blindness in older Dogs. The lens of the eyes becomes cloudy and opaque. Treatment might require surgery for good results.

Patellar Luxation: When the dog patella (kneecap), which typically lies in the cleft of the femur (thighbone), slips out of position, it is known as luxating patella. Your dog may feel periodic hind limb “skipping,” lameness, or locking up the leg at an abnormal angle if the patella luxates. 

Distichiasis: Few Icelandic Sheepdogs may suffer from an eye illness called distichiasis. This refers to an overgrowth of eyelashes that causes bending, irritating the cornea. Dogs with this condition keep pawing their eyes due to the discomfort caused. The good news is you can treat distichiasis. Either you can trim the lashes, or the long-term procedure would be surgery.

Cryptorchidism: A condition where one testicle or both the testicles are not descended.

Elbow Dysplasia:  Elbow Dysplasia is a heritable condition commonly seen in large-breed dogs. This disease is caused due to different growth rates of the three bones that form the dog’s elbow, causing joint laxity and painful lameness.


  • Mild to moderate pain  
  • Lameness in the forelimbs

Although the symptoms begin to show as early as four months of age, some dogs will not show these signs until later in life. Further, this may involve both the elbows, but one of them may be heavily affected.

Hypothyroidism: An abnormality in the thyroid gland secretion can cause this condition. It holds responsibility for medical disorders like epilepsy, alopecia, obesity, lethargy, hyperpigmentation, pyoderma, and other skin-related diseases. A proper diet and medication help treat this issue.

Recommended Tests for Icelandic Sheepdog

  • Hip Evaluation
  • PRA Optigen DNA Test
  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation

Icelandic Sheepdog  Diet and Nutrition

Icelandic Sheepdogs are active dogs and need the right amount of nourishment. Therefore, you can feed them a well-balanced protein diet along with calorie-rich food. However, every dog’s diet depends upon the size, age, metabolism, and activity level. However, they can be kept healthy and in shape with the nourishing and right amount of meals. At regular intervals, provide your dog with clean and fresh water.

Icelandic Sheepdog  Living condition

Icelandic Sheepdogs, though not apartment-friendly, can live happily in an apartment with proper training. They are intelligent, witty, and do well with other pets. They are better suited for cold temperatures. They make a great playmate for children and love to be around always. They are eager to please and do not do well when left well.

Did you know?

  • The Icelandic Sheepdogs are mentioned in William Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”
  • Icelandic Sheepdogs are herding dogs but are trained as rescue dogs.
  • Icelandic Sheepdog is also known as the Vikings’ Dog.

Icelandic Sheepdogs Club Recognition

  • AKC-Recognized Breed
  • United Kennel Club 
  • American Canine Association
  • American Canine Registry
  • Dog Registry of America, Inc.
  • Federation Cynologique Internationale
  • North American Purebred Registry, Inc.

Rescue Groups

  • National Icelandic Sheepdog Rescue Alliance

Adding an Icelandic Sheepdogs to Your Family

Things to remember before adding an Icelandic Sheepdogs to your family.

It is best to get Icelandic Sheepdog puppies from a reputable breeder to prevent unavoidable circumstances like health and vaccination. In addition, it is best to check with the puppy’s parents to cross-check its health and happiness. 

The cost of an Icelandic Sheepdog is $1000 and above to buy from a reputable breeder.

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