Other names: Icelandic Spitz, Nordic Spitz, Iceland Dog, Islandsk Fårehund, Friaar Dog
The Icelandic Sheepdog is a type of Spitz breed that is thought to have arrived in Iceland along with the first Viking settlers. It is the island’s native breed and is used to herd sheep across the rugged Icelandic countryside. The dog is rare in other countries, but clubs and associations in the UK promote the dog’s companionable nature.
Key facts about the Icelandic Sheepdog
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Origins and history
The canine ancestors of today’s Icelandic Sheepdog are believed to have accompanied early Viking settlers to the island of Iceland between 874 and 930 AD. It wasn’t until the early 1700s that the Icelandic Sheepdog arrived in the United Kingdom. The popularity of the dog has increased gradually since then, but the dog has never been a best-seller.
FCI breed nomenclature
Group 5 - Spitz and primitive types
Section 3 : Nordic Watchdogs and Herders
Physical characteristics of the Icelandic Sheepdog
Female : Between 16 and 17 in
Male : Between 17 and 19 in
Female : Between 22 and 33 lb
Male : Between 22 and 33 lb
Seen of sable, yellow, red, and black and white.
Type of coat
A double coat comprising a thick, soft undercoat beneath a thick and glossy topcoat. The fur is thicker on the neck, legs and tail.
Dark brown/chocolate brown
Well-proportioned is the Icelandic Sheepdog being both long in body but tall and reasonably stocky. The head is wide and the muzzle broad and short. Ears are medium-sized and triangular with slightly rounded tips. The ears of this dog are mobile and alert, and are often telling of the dog’s mood.
Good to know
In the early 1800s, about a century after it was first imported to the UK, the breed became troublesome. Dogs that were allowed to eat the dead sheep of their flocks became infected with a type of tapeworm that they then passed to their owners. The tapeworm ‘epidemic’ destroyed three quarters of all Icelandics in the UK.
The Icelandic Sheepdog has a pleasant personality and if trained and treated correctly is affectionate and loyal.
An active and playful dog, the Icelandic thrives upon interaction with its family.
Confident and peppy is the Icelandic. This is not a dog that is quick to anger or fright.
This is a highly intelligent dog but requires a firmness of training; it is easily bored by repetition and thrives on varied lessons.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are not hunters; they are herding dogs. As such they do not have a high prey drive. They are however very alert to other animals, including birds, at which they will bark enthusiastically.
Fearful / wary of strangers
Icelandics are not reserved around strangers and will greet visitors to their home with enthusiasm and love.
This breed of dog needs a lot of human contact for its peace of mind; it needs to feel part of the clan. They become very unhappy when deprived of the chance to be with people.
Behaviour of the Icelandic Sheepdog
If left alone for long periods of time this dog becomes agitated, barks excessively and chews furniture and carpets.
Easy to train / obedience
Training of the Icelandic Sheepdog can be challenging. It must be carried out by a confident master who is consistent and varies their style of training. Harsh training techniques will not work with any dog.
The Icelandic’s bark is perhaps the least desirable characteristic of such an elegant dog.
Tendency to run away
This dog is keen to please its owner and it will remember that running off is not going to be met with praise. Reinforcing the ‘recall’ command is always worthwhile.
If it finds itself at home for long periods of time without human company, or feels anxious due to other reasons, the Icelandic Sheepdog will be destructive.
Greedy / Gluttony
Icelandics are prone to obesity when fed too many treats or too much human food.
Icelandic Sheepdogs are exceptionally alert to any movement around them. They will bark incessantly when they feel threatened or excited.
An Icelandic Sheepdog needs to be challenged physically and mentally in order to stay happy and out of trouble. That being said, this is a good choice of first dog.
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Icelandic Sheepdog in a flat
This dog loves to be outside and thrives on high intensity exercise and endless adventure. Neither a flat nor a small garden will suffice for such an adventuresome dog.
Need for exercise / Sporty
An energetic dog is the Icelandic. With a dog such as this you need to be fit and willing to devote a fair amount of time to long walks. Icelandic Sheepdogs are better suited to rural life than they are urban life.
Travelling / easy to transport
Once trained, an Icelandic Sheepdog is exceptionally obedient. It will be comfortable with travel as long its owners are in sight.
Icelandic Sheepdog and cats
Although the Icelandic Sheepdog is not known for its high prey drive it will still be interested in small scurrying (and flying) animals. It is however unlikely to hurt a cat even if it gives chase.
Icelandic Sheepdog and dogs
Icelandic Sheepdogs interact well with other dogs. The male dogs tend to be more relaxed than the females when they meet other canines.
Icelandic Sheepdog and children
Young children that run around the house of an Icelandic may find themselves being herded like sheep. Icelandics enjoy the chase, whether that is of animals or people.
Icelandic Sheepdog and the elderly
Because it is a dog that requires lots of exercise the Icelandic Sheepdog may not be the perfect choice of dog for someone of senior years.
Purchasing a purebred puppy will cost anywhere from £600 to £800. Cost of care will be £130 to £180 per month.
This dog requires regular daily brushing to prevent its coat from becoming tangled and matted. Brushing and the occasional bath will help the coat to stay shiny and full.
The long, dense and furry coat of the Icelandic sheds consistently throughout the year. There is a peak of shedding in the months leading up to and throughout summer.
Nutrition of the Icelandic Sheepdog
It is always worthwhile to feed the Icelandic a high-quality and specially formulated dog food rather than human food. The Icelandic’s diet should consist of good amounts of protein and fat.
Health of the Icelandic Sheepdog
The Icelandic Sheepdog is generally healthy and robust. It's life expectancy is 12 years.
Strong / robust
The Icelandic Sheepdog has been bred to work outdoors in countries within the Arctic Circle. It is a dog that seeks adventure and does not complain.
This dog does not tolerate hot weather overly well. A ‘thin and trim’ haircut will help the dog to get through the hottest time of the year.
The double coat of the Icelandic Sheepdog keeps the dog warm.
Tendency to put on weight
If your Icelandic is not exercised as regularly as it should be and is fed too much human or substandard food it will become obese.
- Hip dysplasia
- Progressive retinal atrophy